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Best Cashback Credit Cards

Dayana Yochim

December 03, 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.
  • Wells Fargo Active Cash Card: Well, well, Wells. Your 2% unlimited cash back on every purchase — no rotating rewards categories or pesky earnings caps — is a head-turner among flat-rate, no-annual-fee cards. The bounty of reward redemption options and sign-up goodies adds even more to your allure.
  • SoFi Credit Card: Have a savings or investment account or a loan with SoFi? You’ll get a 2% cashback rate on all the dollars you earn in rewards from this card if you funnel them back to the bank. Otherwise you’re left with just 1% cashback if you take the money and run.

And because that last one — the SoFi credit card — requires having an additional account with the provider to get the top cashback rate, here’s a bonus contender for the list of top cashback credit cards with no annual fee:

  • 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.

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.

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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
Truist Enjoy Cash Credit Card
Truist Enjoy Cash Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Truist'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.

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

thumb_up Likes

  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all the things
  • Easy-to-nab $200 signup bonus
  • $0 annual fee
  • 15-month 0% intro APR on purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
thumb_down Dislikes

  • No rewards bonus categories
  • 1.5% cashback rate is the starting point for many cards
  • Lame balance transfer “deal”
  • Requires “excellent” credit for not-so-excellent rewards
list Card Deets expand_more

This super basic 1.5% cashback card requires zero forethought — okayfine if you just can’t be bothered to track rewards categories, pay attention to spending caps, or shop for an even slightly better card. Honestly, put in a little effort and you can get a lot more in return elsewhere.

The basics: Flat 1.5% unlimited cash back on purchases. Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 within three months from account opening.

Props

  • Toss aside those spending shackles. There’s no cap on the cashback rewards you can earn with the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Card. Everything qualifies for the 1.5% rewards rate.
  • You’ve got three months to spend just $500 to earn the one-time $200 cash bonus. One trip to Best Buy with a teenager oughta do it.
  • Cash back can be redeemed via PayPal checkout and at Amazon.com. Just make your card your default payment option to see the option to pay with card rewards at checkout.
  • Other redemption options include applying cash back towards a Capital One “Experience” (concerts, festivals, dining), a statement credit, or just requesting actual cash.
  • Includes complimentary concierge service, 24-7 travel assistance and travel accident insurance.
  • Comes with CreditWise alerts to changes in your TransUnion and Experian credit reporting files.

Thanks but no thanks

  • Capital One states upfront that approval for the Quicksilver card requires having “excellent credit.” If a lender is going to require “excellent credit” to qualify for a card, we want to see excellent reward rates — as in higher than 1.5%.
  • There are no bonus rewards categories. (Reality check: The best you’ll do is get $15 back for each $1,000 in spending. A buck fifty per $100 happy hour tab. You get the bleak picture.)
  • Before you transfer a balance, consider that the main benefit on offer is that Capital One waives its 3% balance transfer fee. You’ll get no reprieve on interest, and should expect to pay a 15.49% to 25.49% variable APR on the transferred amount.

The fine print

Here’s what you need to know about the terms and conditions for the Capital One Quicksilver card, courtesy of Capital One’s legal eagles.

Best for Rewards Card Newbies
Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Good Credit
Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Good Credit
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Capital One's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • Multiple reward redemption options
  • $0 annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Don’t need perfect credit for approval
thumb_down Dislikes

  • No rewards bonus categories
  • No new cardmember offer
  • Lame balance transfer “deal”
  • 1.5% cashback rate is the starting point for many cards
list Card Deets expand_more

This is the Quicksilver Rewards card’s less attractive suitor for those with “good” — but not “excellent” — credit. So much for being wooed. “Good” doesn’t get you a sign-up bonus or a 0% APR grace period on new purchases. You get 1.5% cashback on purchases, and thazzit. At least there’s no rewards spending cap.

The basics: Flat 1.5% unlimited cash back on purchases. Requires “good credit” (as in no late payments in the past year or defaults in the past five) to qualify, according to Capital One.

Mmmmkay

  • The main pitch is that there’s no cap on the 1.5% cashback rewards you earn on all purchases, regardless of category. Take note, big spenders with large lines of credit (and — stern look — the means to pay off your balance in full every single month).
  • Cash back can be redeemed via PayPal checkout and at Amazon.com. Just make your card your default payment option to see the option to pay with card rewards at checkout.
  • Other redemption options include applying cash back towards a Capital One “Experience” (concerts, festivals, dining), a statement credit, or just requesting actual cash.
  • A handy addition for those working on improving their credit: The Quicksilver Rewards for Good Credit card comes with CreditWise, a service that alerts you to changes in your TransUnion and Experian credit reporting files.
  • Another nice thing we can say is that cardholders get complimentary concierge service, 24-7 travel assistance and travel accident insurance.
  • Oh hey, there’s no annual fee!

Mmmmmmnope

  • There are no bonus rewards categories, meaning the underwhelming 1.5% cashback is the most you’ll get. (Reality check: That’s $15 back per $1,000 in spending. A buck fifty per $100 spend. Keep the champagne corked.)
  • Where’s the wooing, Capital One? Unlike the regular Quicksilver Rewards card, this version has no sign-up bonus (that’s $200 you’ll never be offered) or even a low intro APR on purchases.
  • The not-so-special special offer on balance transfers merely waives the usual 3% balance transfer fee. 🙄 You’ll get no reprieve on interest. In fact, the 26.99% variable APR you’ll pay on transferred balances feels practically usurious.

The fine print

The terms and conditions that apply to the Capital One Quicksilver for Good Credit Card are what will define your relationship with the lender — should you choose to commit.

Best for Rewards Card Newbies
Capital One QuicksilverOne
Capital One QuicksilverOne
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $39
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Capital One's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Automatic credit line reviews
thumb_down Dislikes

  • $39 annual fee
  • No rewards bonus categories
  • No new cardmember offer
  • No balance transfer deal
  • 1.5% cashback rate is the starting point for many cards
list Card Deets expand_more

If your credit is less than stellar, this card lets you see if you’ll get approved without dinging your credit score. If it’s a “yes,” prepare to pony up a $39 annual fee for a 1.5% rewards rate and very few of the extras that come standard with other Quicksilver cards. As your credit improves, so will your credit line (and hopefully your eligibility for another, better card).

The basics: Flat 1.5% unlimited cash back on purchases; $39 annual fee. Requires “fair credit” to qualify, according to Capital One. (Think students, new U.S. citizens, people with a limited credit history or those who have defaulted on a loan in the past five years.

Mmmmkay

  • The main pitch for this card is that there’s no cap on the 1.5% cash back rewards you earn on all purchases, regardless of category. Easy peasy, no tracking, rotating or calculating required.
  • Six months after approval, Capital One will automatically review your credit line to see if you qualify for an increase.
  • A handy addition for those working on improving their credit: Comes with CreditWise, a service that alerts you to changes in your TransUnion and Experian credit files.
  • Capital One lets you see if you prequalify for the QuicksilverOne without impacting your credit score (as in it won’t generate a “hard inquiry” that can cost you some points). If you qualify, you can formally apply which can temporarily affect your credit score.

Not okay

  • The $39 annual fee buys you access — no extras. You’ll need to spend $2,600 to earn back the fee in rewards cash.
  • There are no bonus rewards categories, meaning the underwhelming 1.5% cashback is the most you’ll get. (Reality check: That’s $15 back per $1,000 in spending. A buck fifty per $100 spend.)
  • Forget about earning a signup bonus or low intro APR (like the regular Quicksilver card).
  • The not-so-special special offer on balance transfers merely waives the usual 3% balance transfer fee. Balance transfers are subject to a 26.99% variable APR 😱.
  • Redemption options are more limited than with other Quicksilver cards. Here you can get cash back or a statement credit, gift cards or apply cash to cover a recent purchase (to save on interest if you carry a balance).

The fine print

For your reading pleasure, the terms and conditions for the Capital One QuicksilverOne card.

Best for Foodies
Capital One SavorOne Rewards
Capital One SavorOne Rewards
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on Capital One's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • No cap on 3% cashback on dining, groceries, entertainment
  • Easy-to-earn $200 signup bonus
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum required for redemptions
  • No foreign transaction fees
thumb_down Dislikes

  • 1% default rate applies to non-entertainment/food-related purchases
  • Nonsensical restrictions on 3% cashback streaming category
  • No annual fee = lower rewards rate than Savor card
  • Meh balance transfer deal
list Card Deets expand_more

The 3% unlimited cash back with the SavorOne Rewards card from Capital One can help you justify ordering apps, wine, dessert, extra dessert and a digestif while dining out. The same rewards rate applies to groceries and entertainment if you decide to make it a night in. Some of the card's limitations may leave a bad aftertaste, though.

The basics: Unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, supermarket and streaming services; 1% cashback on everything else. Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus when you spend $500 within the first three months of account opening.

Tasty

  • The $200 one-time cash bonus is an easy way to fatten up your return. Just spend $500 on the card within the first three months.
  • Drinks on you (for a while)! The 15-month 0% APR period on purchases (not balance transfers) will make you popular during cocktail hour.
  • No foreign transaction fees to prevent you from presenting your card to Parisian garçons.
  • Entertainment purchases made with the SavorOne Rewards card are rewarded at a 3% rate and include purchases at zoos, dance halls, movie theaters, video rental locations (still a thing?), record stores (OK hipster), amusement parks, bowling alleys, pro and semi-pro live sporting events, and concerts/theaters.
  • Multiple redemption options (for any amount), including using your rewards cash to shop at Amazon.com or places that take PayPal.
  • Pays a chonky 8% cash back when you buy tickets to events (concerts, sports, the theater [or The Theatre]) via ticket seller Vivid Seats.

Yucky

  • Evidently Prime Video, Verizon FIOS On Demand, audiobook subscription services and fitness programming don’t count as “popular streaming services," and therefore are not eligible for 3% cashback rewards.
  • Sorry, golfers and college sports fans: Your greens fees, club membership and courtside tickets don’t qualify as “entertainment” purchases.
  • 1% cashback on everything else? Well, it’s something. But not all that.
  • All that good stuff we mentioned above? It’s better with the SavorOne's cousin, the Savor Card — as in 4% unlimited cashback on the same categories; a $300 cash bonus — if you’re willing to pay the $95 annual fee.
  • The balance transfer offer merely waives the usual 3% balance transfer fee. You still have to pay the double-digit variable APR. Womp womp.

The fine print

Craving more? Feast on the Capital One SavorOne Rewards card’s finer points and fine print.

Best for Travelers
Chase Freedom Flex
Chase Freedom Flex
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on Chase's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • $200 signup bonus
  • 5% cash back on up to $12,000 in grocery store purchases for first year
  • Unlimited 5% on travel purchased through Chase
  • Travel/cell phone coverage
  • 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
  • No annual fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Requires opting in to quarterly bonus categories
  • Low $1,500 quarterly cap on rotating 5% bonus category after first year
  • The 1% default cashback rate — whatevs
  • Rotating bonus categories = extra thinking at checkout
  • Charges a 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

The operating instructions for the Chase Freedom Flex card are … exhausting. Seriously. You’ve got rotating rewards categories, opt-in requirements, secret handshakes and ciphers (probably), and on and on. Extras, like travel/cell phone insurance and the sign-up bonus, are cool. But the standard rewards rates are merely so-so, and the rotating 5% “bonus” category ghosts after you hit a $1,500 quarterly spending cap.

The basics: Pays 1% cash back (no max) for all purchases, an additional unlimited 2% on purchases at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery services) and drugstores (for a total of 3%), an extra 4% (for a total of 5%) on travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards program. Offers additional rotating quarterly 5% bonus categories (opt-in required; $1,500 spending cap). And yes, all this made our heads hurt, too. p.s.: For new cardmembers there’s also a $200 bonus and a more generous 5% cash back on groceries deal. Also, there’s a 0% intro APR thingie on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. And, no, we don’t get paid by the word around here.

