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Best Cashback Credit Cards

Dayana Yochim

October 14, 2021

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.

Input your monthly
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Spend Categories expand_more
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Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Credit Card
Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Alliant's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Straight-up 2.5% cash back on all purchases up to $10K in spending a month
  • 1.5% default rewards rate after you hit the ceiling
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Premium-level Visa Signature Card program coverage
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Requires maintaining an Alliant high-rate checking account
  • No bonus categories = no extra earning potential
  • Rewards expire (after four years of procrastination)
  • No 0% intro APR on purchases or balance transfers
  • No sign-up bonus
list Card Deets expand_more

Stop fumbling at the register trying to figure out which card to use. This no-brainer, all-inclusive card pays a healthy 2.5% on all purchases up to $10,000 a month and a 1.5% default rewards rate if you hit the $10K monthly spending cap. Downside: Sign-up requirements are a pain in the tush.

The basics: 2.5% cashback on everything up to $10,000 per billing cycle, 1.5% once you reach the limit.

Woot!

  • Straight-up 2.5% rewards first $10K of qualifying purchases 👏 per 👏 billing 👏 cycle. Math: That’s up to $250 a month ($3,000 per year) in potential payola.
  • Unlimited 1.5% default rewards rate applies on monthly amounts exceeding $10,000. Got that, moneybags?
  • No rotating categories to track. Buh-bye Excel spreadsheets!
  • No foreign transaction fees means when in Rome, the standard 3% surcharge on your Pope-in-a-snow-globe souvenirs doesn’t apply.
  • Comes with Visa Signature Card premium-level extras like protections for your purchases and personage (e.g., travel accident and identity theft insurance). Go wild! (Actually, please don’t.)
  • Helps you earn your community-minded do-gooder badge by joining a credit union.

Boo-hiss

  • Requires maintaining a $1K average daily balance and completing one monthly deposit in an Alliant high-rate checking account to qualify for the Tier One (2.5%) rewards rate. At least you earn a decent (for a checking account) 0.25% on your balance.
  • Miss the mark on Tier One requirements and you’ll be stuck with the Tier Two 1.5% rewards rate on your spending.
  • No bonus categories keeps things simple and sane, but may limit earning potential compared to some cards.
  • Redemptions limited to an Alliant card statement credit or deposit into your Alliant checking or savings account.
  • Rewards expire after four years — a drawback if you suffer from acute absent-mindedness.
  • Tier One rewards (2.5% on purchases vs. Tier One’s 1.5% rate) don’t kick in until you’ve met eligibility requirements for an entire calendar quarter.
  • Not much wooing here: There’s no low intro APR offer for balance transfers or purchases, or even a sign-up bonus. Harrumph.

The fine print

Craving more info? See Alliant Cashback Visa Signature card rewards details and card terms and conditions.

Best for Rewards Card Newbies
Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards
Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on Bank of America's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Monthly choice of 3% rewards categories
  • One-time $200 cash bonus
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
  • Free FICO score
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Low quarterly cash back cap on 3% and 2% rewards categories
  • Lame 1% cash back base/default
  • Requires minor mathing to maximize rewards
list Card Deets expand_more

For rewards category commitment-phobes, the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards card allows you to switch up your 3% cash back category every 👏 single 👏 month 👏 . But the $2,500 combined quarterly spending cap is a bummer, making it best for those with smaller budgets.

The basics: 3% cash back in the category of your choice (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement/furnishings); 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (including those with supermarkets inside) and 1% cashback on all other purchases. Introductory 0% APR for 15 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers made within 60 days of opening an account. $200 cash rewards bonus after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first three months.

