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NerdWallet’s Best Cash Back Credit Cards, 2015

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Best Cash Back Credit Cards

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, it doesn’t get much better than a cash-back credit card. We’ll break down the best options for you and explain why we love them.

Best 5% rotating bonus rewards: Chase Freedom®
Our favorite for gas and groceries: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Best flat-rate rewards card: Citi®Double Cash Card
Best for debt payoff and rewards: Discover it®

Best 5% rotating bonus rewards card: Chase Freedom® 

Chase Freedom Credit Card
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on Chase's
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The standout Chase Freedom® is a favorite among NerdWallet readers, writers and editors alike. It earns 5% cash back on everyday spending in rotating, quarterly categories, like gas, Amazon.com, restaurants and groceries, up to $1,500 spent per quarter. Here’s the bonus category list for 2015:

  • Q1 (January 1 – March 31): Grocery stores, movie theaters and Starbucks stores
  • Q2 (April 1 – June 30): Restaurants
  • Q3 (July 1 – September 30): Gas stations
  • Q4 (October 1 – December 31): Amazon.com

Plus, you’ll get a sign-up bonus to sweeten the deal: get a $100 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening We love the Chase 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 Chase Freedom® delivers.

Our favorite for gas and groceries: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

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

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 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 $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive $150 back in the form of a statement credit. There is a $75 annual fee. The $0 annual-fee Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express  has a lower rewards rate of 3% on groceries and 2% on gas and department stores, and has a lower signup bonus: Get $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive $100 back in the form of a statement credit.

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 Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. 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.

Best flat-rate rewards card: Citi®Double Cash Card

Citibank Citi® Double Cash Card Credit Card
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on Citibank's
secure website

The best thing about the Citi®Double Cash Card is that it combines simplicity with value. You’ll earn 1% cash back when you make your purchases, then an additional 1% cash back when you pay them off.  And it takes the “no fuss” concept even further: $0 annual fee and no need to worry about earning caps, redemption gimmicks or changing bonus categories. In addition to great cash back, this card offers 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 22.99% (Variable). The Citi®Double Cash Card keeps it classy!

Best card for debt payoff and earning rewards on purchases: the Discover it®

Discover It Credit Card
Apply Now

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, the $0 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.

  • WakeUpb4its2L8

    Very late commenting here, but the Amex Blue Cash Preferred is really not the best gas/grocery card at all. For those two categories, the Barclays Sallie Mae card wins every time. That is 5% back on both categories. Granted, there is a $250 cap per category, per month. So, if you spend more than that, like me, just get two of the cards, like me. For all you math freaks, that’s $500 per month, per category allowed. No annual fee. Do the math. Amex is runner up no matter how you use it on those two categories.

    • Mike

      Hi – is there a limit to the number of cards you can get? How do you get two..?

    • abc

      you get $150 if you spend $1000 in 3 months in Amex. that’s 2 years for free. and you have all the free special deals (and get $50 for referring friends – I already got $100 from it).

  • Bob

    What is the best, highest paying cash back card with, no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee and no spending max. I see some max the payback at a certain dollar amount. I usually charge $6000 to $8000 a month, always pay off the monthly balance. I spend 6 months of the yr out of the U.S.. My credit rating is over 800.

    • Scott S

      The BofA Travel Rewards is 1.5% cash back when redeemed as a statement credit of offset travel-related purchases (so, for you, it may be essentially cash back). The rewards rate is bumped to 1.65% if you have a BofA banking account. (They offer a savings account with no fee if there is always at least $300.) There is a $100 sign-up bonus, and the EMV chip is available.

      The Capital One Quicksilver gives 1.5% cash back. The cash back program is as simple as can be, and so is probably your best option if you don’t have enough travel expenses for effective use of the travel rewards cards. This also has a $100 sign-up bonus. Unfortunately, as of now, no EMV chip is available.

      Finally, the Orbitz Rewards card earns 2% of purchases in “Orbucks.” Probably not what you are looking for, but I think worth mentioning given the higher rewards rate.