Flex

  • The $200 one-time cash bonus at sign-up (after spending $500 within the first three months) will make dealing with this card’s pain-in-the-tuchus rewards setup less irritating.
  • The 5% bonus category cap during your first year of sign-up is upped from $1,500 quarterly to $12,000 annually. (This category rotates — e.g. groceries, gas stations, home improvement stores, wholesale clubs, internet/phone services, etc., and includes Lyft rides through March 2022.)
  • If the stars align, you can earn up to 9% cashback when the quarterly bonus category and the new cardmember bonus are the same.
  • Travelers get 5% unlimited cashback on travel-related spending booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program (UltimateRewards.com), which includes airfare, hotel, car rentals, cruises and activities. Limit those purchases to the U.S., otherwise you’ll give up a good chunk of your cash back on the 3% foreign transaction fee.
  • A nice extra: Freedom Flex’s trip cancellation/interruption insurance up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip on covered situations.
  • Same deal if you’re clumsy with your phone: Pay your cell bill with the card and you’re covered on two claims a year up to $1,000 total after the $50 deductible.
  • Chase Freedom Flex offers the option to transfer points to your other Chase cards (of the Sapphire variety, for example) to increase their value from 1 to up to 1.5 cents per point.
  • If you’re sick of home cooking the card comes with a free three-month DoorDash DashPass membership (requires activation). Be forewarned: You’ll be automatically enrolled (yuck) after that, but at least at a 50% discount for nine months.
  • The 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balances transfers is pretty sweet, although a 3% to 5% balance transfer fee applies.

Cringe

  • The Chase Freedome Flex card’s $1,500 quarterly — quarterly! — spending cap after the first year on 5% bonus categories is [redacted]. Once you hit it, the cashback rate reverts to a measly 1% (aka chump change).
  • Like so many rewards cards, groceries from Target and Walmart aren’t eligible for any supermarket cashback bonuses. What’s up with the hatin’ on our big-box go-tos?
  • Requires activating rewards bonus category 👏 every 👏 three 👏 months. If you just barely squeak in by the deadline, at least bonuses apply dating back to the beginning of the quarter.
  • So much for planning ahead: Chase doesn’t announce the coming quarterly rewards categories in advance. Hope you like surprises!
  • “May charge a 3% foreign transaction fee,” according to the fine print, means does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, according to the even smaller fine print. 🙄

The fine print

Here’s the lowdown, straight from the source, on the Chase Freedom Flex with Ultimate Rewards Card’s rewards program and the card’s fine print.

Best for Travelers
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on Chase's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • $200 signup bonus + 5% cashback on groceries the first year
  • 1.5% cashback on everything, no limits
  • No annual fee
  • Unlimited 5% on travel purchased through Chase
  • Transferable points within Chase ecosystem
  • 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Limiting bonus cashback categories
  • No standing bonus cashback categories beyond travel spending through Chase (5%) and dining and drugstores (3%)
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

Mercifully missing from the Chase Freedom Unlimited card are onerous rotating quarterly rewards categories (looking at you, Freedom Flex). Other pluses: The 1.5% standard cashback rate vs. 1% on everything (another Flex diss), and ability to increase point value by transferring to a fancier Chase card.

The basics: Apologies for the litany of numbers that follow. Remember, we’re just the messenger here: With the Chase Freedom Unlimited card the unlimited 1.5% cashback rate applies to all purchases. Additional 1.5% (for a total of 3% unlimited) on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services) and drugstore purchases. Earn an unlimited 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. New cardmembers can earn $200 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months and earn 5% cashback on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.

Yeah

  • This standard cashback card gets a glow-up thanks to the $200 one-time cash bonus at signup (after spending $500 within the first three months).
  • Unlimited rewards. No spending caps on any of the rewards categories. That’s what we’re talkin’ ‘bout.
  • It’s all about travel: Earn 5% cashback on travel-related spending booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program (UltimateRewards.com), which includes airfare, hotel, car rentals, cruises and activities.
  • A nice extra is Freedom Unlimited’s trip cancellation/interruption insurance up to $1,500 per person ($6,000 per trip) on nonrefundable fares if your trip is canceled or cut short by illness, crap weather or other covered situations.
  • The 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balances transfers could help justify taking a few getaways right away.
  • Offers an easy and cheap — no annual fee! — entree into the Chase ecosystem and positions you to upgrade to the coveted Chase Sapphire cards.
  • Offers the option to transfer points to your other Chase cards (the aforementioned Sapphire ones, perhaps?) to increase their value from 1 to up to 1.5 cents per point.
  • If you’re sick of home cooking the card comes with a free three-month DoorDash DashPass membership (requires activation). Be forewarned: You’ll be automatically enrolled after that (yuck), but at least it's at a 50% discount for nine months.

Nah

  • Limited rewards categories make this a card for a very specific type of spender: A frequent (or fancy) traveler who’ll go through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal to book getaways at the highest cashback rewards rate.
  • Like so many cards, groceries from Target and Walmart aren’t eligible for any supermarket cashback bonuses. Haters.
  • The 5% balance transfer fee (or 3% during the 15-month intro period thanks?) ain’t the best. Weigh it against the 0% intro APR on balance transfers before you start moving money around.
  • “May charge a 3% foreign transaction fee,” according to the fine print, means does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, according to the even more minuscule fine print. Conclusion: Book overseas flights through Chase with this card; put it on ice after you land.

The fine print

The finer points on Chase Freedom Unlimited’s rewards and card terms.

Best for Rewards Rotators
Citi Custom Cash Card
Citi Custom Cash Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on Citi's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 5% cash back on your biggest monthly spending category
  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • Hassle-free rewards
  • No annual fee
  • 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
thumb_down Dislikes

  • $500 monthly spending limit on 5% cash back
  • Measly 1% cash back on everything else
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

Having trouble deciding whether to get a grocery-, gas-, travel-, restaurant-, or whatever-focused rewards card? You don’t have to! The Citi Custom Cash card rewards your spending free spirit with 5% cash back (sorry — “ThankYou Points”) on whatever your largest spending category is that month. Sadly, everything else earns a meager 1%.

The basics: Earn 5% cash back on up to $500 of spending within your biggest eligible purchase category each billing cycle and unlimited 1% cash back thereafter. Earn $200 cash back after spending $750 on purchases in the first three months. 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.

ThankYou!

  • You don’t have to lift a finger to figure out which spending category earns cash back at the Citi Custom Cash card’s 5% rate. It’s automated by complex computer machine algorithm thingies based on your monthly purchases.
  • 5% cash back with no annual fee? Yes, please. (Although see limitations below.)
  • Spend $750 in the first three months and get a $200 initial bonus. A bit of a higher hurdle than some cards, but we’ll take it.
  • The 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers offer is cool.
  • FYI: The 10 5% bonus categories are the usual suspects: Restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment (concerts, theatrical and sporting events, amusement parks).
  • The list of streaming services eligible for the bonus rate is much, much, much (did we mention much?) more robust than other cashback cards with the same category.

NoThankYou!

  • Being limited to a single bonus category will annoy rewards card maximizers who will want to keep a running tab of spending to determine if this is the card to reach for at the checkout.
  • A $500 monthly cap on the 5% cashback category — oy. The max you’ll earn a month with the Citi Custom Cash card is $25, plus whatever you get from the 1% cash back on non-bonus category purchases.
  • The 1% rate on purchases that don’t fit in the monthly bonus category is sus when there are plenty of other cards offering 1.5%.
  • A 5% balance transfer fee is an extra little surprise, and not the good kind. That’s $250 to transfer a $5,000 balance.
  • As with most cashback cards, purchases at superstores and wholesale/warehouse clubs don’t qualify for the bonus rewards rate.
  • The 3% foreign transaction fee is pretty standard. But if you’re a frequent international traveler (or purchaser of fine foreign goods), this might not be your card.

The fine print

All that stuff we just said, but in breathtaking detail written in legalese.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
Citi Double Cash Card
Citi Double Cash Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Citi's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 2% cash back on everything (eventually)
  • Rewards good financial behavior
  • No annual fee
  • 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months
thumb_down Dislikes

  • No sign-up bonus
  • No 0% intro APR on purchases
  • No opportunity to earn higher rewards
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

If you need encouragement to pay your credit card bill in full every single month — and the specter of shelling out double-digit interest on outstanding balances doesn’t do it for ya — the Citi Double Cash Card doubles your rewards rate to 2% when you pay off purchases. That makes it a no-annual-fee, 2%-cash-back-on-everything card, aka a cashback card unicorn.

The basics: Earn 2% cash back on everything — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay off your balance, no caps on cash back earned. 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months. Transfers must be completed within four months of account opening.

Do go on

  • A 2% cashback rate with no annual fee? Next you’re gonna tell us that the Citi Double Cash Card also does dishes and remembers to put down the toilet seat.
  • Although half (1%) of the cashback rate is withheld until you pay off the purchase, that’s a hurdle we can get behind. The alternative is shelling out 14%-plus interest on unpaid balances.
  • No spending categories to track or quarterly opt-in thingamajigs to deal with? We likey.
  • Offers a whopping 18 months at a 0% APR on balance transfers made during the first four months. Keep in mind that new purchases and the balance transfer amount will incur interest. (See our emoji-laden righteously indignant rant below.)

Hard pass

  • No sign-up bonus throws a wet blanket on our enthusiasm.
  • No intro period with a 0% APR on purchases? Same reaction as above.
  • If you transfer a balance and are unable to pay it off right away, 👏 do 👏 not 👏 put 👏 any 👏 more 👏 charges 👏 on 👏 this 👏 card 👏 . You’ll pay interest on the entire balance (including balance transfers) if you fail to pay the entire balance by the due date each month.
  • A 3% balance transfer fee is an extra little surprise, and not the good kind. That equates to a $150 fee to transfer a $5,000 balance.
  • The Citi Double Cash Card requires a $25 minimum on rewards redemptions. You’ll have to spend at least $1,250 (at the 2% cashback rate) to claim your cash back.
  • PS: Redeeming cashback as a statement credit doesn’t count as paying off purchases. You’ve got to cough up your own money to earn the second 1%.
  • PPS: Rewards DO expire if you don’t use the card for a year. Don’t leave cash(back) on the table, friend.
  • The 3% foreign transaction fee? Non merci!

The fine print

Everything above, written in dense paragraphs (and a few tables) by handsomely paid lawyers.

Best for Rewards Rotators
Discover it Cash Back
Discover it Cash Back
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus 2X Rewards your first year
Apply Now open_in_new on Discover's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 5% cashback on quarterly rotating spending categories
  • Dollar-for-dollar match on all earned rewards at the end of your first year
  • No annual fee
  • Free FICO score
  • Free Social Security number alerts
  • Accepted lots of places. Really!
thumb_down Dislikes

  • The rotating thing requires, well, thought
  • $1,500 quarterly spending cap on 5% bonus category
  • 1% cashback on everything else is something, at least
  • Requires reward category activation
  • No extra protections like rental/travel insurance
list Card Deets expand_more

Picture the “mind blown” emoji. That’s our reaction to the Year One thank-you gift for using your Discover it card — an unlimited cashback match, dollar for dollar on all the rewards moolah you earned up to your anniversary. It almost makes up for the less-than-generous $1,500 quarterly spending cap on purchases that earn 5% cashback.

The basics: Earn 5% cash back at select places (changes quarterly), such as grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, wholesale clubs, select streaming services, Amazon.com, PayPal purchases, etc. 1% cash back on all other purchases, unlimited cashback match at the end of your first year. 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers.