What you’ll like

  • Heads up, planners: This is a good card if you know you’ll be making big purchases in any of the rewards categories (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, home improvement/furnishings) and choose it for your 3% bonus category. Heads up, daydreamers: It defaults to gas if you don’t choose.
  • Got a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch account? Score! You can qualify for elevated rewards tiers of up to 5.25%.
  • No waiting months to switch bonus rewards categories or for the card issuer to determine that quarter’s bonus category. The choice is yours: Feel free to change your mind every month.
  • Redeem rewards in a Merrill 529 account to start stacking funds for your kids' education, or, if they're being stinkers, plop the money in your own Merrill investment account.
  • You’ve got three months to grab the sign-up bonus: You’ll need to shell out $1,000 (bespoke garments for your cats, perhaps?) within the first 90 days to score $200 extra to spend on accessories.

Stuff you won’t

  • Quarterly (quarterly!) cash-back caps are severely limiting if you spend more than $2,500 (that’s $800 and change a month) in the two highest bonus categories (3% and 2% combined. Repeat: c o m b i n e d.)
  • As long as we’re lodging complaints, the 1% cash-back base for all other purchases is pretty lame.
  • Definitely not the card to use for your overseas travel: The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards card carries a 3% foreign transaction fee. ¡Ay!
  • Beware of the 3% (minimum $10) balance-transfer fee.

The fine print

The fine print on Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards official program and card information is nothing short of riveting.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
American Express Cash Magnet
American Express Cash Magnet
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on American Express' secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • No rewards cap — at all!
  • 1.5% cashback rate on every category, no tracking required
  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
  • Low initial APR on purchases
  • Comes with AmEx network perks
thumb_down Dislikes

  • No bonus categories = no extra earning potential
  • Flat 1.5% rewards rate less generous than other Amex cards
  • American Express not as widely accepted abroad as Visa and Mastercard
  • Le yuck 2.7% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

The American Express Cash Magnet’s unlimited 1.5% cash-back rate on everything is serviceable for rewards newbies and big spenders who exceed caps elsewhere. Otherwise, big yawn.

The basics: Pays 1.5% cash back on purchases with no spending caps. Includes American Express card network perks. 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months from date of account opening. Spend $2,000 or more on purchases within the first six months and get a $200 statement credit.

Cool

  • Unlimited (!) 1.5% cash back. We like unlimited.
  • Card monogamists will appreciate the super simple rewards tracking: You know what you’re getting back with every swipe.
  • The first six months of membership are the best: Spend at least $2K (just $333 a month) on your American Express Cash Magnet card and you’ll earn a $200 statement credit.
  • The 15-month 0% APR on purchases offers some nice padding if you’re planning any big acquisitions.
  • Comes with Pay It and Plan It features (through the AmEx app). Pay It lets you pay off small purchases (less than $100) right away, earning rewards and avoiding interest. Plan It allows you to create a payment plan on qualifying purchases of $100 or more in installments for a monthly fee that’s less than your APR. Eligibility is based on your creditworthiness and credit limit. (See AmEx’s FAQ for more details.)
  • Attn travelers: If you’re 100 miles or more from home you can access Global Assist Hotline if you need a lawyer, help with lost luggage or a translator to get you through your Turkish rhinoplasty (which really is a thing).
  • Comes with other American Express card network perks, like car rental loss/damage insurance and purchase protection.

Not cool

  • Flat 1.5% rate means there’s no opportunity to earn more. Sometimes the more complex tiered rewards cards are worth the extra hassle. Eventually you may want to play the rewards card field.
  • That 2.7% foreign transaction fee is slightly better than the standard 3% foreign transaction fee many cards charge. Thanks (?) for the 0.3% discount.
  • Cash back can be redeemed only for statement credits.
  • Sorry, no balance-transfer offer to see here. Move along if that’s what you’re looking for.

The fine print

For some light reading, here’s the American Express Cash Magnet cardmember agreement.

