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Best Credit Cards in California: How to Get the Most Rewards

See the best credit cards for Californians to maximize the rewards and perks based on major purchase categories and spending patterns.

There's a lot to consider when choosing a credit card, including where you live.

You may not realize it but where you call home can influence how you spend.

If you live in California, for example, then your spending habits might look very different from a New Yorker's or a Texan's.

That's important to know when it comes to choosing a rewards credit card. Finding the right card (or combination of cards) that aligns with how you spend matters for maximizing rewards.

If you're a Golden State resident, here are some helpful tips for finding the best credit cards in California.

Best Credit Cards in California

  • Citi Double Cash: Best for general-purpose spending
  • Blue Cash Preferred from American Express: Best for groceries
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best for dining and travel rewards
  • Chase Freedom Flex: Best for bonus cash back categories
  • Costco Anywhere Visa: Best for gas rewards

Consumer Spending Trends for California

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects spending information for households in all 50 states, including California.

So how does the average spending add up? Here's what the numbers look like:

  • Average spending on groceries: $5,082
  • Average spending on dining/takeout: $4,384
  • Average spending on gas: $2,631
  • Average spending on apparel and services: $1,977
  • Average spending on entertainment: $3,289

This is what the typical Californian spends in a year. Whether you live in NorCal, SoCal or somewhere in between can influence your average spending.

San Mateo County, for example, tops the list of most expensive California counties. That's because it draws in billionaires, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

But there are plenty of California cities and counties that offer a lower cost of living, including Bakersfield and Fresno. So again, where you live can influence how you spend.

Now sure which rewards card to try? Here are some of the best credit cards for California residents to consider now.

Best Credit Cards in California 2021

Citi Double Cash: Best for general spending

Card Highlights

  • Earn 1% cash back on purchases as you make them
  • Earn 1% cash back on purchases as you pay them off
  • No cash back caps and no rotating bonus categories
  • No annual fee

The Citi Double Cash Card offers a simple way to earn rewards on everything you spend in California, or anywhere else.

Here's how it works. This card lets you earn 1% cash back on purchases as you make. You then earn an additional 1% cash back as you pay them off.

You'll need to pay at least the minimum due each month to earn cash back. But otherwise, there are no limits on how much cash back you can earn.

There are no rotating bonus categories to worry about either. You can redeem rewards for direct deposit, a check or statement credit, or convert them to Citi ThankYou points.

There's no annual fee for this card. All-around it's one of the best credit cards for earning rewards on everyday spending.

Blue Cash Preferred from American Express: Best for groceries

Card Highlights

  • Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchase per year, then unlimited 1% back
  • Earn additional cash back on all other purchases made with the card
  • Cash back is received as Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credit
  • $0 intro annual fee the first year, then $95

The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is one of the best credit cards for California residents who dedicate a big chunk of their budget to groceries.

This card offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $6,000 in purchases per year. After that, you continue earning unlimited 1% cash back on supermarket purchases.

If you spend $5,082 per year on groceries like the average Californian, that's $304.92 in cash back you could earn. That could help to cancel out this card's $95 annual fee.

Besides earning cash back at supermarkets, this card pays you back on other purchases:

  • 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscription services
  • 3% cash back on U.S. transit
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1% cash back on other purchases

That can help you pile even more cash back rewards if you spend heavily in those areas.

Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best for dining and travel

Card Highlights

  • Earn 2X points on dining and travel
  • Earn 1X points on all other purchases
  • Get 25% more redemption value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • $95 annual fee

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card may be an ideal fit if you love dining and travel.

With this card, you can earn two points per dollar on dining at California restaurants (or anywhere else). You can also earn two points per dollar on travel.

So whether you're booking a flight that departs from LAX or a Catalina cruise, you can earn double the points for each dollar you spend.

And this card gets even better when it's time to redeem points. That's because you get 25% more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

So 80,000 points is worth $1,000 in travel credit. And 100,000 points works out to $1,250.

The more points you earn, the further you can make them stretch when you book through Ultimate Rewards.

This card does have a $95 annual fee. But if you regularly dine out or travel you could earn that back in rewards fairly quickly.