Upvote

  • The Year One matching rewards on every dollar you earn turns the 1% cashback base rate to 2%, and doubles the $300 annual max you can earn on 5% rewards categories to $600.
  • Unlike some tight-lipped issuers, Discover announces the 5% quarterly rewards categories in advance, meaning you can actually plan ahead for big purchases. (Here’s the 5% Cashback Bonus calendar.)
  • P.S.: 5% on a no-annual-fee rewards card is 💣.
  • Rewards can be redeemed at any time for any amount.
  • Discover makes it easy for charitable-minded cardholders to donate rewards earnings, though your benevolence is limited to select charities.
  • Provides a free FICO credit score for up to a year on your monthly statement or online.
  • Discover makes a point to reassure applicants that it’s accepted by 99% of places in the U.S. that take credit cards, and also in 200 countries and territories. (Discover had kind of a rep in the past when it wasn’t as widely accepted.)

Downvote

  • Spending caps. Why’d you have to go and ruin a good thing, Discover? Couldn’t you have at least upped the 5% rewards spending cap to $2,500 a quarter like some other cards?
  • And another thing (sorry, we can’t let it go): The $1,500 quarterly spending cap on the 5% bonus categories limits your cashback earnings in that category to $75 per quarter; $300 a year. At least you’ll get an additional $300 (plus matching dollars on whatever you earned at the 1% rate) at the end of Year One. Starting at year two, you’ll want to reevaluate what you’ll get out of the relationship.
  • Yet another thing to put on the to-do list: Remember to activate the cashback bonus (5%) each quarter by the deadline or you’ll have to settle for the so-so 1% rate.
  • This isn’t the card to use for extra rental car or travel insurance or extended warranty protections. Those perks aren’t offered.

The fine print

Discover it Card Cashback Bonus program terms and conditions, suitable for framing.

Best for Road Warriors (and Foodies)
Discover it Chrome
Discover it Chrome
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus 2X Rewards your first year
Apply Now open_in_new on Discover's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Automatic 2% cashback on gas and restaurants; 1% on all else
  • Dollar-for-dollar match on all earned rewards at the end of your first year
  • No annual fee (and no foreign transaction fee)
  • Free FICO score
  • Accepted lots of places. Really!
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Low ($1,000) quarterly spending cap on 2% cashback categories
  • Limited bonus rewards categories (just two — gas and restaurants)
  • What’s essentially 2%+ cash back on everything reverts to 1% after the first year
list Card Deets expand_more

Talk about odd pairings. Like serving red wine with fish (if you were raised by wolves, according to those who care about such things), Discover it Chrome’s highest (2%) cashback rate applies to gas station and restaurant purchases. Weird, maybe, but for 12 months — during which Discover will match all the rewards dollars you earn in the first year — we can stomach it.

The basics: Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers and 3% balance transfer fee (versus 5%) for a limited time.

Vroom, vroom!

  • We’re crushing hard on Discover’s new cardmember deal. At the end of Year One it’ll match dollar-for-dollar every rewards buck you earn. That turns the Discover it Chrome card into a 2%-cashback-on-everything card, and 4% on gas and restaurants (on the first $1,000 combined purchases each quarter).
  • 2% cashback on gas and restaurants is automatically applied to qualifying purchases. (No opting in!) Once you reach the quarterly spending limit (passionately dissed below), you’ll earn 1% cashback ad infinitum.
  • No minimum reward redemption amounts apply.
  • Charitable-minded cardholders can donate rewards earnings, though your benevolence is limited to select charities.
  • Provides a free FICO score for up to a year online or on your monthly statement.
  • Discover points out that it is accepted by 99% of places in the U.S. that take credit cards, and also in 200 countries and territories. (TLDR: This used to be a thing.)

Screech!

  • The $1,000 quarterly spending cap (quarterly!? C’mon!) on gas and restaurants combined is chintzy if you spend more than $330 and change per month. That limits your 2% cashback earnings to — drumroll, please — $20 per quarter. We’re withholding the cymbal crash.
  • And another thing … the Year One cashback match turns the $80 max you can earn annually on 2% rewards categories to just $160. It’s not nothing. But still.
  • P.S.: If you don’t hit the max one quarter, too bad. No carryovers allowed.
  • Choose your fill-up station and restaurants wisely. Gas stations and supermarkets at supercenters don’t qualify for the 2% rate. Restaurants must be classified by Discover as full-service eateries (restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, fast food joints, etc.).
  • Gas station brand loyalists may be able to earn a higher cashback rate with a branded card.
  • Don’t bother rummaging through the Discover it Chrome glove box looking for extra perks like rental/travel insurance, extended warranties, etc.
  • If you don’t drive a gas guzzler (or have a long commute) or eat out on the reg, you’re probably better off with a card that offers a broader menu of bonus categories (like the Discover it Cash Back card) — many pay higher cashback rates.

The fine print

Discover it Chrome rates, rewards and all that jazz.

Best for Road Warriors (and Bulk Shoppers)
Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi
Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Costco's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • High 4% cashback on gas year round
  • Doubles as a 3% dining/travel rewards card
  • 2% rewards on Costco purchases
  • No rotating rewards categories
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Executive Members can really cash in
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Requires a Costco membership
  • No sign-up bonus
  • Rewards paid out once annually
  • And they expire
  • Limited reward redemption options
  • Wimpy 1% cashback on nonqualifying purchases
  • No 0% intro APR on purchases or balance transfers
list Card Deets expand_more

Finally, a card that actually rewards your spending at a warehouse store. (It’s a Costco Visa, so duh.) More notable is how well its menu of other rewards categories stacks up against non-store cashback cards. The redemption rules, however … woof.

The basics: 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide on the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter; 3% on restaurants and eligible travel; 2% on Costco and Costco.com purchases and 1% on all other spending.

Load up the cart!

  • Attention Costco shoppers: Take an extra 2% off that industrial-sized can of water chestnuts and everything else in your cart (at the store or online). But even better ...
  • Earn 4% cash back year-round on gas, up to $7,000 annually (that’s $280 right there) and 1% thereafter.
  • With an unlimited 3% cashback on worldwide travel purchases including airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel agencies, cruise lines and Costco Travel purchases, the Costco card also makes a decent travel rewards card.
  • Costco Executive Members ($120 a year) can supersize their shopping rewards to 4% — snagging 2% using the card and an extra 2% membership rewards on up to $1,000 per year on qualifying Costco purchases (deets: gas, no; Costco Travel, yes).
  • Charges no foreign transaction fees, which is like saving 3% (what other cards charge) on that case of duty-free ouzo you plan on buying during your layover at the Thessaloniki airport in Greece.
  • Includes special access to buy tickets to concerts, sporting events and more via Citi Entertainment.

Returns/exchanges pls

  • Technically, there’s no annual fee to carry this card. But you must be a Costco member, which runs $60 to $120 a year, depending on the membership level.
  • Reward redemption rules are 🤨: Cashback is issued once annually as a reward certificate after your February billing statement closes.
  • There’s more: Your credit card rewards certificate is only redeemable through Dec. 31 the year it’s issued — in a Costco store, fyi — as cash (a check or electronic transfer) or to use to buy merchandise.
  • And another thing: Wave buh-bye to any rewards amount not redeemed by that date.
  • The card lacks some frills. It offers just the bare minimum in protections — damage/theft protection and an extended manufacturer’s warranty; no travel coverages or insurance.
  • Also missing: Any break on balance transfers (the standard variable APR applies) or introductory low-APR deal on new purchases.

The fine print

Costco Anywhere Visa card rewards explained, and get into the terms and conditions weeds.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
HSBC Cash Rewards Credit Card
HSBC Cash Rewards Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus 3% cash back for first year
Apply Now open_in_new on HSBC's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Year One, earn 3% cashback on up to $10K in purchases
  • 1.5% cashback after that, but it’s unlimited
  • No categories to track
  • No annual fee
  • Cellphone protection and highfalutin’ travel perks included
  • Free monthly FICO score
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months
  • No foreign transaction fees
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Requires opening an HSBC bank account
  • 0% balance-transfer deal expires after 60 days
  • No sign-up bonus beyond elevated rewards rate for 12 months
  • No bonus categories after 3% cashback rate expires or is maxed out
list Card Deets expand_more

We likey the extra perks and 3% cashback the no-annual-fee HSBC card pays the first year, and even the flat, unlimited 1.5% rate it reverts to after that. But dude … do we really have to open an HSBC deposit account to even apply for the card? (Sadly, the answer is yes.)

The basics: Earn 1.5% unlimited cashback on every $1 spent. Earn 3% cash back on all purchases up to $10,000 during the first 12 months after account activation, and 1.5% after the intro period. 0% introductory APR on purchases and transfers for the first 12 months. Balance transfers must be posted within the first 60 days following account opening.

Count us in!

  • The 3% cashback reward on up to $10,000 in purchases is, we surmise, in lieu of a sign-up bonus. According to a mathlete, that equates to up to $300 in rewards your first year, plus whatever you rack up at the 1.5% cashback rate.
  • The ongoing 1.5% cashback rate after Year One is … better than 1%, right? Seriously, lots of cards without annual fees cheap out and offer just 1%.
  • Perks for travelers include Mastercard Airport Concierge (where a Meet and Greet agent will escort you through the airport like a rockstar), $1 million in travel accident insurance, rental car coverage, and some luxury travel benefits.
  • Another fancy-pants perk: Discounted access to select golf courses, passes to PGA tournaments and lessons with tour pros via Priceless Golf.
  • Pay your monthly cellular bill with your card and get cellphone protection — up to $600 per claim after a $50 deductible — if your electronic security blanket is lost or damaged.
  • Use the card to save a handful of bucks each month on deliveries (from HelloFresh and DoorDash) and rides via Lyft, and get a complimentary ShopRunner membership.
  • Free FICO score on monthly statements to help keep an eye on your credit reputation.

Wait, wut?

  • Direct quote: “To apply for an HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard credit card, you must first open a HSBC deposit account.” Okaaaayyyy, but ...
  • Even if you go with a Basic Banking account — the only option that doesn’t require maintaining a $1,500-$75,000 minimum balance — you’ll still pay a petty $1 monthly maintenance fee. Which means …
  • ... while technically this card has no annual fee, there is a cost to carrying it. (If you skipped the previous bullet, that cost is at least $12 a year in bank fees.)
  • Like the shine from a fresh blowout, the 3% cashback rate eventually fades (to a less lustrous 1.5%) with no rotating bonus categories to fluff up rewards.
  • The 0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers only applies on amounts you move onto the card within a tight window — the first 60 days of account opening. And there’s a 4% balance transfer fee (or $10, whichever is greater).

The fine print: The unvarnished bits about fees, APRs, and applying for the HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard, and program rules, rewards and card benefits, straight from the bank’s compliance department.

Best for Road Warriors (and Foodies)
BMO Harris Bank Cash Back Mastercard
BMO Harris Bank Cash Back Mastercard
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on BMO's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 2% cashback on the essential Gs — gas and groceries
  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • Comes with roadside assistance
  • No annual fee
  • 0% introductory APR on balance transfers
thumb_down Dislikes

  • $2,500 quarterly spending cap on 2% bonus categories
  • The 1% base cashback rate is stingy
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

This cashback card from BMO Harris Bank is … fine. The 2% gas/groceries rewards rate is on par with other no-annual-fee cards. Sadly, so is the $2,500 quarterly spending cap. (TLDR: We like cards that offer unlimited cashback better.) The roadside assistance perk is the reason we tapped the brakes to check it out. (We drive a beater and our AAA membership is lapsed.)

The basics: Get 2% cash back on eligible gas and grocery purchases up to $2,500 in combined spend each calendar quarter. Earn 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases. Get a $200 cashback bonus when you spend $2,000 within three months of opening your account. 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 12 months from date of first transfer.

Perk alert!

  • The $200 cash back welcome offer earns the card attractiveness points. But it’s still a pretty high bar, requiring you to spend $2,000 within three months of account opening. That’s $666.66 per month, which isn’t at all an ominous number.
  • Are you a road worrier? This card will get you a jump-start, tire change, tow services and gas delivery if you’re ever stuck, courtesy of free Master RoadAssist Roadside Service, plus extra coverage for car rentals.
  • Comes with ID theft monitoring/resolution services and Mastercard Identity Check.
  • Includes access to Mastercard’s “Priceless Cities” program to help you live out your VIP dreams.
  • Keep an eye out for special limited-time-only offers, like getting a 10% rewards booster by depositing rewards earnings into a BMO Harris checking, savings or money market account.
  • The standard purchase APR (roughly 14% to 22%) isn’t as punishing as some cards. Plus there’s a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 12 months.

