Despite what anyone says to the contrary, cash back credit cards really do let you earn “something for nothing.”
If you’re able to use your card for regular monthly expenses and pay it off before interest is charged, you can earn anywhere from 1-5% back for every dollar you earn – and all with almost no effort on your part.
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, huh?
And it is. Thanks to some healthy competition within the cash back credit card space, the top cash back credit cards now offer better rewards and sweeter benefits than ever before.
In addition to a huge signup bonus, you can score everything from travel perks to a free FICO score on your monthly statement if you sign up for the right card. Better yet, many of the top cash back credit cards don’t charge an annual fee.
Rewards Credit Card Mistakes to Avoid:
- Missing out on a signup bonus
- Spending more to earn more rewards
- Forgetting how often you can earn a signup bonus
- Carrying a balance
- Getting into long-term debt
- Hidden Benefits Your Cash Back Card Might Offer
- Figure out your spending style.
- The Bottom Line
If you want to earn cash back rewards as a percentage of your everyday spending, you’re in the right place. This guide was created to introduce you to the best cash back card offers currently available with the goal of helping you find the best card for your needs.
Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2018
Before we get into all of the details, here’s our list of the top cash back cards for 2018:
- Chase Freedom®
- Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ Card
- Citi®Double Cash
- Discover it®– Double Cash Back your first year
- BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card
- Blue Cash Preferred®Card from American Express
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Chase Freedom®: Best Cash Back Rewards Program
The Chase Freedom® card has earned a reputation as the top cash back credit card for good reason. Not only does it offer 1% back on every dollar you spend, but it also doles out 5X points in categories that rotate every quarter.
The Chase Freedom® card also offers a healthy signup bonus, which is not all that typical for a no-fee rewards card. And since the points you earn belong in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you can redeem them for gift cards or cash back, or use them to shop on Amazon.com.
All of these perks, plus the fact that the card doesn’t charge an annual fee, keep pushing it to the top of its class. If you don’t already have the Chase Freedom® card, it should be on your short list. Here are some additional details:
- No annual fee
- Earn $150 in cash back after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months
- Earn 5X points in categories that rotate every quarter plus 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months – perfect if you’re carrying high interest debt (balance transfer fee applies)
Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ Card: A Different Way to Earn Points with Chase
If you love the benefits of the Chase Freedom® card but not necessarily the way it doles out points, you might want to give the Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ Card some serious thought. With this card, you’ll earn an unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar you spend – and with no annual fee to boot!
Since the points you earn belong in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you can redeem them for gift cards or cash back, or use them to shop on Amazon.com. Either way, getting 1.5 points per dollar spent on every purchase is pretty sweet when no annual fee is involved. And if you hate to keep track of rotating categories, this card is a definite contender.
- Earn a $150 signup bonus after you spend just $500 on your card within 90 days
- Add an authorized user who also makes a purchase during the first 90 days and earn another $25 back
- No annual fee
- 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 months (balance transfer fee applies)
Citi® Double Cash: Earn a Flat 2% On Everything
If you don’t like keeping track of category spending or special promotional periods, the Citi® Double Cash card might be the perfect alternative for your wallet. With this card, you’ll earn 2% cash back on all of your purchases – 1% when you make a charge and another 1% when you pay it off.This streamlined rewards effort makes it easy to keep track of or figure out how many points you might earn during any given month. And you can earn the full 2% back without worrying about caps, limits, or category restrictions.
The Citi® Double Cash card has surged in popularity since it was introduced in 2015, and the awesome rewards are the reason behind its ongoing popularity. If you want to know more, read through these important details:
- Earn 2% cash back on everything – 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off
- No caps, limits, or category restrictions
- Earn $100 in bonus cash when you spend $500 on your card within three months of account opening
Discover it® – Double CashBack your first year
Similar to the Chase Freedom® card, the Discover it® card offers 1 point per dollar spent on all purchases plus 5X points in categories that rotate every quarter. The big difference, however, is that the Discover it® card is offering double cash back your first year for a limited time.
If you manage to earn 20,000 points worth $200 your first year, Discover will double that bonus to $400 after 12 months. That’s a pretty sweet deal considering the fact that rewards are so easy to earn and this card comes with no annual fee! Another perk that sets this card apart is its generous terms for balance transfers. The current offer lets you transfer a balance and enjoy 0% APR for 18 full months, although a 3% balance transfer fee does apply.
Whether you want to earn a ton of cash back, transfer a balance, or both, the Discover it® card can help you make it happen.
- No annual fee
- Earn 1X points on all purchases and 5X points in categories that rotate every quarter
- Double cash back after your first year
- 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months (balance transfer fee applies)
BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card: Low Minimum Spending Requirement
The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card offers a sweet signup bonus and a user-friendly rewards program that is easy to understand. With this card, you’ll earn a $150 cash bonus after spending just $500 within 90 days! That’s why this card is perfect for someone who doesn’t spend a lot on credit, yet still wants to earn a signup bonus.
