The Best Cash Back Credit Cards for 2021
Get money back on all your spending. You're going to make that purchase anyway.
Why not use a cash back credit card to earn money back?
And, unlike cards that earn points or miles, cash back is extremely versatile because you're not limited to how you use it.
As if that weren't great enough, most cash back credit cards offer rewards that don't expire. That means you can earn without worrying about losing your redemption capability.
To get the most out of credit cards with the best cash back rewards, find the card that rewards your particular spending patterns.
In our opinion, these are the best cash back credit cards that will surely match the way you spend.
Best Cash Back Credit Cards:
- Citi Double Cash: Simple cash back rewards on all spending
- American Express Blue Cash Preferred: Major cash back rewards on groceries
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Earn higher cash back rates on common everyday purchases
- Chase Freedom Flex: Best for rotating bonus categories
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Card: Best for dining & takeout
- Capital One Quicksilver One Cash Rewards Card: Best card with no foreign transaction fees
Best Cash Back Card for General Shopping
Citi Double Cash
Citi Double Cash Card Pros & Cons
For an all-around cash back credit card, the is a clear favorite.
The cash back program offers 1% cash back on all purchases and 1% cash back on payments toward your balance. Essentially, you earn an effective 2% cash back on all spending -- a reason to always keep this card in your wallet.
It has no annual fee, too.
Best for Cash Back on Groceries
American Express Blue Cash Preferred
Amex Blue Cash Preferred Card Pros & Cons
When you’re looking to earn the most cash back rewards on groceriess, you have to take a look at the .
This card offers an amazing 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent each year at U.S. supermarkets. Then, you can earn unlimited 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
Tip: To earn cash back, it matters most where you buy - not what you buy. If a supermarket sold gift cards, you will still earn 6% cash back on them. You can buy gift cards to your favorite clothing stores, restaurants, and other retailers.
To sweeten the deal even more:
Earn an unlimited 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and transit purchases. You earn 1% cash back everywhere else.
There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, but the 6% cash back at grocery stores can be worth up to $360 each year by itself.
You’ll recoup the annual fee if you spend at least a combined $132 per month at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. streaming services.
Best Credit Card for Everyday Spending Categories
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited Card Pros & Cons
The Chase Freedom Unlimited Card is a cash back credit card that is designed for everyday spending.
It offers 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases while all other spending earns 1.5% cash back (which is higher than the base cash back rates on most other cash back cards).
Then, if you book travel through Chase Ultimate rewards, you'll even earn 5% cash back.
Plus, the card has no annual fee -- it's a card to keep around at all times.
Best for Rotating Bonus Categories
Chase Freedom Flex
Chase Freedom Flex Card Pros & Cons
Chase Freedom Flex provides a very generous cash back rate on categories that change every quarter.
These categories are actually very appropriate for those months -- so that there's plenty of potential to maximize cash back earnings.
Extra perks include Chase Offers for bonus cash back with certain brands, free FICO scores, and (usually) a great welcome offer.
Best for Dining & Takeout
Capital One® SavorOne Rewards Credit Card
SavorOne Rewards from Capital One Pros & Cons
The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is an easy choice for consumers who like to dine out or order takeout frequently.
- 3% cash back on dining and entertainment
- 2% cash back at grocery stores
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
There is no limit on your cash back earnings and there's no annual fee.
Moreover, there are no foreign transaction fees -- so this card is a great option for international travel and dining as well.
Best Card With No Foreign Transaction Fees
Capital One® Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Quicksilver from Capital One Pros & Cons
The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card is a solid all-around cash back credit card for all purposes.
The card offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no annual fee.
Without any foreign transaction fees, it's also a handy credit card to have when you're traveling internationally.
Who Should Use This Type of the Credit Card
Not all rewards cards are exactly alike. It’s best to choose the one that best fits your lifestyle and rewards you for the things you already do.
For instance, some credit cards with the best cash back rewards are perfect for everyday spending and may even give you a boost during the holiday shopping season.
However, if you’re an avid traveler, a miles card may be the better choice for you, since the points may prove more valuable in the end.
Usually, cash back credit cards offer a base 1% cash back on all purchases. Then you can get a bonus (higher percentage) for specific spending categories.
If you can line up your natural spending with these bonus categories, you can greatly boost your rewards. If the idea of going after variable spending categories is unappealing to you, then a general cash back card may be best.
A cash back credit card is most appropriate for you if you're able to pay off the balance on a monthly basis. (The easiest way to do this is to set up automatic payments.) Otherwise, the interest charges that you pay will negate or exceed your earnings. If that was the case, you would be better off with a low-interest credit card.