Speed bumps

  • The $2,500 cap on bonus cashback categories means the most you’ll earn annually at the 2% rate is $200.
  • Redemptions are limited to statement credits you can apply to the account that earned the cash back.
  • Gas and groceries are your only 2% cashback categories. Hard stop. Purchases that don’t qualify are rewarded at a measly 1% rate.
  • At best, this is a companion card to others in your wallet that offer a better payoff on other purchases.

The fine print

BMO Harris Bank’s credit terms and rewards program rules. Contain your excitement, if possible.

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

thumb_up Likes

  • Good for those with limited credit history
  • Auto-pay features to improve credit score
  • Automated cashback redemptions
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Cashback booster program feels like an MLM scheme
  • Low 1% cashback on everything unless you recruit friends
  • No bonus categories
  • No sign-up bonus
  • $15K maximum credit line
  • No authorized users allowed (yet)
list Card Deets expand_more

The Jasper Cash Back Mastercard bills itself as a rewards card where you can earn up to 6% cashback. Sure, but you may alienate a few friends along the way, since boosting your rewards rate above 1% requires recruiting others to sign up for the card — think Cards With Friends, only with real money on the line.

The basics: Earn 1% cash back on most purchases and an additional 1% (up to a total of 6%) for a year for you and anyone you refer who is approved for and activates a Jasper Mastercard.

Swipe right

  • Access! If you have a limited (or meh) credit history and/or are self-employed, Jasper’s credit application process will assess other factors, like income and employment history, to see the real financial you.
  • No futzing with redemptions required: After three months of on-time payments your earned cash back is automatically applied to your statement every month. (We could do without the three-month probationary period.)
  • We like the credit-building features for those with so-so (or no) credit history. Those include …
  • The “Avoid Debt” autopay option on the app allows you to automatically make a payment whenever your balance hits a preselected dollar amount.
  • The “Build Credit Score” autopay plan pays down your balance when it hits the credit use percentage you set. (Pro tip: Keep it below 30%.)
  • There’s no foreign transaction fee. That’s like saving 3% when you swipe your card in foreign lands.
  • And, okayfine: Technically you can earn up to 6% cashback on almost all of your spending (up to your credit limit). But you’re gonna work for it. Read on for more.

Swipe left

  • We’re gonna need a bunch of bullet points to slog through this card’s labyrinthian rewards system. (Clears throat; cracks knuckles. Deep inhale … )
  • The 1% cashback rate is the bare naked minimum offered by any old no-annual-fee rewards card, and is still considered pretty low for one that caters to folks with less than stellar credit. On top of that …
  • The only way to earn the max 6% cash back rate is to refer five friends (or four friends, if you’re the pal who was referred): Once they’re approved, that’s an additional 1% cashback for you and 1% for them. But …
  • The boost lasts only 12 months. And even if you have a deep bench of creditworthy friends you can harangue into getting the card …
  • How much you earn is based on your credit limit (like all cards); just keep in mind ...
  • The max credit limit on this card is $15K. Not that you want to keep a lingering balance anyway, right?

The fine print

The Jasper Mastercard Truth in Lending Disclosures (aka all the fees and rates you need to know), deets about the cash back program and the cardholder agreement.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
PenFed Power Cash Rewards
PenFed Power Cash Rewards
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $100
Apply Now open_in_new on PenFed's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 1.5% unlimited cashback on everything, except …
  • Its 2% for PenFed Honors Advantage members
  • Woot! No rewards caps!
  • Blissfully uncomplicated rewards structure
  • No annual, foreign transaction or cash advance fees
  • 0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Requires PenFed membership
  • Must maintain a checking account to earn 2% cash back
  • Just a so-so intro bonus
  • No introductory APR on purchases
list Card Deets expand_more

Here’s the emoji-illustrated guide to the PenFed cashback card: Pay no annual fee (😃) and earn a flat 1.5% on all your purchases (😶). However, if you’re a current or former member of the military — or willing to open a checking account (😞) and do what it takes to avoid the $10 monthly service fee (😖) — this becomes a 2% unlimited-cashback-on-everything card (😍).

The basics: Pays 1.5% cash back on all purchases, or 2% cash back for PenFed Honors Advantage Members. Earn a $100 bonus statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days. 0% promo APR on balance transfers for 12 months (3% fee applies); after that a nonvariable APR of 17.99% applies.

Power moves

  • Flat-rate 1.5% unlimited cashback on all purchases with no categories to track and no annual fee? Easy peasy.
  • Even better, you can get 2% cash back on all purchases if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member. That requires either being in the military (active duty, reserve, honorably discharged or retired) or maintaining a PenFed Access America Checking Account.
  • Although we’ve seen better, the $100 sign-up bonus when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days is at least a little somethin’ somethin’.
  • No foreign transaction fees makes the PenFed Power Cash card a decent international travel companion.
  • No cash-advance fees? Whoa. You won’t find that on a lot of cards. Just be aware that interest starts accruing on that money right away.
  • Includes Visa Signature card benefits like roadside assistance, travel offers/upgrades, travel accident insurance and emergency assistance, Visa Signature concierge, sport and golf benefits, etc.

Weak sauce

  • The card requires a PenFed membership to apply. No big whoop — just open a savings account with an initial $5 deposit — but it adds to your list of accounts to track.
  • If you want to earn the 2% rewards rate for PenFed Honors members and are not military, you’ll also need to maintain a checking account. Aaaand…
  • That checking account will run you $10 a month (that’s 120 clams a year) unless you maintain a $500 daily balance or set up a monthly direct deposit for $500 or more.
  • Be prepared to pay off your card balances from the start. Unlike many cards, this one has no 0% introductory APR on new purchases.

The fine print

A guide to PenFed’s Power Cash Rewards program and credit card terms, conditions, legalese and all that.

Best for Rewards Newbies
Petal 2 Visa Card
Petal 2 Visa Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on Petal's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Pathway to cashback rewards if you’re new to credit
  • No fees. Like, none. Not even international fees
  • Rewards shopping local with 2%-10% cashback
  • No limits on how much cashback you can earn
thumb_down Dislikes

  • You’re stuck with 1% cashback for at least six months
  • Requires six to 12 on-time payments for access to 1.25% and 1.5% cash back rates
  • Low credit limit = low rewards potential
  • No sign-up bonuses or 0% APR breaks
list Card Deets expand_more

Say you’ve struggled to be approved for a rewards credit card (or any card) in the past. Here’s your in. The more forgiving approval process for the Petal 2 card from WeBank gets you in the door with a no-fee cashback card. Sure, the 1% default rewards rate is super basic. But pay your bill on time and eventually it’ll inch up to 1.5%.

The basics: Get 1% cash back on all qualified purchases right away; earn 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12. Cardholders can earn 2% to 10% cash back at select local merchants.

Fragrant

  • Petal card approval is based on your banking history (your income, spending and savings) and not just your credit score.
  • You can see if you’re preapproved without impacting your credit score. Preapproval, however, does not guarantee actual approval, and your official application will likely show up in your credit file.
  • When the Petal 2 marketers say “no fees,” they mean it. There are no annual fees, foreign transaction fees, late-payment or returned-payment fees. (Side note: The Petal 1 card does carry some fees and offers no cashback.)
  • Although you start with a bare-minimum 1% cashback rate, your on-time payments over the next six to 12 months will unlock higher 1.25% to 1.5% rewards rates and look flattering in your credit file.
  • Petal notifies you of local businesses where your spending can snag 2% to 10% cashback. Win (for the merchant)-win (more cashback for you)!

Foul

  • A 1% cashback default rate is — quite literally — the least you can earn from a rewards card. And that’s all you’ll get for your spending on this card for at least the first six months after activation.
  • Move along if you’re looking for a sign-up bonus, balance-transfer deal or 0% introductory APR on new purchases.
  • The $500 - $10,000 credit limit may be limiting to some who are approved for amounts at the lower end of the spectrum.

The fine print

Practice your diction by referring to the petite print pursuant to the Petal Perks Program and pressing pecuniary particulars for Petal 2 card participants. That was fun. For us.

Best for Road Warriors and Foodies
PNC Cash Rewards Visa Credit Card
PNC Cash Rewards Visa Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $100
Apply Now open_in_new on PNC's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • High category rewards rates for no annual fee
  • 4%, 3%, 2% cash back on gas, restaurants and groceries, respectively
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for first 12 months
  • No annual fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • $8K annual spending cap for bonus rewards
  • No 0% intro APR on purchases
  • If there’s a fee, they charge it
  • 3% foreign transaction fee (see?)
  • $100 sign-up bonus is yawn 😫
list Card Deets expand_more

You don’t have to be on the Forbes Richest list to snag higher cashback rates than us regular folk. The PNC Cash Rewards Visa doles out respectable rewards for gas, restaurant and grocery spending and charges no annual fee (🙌). The tradeoff: An $8,000 annual combined spending cap on those categories (💩) and then rewards rates drop off the cliff.

The basics: Earn 4% cash back on gas station purchases, 3% on restaurants and 2% on grocery store purchases for the first $8,000 in combined purchases in these categories annually. Earn an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. $100 bonus after making $1,000 or more in purchases during the first three billing cycles. 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles.

Fancy

  • The PNC Cash Rewards Visa hits all the rewards category high points with competitive rates for a no-annual-fee card: Gas (4% cashback), dining out (a tasty 3%), groceries (decent 2% rate) and an okayfine 1% on everything else.
  • Makes a good second card to use only on the highest cashback categories, if you can switch to another card with a higher than 1% cashback rate on other categories or when you hit the annual $8K combined spending cap.
  • It’s not exactly 🔥, but don’t turn up your nose at the $100 sign-up bonus. You’ll need to rack up at least $1,000 in purchases during the first three billing cycles to earn it.

Frumpy

  • We keep mentioning the PNC card’s $8,000 annual combined spending cap because it can really limit your rewards potential if you have a bigger budget. Mathematically speaking …
  • Best-case scenario: You spend $666 a month and earn the highest cashback rate — 4% on gas. (Weird spending pattern, but hey, this is just an example.) That’s $320 cashback a year, plus whatever you scrape in at the 1% rewards rate.
  • The 1% cashback default rate for purchases that don’t qualify for better just feels sad.
  • Requires some extra thinking before use. Like, how close are you to your annual rewards cap? If you use it to buy groceries at 2% cashback will you be short-changing yourself on the 4% rewards on gas purchases later in the year? Ow, my head.
  • This card charges all the fees: Balance-transfer fees (the greater of $5 or 3% of the transferred amount), cash-advance fee ($10 or 5%), foreign transaction fee (3%), late and returned payment fees (up to $38 each). The only one it doesn’t charge is an annual fee.
  • The 3% foreign transaction fee doesn’t make it a good foreign travel companion (or the card to use when purchasing hair enhancement serums from overseas shamans).
  • You’ve gotta rack up at least $25 in your PNC Cash Rewards account before you can redeem it.
  • Sorry, there’s no 0% introductory APR on new purchases perk.
  • Hmmm … not seeing any travel perks or protections in the fine print, either.
  • Watch the clock on the balance-transfer deal. You’ve got 90 days to move money onto the PNC card for it to be eligible for the 0% intro APR (3% transfer fee) for the first 12 billing cycles.

