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NerdWallet’s Best Cash Back Credit Cards, Spring 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
Apply Now

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: Get a $100 Bonus after spending $500 on 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
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, 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
Apply Now

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

—Aw, nerds! Looks like this offer’s temporarily unavailable.

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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  • 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.

  • 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.