      With $6000 spending per month, getting 2% instead of 1.5% cash back amounts to $360 additional cash back per year. As annual fees are typically <$100, you may wish to reconsider your annual fee restriction. Additionally, cards with annual fees should have heftier sign-up bonuses and include other extra perks. So maybe take a look at the Capital One Venture Rewards (2%, $400 bonus) or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite (effectively 2.2%, $400 bonus), both of which are like the BofA card in that redemption is by offsetting travel-related purchases.

      Hope this helps, Bob.

    • Scott S

      Under your requirements, I recommend considering the BofA Travel Rewards and the Capital One Quicksilver cards. Both have a base rate at 1.5% with no limits, and a $100 sign-up bonus. Differences: the BofA card has the option to get an extra 0.15% if you hold an account with them, and has an EMV chip, but the rewards must be applied to travel-related purchases.

      However, with $6000 per month spending, an extra 0.5% cash back is $360 per year. Therefore, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus (2.2%, $89/yr fee, yes EMV chip) and Capital One Venture Rewards (2%, $59/yr fee, no EMV chip) give you greater overall cash back value despite their annual fees. They also have much larger sign-up bonuses ($400), and the Barclaycard has extra perks being a World Elite Mastercard. However, both are like the BofA in that rewards are applied to travel purchases only. So if that is a turn-off, then the Quicksilver is your best bet.

      Hope this helps, Bob.

  • CLE_Browns_Fan

    I’m sorry for new applicants that AMEX killed their Blue Cash card a few years back. We and many other are fortunately still grandfathered into the old plan which gives you 5% at gas/groceries/pharmacies, no annual fee and no spending limit. The only catch is the 5% doesn’t kick in until you’ve spent 6500, which usually takes us 3-4 months. The final 8-9 months of the year are golden! Over the past 7 years, on average, Amex has paid us 400-600 a year to use their card. This past year we built a house,and thus bought a ton of Lowes/HomeDepot/Amazon gift cards at the grocery store and racked up over a $1,000 credit from Amex. Plus our grocery store gives fuel points for purchasing gift cards. Game the system.

    • abc

      what are you talking about? I just applied to the blue cash preferred card last December (2014).

      • CLE_Browns_Fan

        The cash back terms are different now than they used to be.

  • toolazyforalogin

    that’s only on the first $250 spent per month then it all goes back to 1% so this card is a dud.

    • Peter

      As mentioned, we each applied for a Sallie Mae so our cap is actually $500/mo. And that’s just on groceries. We have separate caps on gas ($500) and books ($1500) (including Amazon). Any card that gives 5% on groceries, gas, Amazon, Target, and Walmart is no dud. If you reach a cap, simply switch to your backup card. There’s no need to let your cash back ever drop to 1%. In our case, we switch to Citi Double Cash to earn 2%. I fully appreciate that some people may not wish to monitor their balance and switch to a backup card in order to achieve the full benefits of this amazing card. On the other hand, smaller families may never reach the cap in which case the card is a ‘no-brainer’.

      • abc

        Where did you pull out $6000 from? annual fee on blue cash preferred is $75 and you get 6% back. You spend $1250 and you get your worth back. You also get back on gas. 3% off of major retail stores, and has multiple specials offers that you can sign up for free (e.g. get $50 back if you spend $200 at diesel). Best offer I saw was $15 back if you spend $15 on Amazon (yes that’s free $15!!) and you can add user for free, so we got $30 free on amazon between my wife and I. Just as a disclosure that offer already expired.

  • CS

    Another good option for cash back at grocery stores is BankAmericard Cash Rewards with the Platinum Honors status, which earns 3.5%.

    That’d be good for grocery overflow spending past $250 or $500 per month on SallieMae card(s).

    • Peter

      I’ve seen CreditCardTuneUp. com also recommended by Clark Howard, but the recommendations don’t seem to have any correlation with my selected expenses. For example, if I say I spend $0 on airlines, its first recommendation is an airline reward card. Makes no sense!

  • Ravi

    Then with 2 BCP, wouldn’t you earn $570.
    The cool thing with BCP – you could get a target gift card from the grocery store and get the cash back.