Best for Road Warriors
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $300
Apply Now open_in_new on American Express' secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Complex but potentially lucrative welcome bonus
  • Unlimited 2% cash back on gas and department store spending
  • No annual fee
  • Up to $300 back sign-up bonus (with some effort)
  • Did we mention no annual fee?
thumb_down Dislikes

  • 3% supermarket cashback rewards capped after $6K per year in purchases
  • Lame 1% cash back default
  • Not as widely accepted abroad, which may be a blessing because…
  • Charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee
  • Half the $300 potential sign-up bonus requires shopping at Amazon.com
list Card Deets expand_more

If frozen veggies (aka groceries) and fuel (gas station purchases) are significant line items on your budget — and you’re dead set against paying an annual fee — the 3% and 2% cashback rates on the American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card, respectively, are pretty generous for a no-annual-fee card. Nabbing the sign-up bonus, though not a simple feat, sweetens the deal.

The basics: Pays 3% cashback on groceries (on up to $6,000 a year in purchases and then 1% thereafter), an unlimited 2% on gas station and select department store purchases, and 1% on all other purchases. 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months from date of account opening. In the first six months earn $150 back after spending $2,000 in purchases and 20% back on Amazon.com purchases, up to $150 back.

Noteworthy

  • Take note, scenic-route lovers: gas rewards (which earn 2% cash back) are unlimited. Groceries — the 3% cashback category — sadly aren’t.
  • The introductory 15-month 0% APR offers nice padding if you’re planning any big purchases.
  • Amazon addicts can earn $150 of the $300 sign-up bonus by spending $750 at the e-tailer during the first six months.
  • Comes with unique Pay It and Plan It features (through the AmEx app). Pay It lets you pay off small purchases (less than $100) right away, earning rewards and avoiding interest. With Plan It, you can create an installment payment plan (on qualifying purchases of $100 or more) for a monthly fee that’s less than your APR. (See AmEx’s FAQ for more details.)
  • Put your kids to work, child labor laws notwithstanding, by adding them (ages 13-plus) — and employees and your spouse — to the account to help rack up rewards on your behalf.
  • American Express Blue Cash Everyday card membership includes Global Assist Hotline access in case you need a lawyer, help with lost luggage or a translator to order a decent wine with dinner.
  • Also comes with other American Express card network perks, like car rental loss/damage insurance and purchase protection.

Potential roadblocks

  • A large family (or single shopper with haute cuisine taste buds) could bump up against the $6,000 annual supermarket spending rewards ceiling.
  • The underwhelming 1% default cashback rate applies to everything you don’t buy at a supermarket, gas station or department store. So, basically, a lot...
  • “Department store” spending (the 2% cashback category coupled with gas) is limited to eligible merchants like J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Sears. (See the full list here.)
  • Earning the full $300 bonus requires spending $2,750 on the card in the first six months — $750 of which must be spent at Amazon.com. (More details from AmEx.)
  • Redemptions are limited — you can only use them as a statement credit.
  • That 2.7% foreign transaction fee is whatever. Leave this one at home when traveling overseas.

The fine print

Interested? Get the full lowdown on the American Express Blue Cash Everyday card terms and conditions.

Best for Netflix and Chillers
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $95
Welcome Bonus $350
Apply Now open_in_new on American Express' secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Big-time rewards (6%!) on supermarket and streaming purchases
  • 3% back on transit-related stuff
  • Rich (albeit complex) $400 cash bonus
  • $95 annual fee waived for the first year
thumb_down Dislikes

  • $6K annual cap on reward-eligible grocery store purchases
  • Superstore and warehouse clubs don’t count
  • Blah 1% cash back base/default rate on all other purchases
  • Snagging half of the sign-up bonus requires shopping at Amazon.com
  • The 2.7% foreign transaction fee is whatever the French word is for "yuck"
list Card Deets expand_more

The “Preferred” in this card’s name means double the cashback bonus (6%) AmEx and others typically offer for bonus categories — a boon if your main sources of sustenance come from supermarkets and streaming services. These premium-level rewards rates will, however, cost you a $95 annual fee starting in Year Two.

The basics: Pays 6% cash back on grocery store purchases and select streaming subscriptions and 3% on transit and gas station spending. $95 annual card membership fee waived for the first year. 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from date of account opening. Earn up to $400 back within the first six months — get $200 by putting $3,000 in purchases on the card and up to $200 via 20% back on Amazon.com purchases.

