You know what’s awesome?
With a cash back card, you get free money. That’s a hard deal to beat.
Take your current spending and pretend someone cut you a check for 1-5% of that spending. You don’t have to lift a finger or do anything, the check magically shows up in your account automatically. That’s what it’s like having a cash back card.
There’s really no catch either.
As long as you already pay your credit cards off every month, there’s no downside. To be honest, you shouldn’t be using credit cards if you don’t pay off your balance each month anyway. Every credit card is a terrible deal if you don’t.
For those of you that do pay off your cards every month, a cash back credit card is one of the best deals in personal finance.
Before breaking down the best cash back cards, let’s make sure a cash back card is the right type of credit card for you.
There are two types of rewards credit cards: travel cards and cash back cards.
We go into a lot of detail on how they differ from each other in our best rewards credit cards guide. The quick summary:
- Get a travel credit card if you want to maximize the value of your rewards and perks
- Get a cash back card if you want to maximize simplicity or your don’t travel
So what are the best cash back cards?
The best cash back cards
After scouring all the cash back offers out there, we’ve found these cards to be the best options:
- Citi Double Cash
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Blue Cash Preferred Amex
- Capital One Quicksilver Rewards
- Discover it Cash Back
- Capital One SavorOne
How we evaluate cash back cards
For a card to make it on our list of best cards, we evaluated it using this criteria.
We don’t put much weight on the signup bonus. In fact, we ignore them for the most part.
Yes, the bonuses are great. Always take advantage of them.
But I never pick my credit cards based on the bonus itself. Since I never chase credit card promos or point hack by rotating credit cards quickly, I stick with the same set of cards for years. The rewards program, perks, and fees will all outlast the bonus. In the end, the bonus is a minor benefit.
Pick the card you want without worrying about the signup bonus.
Cash back system
This is the most important part of your cash back card. Sweat the details here.
Lots of cash back cards advertise amazing cash back rewards (get 5% cash back!) and then severely limit it with spend limits, rotating categories, or other nonsense.
As a general rule, the simpler the cash back program, the better. I’d much rather get 80% of the potential cash back if it means I never have to think about anything.
That said, if you’re trying to push your cash back rewards to the limit and are willing to take on the extra complexity, playing these games is the key to maximizing your rewards. It’s not how I personally want to spend my time, but if you do, all the power to you.
Keep a close eye on foreign transaction fees with cash back cards.
The best travel credit cards usually don’t have foreign transaction fees. That makes since they target travelers.
But cash back cards aren’t as generous. Many of them do have foreign transaction fees. This is a 1-3% fee on top of every transaction from a foreign bank. If you travel once per year, you could easily negate all your cash back rewards by paying hefty foreign transaction fees on your whole trip.
Otherwise, cash back cards don’t have many fees, and almost all of them don’t have an annual fee.
As long as you’re paying your card off every month (which you absolutely should be doing), you’ll be able to get your cash back rewards without ever having to pay a single fee.
As you pick your cards, keep an eye on how many banks you’re using.
Managing 2-3 logins across different banks isn’t a big deal but having a dozen or more logins starts to be a real headache. With a spouse and family, it’s surprisingly easy for bank accounts to get out of hand.
Whenever you’re trying to decide between two cards with similar offers, picking the option with a bank that you already use will help keep things simple. Not everything is about optimizing for every last dollar, simplicity and fewer headaches go a long way.
At I Will Teach You To Be Rich, we have zero tolerance for banks that gouge customers on fees or treat customers poorly. Having a reliable bank is too important to put up with horrible treatment.
Unfortunately, Wells Fargo and Bank of America both have long histories of doing terrible things to their customers. We recommend avoiding them entirely. In fact, we didn’t even consider any cash back cards from either bank.
The best cash back credit cards
Here are all the cash back cards that you should consider.
Citi Double Cash
Highest cash back rewards that are super simple
This is our favorite overall cash back card.
You get 2% cash back on everything, which is a very good rewards rate. There aren’t any rotating categories or spend limits either. It’s truly as simple as it gets.
The only downside is the 3% foreign transaction fee. So definitely avoid using this card when traveling internationally.
The Chase Freedom is the best card for those willing to use rotating categories
The 5% cash back is impressive. Each quarter, you’ll have a new spending category that gets the 5% cash back up to a certain limit. One quarter might be groceries, the next might be Amazon.com and Walmart.com. Everything else gets 1% cash back.
