NerdWallet’s Best Cash Back Credit Cards, Winter 2014

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Looking for a cash back credit card with no annual fee and stellar rewards? Some of the best cards out there pay out in dead presidents. Whether you’re a family man with a family van, a young adult looking for ease and simplicity in a world that offers little of either, a jetsetter or – well – anyone, you can’t do better than a cash-back credit card. We’ll break down the best options for you and explain why we love them.

Best bonus rewards: The Chase Freedom
Best no-debt, no-fee card: the Discover it
Best no-fee, cash back card: Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
For gas and grocery: the American Express Blue Cash

Best bonus rewards rate: The Chase Freedom

Chase Freedom - $100 Cash Back Credit Card
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on Chase's
secure website

The standout Chase Freedom is a favorite among NerdWallet users and editors alike. It earns 5% cash back on everyday spending categories, such as gas, Amazon.com, restaurants and groceries, up to $1,500 spent per quarter. Here’s the bonus category list for 2014:

  • Q1 (January 1 – March 31): Gas stations, movie theaters and Starbucks stores
  • Q2 (April 1 – June 30): Restaurants and Lowe’s home improvement stores
  • Q3 (July 1 – September 30): Gas stations and Kohl’s
  • Q4 (October 1 – December 31): Amazon.com, Zappos.com and select department stores

Plus, you’ll get a sign-up bonus to sweeten the deal: Earn a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. We love the Freedom for its high rewards on key spending categories, but it also comes with a great 0% APR deal: no interest on balance transfers and purchases for a long term. After the intro period, a variable APR of 13.99%-22.99% kicks in. No matter what you’re looking for in a card, the Freedom delivers.

Best no-debt, no-fee card: the Discover it®

Discover It Credit Card
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on Discover's
secure website

The Discover it® offers a killer package of 5% cash back in bonus categories and no annual fee, plus perks that are typically only found on expensive, high-fee cards. You’ll earn 5% cash back in categories that change every quarter, up to $1,500 spent, plus an unlimited 1% elsewhere. You also receive purchase and return protection at no cost, and a full 14 months of 0% interest on balance transfers and purchases. And when it comes to fees, no annual fee is just the beginning: There are no foreign transaction fees – key if you go abroad – and your first late payment fee is waived. So get excited: 5% is the new black.

Best no-fee, cash back card: Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Cash Credit Card Credit Card
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on Capital One's
secure website

The best thing about the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is that it combines simplicity with value. It offers a full 1.5% cash back on all purchases, beating the usual 1% base rate. There’s also a sign-up bonus: One-time $100 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months. That’s a nice way to start off the relationship. And it takes the “no fuss” concept even farther: No annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. You need not worry about point caps, redemption gimmicks or changing bonus categories; the Quicksilver keeps it classy.

For gas and grocery: the American Express Blue Cash

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card
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on American Express's
secure website

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred offers one of the highest rewards rates out there on groceries and gas: 6% cash back on grocery stores, up to the first $6,000 spent annually, and 3% back on gas and department store spending. And here’s a neat tip: You can purchase gift cards for Starbucks, Amazon, etc. at the grocery store, essentially earning 6% rewards on every place that sells gift cards. Finally, you receive a signup bonus: Get 100 Reward Dollars, redeemable for a $100 statement credit, after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months. Plus, get one year of Amazon Prime after you sign up for a new membership with your Card and meet the spending requirement in the same time period. There is a $75 annual fee, though. The no-annual-fee Blue Cash Everyday has a lower rewards rate of 3% on groceries and 2% on gas and department stores, and has a lower signup bonus: Get 50 Reward Dollars, redeemable for a $50 statement credit, after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months. Plus, get one year of Amazon Prime after you sign up for a new membership with your Card and meet the spending requirement in the same time period.

Looking only at grocery rewards, if you spend $50 a week or more in that category (a bar the average American easily clears), you’re better off with the Preferred. That’s before you account for the higher signup bonus and better gas and department store rewards. This is one of our favorite cards for families. A word of warning, though: Not all merchants accept Amex, so you might want to carry a no-fee Visa or MasterCard as a backup.

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  • Matt

    What card should I buy if I am trying build credit? And what would be the best option if I am looking to get a flight to the Caribbean? I don’t travel much and I probably wouldn’t want to cancel the card so as to not negatively affect my credit. What would be the best option for me?

  • Felcus

    Regarding the AmEx, does anyone know what counts as a “US Supermarket”. I’m a member of a local co-op and do 99% of my shopping there. Just wondering if it’s a deal between AmEx and the big box grocers. I’ll ask AmEx, of course, but if anyone happens to know…

  • Sam

    Does anybody know if the Captial One Quicksilver Card gets the 1.5% cashback on purchases made through paypal?

    • Erik Geurin

      It does

    • MV

      Yes and that’s what I use for online purchases because of that flat cash reward feature.

  • Joe Piotrowski

    Fidelity AMEX has a straight 2% cash back on ALL purchases. It’s my go-to card for everything. It does require that you open a Fidelity trading account where your money gets deposited to. But opening the account is free, as is moving the money to a checking account. If I’m not mistaken, there are other 2% cash back cards out there as well. I expected a better list from NerdWallet.