Yaaas

  • The American Express Blue Cash Preferred card’s 6% cash back (up to $360 a year) on supermarket purchases far outshines AmEx’s typical 3% rate.
  • The other 6% cash back category (no cap!) is streaming services, including almost anything that’s stream-able, from Apple TV+ to YouTube Premium.
  • Commuters of all types are rewarded with a 3% cashback rate on gas and transit, including taxis, rideshare services, parking, tolls, trains, ferries, buses and subways.
  • There’s a handsome $400 statement credit sign-up bonus if you’re prepared to spend $1,000 at Amazon.com within six months to earn half of it ($200) and another $3,000 elsewhere.
  • At 12 months, the 0% introductory APR period is shorter than some of AmEx’s other offers, but still provides a good balance payoff buffer.
  • Comes with Pay It and Plan It features (through the AmEx app) that lets you quickly pay off small purchases (less than $100) and/or create an installment payment plan on qualifying purchases of $100 or more for a monthly fee that’s less than your APR. (See AmEx’s FAQ for more details.)
  • Includes Global Assist Hotline access in case you need a lawyer, help with lost luggage or a translator to interpret why bus drivers in foreign lands keep yelling at you.
  • Also includes other American Express card network perks, like car rental loss/damage insurance and purchase protection.

Nooo!

  • The 6% supermarket spending rewards reverts to 1% after you’ve spent $6K in a year.
  • Groceries purchased at superstores and warehouse clubs don’t qualify for supermarket rewards, because lame.
  • Speaking of ineligible, spending on airfare, car rentals and cruises is not eligible for the 3% transit cash back category.
  • Jetsetters, dab your solid gold tears: Jet fuel ineligible for 3% cash back on gas.
  • The underwhelming 1% default cashback rate on the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card applies to everything (including jet fuel) that doesn’t qualify for higher rewards rates.
  • You’re gonna need to spend $1,000 at Amazon.com and $3,000 elsewhere to earn the full $400 statement credit. Just sayin’.
  • Bundled streaming services or ones billed by a third party (like your internet provider) may not be eligible for 3% rewards.
  • The 2.7% foreign transaction fee seems counter to all the good international travel perks that come with the card. 🤷‍♀️

The fine print

Behold the American Express Blue Cash Preferred terms and conditions.

Best for Apple stans
Apple Card
Apple Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Apple's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Unlimited cash back deposited daily into account
  • 2% rewards when paying with your Apple device
  • 3% cash back on Apple products
  • No fees. Nada
  • Interest-free Apple product financing
  • Can help others build credit
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Reliant on Apple Pay, having an up-to-date iPhone and Apple Wallet
  • 3% limited to purchases directly from Apple and a handful of partners
  • Blah 1% default rate where Apple Pay isn’t accepted
  • No sign-up incentives
  • PC/Android people: Don’t even bother
list Card Deets expand_more

Strip away the pretty card design and the 3% and 2% cash back on purchases directly from Apple and a handful of choice retailers or when you use Apple Pay, and you’re basically left with a 1% cashback novelty card that’ll probably end up in the discarded toy box with our old iPod Shuffles.

The basics: Pays 3% cash back on purchases from Apple, 2% on transactions via Apple Pay, 1% on all other purchases. Cash back deposited daily (after purchases clear) into your account.

Cool

  • The Apple Card offers nearly instant cashback gratification — rewards are deposited into your Apple Cash account or credited to your card account as soon as purchases clear.
  • No caps on rewards. Just make sure you use Apple Pay via your iPhone or Apple Watch so your spending at least qualifies for the 2% daily cash back rate.
  • No fees — as in no annual, over-the-limit, foreign transaction or late payment fees. Just remember, you’ll still rack up additional interest on any balances if you’re late with or miss a payment.
  • Provides a fab 0% APR six-to-24-month installment loan on some Apple products — great if you’re planning an equipment upgrade.
  • Apple Card Family allows you to add up to five additional spenders (age 13 and up) as authorized users to widen the net for racking up rewards. (Pro tip: Set spending controls and alerts for hormonal youngins.)
  • Offers the option of adding an adult “co-owner” (even a non-related one), which helps them build credit.