The fine print

PNC Cash Rewards program details and important stuff about interest rates, fees, arbitration and more.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card
USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on USAA's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 1.5% unlimited cashback on all purchases
  • Yes, all purchases
  • Rewards redeemable after you’ve earned $1
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Requires USAA membership
  • No sign-up bonus
  • No balance transfer promotion or 0% intro APR on purchases
  • Limited redemption options
list Card Deets expand_more

The provisions and perks that come with the USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card are really bangin for servicemembers. But don’t let a case of the FOMOs ruin your day if you’re not in the ranks and eligible to apply. There are other cashback cards with similar — superior, even — benefits for the layfolk, too.

The basics: The USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card pays 1.5% cash back on every qualifying purchase with no category restrictions. Rewards are redeemable anytime.

Attention!

  • No earnings limits. No categories to track. No annual fees to pay. Simply get 1.5% cash back on all qualifying purchases (read: everything).
  • Rewards are redeemable at any time and for any amount after you’ve earned at least $1 in cash back.
  • The 3% cash advance fee is waived if you transfer funds electronically to a USAA deposit account. That’ll save you a few bucks.
  • The fact that there’s no foreign transaction fee makes sense, especially for a customer base with the potential to be deployed.
  • Benefits include trip cancellation and interruption insurance, travel accident insurance, emergency assistance, concierge services, and more.
  • Perk alert for active duty servicemembers: You may qualify for an ultra-low 4% interest rate on your USAA credit card balances. That’s even lower than the 6% available if you’re covered under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and state military bennies.

Dismissed!

  • Eligibility to even apply for the card is based on your or a family member’s current or former military service, or your relationship to a current USAA member.
  • Sorry, there’s no sign-up bonus or 0% introductory APR on new purchases.
  • Nor is there a low-APR balance-transfer teaser. And you’ll pay a 3% balance-transfer fee to boot.
  • This isn’t the card you want to carry a balance on anyway. The variable APR is 11.9% to 25.9% depending on the Prime Rate.
  • Redemptions are limited to statement credits or cash deposited into your USAA checking or savings account.
  • The tradeoff between simplicity (a flat-rate cashback card like this) and complexity (rotating rewards categories and whatnot) is the opportunity for a higher potential payoff (with another cashback card).

The fine print

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa rewards deets, rates and fees and legal deep tracks.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
Sallie Mae Evolve Credit Card
Sallie Mae Evolve Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on Sallie Mae's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 2% cashback on your two biggest spending categories each month
  • No caps on rewards spending
  • Broad list of spending categories
  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
  • 15-month 0% APR on purchases and transfers
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Short-ish window (3 months) to earn sign-up bonus
  • 3% foreign transaction fee is le yuck
  • $25 minimum redemption requirement
  • Higher cashback rates available elsewhere if you’re a planner
list Card Deets expand_more

What makes a pricey car repair less painful? Earning an unlimited 2% cashback when you put the tab on plastic. That also goes for chargeable expenses that fall under any of Sallie Mae’s broad — and very real-world — spending categories, whether it’s a fender bender, vet bill, divorce lawyer fees, property taxes. (Fun spending also counts. We’re just in a mood rn.)

The basics: Earn 2% cash back on your two highest spending categories per month and 1.5% unlimited cash back on everything else. 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and any balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening.

Yes ma’am

  • Unlike most tiered cashback cards, there are no rotating bonus categories. The 2% rate is automatically (thankyouverymuch) applied to your two largest spending categories each month.
  • We’re cool with the 1.5% base cashback rate on everything that doesn’t qualify for the bonus rate, especially since it’s a card without an annual fee.
  • 2%-eligible categories include healthcare, personal services (landscaping, beauty shops), professional services (lawyers, real estate agents), schools and government (property taxes, tuition), utilities and wholesale clubs in addition to the the traditional cashback card spending categories (dining, gas, entertainment, groceries, etc.).
  • A nice extra if you’re prone to phone fumbles: Up to $600 per claim in cell phone protection on up to three phones if you pay your bill with the card. (Fine print: There’s a $50 copay per claim and a $1,000 max claim benefit per year.)
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and any balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening offers some cushioning for your budget.

No ma’am

  • If you’re a planner and know you’ve got a big expense in a traditional rewards category on the horizon, you can probably score a cashback rate that’s higher than 2% with another card.
  • Patience required: Rewards are redeemable only after you’ve accumulated $25 worth. (Let’s math that: It’ll require $1,250 in spending at the 2% cashback rate, or $1,666 at the 1.5% rate.)
  • We’re revoking Sallie’s passport: The 3% foreign transaction fee isn’t a good travel look.
  • Speaking of fees, back away from the ATM: There’s a 5% (or $10, whichever is higher) cash advance fee.

The fine print

Take a tour of the Sallie Mae Evolve reward spending categories and its pricing and terms.

Best for Foodies
TD Cash Credit Card
TD Cash Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $150
Apply Now open_in_new on TD's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Earn either 3% or 2% on food, whether cooked by you or for you
  • Easy-to-snag sign-up bonus
  • No spending caps or limits on rewards
  • No annual fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • 1% default cashback rate could be tastier
  • Just six months of 0% APR on purchases? Stingy
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

Dine-in, takeout, delivery, cook at home — this food-focused cashback card pays out 3% cash back on restaurant grub and 2% on grocery store spending. Notable for cheat days, carb-loaders and anyone planning a banquet: no spending caps or cashback limits.

The basics: Earn 3% cash back on dining (includes takeout and delivery), 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% on other purchases. Earn $150 cash back when you spend $500 within 90 days of account opening. 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and any balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening.

Seconds, please

  • No annual fee makes the TD Cash Credit Card more palatable than it might otherwise be.
  • Go ahead and pick up the tab! There are no caps on restaurant and supermarket rewards spending.
  • Works well as a backup food-related rewards card when you hit the spending cap on a primary rewards card.
  • The $150 cash back sign-up bonus has a low spending threshold — spend just $500 within 90 days of opening the account.
  • Redemption options go beyond the basic statement credit or cash funneled to an outside bank account. They include gift cards, merch and travel rewards.
  • If you’re joining the TD club with a big balance on another card, bring it on over for the 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles. What you won’t get a break on is the 3% (or $5 minimum) balance transfer fee.
  • TD has more than 1,000 branches which gives you access to in-person customer service if you need it.

The fly in the soup

  • Groceries purchased at superstores or warehouse clubs “may” only earn 1% cash back. (Legal hedging courtesy of TD, although it’s stated more definitively as “will” in the fine print.) FWIW: The reluctance to reward consumables purchased at big-box stores isn’t unique to TD.
  • We’d like to see a default cashback rate that’s higher than the 1% you’ll earn on anything that’s not food-related. While we’re putting in requests, we’d also like world peace, homes for all shelter dogs and better hair when in humid climates.
  • The 0% introductory APR on new purchases lasts an anemic six billing cycles compared to 12 months and longer on most cards.
  • The 3% foreign transaction fee isn’t really going to boost international relations. Best to ground this card during your overseas travel.
  • Points are redeemable only after you’ve accumulated at least $25 worth, which is 2,500 points in TD’s rewards system.

The fine print

Operating instructions for the TD Cash Credit Card include all the fees and rewards details and fine print about your relationship status.

Best for Rewards Rotators
U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card
U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on U.S. Bank's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Earn 5% cashback on two categories (your choice each quarter!)
  • 2% unlimited cashback on one everyday category
  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
  • 18 months of 0% APR on balance transfers
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Rewards management required
  • Quarterly rewards enrollment also required
  • Quarterly spending caps on 5% rewards category, which blows
  • 1% cashback default rate feels kinda insulting at this point
  • Rewards cash expires
list Card Deets expand_more

You call the shots (once a quarter) by telling U.S. Bank which two 5% cashback categories you prefer. (There are 12.) Choose wisely, and it’ll be worth up to $400 a year in rewards cash (plus whatever else you rake in at the lower 2% and 1% rewards rates). Once you hit the 5% spending ceiling and are relegated to U.S. Bank’s 1% cashback zone, though, it’s time to reach for a reward-ier rewards card.

The basics: 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible purchases each quarter on two categories you choose; 2% cash back on one everyday category (gas stations, grocery stores or restaurants) and 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases. 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 18 billing cycles. Earn a $200 rewards bonus after you apply online and spend $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening.

Ka-ching!

  • Decisions, decisions. 5% cashback on two spending categories of your choosing is worth the extra effort (the choosing part) on this no-annual-fee card.
  • Also left to your discretion is which one of three unlimited 2% cashback categories you prefer: gas station, restaurant or grocery stores purchases.
  • No need to wait around for U.S. Bank to announce that quarter’s rewards categories. You call the shots, Tiger.
  • We absolutely loooove credit card rewards programs with no spending caps (aka unlimited rewards potential!), and you get it here in the 2% and 1% cashback categories. (Hey 5% cashback spending cap, did that passive-aggressive dig hit its mark?)
  • The $200 sign-up bonus is a nice touch. Nab it by spending $1,000 within the first three months of opening the account.
  • The 0% intro APR on balance transfers lasts for 18 billing cycles. Just be sure to move over your balance within 60 days of account opening. And note the 3% balance transfer fee, which is pretty standard these days.

Ka-chunk

  • A few high-dollar purchases and you’ll careen into the $2,000 quarterly spending cap on purchases eligible for the 5% rewards rate in your two chosen categories.
  • 🚨 Do not miss the quarterly enrollment deadline for your bonus rewards categories! 🚨 Otherwise you’ll be stuck earning just 1% cashback. Speaking of which …
  • Again, yet another card with an underwhelming 1% default cashback rate that applies to the “everything else” purchase category. Like after you hit your 5% spending ceiling or anything that doesn’t qualify for 2% cashback.
  • Rewards expire 36 months after the billing cycle during which they were earned. How rude!
  • Foreign transaction fees? Yup. It’ll run you 2% for each purchase (or foreign ATM advance transaction) in U.S. dollars and 3% if in a foreign currency.
  • You’re required to build up your redemption dollars to at least $25 if you want the actual cash back (a reward card or deposit to a U.S. Bank savings, checking or money market account) and not a statement credit.

The fine print

Don your reading specs with blue-light blockers to take in the teeny type on the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card.

Best for Rewards Rotators
Venmo Credit Card
Venmo Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $100
Apply Now open_in_new on Venmo's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Automatically pays 2% and 3% cashback on your top monthly spending categories
  • No cashback spending caps for first year
  • Rewards automatically credited to your Venmo account each statement period
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Application by in-app invitation only
  • $10,000 annual combined spend limit on 2% and 3% categories starting Year Two
  • 1% default cashback rate is weak sauce
  • No joint/authorized users allowed
  • 3% fee when used for person-to-person payments (srsly?)
  • No 0% promotional APR on purchases or balance transfers
list Card Deets expand_more

There’s nothing wrong with letting your card do all the rewards busywork. The Venmo Credit Card (issued by Synchrony Bank, by invitation only to Venmo users via the Venmo app) automatically figures out your top two eligible spending categories each month and retroactively credits 3% and 2% cashback to your Venmo account. Too bad about the $10,000 bonus spending cap that shows up at Year Two. Oh, and the 😴 1% cashback default.

The basics: The Venmo Visa Credit Card automatically pays 3% and 2% cash back on your top two spend categories each statement period and 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases. Limited-time $100 cash back bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first six months of account opening.