Chase Freedom Flex: Best for bonus cash back categories

Card Highlights

  • Earn 5% on up to $1500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Earn cash back on all other purchases with the card
  • Cash back rewards do not expire and there's no minimum to redeem
  • No annual fee

The Chase Freedom Flex Card is the best credit card in California for earning bonus cash back rewards.

With this card, you can earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter. Bonus categories rotate throughout the year and can include things like department stores, gas and groceries.

This card is rewarding in other ways as well.

For instance, you can earn 5% back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can earn 3% back at restaurants and drugstores and 1% back on all other purchases. .

There's no annual fee for this card, which is a plus. Just remember that you have to activate the 5% bonus each quarter to take advantage of it.

Costco Anywhere Visa Card: Best for gas rewards

Card Highlights

  • Earn 4% on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year then 1%
  • Earn 2% back at Costco stores and Costco.com
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee with a paid Costco membership

The typical California spends $2,631 per year on gas. If you live in a bigger city like LA then you might spend even more.

The Costco Anywhere Visa could be a great fit for earning rewards on gas. This card offers 4% back on eligible gas purchases for the first $7,000 per year.

After that, you keep earning 1% back on gas purchases. So $2,631 in gas purchases works out to $105.24 in rewards each year.

The card also pays 3% back on restaurants and eligible travel, plus 2% back on Costco purchases. And you'll earn 1% back anywhere else Visa is accepted.

There's no annual fee as long as you have a paid Costco membership. Once per year you'll get a rewards certificate that you can use at Costco or redeem for cash.

How to Choose the Right Credit Card(s) for You

These cards represent the top choices for California residents. If you still need help choosing a rewards card, check out these tips.

1. Review your spending

Before choosing a rewards card, take a look at your spending.

Your spending habits might mirror those of the average Golden State resident but then again, they might not.

So it's important to know where your money goes each month.

For example, your top spending categories might include:

  • Gas
  • Groceries
  • Utility and cellphone bills
  • Dining
  • Entertainment
  • Travel
  • Shopping

Once you know where you spend the most, you can add up how much you spend in each category. This can help narrow down the list of ideal rewards cards.

For example, if you spend mostly on gas and groceries then a cash back card that pays you back on those purchases could make sense.

But if you mostly spend on dining out and travel, then you might want a card that pays you back points or miles instead.

Remember, the goal is to find a rewards card that fits your regular spending patterns.

2. Compare the best credit cards in California

We've selected some of the best credit cards for California living. But it's also helpful to do your own research.

So as you compare cards, pay attention to things like:

  • Which purchases earn rewards
  • How rewards are earned (i.e. rotating categories, tiered rewards, flat rate, etc.)
  • Caps or limits on the amount of rewards you can earn
  • Introductory rewards bonuses
  • Rewards redemption options
  • Annual fees
  • Annual percentage rates
  • Added card benefits or features, such as free credit score monitoring or travel perks

One simple way to choose a rewards credit card is to estimate how much you could earn back each year. This can help you decide if a card is worth it, especially if there's an annual fee involved.

For example, say you're considering a card that pays 6% back on gas and it has a $95 annual fee.

You'd need to spend roughly $1,600 a year on groceries to earn the fee back. But if you're spending $5,082 per year (the average for Californians) you could easily earn it back.

3. Consider more than one card for maximizing rewards

Depending on how you spend, it could make sense to have multiple rewards cards in your wallet.

You might want a card that pays you the highest possible rewards rate on groceries, for example, and another that does the same for gas.

And it could make sense to have a card that pays you points back on travel or dining.

A multi-card approach means you don't have to miss out on earning rewards.

You do, however, need to keep the annual fees and APR for each card in mind. Higher fees and a higher APR can detract from the value of rewards earned.

Final Verdict

This list includes the cards we think are the best rewards card options for California residents.

But again, consider which card is going to work best for you, based on how you spend. And if you carry a balance from month to month, be sure to keep an eye on the APR as well.

Finally, consider checking your credit before applying for a new rewards credit card. This can help you decide which credit cards for California you're most likely to be approved for.

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