NerdWallet's

Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2018

Spending happens. Make your everyday purchases more rewarding with one of these cards.

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For flexibility in choosing bonus categories
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Benefits

This card offers 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories, which in recent years have included gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and wholesale clubs. You earn an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. The card comes with a cash sign-up bonus that’s fairly easy to reach: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Drawbacks

The Chase Freedom® requires you to opt in to the bonus category each quarter. You can opt in at any time and get the bonus for the entire quarter — but if you forget, you won’t get 5% cash back. If you don’t spend enough to maximize the bonus categories each quarter, you might earn more rewards with another card.

Bottom line

The Chase Freedom® has one of the best rewards rates out there without an annual fee or a complicated redemption process. If you spend a lot on the 5% bonus categories — and most people do — you’ll easily earn substantial cash back with this card.

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For a longer 0% period on balance transfers
Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer

Benefits

The Discover it® - Cashback Match™ offers 5% cash back in categories that you activate, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter. All other purchases earn 1% cash back. Past categories have included such common merchants as gas stations, restaurants, home improvement stores and Amazon.com, so there's a good chance of earning bonus cash back on spending you were going to do anyway. This card puts you in charge of your sign-up bonus. Instead of a flat amount paid once you spend a certain amount of money, the bonus is based on your spending and is awarded at the end of your first year: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Drawbacks

Activating the bonus categories each quarter can be a hassle. If you forget, you don't get your 5% rewards. If you don’t spend enough to maximize the bonus categories each quarter, you might earn more rewards with another card.

Bottom line

It's pretty hard to beat 5% cash back, and the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ has historically offered bonus categories where many of us spend a lot. With a $0 annual fee, this card does well as either an everyday card or a backup.

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Benefits

The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card pays an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which bumps up to 1.8% for mobile wallet purchases in the first year. It offers one of the highest sign-up bonuses of any cash-back card: Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Another unique benefit: up to $600 in protection on your cell phone (subject to a $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cell phone bill with the card.

Drawbacks

You can't redeem your cash back rewards until you've earned at least $25 for online redemptions, or $20 at a Wells Fargo ATM. Flat-rate cash back is hassle-free, but you'll miss out on the extra rewards offered by cards with bonus categories.

Bottom line

The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card offers unique benefits, a great bonus and solid rewards, although maximizers may want to pair it with one or more cards that offer bonus rewards.

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For a $0 annual fee but lower rewards rates
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Benefits

This card’s 6% cash back rate at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 a year in spending, then 1%) makes it a longtime favorite with the Nerds, as does its 3% rate at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. All other purchases earn 1% back. By buying gift cards at the supermarket and using them at restaurants, retailers and other merchants, you can extend the 6% cash back far beyond just groceries. The sign-up bonus also adds to the appeal — and you may be eligible for an even better offer from American Express. Check out our American Express Pre-Qualified Offers page.

Drawbacks

The annual fee is high for a cash back card, but if you spend at least $31 a week at the supermarket, the cash back will offset it. Because this card is an American Express, you may have trouble using it in some places.

Bottom line

If you spend at least $61 a week at the supermarket and are a regular at the gas pump, this is a great card. If you spend less than that, consider an alternative version of this card — the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. It has a $0 annual fee, but the cash back rates are lower.

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For a 1.5% rate and no redemption minimum
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Benefits

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer's combined cash back rate on all purchases is best in class for a card with a $0 annual fee: You get 1% back on every dollar you spend and another 1% back when you pay off your purchases. Cash back can be redeemed as a statement credit, a gift card or a check in the mail.

Drawbacks

This offer does not include a sign-up bonus, nor does the card have any bonus categories. Higher cash back percentages can be had on different cards for specific categories. There’s a minimum cash back redemption of $25.

Bottom line

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is one of the best rewards cards on the market, partly because it’s so simple: straight cash back — no points, no bonus categories to keep track of. Cardholders can shop as they normally would and get a fantastic rewards rate.

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For a card with preselected 5% categories
Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Benefits

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card is a rotating category card with a twist: You get to pick your own bonus categories. You earn 5% cash back in two categories you choose, on up to $2,000 per quarter in combined spending (then 1%); unlimited 2% cash back in one other category of your choice; and 1% on all other spending. There's a good sign-up bonus, and the annual fee is $0.

Drawbacks

Rotating category cards involve more work than flat-rate cards, and this one adds an extra layer of effort because you have to pick your categories each quarter. Forget to do so, and you'll earn only 1%.

Bottom line

The unique rewards system on the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card makes it worth considering for people who don't mind (or who even enjoy) actively managing their credit card accounts.

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For big potential bonus rewards for bank customers
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Benefits

The HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card sets itself apart from other cards that offer a flat 1.5% cash back by giving you an annual 10% bonus on all cash rewards earned in the preceding year. That makes the effective rewards rate 1.65%. There's also a nice sign-up bonus, and the annual fee is $0.

Drawbacks

As with all flat-rate cards, there's no opportunity to earn extra rewards on certain purchases.

Bottom line

With solid rewards, annual bonuses and no annual fee, the HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card is a good option for people with good credit.

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Benefits

The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card has an outstanding cash-back rate: unlimited 3% rewards on every purchase in the first year, then unlimited 2.5% cash back thereafter. The card also has no foreign transaction fee, making it a good option for international travel.

Drawbacks

There's an annual fee of $0 the first year, then $59. After the first year, you'll have to spend $2,360 a year to make up for it. Also, you must be a member of Alliant Credit Union, although anyone can join with a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success.

Bottom line

The annual fee may be a turn-off for many, but this card was specifically designed for bigger spenders. If you spend more than $5,900 a year, it's a better deal than a 1.5% card with no annual fee; spend more than $11,800, and it's better than a no-fee 2% card.

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Benefits

The flat 1.5% cash back rate is pretty great, especially for people without perfect credit, and there’s no limit on the rewards you can earn. The rate is the same as that paid by the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, which is only for people with excellent credit. (That card has a $0 annual fee.) There are no foreign transaction fees, and Capital One may bump your credit limit up if you make your first five monthly payments on time.

Drawbacks

The annual fee of $39 isn’t very high, but it will still cost you something to have this card. The ongoing APR is high, so you should plan on paying your balance in full each month; otherwise, the interest will wipe out your rewards.

Bottom line

The reality is that not everyone has a credit score above 800. The Nerds appreciate that Capital One offers a credit card with an extremely competitive 1.5% rewards rate for people still building their credit scores.

Methodology

NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects the best cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen in multiple categories.

Last updated April 18, 2018.

Chanelle is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet covering credit cards. When she isn't optimizing her rewards, she can be found hiking around Lake Tahoe or seeing the latest movies at the theater. She previously worked at Fortune, Forbes and the Reno Gazette-Journal. Email: cbessette@nerdwallet.com.

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2018

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