I prefer to avoid rotating categories, I don’t want to spend the mental energy keeping track of this stuff.
But if you were trying to maximize the rewards from your cash back cards, having one rotating category card could be worth it. You’d only have one set of rotating rewards to worry about. That would give you a few simple rules for spending:
- Check the new category once per quarter to see what gets the 5% bonus
- Use the Chase Freedom card for that category
- Use your default cash back card for all other spending
As long as you remember to check the rewards category each quarter, this is still a simple system to follow. I’m not going to do it, but I totally understand if you want to.
The 5% cash back does have a quarterly spending limit, usually about $1,500. So the cash back will be limited to about $75 per quarter.
This is very similar to the Discover it card, which we’ve included below. It’s basically the same offer. We recommend the Chase Freedom instead because it’s a Visa, which means it’s accepted at a lot more businesses than a Discover card.
Only consider this card if you’re willing to deal with the rotating categories.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great card for the first year, then an average card after that
3% cash back up to $20,000 in card spending for the first year, then 1.5% after that.
No annual fee and no other complexities to worry about either.
This would be an amazing card if the 3% cash back on the first $20,000 in spending happened every year. But it doesn’t, you only get 3% during the first year.
It’s best to treat the 3% like a signup bonus and consider this card like a normal 1.5% cash back card. 1.5% is nice, but other cards have higher rates.
I’d look at other cards.
Blue Cash Preferred Amex
An excellent secondary card to maximize specific spending categories
If I had two cash back cards, this would be one of them.
I’d use my Blue Cash Preferred Amex on all my transit, supermarket, gas station, and streaming subscriptions. That would allow me to get 3-6% cash back on all that spending. For everything else, I’d use a card like the Citi Double Cash which would then give me 2% cash back on everything else.
That’s a good way to maximize cash back rewards and still have a very simple set of credit cards.
The annual fee makes this card a bit more complicated though. Not only do we need to earn enough cash back to cover the fee, we also need to earn enough cash back to outweigh the standard 1-2% cash back rewards from any other card.
We could build a super fancy spreadsheet with rewards projections based on your annual budgets. Let’s skip all that. There’s a simple way to find out if Blue Cash Preferred Amex is worth it for you.
I’m going to assume that you spend about:
- $50/month in streaming subscriptions. That’s $36/year cash back.
- $100/month in taxis and other transit. That’s $36/year cash back.
- $100/month in gas. That’s $36/year cash back.
Combined, you’ll get $108/year cash back which covers the annual fee.
Now, if you max out the 6% supermarket category with $6,000 in annual spending, you’ll get another $360 in cash back. That easily covers the opportunity cost of sticking with a straight 2% cash back card.
In other words, if you spend over $100/week at the grocery store, it’s worth getting this card as your second cash back card. You’ll max out the grocery benefit if you average $115/week in spending.
And if you spend more than $100/month in taxis or gas, this card gets even more valuable.
Terms Apply. Learn more about this card.
Capital One Quicksilver Rewards
The best cash back card for travelers
One thing to watch for on cash back cards is the foreign transaction fees. A lot of them have it, which adds 1-3% to any foreign transaction. If you travel internationally at all, you’ll want a card that doesn’t have it.
If you want to use a cash back card while traveling, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards is a great option. You get all the benefits of having a super simple cash back rewards program, an easy 1.5% cash back on everything, and no foreign transaction fees to worry about.
This also makes an excellent second card when paired with the Citi Double Cash card. Use the Citi Double Cash when in the U.S. to get 2% cash back on everything. Then use the Capital One Quicksilver when traveling to get 1.5% cash back and avoid foreign transaction fees.
Discover it Cash Back
This only a good option if you want rotating categories and a Discover card
Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of Discover cards.
They get rejected at stores and restaurants all the time. I hate dealing with that hassle.
Not only is it a Discover card, it also has rotating categories. Like other rotating cash back cards, certain spending categories get 5% cash back while everything else gets 1%. And the categories rotate each quarter.
If you’re a big fan of Discover and want a card with rotating categories, this could be a good option.
But I wouldn’t choose this card myself. Dealing with Discover and the extra headaches or rotating categories is too much hassle for me. I’d choose any of the other cards on this list.