Ven-yeah

  • 3% and 2% bonus rewards rates and no annual fee? Not bad, especially when you consider that …
  • You don’t have to hurt your brain to pick a bonus cashback category ahead of time: Venmo automatically reviews your monthly spending and applies bonus rewards retroactively to your highest spend categories.
  • Unlimited is awesome when it comes to free tacos and cashback reward spending caps. For the first 12 months you’ll earn 3% and 2% rewards on all qualified purchases. Enjoy it while it lasts, because ... (resolution to cliffhanger further down)
  • Venmo gives you a long runway (six months vs. three at other cards) to spend $1,000 on the card to earn a $100 cashback bonus.
  • Redemptions happen automatically and are transferred to your Venmo account — a plus for the less organized among us.
  • Makes it easy for pals to Venmo you their fair share of the cocktails tab by scanning a unique QR code printed on your card that links to your Venmo account.
  • Comes with Visa Zero Liability coverage, emergency cash and roadside dispatch. If bad things happen (lost/stolen card, dead battery), Visa swoops in for the save.
  • Travel and emergency services, Visa Concierge and other fancypants perks involving golf and wine are included — but only if you’re approved for Venmo’s Visa Signature card.
  • Not sure whether this is a 👍 or a 👎 so we’ll just leave it here for now. The card allows you to automatically redeem your cashback for crypto (an extremely volatile asset) without paying the purchase fee. Please proceed with caution. /lecture

Ven-no

  • Hey big spenders: Enjoy that unlimited cashback while it lasts. A $10,000 maximum annual combined spend limit on 2% and 3% categories kicks in after your one-year Venmo Cardiversary.
  • A 1% default cashback rate on purchases that don’t qualify for the bonus tiers is a hard pill to swallow, especially when other cards are flinging around 1.5% default cashback rates like it’s nbd.
  • Purchases must fall into one of the card’s eight bonus categories to earn 3% or 2% cashback. They are: Transportation, travel, grocery, entertainment, dining and nightlife, bills and utilities, health and beauty, and gas. Otherwise — you guessed it — it’s 1% cashback city.
  • So much for rewarding brand loyalty. You earn just 1% cashback when you use the Venmo card to send money to other Venmo users. But, but, but … do not do that, mmkay? Person-to-person payments using the card are subject to Venmo’s standard 3% fee. (Tip: update your selected default payment method in the app to avoid any costly surprises.)
  • Requires the Venmo app to apply (and an invitation to do so, which you’ll see in the app if you’re deemed worthy).
  • Awkward conversation alert: No joint or authorized users allowed.

The fine print

There’s some key bold-faced stuff about Venmo Visa Credit Card fees APRs and whatnot, that you should know. Plus a longer narrative arc detailing rewards terms and conditions.

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

thumb_up Likes

  • 1.5% unlimited cashback on everything
  • 25% - 50% rewards booster shot for Union Bank customers
  • No annoying categories to track/opt into
  • $100 intro bonus
  • 0% APR on purchases/balance transfers for 12 months
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumb_down Dislikes

  • No bonus cashback categories
  • Requires opening a checking or savings account to snag a mildly better rewards rate
list Card Deets expand_more

Funnel the cashback you earn from the Union Bank Bank Freely Visa into one of the bank’s checking/savings accounts or a Union Bank-held mortgage, and it’ll boost your rewards rate by — get this — 25% to 50%! That turns a 1.5% cashback rate into — wait a second, we thought this was going to be a much more dramatic reveal. Well, anyway, the standard 1.5% cashback rate becomes 1.875% with a 25% boost and 2.25% with a 50% one. Let’s just forget about the big buildup, shall we? 🙈

The basics: Earn 1.5% unlimited cash back on all purchases with this no-annual-fee card. Comes with 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers (3% balance transfer fee; minimum $10) for the first 12 months the account is open. Earn $200 introductory cash back rewards bonus when you make $1,000 in purchases within three months after account opening. Offer expires on Nov. 5, 2021.

Buzz

  • What makes any cashback credit card more 😍? No limits. The Bank Freely Rewards Visa has no spending/reward earnings caps. You earn 1.5% cash back on whatever nonsense you toss in your online shopping cart when you’re bored.
  • Union Bank customers get a 25% boost on redemptions by sending the money straight into a Union Bank checking or savings account (no minimum to open, no monthly fees). So instead of getting $1.50 cashback for every $100 you spend, you’ll get $1.88 and wow that’s still not a very impressive number but it is what it is.
  • Directing cashback rewards toward a Union Bank-held mortgage definitely moves the needle. The 50% booster shot gets you a 2.25% rewards rate. On top of that, the extra dollars that go toward reducing your principal shave interest and years off your loan.
  • Put $1,000 in purchases on the card within the first three months and you’ll earn a crisp $200 bill* (*not an actual $200 bill).
  • Comes with a competitive 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for a year. Just know you’ll pay a 3% balance-transfer fee.
  • The Visa-backed benefits are worth noting. They include Visa Concierge Services, extra purchase security if stuff you bought is mangled within 90 days, and cell phone protection if you pay your cell bill with the card.

Kill

  • Everything about this cashback card is fine. Just fine. Making it better than fine — getting a boost to the rewards rate, primarily — requires opening a Union Bank bank account or mortgage. That’s a pretty high bar to straddle.
  • With simplicity (a flat 1.5% rewards rate on everything) you sacrifice the opportunity to earn more for your purchases. The lack of bonus spending categories is like dinner with no apps, sides or dessert.

The fine print

We appreciate the legible typeface on Union Bank’s cardmember agreement and summary of credit terms.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards
Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards
Cash Back Per Year $180
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Easy rewards math
  • Higher cashback rate available for BofA/Merrill Preferred Rewards customers
  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases/balance transfers
thumb_down Dislikes

  • We wouldn’t call the 1.5% cashback rate amazing
  • Lack of bonus categories limits cash back payoff
  • Qualifying for the Preferred Rewards program (and cashback rate booster) is a whole thing 🙄
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

On the surface, the no-annual-fee, 1.5%-unlimited-cash-back-on-everything BofA Unlimited Cash Rewards card is average in every way… unless you’re already (or willing to become) financial BFFs with the bank. Your elevated relationship status if you qualify for the Preferred Rewards program gets you a cashback rewards rate boost of 25% to 75%. (That last one equates to a commitment-worthy 2.62% unlimited — yup, u-n-l-i-m-i-t-e-d — cashback rate.) It does, however, require having a BofA checking and/or Merrill investment account with a three-month combined average of $20,000 or more in it. Banking commitment-phobes need not apply.

The basics: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Earn $200 online cash rewards bonus after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening. Introductory 0% APR for first 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening. A 3% fee ($10 minimum) applies to balance transfers.

Likes

  • It bears repeating, so repeat it we will: Unlimited across-the-board rewards rock! There’s no clock-watching for expiring rewards categories or ongoing calculations to see how close you are to a spending cap. It’s 1.5% cash back on everything. Period. (Or more, if you’re a BofA customer.)
  • No annual fee means it’s nbd to keep this card in your charging arsenal for when you hit those aforementioned caps on other cards. Not that you should collect cards willy-nilly. Applying for new lines of credit too often isn’t an attractive look in your credit file.
  • Existing BofA banking customers or Merrill investing ones may qualify for Preferred Rewards benefits, aka more cash back, as in a 25%, 50% or 75% booster to your rewards rate, depending on your other account balances. Note these rates require minimum banking/investing account balances of $20,000, $50,000 and $100,000 to unlock the respective rewards booster rates.
  • There’s a $200 sign-up bonus on the line if you put $1,000 on the card within 90 days. Hop to it (in a responsible, promise-to-pay-it-off-in-full-ASAP way, of course).
  • BofA Unlimited Cash Rewards redemption options include the usual (a statement credit) and the option to deposit your bounty into your eligible BofA checking or savings account or Merrill investment account (including a 529 college savings account).

Yikes

  • A card with a flat cashback rate like this means there’s no opportunity for elevated rewards. 1.5% is what you see and all you get. (Its relative, the BofA Customized Cash Rewards card, lets you choose a new 3% cashback category every month, though there’s a quarterly spending cap.)
  • Qualifying for the higher cashback rates offered to Preferred Rewards customers requires keeping a minimum average of 20 Gs in a BofA checking and/or Merrill investment account. Great if you’re an existing customer or shopping for a place to park your cash (like an IRA, rollover 401(k) or a regular brokerage account). Otherwise, it’s all a bit much to earn just a few extra bucks in cashback rewards.
  • Also note that other cards offer elevated rewards rates for merely opening a checking or savings account at the institution without requiring such a sizable ongoing balance.
  • p.s.: Don’t forget to actually sign up for the Preferred Rewards program. Enrollment isn’t automatic.
  • Cashback redemptions into a bank account are only allowed if that account happens to be at BofA. Clearly BofA really, really wants to keep you and your money in its orbit.
  • 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.
  • You’ve got just two months to move money onto the card to get the 0% APR on balance transfers deal. Note the 3% (minimum $10) fee on that, and the 15-month no-interest time limit.

The fine print

Don your specs to check out the Unlimited Cash Rewards card rates, fees, rewards features and bugs. The Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program FAQs will help you decide if you’ve got what it takes (accounts-wise) to qualify for a higher cashback rate.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
Wells Fargo Active Cash Card
Wells Fargo Active Cash Card
Cash Back Per Year $240
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus $200
Apply Now open_in_new on Wells Fargo's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 2% unlimited cash back on all purchases! Shots fired, 1.5% cashback cards
  • Simple rewards tracking
  • So many ways to redeem rewards!
  • No annual fee
  • Includes Visa Signature perks
  • 15 months 0% intro APR on purchases/balance transfers
  • $200 welcome bonus if you hop to it
thumb_down Dislikes

  • No higher rewards rates on any shopping categories
  • Balance transfer fee goes from 3% to 5% for money transferred after the first 120 days
  • Charges a 3% foreign transaction fee
list Card Deets expand_more

Well, well, well, Wells Fargo. You had me at “unlimited 2% cash rewards on all qualifying purchases,” a step up from all the card suitors flashing around 1.5%. You held my attention by forgoing the annoying stuff like spending caps, rotating rewards categories and a cashback rate that expires after a year or so. I understand the tradeoffs that come with a flat-rate cashback card — i.e., no bonus cashback categories means no bonus cashback potential. Just keep showering me with extras like creative redemption options and access to Visa Signature perks, and I’m yours.

The basics: Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases. Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and qualified balance transfers (subject to either $5 or 3% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater).

Well, well, Wells

  • An unlimited 2% cashback rewards rate is extremely competitive among no-annual-fee cards! So much so that our editor allowed us to use an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence.
  • The lack of spending category restrictions, caps and opt-in requirements adds to the swoon factor. Plus, unlike its near-doppelganger, the Citi Double Cash Card — which pays 1% cash back when you buy and 1% when you pay off your purchases — you get the full 2% cashback rate when you swipe.
  • You’ll want to snap up that $200 welcome bonus, which requires putting $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months. Just don’t go into debt to do it.
  • The bounty of reward redemption options includes the usual ones like requesting a check, getting a statement credit or transferring rewards into an eligible Wells Fargo checking, savings or credit product. But you can also grab literal cash using a Wells Fargo ATM or debit card, use it for a merchandise credit (via a credit card statement credit) or redeem what you earn for physical or digital gift cards. That’s not all, folks …
  • More creative ways to redeem rewards include the ability to make charitable donations, gift the cash back to another program customer, or — get this — contributing them to a rewards pool established by you or another Wells customer for a common goal, like a family reunion or a pony. Set it up quickly because the option to create new rewards pools ends on Dec. 4, 2021.
  • The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card comes with boo-boo coverage for cell phone, car, travel and card-related mishaps. As long as you pay your cell bill with the card you’ll get secondary insurance coverage on up to two claims per year ($600 per claim max after $25 deductible) in case of damage or theft. Roadside Dispatch is a pay-per-use roadside assistance program. Medical, legal, luggage or other travel disaster? There’s a hotline for that. And if you lose your card and need access to emergency cash, yeah, that’s covered, too.
  • Cardholders get free access to Visa Signature privileges like 24-7 + 365 complimentary concierge service for planning trips and fancy meals, and premium bennies from Visa Signature Hotels (e.g., room upgrades, food/beverage credits, late checkout).
  • Fifteen months of a 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers can save you some coin if you bring unpaid balances with you. Just make sure to transfer any debts within the first 120 days of account opening, or the 3% balance-transfer fee (which applies to the amount you move onto the card) goes up to 5%.