    • Peter

      Yes, that’s true but now you’re comparing different grocery spend rates ie, $12000/yr for 2-BCP’s and $6000/yr for 2-SM’s. One BCP and 2-SM’s each have a max spend rate of $6000/yr

      • abc

        You also get $150 when you sign up and spend $1000. That’s 2 years worth of annual fee. 3% off major department stores as well. Amex also has lots of special offers that changes daily too. When I signed up, there was get $15 back when you spend $15 on Amazon (yes that’s free $15), and I used that offer twice (once on my card and once on my wifes card). Additional member can get a card for free. There are many other different offers too. There was additional 2% back for whole foods for like 6 months. I don’t think just simply comparing the “grocery” portion of the card measures the true value of the card. That being said, if you spend a lot of money on gas maybe SM card is better too.

        • Scott S

          Yeah, those are some valid and (except the sign-up bonus) not widely considered points for getting only Blue Cash rather than only SM. But I would still say that the ideal 2 or 3 (or maybe even 4) credit card wallet for practically any individual with <$3k per year grocery spending will include SM and will not include BC. For instance, people who regularly shop at a variety of department stores should have a Cash+ and make it a 5% category.

          • abc

            Agreed. I have 3 CC and am thinking about getting 4th. I have Discover and Chase Freedom, and when I signed up for them they had very different reward system (Freedom used to be 3% for everything, while Discover was 5% for certain category). Now they are just the same reward model and very slight variation in quarterly categories, so I wish I could swap one of them for a different card, but those are my two oldest CC so I would get a hit on my credit score if i close them :/ freedom used to be such a great card… now it just sucks, and I don’t know why it’s still listed as “best credit card of 2015″ in like all the websites.

  • Scott S

    I looked at that chart. $6000/yr is break-even between SM and BCE, not SM to BCP. That break-even is ~$3900/yr.

    If, after the bonus cash back spending limit has been reached, grocery spending is migrated to an unlimited 2% card, then earnings having SM are higher than earnings for having BCE at all spending levels, and the break-even between SM and BCP gets pushed above $4k/yr.

  • mybrotherans

    Nope, that was for the old Discover More. To compete with other cards (probably the Chase Freedom), the rewards changed for the Discover It.

    I have an It and have never gotten below 1%.

    • Katherine

      Actually, I do have the Discover It card and my comment still stands. I read through my cardholder agreement and it says “up to 1%.” You’re lucky you’ve been getting your full 1%!

  • Shell

    What is the best rewards card for groceries and gas? We take two cruiese a year and would like to use a travel rewards card with a huge sign up bonus as well. I am torn reading nerd wallet reviews along with this site. After reading customer comments, I am undecided now. I want to open a cash back rewards card for gas and groceries along with a travel rewards card…chase freedom, Amex Blue Cash Preferred, chase sapphire preferred.
    Thanks,
    Shell

  • 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.

  • Thee Gooch

    Chase Freedom doesn’t have an annual fee. So what do you mean “charge out the butt”? If you don’t spend a lot, then annual fees don’t make sense. No fee cards like the Freedom or Blue Cash every day are nice. What you want to do is match rewards offerings with how you spend money, and decide which card is the best match. What you don’t want to do is change how you spend to earn rewards. you also don’t want to carry a balance and pay interest.

  • Scott S

    Annendum: The new Citi Double Cash (2% everywhere) is a MasterCard and in that way is superior to the Fidelity Amex (MC is accepted more widely), but one might still prefer the Fidelity Card to get a sign-up bonus. As a Fidelity Amex holder already, I will wait for a sign-up bonus to get the Citi X2$, and continue to use either Cash+ Visa or cash back debit card for non-5% categories when AmEx is not accepted.

  • Gregory Schwedock

    MC vs. Amex superiority depends what you’re looking for. Amex has superior resolution dispute and insurance etc.

  • Scott S

    Ah but the Fidelity Investment Rewards AmEx is fulfilled by FIA card services. It’s one of the few AmEx cards not serviced and financed by themselves. Cardholders don’t deal with AmEx, they deal with the FIA customer service (and website, yuck), and I think that’s for resolution dispute as well.

    Regarding other benefits like car/travel insurance and warranty extension, I’ve done my best to understand what’s going on. For instance, my cardholder benefits literature indicated that the extended warranty was actually through the AmEx program (which is great, it’s the best among the big 4), while other cardholders before me (summer 2014) said it was through FIA.