    • shadowx360

      Fidelity Amex is the only current one I know of. Problem is that you can’t redeem for cash and you don’t get the Amex benefits like ShopRunner, etc. Plus Amex isn’t as accepted as Visa. Just a lot of hoops to jump through versus the 1.5% Visa from Cap1. Good advice though.

      • Joe Piotrowski

        What do you mean by “can’t redeem for cash?” The money is deposited directly into your Fidelity account monthly as cash. You can invest it or withdraw it directly into your checking account. Or move it to another account of your choice.

      • Joe Piotrowski

        And the Visa vs Amex thing is true. But I travel extensively for work and 95% of the time I can use my Amex card. Less if overseas.

  • sarai18

    WARNING: My husband applied for a Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card, and it has turned into a nightmare. Since we get our mail at a PO Box, they flagged his application for extra scrutiny and called, asking for sensitive personal info. Being wary, he called them back at a known Capital One number and was asked to send – via secure upload – some verification documents. When he did, he discovered their secure website had been hacked and his computer was infected with malware, and who knows who got their hands on information that would make identity theft very easy. So now he has had to put a freeze on his credit in addition to all the time wasted on the phone with various Capital One call center people. Needless to say, he told them to cancel the new account, and we will be taking our business elsewhere. GRRRR!

    • MV

      I also applied for that one and it was quite simple to obtain.

  • MV

    Hello, I have 3 CCs of each major brand: Amex Blue Cash everyday, Chase Freedom Mastercard and QuickSilver Visa capital one. Anything better than this set of no annual fee CCs? Any suggestions? Would the fidelity rewards actually beat the amex blue cash everyday?

  • iquack

    Bank of America’s cash-back Visa card is quite good.
    One percent back on everything, but 2% back on groceries and 3% back on gasoline.
    No annual fee and an extra .10% if cash reward is deposited to a BofA checking account (a $25 reward generates a $27.50 deposit).

  • Alexey Zharikov

    Most Grocery Stores do not accept American Express. Supermarkets are in different category – they do not get such cash back. Costco does not count as Grocery Store either, despite most of our food is from Costco.

    • raunch

      Nonsense! Supermarkets are NOT in a different category — warehouse stores and discount clubs (I.e. Walmart supercenters and Costco) are. Also, I have not yet found a grocery store / supermarket (I.e. Kroger, Shop-Rite, Publix, etc) that doesn’t accept Amex. Honestly, this card provides me with the most consistent rewards of any card and is well worth the membership fee (75 per year).

      • Alexey Zharikov

        I am using Citibank and Chase cashback credit cards – they both consider “Supermarkets” (like Kroger), “Grocery Stores” (like non-franchise chineese, indian, or corean grocery stores, for example “Marina Grocery”) and “Warehouses” (like Costco) as three differene cathegories. When they have bonus rebate for “Grocery Stores” – they do not pay it for supermarkets, like Kroger.
        In Bay Area, California most of non-franchise national-oriented food stores do not accept American Express – only Visa/Mastercard or debit cards.

    • WestNY

      We’ve used (the original) Blue Cash for many years (it’s a better deal for us than the one they offer now, they’ve let us keep it though you can’t get a new one now). Supermarkets definitely count for the 5% and we go at least occasionally to 4 different ‘regular’ supermarket chains (Shoprite, Trader Joe’s, Fairway and a gourmet [ie ripoff] place right near our house), 3 Korean ones (H Mart, Hanyang and Hannam) and one Japanese (Mitsuwa), and only the latter doesn’t take Amex. Costco don’t take Visa so we have to use Amex there, and only get the 1% (our Visa pays a little more). This is in NY metro area.

  • MichaelRC

    The Sallie Mae MasterCard is also great for 5% at grocery stores (up to $250 per month), 5% at gas stations (up to $250 per month), and 5% at book stores including Amazon (up to $750 per month). Also, the rewards calculator at CreditÇardTuneUp. com is another good way to find the best cash back cards for your particular spending.

  • Brian

    Except for the fact that you have to apply in-person at a branch, and the bank is not located throughout the country. I would have to buy plane tickets in order to apply for the card, as would many.

  • Nate

    You might want to try out the rewards calculator at Credit Card Tun Up. com. It looks for the best combinations of cards for your entered spending pattern. So you could see what cards it pairs with the Blue Cash Preferred card for your particular situation.

  • fredfnord

    Have someone else in the family get a BCP as well?

  • strykker31

    Cool Site… Thanks for sharing :)

  • fredfnord

    NASA Federal Credit Union’s Platinum Cash Rewards card. (Yes, anyone can join.)

    1% cash back for the first $1000 in a year.
    1.25% cash back for the next $1000
    2% cash back for the rest, for the whole year

    (Some people on here will say ‘no, that’s per month’. They are wrong. I have had this card for three years. I have checked. It always gives me $22.50 for the first $2000 I spend, and 2% flat after that. Plus it occasionally has bonus offers, maybe once a year.)

    Not only do they allow moderate credit, but if you have poor credit there is a secured version that has the exact same benefits. And it’s run by a credit union, does not require an arbitration agreement, and has excellent service. I have found absolutely nothing negative to say about this. It’s my go-to card for any spending that isn’t in a specific category that I get bonuses on.

  • shadowx360

    It’s been up on their site for over a year that you need Excellent Credit, which they define as 3 years of a credit card and over 5k limit.