Womp, womp

  • The opportunity cost of going with a flat-rate cashback credit card like the Wells Fargo Active Cash card is that you give up the potential to earn higher rewards on individual spending categories (like gas, groceries, online shopping) that other cards offer.
  • There are lots of rules around the more unusual cashback redemption options. So read Wells Fargo’s rewards fine print for specifics about what’s allowed, redemption minimums and who to contact to get the loot you’ve earned.
  • Note that those direct transfers into a checking or savings account (including ATM access) only work if you’re a Wells Fargo banking customer.
  • You’ll wanna be a model credit-card-carrying citizen to avoid getting smacked with a steep (up to $40) late payment fee.
  • This is not the card for world travelers. The 3% foreign transaction fee means you should keep this card zipped away in your fanny pack when traveling in foreign lands.
  • Although you get “zero liability” protection against unauthorized transactions, the card lacks other cover-your-butt features such as purchase protection and extended warranties.

The fine print

For all the intimate details, see the Wells Fargo Active Cash Credit Card Credit terms and conditions.

Best for Low-Hassle Rewards
SoFi Credit Card
SoFi Credit Card
Cash Back Per Year $240
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on SoFi's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 2% unlimited cash back if funneled into a SoFi account
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • On-time payments reduce your APR
  • Comes with World Elite Mastercard perks
thumb_down Dislikes

  • Cashback rate cut in half to 1% if redeemed as a statement credit
  • No sign-up bonus
  • No intro APR on purchases/balance transfers
  • 5% balance transfer and cash advance fees
  • Nearly 27% cash advance APR
list Card Deets expand_more

Here SoFi’s pitch for its credit card: “Get 2% unlimited cash back towards your financial goals.” Here it is without the touch-up filter: You’ll get that 2% rate if (big if) you funnel rewards into a SoFi savings or investment account or apply it to a SoFi loan. Not a SoFi customer? Sorry, your cashback rate is only 1%.

The basics: Earn 2 reward points for every dollar spent on eligible purchases. Redeem points at a rate of 1 cent per point if you elect to redeem as cash deposited into your SoFi Money account, as fractional shares into your SoFi Invest account, as cryptocurrency into your SoFi Active Invest account, or as a payment toward your SoFi Personal or Student Loan. Points redeem at a rate of 0.5 cents per point if you elect to redeem them as a statement credit into your SoFi Credit Card account.

SoFine

  • Unlimited cash back? You betcha! No earnings caps, category restrictions or other funny business? Yes, yes and, um, please hold your applause while we unpack that last one.
  • If you’re a SoFi bank/loan or brokerage customer, the way you redeem your cash back is where you’ll score. Points are worth $0.01 each (or 2% per $1 spent) when redeemed within the SoFi universe of loans (as extra payments toward a student loan refi or a personal loan), savings (SoFi Money) or investment accounts (SoFi Invest or SoFi Crypto).
  • Alt investors take note: You can redeem cash back for Bitcoin and Ethereum in your SoFi Crypto Account with a minimum balance of 500 points.
  • Extra rewards points can be had by signing up for direct deposit, activating a SoFi Money debit card, setting up bill pay, and other banking/investing account actions.
  • After 12 monthly on-time minimum payments, SoFi knocks 1% off of your APR.
  • The SoFi Credit Card, issued through the Bank of Missouri, is a World Elite Mastercard, which comes with fancy-pants stuff like access to concierge services, profesh travel services, Priceless golf experiences, hotel and car rental upgrades, savings on private jets (oh hey, friend). Less show-offy but still useful: ID theft and zero liability protection, global emergency services and cell phone protection ($800 max per claim, two claims per year).
  • We like that you can set up a monthly budgeting notification (aka overspending alarm) when you’re about to blow through your allowance.

SoNot

  • Not all points you earn are created equal, as mentioned above. Point value is cut in half to $0.005 (as in a not-very-competitive 1% per $1 spent) when you redeem them for a statement credit to your SoFi Credit Card account.
  • Translation of previous bullet point: Do not redeem rewards as a SoFi Credit Card statement credit or you’ll only get 1% cash back.
  • The 1% vs. 2% cashback rate workaround requires adding a bank account to your life: If you open a SoFi savings account you can send your earnings there for a pit stop to nab the 2% rewards rate and then transfer the money to an outside account.
  • No sign-up bonus? You’re really not giving us a whole lot to work with here, SoFi.
  • This is not the card to use to transfer balances or treat as a cash machine. The 5% fee (or $10, whichever is higher) on balance transfers and cash advances is more than you’ll pay on other cards. It’ll run you $250 to transfer a $5,000 balance — that’s $100 more than a card that charges a more typical 3% fee.

The fine print

See for yourself the SoFi member rewards program terms and SoFi Credit Card terms and conditions.

Best for Road Warriors and Foodies
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card
Cash Back Per Year $120
Annual Fee $0
Welcome Bonus No
Apply Now open_in_new on USAA's secure website
face Dayana's Take expand_more

thumb_up Likes

  • 5% cash back on gas and military base purchases
  • 2% cash back on groceries
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No minimum cash advance fee
  • Handy protection benefits for travel and purchases
  • No pesky redemption minimums
thumb_down Dislikes

  • The 5% and 3% rewards rates shrink to 1% after you spend $3K in each category
  • The 1% cash back on everything else is 🙄
  • No sign-up bonus
  • No intro APR on purchases/balance transfers
  • USAA membership required
list Card Deets expand_more

The rewards structure of the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card makes it appealing to a very specific customer: one with a military connection (to qualify for USAA membership) who makes regular gas station and commissary pit stops (where the top 5% cashback rate applies, but only up to a point). Not you? No reason to stick around — the 1% default cashback rate is nothing to write home about.

The basics: Earn 5% cash back on your first $3,000 in combined gas station and military base purchases yearly, 2% cash back on your first $3,000 in grocery purchases yearly, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other qualifying purchases.

You’ve got our attention

  • Load up at the canteen! The 5% cashback rate applies to military base purchases.
  • Travel and purchase benefits are great for worriers and the accident-prone. Included is trip cancellation/interruption/accident insurance, baggage delay reimbursement, car rental collision coverage, extended warranty and ID theft protection/resolution services.
  • The 3% cash advance fee is waived when you transfer funds electronically from your USAA credit card to your USAA bank deposit account. Even if you incur the 3% cash advance or balance-transfer fee, USAA charges no $5 or $10 minimum like other cards.
  • You need only $1 in rewards earnings — no pesky $20-something minimum — to start redeeming your cashback rewards, which you can use as a statement credit or deposit into a USAA checking or savings account.
  • Going abroad? Charge away with no worries of getting hit with a foreign transaction fee.
  • Questions? Concerns? Just wanna chat? USAA is known for its outstanding customer service.
  • A plus for active duty servicemembers: You may qualify for an ultra-low 4% interest rate on your USAA card balances. That’s even lower than the 6% available if you’re covered under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and state military bennies.

Pass

  • Although the 5% rewards rate is pretty heady, it only applies to the first $3,000 you put on your USAA card on gas and on-base purchases c-o-m-b-i-n-e-d. We’re talking a max of $150 cash back on these combined purchases annually.
  • The rewards restrictions on groceries means the maximum cash back you can earn per year on supermarket purchases at the 2% rate is $60.
  • Once you hit the 5% and 2% spending caps (and with the price of gas these days…), the rewards rate ratchets back to just 1%. Small favors: At least the 1% cashback rate is unlimited.
  • Sorry, one more thing about the 1% that applies to purchases that don’t qualify for better. Frankly, it just feels cheap compared to the 1.5% unlimited, restriction-free cash back offered by the USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature. There, now it’s out of our system.
  • The USAA Cashback Rewards Amex card is only offered to USAA members. Membership is limited to active or former military and their spouses and adult children.

The fine print

Please turn your attention to the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card rates and fees, card benefits and rewards FAQs.

How do cashback credit cards work?

Cashback credit cards reward your spending by giving you more money to spend. Use your credit card to pay for stuff, and the credit card kicks some of it back your way to redeem as a statement credit, a check or direct deposit to a bank account; or use it to purchase other types of rewards (like gift cards, merchandise, travel-related discounts, etc.).

How much are we talking? The amount you earn from a cashback credit card is based on a percentage of how much you spend. For example, if a card offers a 2% rewards rate, you’ll earn $2 back for every $100 you spend.

Some important things to know about cashback credit cards:

Cashback cards have different ways of rewarding your spending, including paying a flat rate on all purchases or paying higher cashback rates on certain spending categories (think groceries, gas, travel, entertainment, and so forth). The best — as in most lucrative — cashback card for you is the one that pays out the highest rate on your biggest credit card expenditures, even the embarrassing stuff.

There’s no need to pay an annual fee for a rewards card. There are loads of no-fee cashback cards. Cashback cards that charge an annual fee may offer higher rewards rates or a wider range of redemption options and card perks. But remember: The card only starts paying off after you earn back enough to cover the annual fee.

Sign-up is your opportunity to rake in the big bucks. Competition for a place in your wallet is fierce. Enter the almighty sign-up bonus (aka “welcome bonus”). Many rewards card issuers offer sign-up bonuses in the $100 to $300 range for spending a certain amount on purchases (say, $500 to $2,000) within the first three to six months. Consider that at a 1.5% rewards rate, you’d have to spend $10,000 to earn $150 in cash back — and you can see how it pays off to remain card-monogamous during this honeymoon period.

It’s easy to find a cashback credit card that pays 1% to 1.5% of every purchase you make. That’s also a typical default rewards rate range for purchases that don’t qualify for a card’s higher rewards rate. So, shop around. And when you do …

Don’t be seduced by marketing-speak. You have to math it out. For example, depending on your actual spending habits, a credit card that pays an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase can be more rewarding than a card that pays 5% cash back on a rotating array of spending categories. (We built the cashback calculator above to help you suss out how much you’ll really earn with different cards.)

Caps are a major buzzkill. You find a 5% cashback credit card and think you’ve scored. You have, champ … but only up to a point. Lenders’ generosity only runs so deep — a fact revealed in the fine print, where you’ll find rules that limit how much a card is willing to pay out. We’re talking about monthly, quarterly or annual spending caps on rewards eligibility, plus opt-in requirements and other restrictions.

Cashback credit cards tend to have higher approval standards. Rewards card issuers typically require “good” to “excellent” credit, or a credit score of 670 points or above on the FICO scale, which goes up to 850. However, there are some newer cashback card issuers (like Jasper and Petal) that cater to those with less-established credit, albeit the cards tend to have a few strings attached.

What are the different types of cashback credit cards?

Cashback credit cards come in three flavors — flat-rate, tiered and rotating rewards rate — based on how rewards are granted.

Flat-rate cards offer a single, set cashback rate on all of your purchases, typically between 1% and 2%. This type of no-hassle rewards card is great if your money management style is set-it-and-forget-it. Sometimes flat-rate rewards cards offer temporary bonus rates on certain spending categories or purchases from select merchants. If, you know, you can be bothered.

Tiered-rate cards pay out a higher cashback rewards rate on purchases that fall into particular retail categories, with a base rewards rate that applies to everything else. For example, you might see 3% cashback on gas and groceries or 2% cashback on travel and entertainment, and 1% to 1.5% cashback on all other purchases. A tiered-rate cashback card is ideal if you have a few predictably higher spending categories in your budget, or carry multiple rewards cards to choose between, depending on which is the rewardiest for what you’re buying.

Rotating rewards rate cards offer higher rewards rates on certain spending categories that rotate, typically monthly or quarterly. Purchases that don’t qualify for the bonus rate earn cashback at a lower base rate (e.g., 1% to 1.5%). This type of cashback card really pays off for advanced card players with a deck of rewards cards to draw from and a calendar for tracking what to buy and when.

Bottom line: The best type of rewards credit card is the one that pays the highest rewards rate on your highest-dollar purchases. We’re not trying to be cheeky. It just comes down to simple math and convenience. Which leads us to …

What credit card gives the most cash back?

