Best Cashback Credit Cards
The best cashback credit cards pay top dollar for every penny you spend. For the average American — or “consumer unit,” as we’re affectionately referred to by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — that could mean raking in anywhere from $120 to $270 in cashback rewards each year if you put $1,000 a month in expenses on plastic.
Based on BLS spending data and our cashback credit card calculations, the top five cashback credit cards with no annual fee for 2021 are:
- Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: If your life revolves around supermarkets and streaming services (we call it “self care”), the 6% cashback rate on these necessities — and no annual fee for the first year — make this card an essential worker in your wallet.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: This flat-rate (1.5%) unlimited cashback card may seem basic at first. But the 3% rewards rate for dining and 5% on travel purchased through Chase give it a glow up. And, true to its name, there are no stingy spending caps limiting how much you can earn.
- Capital One SavorOne Rewards: Foodies (restaurantgoers, home chefs) who reach for this no-annual-fee card get 3% unlimited cashback on nom noms. The 1% cashback rate on everything else, however, is pretty bland.
- Chase Freedom Flex: Flexible, indeed. The quarterly rotating 5% cashback rewards categories are perfect for commitment-phobes, but kind of a pain in the tuchus to manage. With some effort, you can really cash in, up to a point — specifically, up to the $1,500 bonus category spending cap per quarter.
- Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi: This is not your average store credit card. Although gas is the cashback cow (4% back on up to $7,000 in annual fill-ups), the reward rates on practically everything on your shopping list are highly competitive, and really amp up on Costco purchases, including travel.
By the way, none of the credit card issuers in our database pay for preferential placement in the results list. The cashback rewards cards listed above and in the calculator results are based solely on data and listed in descending order of how much money they pay out annually based on the inputs.
And the best cashback card for you is …
It depends! In other words, the most lucrative cashback credit card for you depends on your unique spending habits — specifically where and how much you put on plastic each month and how much effort you want to put into managing your deck of cards.
You’re so much more than an “average consumer unit” to us. So, let’s get personal, shall we?
The investor.com cashback credit card calculator will help identify which no-annual-fee rewards programs are most worth your while. Start by tossing in a more real-world “Monthly Spend” number. To tailor the results even further, adjust the default “Spend Category” amounts (which are based proportionately on the “average consumer unit’s” budget) to reflect your actual spending. And then? Cash(back) in, of course.
Our mission at investor.com is simple: provide thorough and unbiased reviews of financial products and service providers. But, boy, do we have opinions. And those opinions are based on unparalleled research and reams of data.
We spent eight months gathering 58 data points on each rewards card program in our ever-expanding database to power the investor.com Best Cashback Credit Cards search tool. The results are based on the monthly spending amounts you enter and our calculations for the annual dollar value of the rewards each credit card program pays per $1 spent.
That’s the TL;DR of it. Read on for more about the behind-the-scene machinations that power our Best Cashback Credit Card recommendations.
» Drop us a line: We add to our credit card database daily. Is there a credit card rewards program you’d like to see included? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the results
Our database includes rewards credit card programs offered by banks (big and small), credit unions and fintech companies. The results include cashback cards that charge no annual fee, waive the annual fee under certain conditions, or are free to existing customers (such as the Costco card).
Note that credit cards are listed in descending order of how much money each program would pay out in cashback rewards. The results are based on your calculator inputs. None of the issuers pay for preferential placement in the results list.
Credit card companies often express rewards payouts as a percentage (such as 1.5% of every dollar spent) or on a points basis (like 1.5 points for every dollar spent). We converted these to a dollar amount to make it easier to compare programs. Of course, actual rewards payouts will depend on account activity.
To calculate the amount of cash back you could earn per year, we factored in:
- Spend category inputs: The default dollar values for each spend category in the Best Cashback Credit Cards tool — gas, groceries, travel, restaurant, entertainment, pharmacy, other — are based on average American spending data from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We encourage you to customize the monthly spend inputs for the most accurate results.
- Tiered rewards rates: If a rewards credit card pays higher cashback rates on certain spending categories, that difference is reflected in the total “Cash Back Per Year” tally.
Some cards have rewards spending caps wherein purchases that exceed a certain dollar amount are subject to a lower default rewards rate, usually 1% or 1.5%. We point out in the individual credit card reviews any monthly, quarterly or annual spending caps that may affect the amount in rewards you can earn. (An upcoming version of this calculator will automatically factor this into the results.)
What’s not included in the “Cash Back Per Year” total is the cash value of any sign-up/introductory bonus. We highlight any Welcome Bonus separately. While sign-up bonuses can be the most lucrative part of getting a new cashback rewards credit card, not everyone will want or be able to do what it takes to earn the extra cash; it usually requires spending a certain amount in a specified time period after the card is activated.
Other data points we collect on each rewards card include fees (annual, balance transfer, cash advance, late/returned payment, foreign transactions), reward redemption options, introductory APRs for purchases and/or balance transfers, perks, quirks, and our own take on the merits of each card.
Expand the results for more information to help you pick the best cashback credit card for your needs.
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About the author:
Dayana Yochim has been writing (articles, books, podcasts, stirring speeches) about personal finance and investing for more than two decades, focusing on bringing clarity and the occasional comedic aside to what is often a murky, humorless topic. She’s written for NerdWallet, The Motley Fool, HerMoney.com, Woman’s Day, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and been a guest expert on The Today Show, GMA, CNN, NPR and wherever they’ll hand her a mic. Read more about Dayana