When it comes to ongoing rewards, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card isn’t lacking in that regard either. With this card, you’ll earn 3% on gas and 2% on groceries up to a combined $1,500 in grocery/gas purchases each year, plus 1% back on all other purchases.
Your rewards will never expire and there are no rotating categories to keep track of. And when you’re ready to redeem your rewards, you can take them in the form of a statement credit or as a direct deposit into your Bank of America checking or saving account. It’s as simple as that.
- No annual fee
- Earn 3% on gas and 2% on groceries up to a combined $1,500 in grocery/gas purchases each year, plus 1% back on all other purchases
- 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases AND for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days (balance transfer fee applies)
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 6% Cash Back at Grocery Stores
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is ideal for families who want to earn exceptional rewards on their everyday spending. With this card, you’ll earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 per year, 3% U.S. gas stations & select U.S. department stores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Even better, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers a $250 signup bonus after you spend just $1,000 on the card within the first three months. That’s more than enough to make up for the $95 annual fee this card charges, and is really just icing on the cake when you consider the long-term benefits. If you took advantage of just the grocery benefit, for example, and put $6,000 in grocery spending on your card annually, you would earn 36,000 points worth $360!
Here are some more details on the rewards and perks:
- Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on the card within 3 months
- Earn 6% cash back on first $6,000 in grocery spending each year, plus 3% back at gas stations and select department stores and 1% on all other purchases
- Great for balance transfers! 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (balance transfer fee applies)
- $95 annual fee
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express: No Fee, Sweet Signup Bonus
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express offers the potential for sweet rewards and no annual fee. With this card, you’ll earn 2x points at U.S. supermarkets on your first $6,000 in purchases, plus 1x points on everything else. Plus, you’ll get 20% extra points when you use your card for 20 or more purchases each billing period.
Although this card comes without an annual fee, it does offer a 10,000 point signup bonus after you use your card for just $1,000 in purchases within 90 days. And once you begin racking up the rewards, you can use them to pay for all or part of your flight, hotel stays, or vacations and cruises booked in advance. This is particularly tempting if you need the best airline rewards credit card for your personal or business travel, you could fly for free once you have racked up so many rewards.
- No annual fee
- Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend just $1,000 on your card within the first three months
- Earn 2x points at U.S. supermarkets on your first $6,000 in purchases, plus 1x points on everything else
- Earn 20% extra points when you use your card for 20 or more purchases each billing period.
Rules for Maximizing Cashback Credit Cards without Going into Debt
A lot of people worry how pursuing rewards might affect their spending, and they’re right to do so. With average household credit card debt coming in well over $15,000 in 2018, it’s easy to imagine how many people used credit with good intentions but would up in debt nonetheless.
To secure the perks of a cash back card without going into debt, you need to be as intentional as you possibly can. For most people, that means using their cash back card with a plan in mind – and only with a plan. If you want to earn more cash back than you normally would, but with minimal risk, this list of rules for cash back cards can help:
Rule #1: Use your cash back card for all of your everyday expenses, but as part of a comprehensive spending plan.
The best way to maximize the amount of cash back you earn is to use your cash back card for as many expenses as you can. While that definitely means using your card for big expenses, it also means using your card for all of your everyday spending as well. Grocery spending, utility bills, gas, and supplies for work can add up fast and help boost the amount of cash back you earn if you get in the habit of using your card regularly.
If you’re using a monthly budget, or using your card as a business credit card, your cash back credit card can actually be a valuable budgeting tool. By signing into your online account management, you can see and track all purchases in the categories you spend the most. If you have limits on certain budget categories, you can stay on track by monitoring your credit card spending online.
You should also use this tracking to see which categories you spend the most in. For instance, if you are a frequent traveler, you may find that switching to a travel rewards credit card gives you the best bang for your buck. The same would go if you spent the largest amount on gasoline or groceries. Keeping track of your spending will help you have a better budget and make sure you get the most rewards possible.
Rule #2: Only charge what you can afford to pay back.
When you’re in pursuit of cash back, the last thing you want is a balance you can’t afford to repay. This is where the “budget” part of your plan comes into play. If you didn’t budget for an expense, you shouldn’t buy it…let alone use your cash back credit card to charge it!
To maximize cash back without getting into trouble, only use your card for regular planned expenses and bills you need to pay anyway. When you only charge what you can afford to pay back right away, you’ll be in the best position to earn cash back without spiraling into debt.
If you are using one of these cards as a 0% balance transfer card, make sure to pay of that balance as fast as you can. You do not want to be accruing massive amounts interest, since that defeats the whole purpose of having a rewards card.
In fact, you should not be pursuing any sort of cash back rewards until you get your previous debt under control. You are only going to get 1%-3% of your spending back while credit card interest can peak at over 30%.
Rule #3: Always pay your bill in-full and on time.
