Cash-back credit cards are popular because they provide tangible, easy-to-understand benefits. Who doesn’t like getting a credit on their monthly credit card statement or — better yet — actual cash deposited into the account of their choice? Cash-back credit cards can be even more popular than our top-rated gas credit cards and travel rewards cards.
But not all cash-back credit cards are created equal.
Some offer the same cash-back rate on all purchases. Others offer higher rates on certain spending categories, such as groceries or gas, and lower rates on everything else. Still others provide bonus cash back on rotating spending categories every quarter. A few accrue cash back on both purchases and monthly payments.
And some cash back cards even offer hybrid models, with cash back on certain spending categories and different types of rewards (such as airline miles) on others.
Best Cash-Back Credit Cards
Each of the cards on this list does at least one thing really well, whether it’s offering a particularly high cash-back rate or providing an exceptional interest-free balance transfer promotion. Our best overall pick is the one we think offers the most value to the greatest number of potential users.
Methodology: How We Choose the Best Cash-Back Credit Cards
We use several important factors to assess cash-back card quality and build this list.
Most relate directly to the cards’ cash-back programs. Examples include earning rate, rewards categories, and spending caps. We also pay close attention to welcome offers (sign-up bonuses) since those magnify early spending and significantly increase (or decrease) a card’s appeal.
On a flat-rate cash-back card, the cash-back rate is easy to determine. It’s the rate at which cash back accrues on any eligible purchase.
Cards with tiered or rotating rewards categories still have easy-to-understand cash-back rates. For example, a card might have 3% back on groceries, 2% back on gas, and 1% back on everything else. The actual cash-back rate depends on how much you spend in each category, but only you can calculate that because only you know exactly how your spending breaks down.
Regardless, the higher the potential rate, the better the cash-back card.
Flat-rate credit cards win out on this point for sheer simplicity. There’s never any suspense about how much you can earn on a particular purchase.
For all other cards, we look for broad purchase categories that appeal to a wide range of potential users: think groceries, gas, and dining. The more categories, the better.
Spending Caps & Other Restrictions on Rewards
The best cash-back credit cards earn unlimited rewards, at least in some of their purchase categories. We don’t totally rule out cards with spending caps or other restrictions on earning potential, but those cards must have other things going for them to make the cut.
Redemption Options & Minimums
“Cash back” implies, well, cash back, but the details matter. The best cash-back cards let you redeem for statement credits or bank account deposits in any amount whenever you feel like it. We’re not fans of cards with high redemption minimums.
Most cash-back credit cards offer some sort of welcome incentive for new cardholders. We prefer incentives that are both generous and easy to attain, requiring minimal spending spread over several months.
0% APR Promotions
No-APR purchase and balance transfer promotions are equally enticing for new cardholders planning major purchases or debt payoffs.
Surprisingly, some of the best balance transfer credit cards and 0% APR purchase credit cards are also among the best cash-back credit cards.
Cash-back credit cards tend to go easier on fees than premium travel rewards cards, but that doesn’t mean the category is totally free of annual fee options. We give preference to low-fee cards . Cash-back cards with annual fees must demonstrate serious value to be included on this list.
Cash-Back Credit Card FAQs
Not quite sure you have a handle on the wooly world of cash-back credit cards? Get the answers to some of the most common questions asked by your fellow cash-back novices.
Do You Need a Good Credit Score to Get a Cash-Back Credit Card?
Often but not always.
The best cash-back credit cards generally require applicants to have good to excellent credit — usually indicated by a FICO credit score above 700, and sometimes even higher. If you don’t meet that threshold, work on building your credit before applying for these premium products.
But several cards on this list accept applications from people with fair or even impaired credit. Students, in particular, have more rewards credit card options than ever — and they’re a group that’s not known for having great credit.
How Much Can You Earn With a Cash-Back Credit Card?
Even the most generous cash-back credit cards rarely offer more than 5% cash back on eligible purchases. Cards that offer more than 2% or 3% cash back typically require holders to keep track of specific spending categories or respect purchase limits.
That said, some cards have partnerships with specific retailers that allow them to offer eye-popping returns on eligible purchases — sometimes 10% or more. Be on the lookout for those deals and activate them quickly when they’re available since they usually don’t last long.
Should You Pay Off Your Cash-Back Card Balance in Full?
Yes. Some offer 0% APR promotions for new cardholders, but regular cash-back credit card APRs usually range from somewhere north of 10% to more than 20% in some cases.
At those rates, carrying a balance for even a single month can seriously eat into your cash-back earnings. And habitually carrying a balance from month to month more than negates your cash-back earnings, adding to the actual cost of your purchases.
In other words, don’t let the promise of cash back lull you into letting your card balances grow over time. It’s almost never worth it. If you need to carry a credit card balance from month to month, opt for a low-APR credit card instead.
And if you worry about your ability to keep your credit card spending to a level that allows for in-full payments each month, choose a credit card with a low spending limit or a secured credit card that requires you to make an upfront cash deposit.
How Much Do Cash-Back Credit Cards Cost?
Ideally, nothing. Most of the cards on this list don’t charge annual fees, and more than a few waive foreign transaction fees too. If you pay your bills in full and on time, you might never pay more than your actual charges.
Take the time to review the fine print, though. Otherwise, you might be blindsided by fees you didn’t realize the card issuers could charge.
Stuck between a few really solid cash-back credit cards, unable to choose the one that’s best for your needs?
Time for some perspective. Yes, it’s true that you’d do fine with many if not all the cash-back cards on this list, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for a product you don’t absolutely love.
To find the best fit, ask yourself a few questions:
- Where do I spend the most money?
- How do I want to be able to redeem my cash-back rewards?
- Am I willing to pay an annual fee if it means earning at a higher rate or earning more cash back overall?
- Am I planning to make a major purchase or balance transfer that I need 0% APR financing for?
- How important is a generous welcome offer to me?
Use your answers to chart the course forward. Chances are they’ll help you narrow your list further and perhaps point you to the ideal card.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.
For rates and fees of the American Express Cash Magnet® Card, please visit this rates and fees page.
1Offer is exclusive to Bread Cashback American Express Credit Card holders enrolled in the Bread Cashback program. Cash back can be redeemed as statement credit or direct deposit. This rewards program is provided by Comenity Capital Bank and its terms may change at any time. For full Rewards Terms and Conditions, please see comenity.net/breadcashback/termsandconditions.
2Review important rate, fee, and other cost information.
3Certain terms, conditions, and exclusions apply. For more details, visit https://www.americanexpress.com/us/network/breadfinancial/breadcashback
Credit card offers are subject to credit approval.
American Express is a registered trademark of American Express. This Card is issued by Comenity Capital Bank pursuant to a license from American Express.