Truth time: This is going to require some math. The answer depends entirely on your spending patterns. A cashback credit card calculator makes it easy to suss out the most lucrative card for you. Oh hey, looky there! There’s one conveniently provided at the top of this page! Simply enter the amount you put on your credit card each month — even better, tap in the breakdown of what you spend monthly in the seven major spending categories — and behold a list of rewards cards listed in descending order of how much cash back you’ll earn.

Please just tell me which cashback card with no annual fee is best.

Fine. Since you asked nicely.

The highest-paying cashback credit card that charges no annual fee is the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. If you’re an average consumer who puts $1,000 in purchases a month on a credit card, you’ll earn around $270 in cashback per year. (Same with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card, but starting in Year Two you’ll be charged a $95 annual fee.)

Before you sign up for one of those cards, consider this: Change the spending inputs even slightly in the calculator, and the answer to “what’s the best cashback credit card?” changes. (See why we’re reluctant to make broad pronouncements about the best credit card?)

Let’s say you spend an average of $500 a month on entertainment-related purchases instead of the $140 a month the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average consumer unit with a $1,000 monthly spending budget shells out. Then the Capital One SavorOne Rewards card becomes your top choice among cashback cards that charge no annual fee — paying you back more than $370 a year. That’s $40 more annually than what you’d get from the Chase Freedom Unlimited card and $60 more than Amex’s Blue Cash Preferred.

TL;DR: The best cashback credit card pays the highest rewards rate for the things you spend the most money on. Which is why it pays to put a little bit of work into examining your actual spending patterns to identify the best (for you!) cashback card. (See also: Cashback calculator above.)

How should I choose a rewards credit card?

Know thyself, card shopper. To choose the best rewards credit card, have a rough idea of your spending habits (how much you shell out within popular spending categories), what kinds of rewards you want (cashback, miles, points, perks), your creditworthiness (which will determine your odds of getting approved by a lender), and how much work you want to put into managing your portfolio of cards. Going in, know that a 1% to 1.5% cashback for each $1 spent is table stakes among rewards card issuers.

Other considerations when choosing a rewards card:

Rewards rates: How generous are they? (Remember: 1% cashback is literally the least a rewards card can do.) If there are different reward tiers, do they align with your spending habits so you’re earning the most for your biggest annual expenditures?

Spending caps: “Unlimited” is the key word. A card that does not limit how much you can earn in rewards is ideal. Some cashback cards put caps on rewards eligibility, allowing you to earn a higher cashback rate only up to a certain amount in purchases (monthly, quarterly, or annually) before dialing back to a lower rate, typically 1%-1.5%. Consider whether the restrictions are too stingy for you.

Fees: Any rewards credit card that charges an annual fee had better offer something juicier than the no-fee competition (higher rewards rates, extra perks, a really fly card design). Besides an annual fee, also note any foreign transaction fees if you’re a frequent world traveler or buy your miracle face cream from overseas. Such fees can add as much as 3% to your bill.

Redemption options: Is flexibility important to you or will cashback (literally, getting cash paid back to you) do? A card may award “points,” “miles” or “cashback” on your spending but allow you to convert or redeem your bounty in other ways. Weigh your redemption options to eke out the highest dollar value when you cash in.

Sign-up bonus: At the start of your relationship with a lender you get one shot to snag some extra cash — and the welcome bonus alone can turn a mediocre card into a real catch. Sign-up bonuses on no-fee rewards cards are usually in the $150-$300 range. Take note how much you have to spend (less is more) during what period of time (longer is better) to grab the bait.

0% introductory APR period: Offering a 0% APR on new balance transfers and/or new purchases is another new-cardmember perk you can find. Transferring a balance you’re carrying on another credit card that charges a higher interest rate to one with a lower APR can save you real money in interest. This move will cost you something, though. The balance transfer fee will be in the fine print. (Expect a minimum of 2% of the amount you want to move, or $5 to $10, whichever is higher.) FYI: Lenders only let you transfer up to whatever credit limit they give you for balance transfers, which may be (probably is) less than your total line of credit. They’d rather you spend money — and generate what’s called an interchange fee for them — than have your balance transfer take up the entire free temporary parking space.

Cardholder perks: Things like fraud protection and account alerts come standard with most credit cards these days. With a good rewards card, we like to see higher-level perks like travel and entertainment deals, trip and cell phone insurance, access to roadside assistance, and so on. Or, just tossing out suggestions here, lunch with Ryan Reynolds (even if his ball-and-chain Hugh Jackman insists on tagging along).

Which is best, a flat-rate, tiered-rate or rotating rewards card?

Flat-rate, rotating rewards, tiered rewards, oh my! Which type of cashback card should you choose?

In the realm of cashback credit cards, we can help you narrow down your choices based on your rewards mindset, whether it’s “Just surprise me with some cash back at some point” or “I’m ready to do some doctorate-level mathematics each time I swipe.”

Get a flat-rate, cashback credit card if you want rewards to fall into your lap with the least amount of effort. If rotating rewards categories or tracking complex point systems makes your head spin, a simple flat-rate cashback credit card is a no-brainer alternative. With each swipe of the card you know exactly what you’re earning. (Look for a card that pays 1.5% cashback, at a minimum.)

  • Keep in mind: With a flat-rate cashback card you give up the opportunity to earn a higher percentage cashback on purchases, leaving some potential rewards money on the table.

Choose a card with rotating rewards if you have some predictably big purchases on the horizon. Cruise tickets, a home improvement project, or, or, or … kiss rewards FOMO goodbye. The categories in which you can earn rewards at different rates are plentiful. A card with rewards categories that change monthly or quarterly is great for those who can time their spending to get a higher cashback rate when clicking the “buy” button.

  • Keep in mind: To make the most from a rotating category cashback card requires being on your toes — knowing when it’s time to plunk down your card to capture the rewardiest rate. Rotating rewards cards also tend to have lower default cashback rates on everything that doesn’t qualify for the category du jour. Just so you know.

Get a tiered-rate rewards card that aligns with stuff that never drops off your shopping list. For example, if your biggest budget line items are consistently gas and groceries, shop around for a card that pays the highest cashback percentage for purchases in those categories. If you want to be extra, look for a cashback card that tacks on additional related perks (how about roadside assistance?).

  • Keep in mind: A tiered-rate rewards card may not be the best one to use for all of your purchases. Like rotating rewards cards, the default cashback rate may be lower than what’s offered by a flat-rate cashback card. A popular workaround is the two-card strategy: Carry a tiered or rotating rewards card for purchases that qualify for that card’s higher cashback rate (gas or groceries, say), and use a flat-rate card for everything else.

How do you redeem cashback rewards?

The most common redemption options are to have the cash you’ve earned credited back to your account or transferred into a bank account, via direct transfer or a paper check for you to deposit.

Get a statement credit. The easiest, and usually fastest, way to get your money is to have the card company apply any amount you’ve earned to your account, which reduces any balance you have. Note: You’ll still be required to make any minimum card payment by your due date.

Ask for a direct deposit. Easy-peasy, especially if the bank that issued you the credit card is the same place where you have a bank account. Also easy if you bank elsewhere and your account is already linked because you’ve used it to pay your credit card bill. There may be a minimum redemption requirement (e.g., $20) to receive a direct deposit.

Request a check. The most leisurely route for receiving a redemption is asking your credit card company to cut and mail you a paper check once you’ve earned a minimum amount in rewards (usually $20 to $25).

Other cashback reward redemption options that we’ve seen in our research allow cardholders to:

Donate the money to a worthy cause, or share (or pool) points with other people enrolled in the same rewards program.

Redeem rewards for gift cards via a credit card’s shopping portal. Sometimes credit cards incentivize this by offering a small bonus to keep your money in its ecosystem. The downside: Choices can be limited. Hope you like Omaha Steaks!

Exchange for merchandise. But first, comparison shop. Often the per-point value of what you get when redeeming for some gadget in the rewards portal is less than what you’d get by simply opting for a statement credit — aka, getting actual cash, then turning around and buying the tchotchke.

Convert the amount to points or miles to redeem through the issuer’s rewards program for everything from airline tickets to seat upgrades to discount hotel stays. Here again, do the math to make sure you’re getting a bigger payoff for your points than you’d get if you simply took the cash and ran with it.

Is it worth getting a cashback credit card?

Do you pay for things using a credit card? Do you like money? Could you use some more of it? Assuming you answered all three questions in the affirmative, it’s absolutely worth your while to get a cashback credit card to earn money back on purchases you’re already making.*

We added that asterisk ☝ to spare you from a Dickensian-length run-on sentence with all the vital caveats tacked on the end. But we’re still going to trot them out for review because they’re important.

A cashback credit card is worth getting if …

  1. You pay off your balance every month, and
  2. The amount of cash you earn back is higher than the cost of carrying the card.

A cashback credit card is probably not the best choice if …

You regularly carry a balance on your card. Rewards credit cards tend to charge higher interest rates on outstanding balances than non-reward cards. You can do the math in your head: Simply deduct every dollar you pay in interest from the amount you earn in cashback. Cue stabby horror movie soundtrack.

You don’t earn enough in rewards to cover any annual fee. For example, you’d have to spend $5,000 on a card that pays 2% cashback to cover the cost of a $100 annual fee. You’d only start making money using the card after that. p.s. That calculator up above? It tracks a bunch of good credit cards that charge no annual fee. Take it for a spin.

You’re looking for a good balance-transfer deal. Moving a balance to a lower-interest credit card is a good debt-lowering strategy, and many cashback cards offer an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers and new purchases. Pay close attention to how long the low rate lasts (look for a bare minimum of 12 months; 15- to 18-month deals are out there) and the APR after the promotional period. Just know that this is not where most rewards cards are trying to compete, and there are non-rewards cards offering better deals (read: longer payoff periods and lower subsequent APRs).

Having one will tempt you to buy stuff you wouldn’t otherwise just to earn a few pennies or points to add to your rewards piggy bank. We can get behind silly impulse purchases … just not financially unsound ones. (Trust us, we’ve amassed an entire library of flimsy justifications for our own regretful purchases.)

You have a big financing situation (like getting or refinancing a loan) on the horizon. This isn’t a diss on cashback cards. It’s a cautionary note about applying for too many new lines of credit in a short timeframe, which can negatively impact your credit score, albeit temporarily. Going into a high-dollar borrowing situation, you don’t want a few points to derail your quest to qualify for the very best interest rates.

What credit score do I need to be approved for a rewards card?

Some cards tell you upfront that your odds of approval for a particular card require having “fair,” “good” or “excellent” credit. Others list the credit score range (e.g., “recommended FICO score of 740 or above“) or allow you to see if you prequalify for the card before officially running your credit to make the final call.

Capital One’s Credit Level Guidelines show where certain credit behaviors will typically land you on the credit grading scale:

  • Excellent credit: I’ve never declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a loan; I haven’t been more than 60 days late on any credit card, medical bill, or loan in the last year; I’ve had a loan or credit card for 3 years or more with a credit limit above $5,000.
  • Good credit: I have not declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a loan in the past 5 years. I have a credit card or loan and have not been more than 30 days late on any payment in the last year.
  • Fair credit: I’ve defaulted on a loan in the past 5 years OR I have limited credit history. I’ve had my own credit card or other credit for less than 3 years (including students, people new to the U.S., or authorized users on someone else’s credit card).
  • Rebuilding credit: I’ve defaulted on a loan more than once. OR I’ve been declined for a credit card in the last 3 months.

If you’re more of a numbers person, here’s how Fair Isaac Corp., the creator of the popular FICO Score, breaks down the ranges on its 300 to 850 credit scoring scale:

  • 800-850 = Exceptional
  • 740-799 = Very Good
  • 670-739 = Good
  • 580-669 = Fair
  • 300-580 = Poor

Keep in mind that these are merely general guidelines. Additional factors gleaned from your credit history and card application — like your income and outstanding debt obligations — will factor into the card company’s approval process. To see what they’re seeing, pull your credit files from the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) for free from annualcreditreport.com.

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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