Not cool

  • Swiping the physical card gets you just 1% cash back. Advice: Go digital (choose Apple Pay where accepted) or go home (choose another more rewarding card).
  • The 3% rewards rate applies only to purchases at Apple stores (iTunes, Apple Music or other Apple-owned properties) and certain big-name merchants (Walgreens, Exxon, Panera Bread, T-Mobile, Uber/Uber Eats, etc.).
  • Redemption options limited to either an Apple Cash Card (requires signup via Apple Wallet) or a credit to your Apple Card account.
  • The Apple Card offers no sign-up bonus or even a 0% intro APR on balance transfers or purchases. C’mon, toss us a bone, will ya?
  • Requires an “eligible device” and installing Apple Card to Wallet to apply for and maintain an account.
  • Hard to justify if you don’t have an iPhone (running iOS 13.2 or later).
  • During the initial rollout Apple was called out for granting lower credit limits to women than men. We’re still irked about that.

The fine print

Dig in! Here’s the Apple Card customer agreement (.pdf) straight from the card issuer, Goldman Sachs.

Best for Road Warriors
BB&T Spectrum Cash Rewards Credit Card
BB&T Spectrum Cash Rewards Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on BB&T's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 10% booster option for Truist customers
  • 2% cash back on utility bills
  • Multiple reward redemption options
  • 12-month 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • 3% rate applies to gas... and nothin’ else
  • $1,000 monthly spending cap on bonus categories
  • Offers no sign-up lovin’
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Unredeemed cash back expires after five years
list Card Deets expand_more

This is basically a 1% cashback card on everything but gas (3%) and groceries/utility payments (2%). Kinda limiting, except if you’re a Truist bank customer (Truist is the love child of BB&T and SunTrust). Then it gets interesting. Rewards cash gets a 10% booster shot if you deposit redemptions directly into your bank account.

The basics: 3% cashback on gas, 2% on utilities and grocery store/supermarket purchases (up to $1,000 in purchases combined); 1% on everything else. 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers.

Boom!

  • Get a 10% rewards booster on your rewards cash by electronically depositing the money directly into your Truist (formerly BB&T) checking or savings account.
  • If you have insane utility bills — and you consider Netflix and Hulu to be utilities — the 2% cash back on utility payments will help. (Applies to gas, water, electricity, sanitation, phone, cable/satellite and… yes, streaming services.)
  • Offers flexible redemption options (though not as lucrative as the booster), including cash back, credit card statement credit, airline travel (with a potential $28 service fee and a bunch of other fine print) and gift cards/merchandise via the BB&T Rewards Center.
  • Twelve-month 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers sweetens the deal, if you’re into stuff like skirting pesky interest payments.

Bust

  • Lame!: There’s a $1,000 monthly combined category spending cap on the the BB&T Spectrum Cash Rewards Card’s 3% gas station and 2% supermarkets/utilities rewards categories. The max you can earn is $30 a month, or $33 with the 10% booster.
  • After you hit spending caps, all other purchases are subject to a meh, albeit unlimited, 1% rewards rate.
  • Sorry, phone equipment, telegraph services (actually specified in the fine print) and insurance premiums are rewarded at the 1% rate.
  • The 3% foreign transaction fee is a big fat no for world travelers.
  • Don’t be a slacker: Cash back expires five years from the date it was issued. Also, as with most cards, you’ll forfeit it if you cancel the credit card before redeeming what you’ve earned.

The fine print

All the things you need to know about the BB&T Spectrum Cash Rewards Credit Card rewards program and fees.

Methodology

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 suggestions@investor.com.

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

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