What is Cash Back?
Cash back can be seen as a type of rewards currency. When you’ve saved up enough cash back, you redeem it as actual cash (or something equivalent to it).
Redemption options of include:
- Direct deposit into a bank account
- Mailed paper check
- Statement credit
You can choose whichever redemption options is best for you. Credit cards companies may require you to save up a minimum amount of cash back before you can redeem it.
One common concern is the tax burden of earning cash back. Because cash back is the result of buying something, it is seen as a rebate. It is not an upfront bonus for doing nothing. Therefore, you don’t have worry about taxes.
Tradeoffs for Cash Back Programs
Credit card companies need to make a profit and support their bottom lines, after all, so it pays to know just how cash back cards really work, and if you’re getting the most out of your money by signing up for one.
Watch for fees
Though it may seem like free currency, cash back rewards do come at a price.
Credit card companies earn a great deal of their money through merchant fees and cardholder fees. Merchant fees are also known as interchange fees. It is a cost paid by a retailer or merchant to accept credit card transactions.
Merchant fees may average between 2 percent to 4 percent per transaction.
They may vary according to the type of merchant and transaction, location, and card provider. (For example, Discover and American Express conventionally carry higher fees than Visa or MasterCard.)
Essentially, it’s these fees earned by card providers that they share with their cardholders in the form of cash back.
It’s a give-and-take process:
By offering consumers cash back on their purchases, cardholders are poised to spend more on their card (instead of using cash), so the card company earns its merchant fees, and then gives back a portion to their customers.
So, when a bank like Citi earns a substantial amount of money from merchant fees, for one, it can translate that back into rewards for the consumer, especially when a unique cash back program -- like the Double Cash card -- is offered.
Many cash back credit cards may start with a $0 annual fee for a limited period of time.
In addition, account holders may be subject to balance transfer fees for importing funds from one card to another, and penalty fees if payments aren’t on time -- more big revenue streams for card companies.
Slightly higher APRs
Of course, then there’s the big money maker for card companies: interest rates. All credit cards derive income from the interest rates they charge to consumers.
For credit cards that offer rewards, such as cash back, expect higher APRs.
How We Picked
Before applying for a cash back card, consider these questions:
What’s the interest rate?
If you tend to carry a balance from month to month, a 0 percent intro APR may be a nice perk, but those double-digit interest rates can counteract any cash back rewards you might receive.
How are the cash back rewards organized?
You’d be remiss to open a new card that doesn’t emphasize your spending habits.
If general spending is how you like to use credit, go for the Citi Double Cash Card or Chase Freedom cards for more versatility.
But if a large portion of your monthly spending is on groceries, a card like the Blue Cash Preferred would suit you better.
How is the cash paid out?
Not all cards give back cold, hard currency. Fidelity’s Visa Signature card is ideal for the budding investor who wants their cash back to benefit from compounding interest.
Likewise, it’s not wise to redeem your cash on the Citi Double Cash Card card as a statement credit because it could reduce the value of your earnings.
What are the fees?
Some cards carry zero annual fees. Others offer the same deal for the first year, and others still charge a fee from the start. You want to make sure that you're able to earn enough cash back to cover the fees
Ultimately, cash back credit card is a good choice if you like cash rewards and you don't carry a balance.
If you carry a balance, the interest charges will exceed the value of the cash back. At that point, we would suggest a low-interest credit card instead.
How to Earn Cash Back Rewards
With most cash back credit cards, you’ll earn on nearly everything you buy.
However, your card may have a program that pays more in certain spending categories. Some consumers may carry different cash back credit cards for different kinds of spending in order to earn the most cash back.
Credit card rewards can be a huge perk for your finances but go for a good cash back card and it’s a win-win all around.
The right piece of plastic will put the most green in your wallet, simply from you being a frequent and responsible borrower.
How can you tell if you’re getting the most out of your rewards? Here are a few ways you can maximize your rewards and get more cash in hand.
Earn Bonus Cash Back on Certain Categories
There are ways to earn more cash back on specific spending categories.
Cash back credit cards are subject to merchant categorization of purchases.
If a purchase category on your credit card doesn't match that of the merchant, then you won't get cash back on that purchase. And, in most cases, where you buy matters.
For example, a box of cereal at the supermarket may be categorized as “groceries.”
But that same box of cereal at a drug store may be categorized as “drug store.” If your credit card offers cash back for groceries, buying that box of cereal at the drugstore won't get you cash back.