When you take a look at how your FICO credit score is determined, you’ll see that 35 percent of your score is made up by your payment history. If you have been late on your bills in the past, your score will likely reflect that. Likewise, paying all of your bills on time is one of the best ways to boost your FICO score over time.
If you want to qualify for the best cash back offers, having an excellent credit score is crucial. With that in mind, you should pay all of your bills in-full and on time, and with no exception. The health of your credit is too important to do anything else.
Rule #4: Don’t go crazy pursuing too many signup bonuses.
While going after multiple signup bonuses s an easy way to earn lots of cash back, try not to go overboard. It can be difficult to keep track of too many cards, and it’s far too easy to accidentally miss a signup bonus. And if you’re signing up for cards that have annual fees, it’s easy to jumble keeping track of them and wind up paying for your rewards.
Signing up for too many cards can also ding your credit. Because the amount of “new credit” you have helps determine your FICO score, adding a bunch of new cards at once can cause your score to drop. The best strategy to pursue is one where you add new cards gradually over many years.
Rule #5: Keep a simple credit card spreadsheet.
If you do decide to pursue more than a few signup bonuses or juggle more than one card, do yourself a favor and set up a simple rewards spreadsheet ahead of time. With a simple spreadsheet, you can track details like which cards you have, the day you signed up, when you earned the signup bonus, and when the annual fee comes due.
It’s easy to forget which cards you’ve had over the years, but a simple spreadsheet will ensure you stay on track. You don’t have to use any fancy software, either. You can set up a simple spreadsheet through Microsoft Excel or just write it out on paper.
Rewards Credit Card Mistakes to Avoid
Just like there are credit card “rules” to follow, there are myriad credit card mistakes you should strive to avoid. If you make a false move, you could wind up getting less “bang for your buck” with the rewards you earn – and potentially paying money for the privilege of earning cash back. Here are some of the most important mistakes to steer clear of:
Mistake #1: Missing out on a signup bonus
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with rewards credit cards is failing to earn a signup bonus. This usually happens when you don’t meet the minimum spending requirement within the first three months.
Even if you plan ahead, it’s far too easy to miscalculate your spending and fall $100 or even $20 short. To avoid this, take special care to meet your minimum spending requirement as early as you can. And if you’re unsure when the timeline to earn the bonus on your card begins and ends, call your card issuer to ask for an exact date.
Mistake #2: Spending more to earn more rewards
For some people, earning cash back can be a blessing and a curse. The “free money” they rack up is nice, but the fact they earn rewards always tempts them into spending more. Obviously, this is a mistake.
Earning an extra 1-5% back for each dollar you spend is awesome, but you won’t wind up ahead if you spend more to earn those rewards. As you pursue a cash back strategy, make sure you’re only using your card for purchases you planned to make anyway. If you use rewards as an excuse to buy more, you could end up worse off than when you started.
Mistake #3: Forgetting how often you can earn a signup bonus
Some card issuers let you earn a signup bonus more than once. For example, Chase lets you earn a signup bonus on each of their cards every 24 months. American Express, on the other hand, has instituted a “once per lifetime rule” for each of their unique offerings. If you’re in this game for the long haul, some card issuers let you capitalize on generous signup bonuses over and over again. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget the last time you earned a signup bonus if you don’t keep track. The fact that different card issuers have different rules also compounds the problem.
Make sure you know each card issuer’s rules before you go after a signup bonus for a second time. If you fail to read the fine print, they can deny your bonus altogether.
Mistake #4: Carrying a balance
Credit card rewards are only beneficial if you never carry a balance. As a result, you should strive to pay your bill often regularly. Some people have found success setting their bill up on auto-pay for a certain day of the month. Many others choose to pay their bill once per week in order to keep their spending on track. Either way, you should make sure your statement closes at zero every month. Of all the rules and mistakes we’ve mentioned, this should be your greatest concern.
Mistake #5: Getting into long-term debt
If carrying a balance is bad news, then you know long-term debt should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, the nature of credit cards makes it easy to buy now and “pay later.” For some people, the temptation to spend is just too great. If you find yourself getting into trouble while pursuing rewards, the best thing you can do is cut up your cards and stop using them right away. No amount of cash back is worth getting into long-term debt. If you’re prone to overspending, you’ll be a lot better off if you give up on rewards and use cash or debit only instead.
Hidden Benefits Your Cash Back Card Might Offer
Your new cash back credit card will make it easy to earn points on everything you buy, but that’s not all. In addition to the obvious rewards you’ll earn every day, most cash back cards offer other benefits that can help you in a bind – or help you keep your credit in tip top shape.
While these “hidden” benefits aren’t as touted, they can be extremely valuable nonetheless. Want to know more? Here are a few of the benefits your rewards or cash back card probably offers:
Hidden Perk #1: Extended Returns
Did you know that some credit cards facilitate returns on items stores don’t want to take back? The Discove