Capital One SavorOne
The best cash back card for dining and entertainment purchases
With the 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, this card makes a great option as a secondary card to maximize your returns in that category.
If you eat out a lot or attend a lot of events, it’s definitely worth considering this card.
It also makes a great backup card for when you’re traveling, since it doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees.
How to use multiple cash back cards to maximize your rewards
Honestly, you can get 80% of the potential cash back value from getting a single cash back card and using that card for everything.
To maximize simplicity, sticking to a single card really is a great move.
But what if you really want to get a couple of cards to maximize your cash back benefits? What does that system look like?
I’m going to walk you through a three-step system on how to build your cash back machine using multiple cards.
You will have to pay attention to a few spending categories and the rules will be a bit more complicated. But if you’re looking to maximize your cash back rewards, this is the simplest way to do it.
Step 1: Pick your default cash back card
Even if you plan on having multiple cards from the get-go, you want to start with your “default” card. This is the cash back card you’ll use for all purchases that don’t fall into any of the spending categories that we’re using other cards for.
For most folks, we highly recommend the Citi Double Cash card as your default cash back card.
The only downside is that the Citi Double Cash does have a 3% foreign transaction fee, which is pretty high.
If you travel regularly and don’t want a travel rewards card, consider using the Capital One Quicksilver as your default card. There’s no foreign transaction fee, and you’ll get 1.5% cash back on everything. It’s not quite as high as the 2% from the Citi Double Cash, but avoiding foreign transaction fees will easily cover the gap.
Step 2: Pick one maximization card
Now we get to have some fun.
It’s time to pick your maximization card. You’ll use this card only when you make purchases that take advantage of the increased cash back rewards in the categories for that card. For everything else, you’ll use your default card that you already picked during step one.
Depending on your personal spending, you have a few options.
Option 1: Blue Cash Preferred Amex for groceries and gas
If you spend $100/week on groceries, you’ll easily max out the benefits of this card. Start using it for your groceries, streaming, transit, and gas. Even with the annual fee, it’s a fantastic card for anyone that spends regularly in these categories. Terms apply. Learn more about this card.
Option 2: Capital One SavorOne for dining and entertainment
You’ll get 3% cash back on all dining and entertainment. I tend to eat out a lot, so this is a great fit for me. It also has a 2% cash back on groceries, but that doesn’t really matter if you get the Citi Double Cash as your default. You’ll already be getting 2% on every purchase. Learn more about this card.
Option 3: Chase Freedom for maxing returns with rotating categories
If you really want to maximize your cash back, you’ll need to get a card with rotating categories. This gets you a 5% cash back, but you have to deal with the headaches of remembering which categories are active. I would never do this myself, it’s too much trouble. But if you don’t mind remembering which categories have the 5% bonus, you’ll be able to maximize your cash back. Learn more about this card.
Also remember to watch the foreign transaction fees on cash back cards
When getting a second cash back card, try to get one card without foreign transaction fees. Then you’ll be covered whenever you travel internationally. The Capital SavorOne is a great option for this. You can use it for the 3% cash back on dining and entertainment when stateside, then use it for everything to get 1% cash back and avoid foreign transaction fees when traveling.
Step 3: Optional second maximization card
If you’re looking at the list of maximization cards above and having trouble picking between two of them because they both fit your spending really well, consider grabbing them both.
This would give you a total of three cash back cards. One is your default, the other two are maximization cards.
For example, let’s say that I spend hundreds of dollars every month on groceries, gas, dining, and entertainment. There would be a strong case for me getting three cash back cards:
- Citi Double Cash as my default card
- Blue Cash Amex for my groceries and gas
- Capital One SavorOne for dining and entertainment
This setup would allow me to maximize my cash back across several spending categories. I’d have 2% cash back as my default and 3-6% across a few categories. That’s a really nice return with a cash back machine that’s still simple enough to remember.
Should you ever consider more than three cash back cards?
I strongly advise against it.
You could get more than three and it won’t hurt you.
But I consider it completely unnecessary.
After three cards, any additional cards will have diminishing returns. They become more trouble than they’re worth.
Definitely get a default cash back card, get a second if you want to bump your returns, consider a third if your personal spending fits multiple cards, and don’t go past that.