How to Find a Retailer's Spending Category
Knowing the categorization method merchants use will help you maximize your cash back. Each merchant (restaurant, retailer, website, etc.) has its own merchant category code (MCC). This code may vary based on the card network (American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa). Furthermore, each merchant location could have a different MCC.
The MCC of a merchant can be identified in one of 3 ways:
Use the online Visa supplier locator tool
Visa is the only one of the major card networks that provide a searchable public directory of merchants and their MCCs. You can use it to look up your most-visited merchants.
Review past credit card purchases
If you go to your credit card statement, you can look at a purchase category for any credit card transaction.
You may consider making a small purchase at a retailer as a test to find the MCC of that particular location.
Ask an associate at the merchant location
A sales clerk or store manager can often provide the store’s MCC.
Credit card issuers are strict with their cash back rules in terms of the matching of merchant codes.
You must agree to this policy when you sign up for the card. You won't be able to dispute your case if the merchant code doesn't match.
Get Cash Back Bonuses When You Sign Up
Introductory bonus cash back credit card offers are commonly used to attract new credit card customers.
To earn the bonus, new customers have to spend a specified amount on new purchases during a certain period of time.
Consider Investing Your Rewards
Let your credit card rewards grow into something more with a high-yield savings account.
You can even use the cash you get back to jumpstart more critical investments such as an IRA or HSA (bolstering your retirement and healthcare savings).
Make Cash Back = A Zero Card Balance
If you keep a rolling balance on a cash back credit card, you’re going to lose any money you earn in rewards (and then some) to high interest rates.
Like any credit card, don’t spend more than you can afford to pay back by the end of your billing cycle.
And if you keep your spending manageable this way, you may even be able to use your rewards to help pay down your monthly balance. Who knows? There may be some months where your rewards foot the entire bill.
Don’t Let Your Cash Rewards Expire
Sometimes, we’re so busy racking up rewards that we assume they’ll be there to redeem when we need them. That’s not always the case.
Your best bet when vetting the best cash back credit cards is to read the terms and fine print to avoid being hit with surprise expiration dates. When do your rewards expire? Do they expire at all? Are there any spending limitations?
If you already have a card with a rewards expiration date, you don’t necessarily need to give it up if it works for you in every other way.
Rather, make a habit of cashing out your rewards quarterly or annually (even if you don’t need them yet) so you don’t miss out on a dime of your rewards.
Many banks provide free FICO credit scores to their credit card customers.
These are the credit scores that are often used by lenders to measure your creditworthiness. Normally, a FICO credit score costs roughly $20 each. Some credit cards offer it for free on a monthly basis.
Most credit cards apply the penalty APR when a credit card customer doesn’t pay the bill on time. It overrides whatever existing interest rate may be on the card. Only a few credit cards will waive this penalty APR.
A foreign transaction fee is charged whenever you use your credit card to pay for a purchase outside of the U.S. Most credit cards charge a 3% fee for these foreign transactions.
But some credit cards (especially travel credit cards) will not impose this fee. Frequent international travelers can save a lot if they use a card that doesn't charge this fee.
What Credit Score is Needed?
Credit Cards that offer cash back tend to require better credit scores than credit cards that don't have any type of rewards program.
Generally, for the best chances of qualifying for a top-notch cash back credit card, you need a good credit score.
Your credit score is calculated from the data on your credit reports held with the three major U.S. credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
These bureaus compile reports on individual credit status based on details such as payments history, the range of credit options used, the length credit accounts are active, the amount of activity, and credit debts accumulated.
The report also includes any legal actions, court judgments or tax liens relating to that person’s finances.
The standard credit score used by 90% of major U.S. lenders is the FICO credit score.
The score can range between 300 for those with the most problematic credit records to 850 for a top credit rating. Using this scale, a good credit score is considered 700 or higher.
We'd like to remind borrowers that lenders want to know about your income and employment history.
And, each lending institution has their own criterion for determining loan eligibility and the generosity of terms the borrower may be offered.
How to Check Your Credit Before You Apply
You can retrieve a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus each year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
This right is independent of whether or not you have been denied credit.
With all the efforts they put into producing accurate reports, due to the amount of data handled the possibilities of confusing people with similar names or social security numbers and a myriad of other variables means there is always the possibility of error.
It pays to check the report carefully to verify that all the details are accurate.
If a decision to deny credit is based on your credit report, the lender has to notify you from which bureau they received the report and you have two months to request a free copy.
Although credit history stays on the reports for 7 years and in the event of a personal bankruptcy for 10 years, the negative impression and score resulting from irresponsible actions and business setbacks can be erased if subsequent actions show responsibility and financial stability.