NerdWallet's

Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2018

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

At NerdWallet, we adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

Not sure which card rewards you the most?

Take a quick quiz and we'll find out.

See howSee how
More on this card
Chase Freedom® Review
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

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

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.

More on this card
Discover it® Cash Back Review
For a longer 0% period on balance transfers
Discover it® Balance Transfer

Benefits

The Discover it® Cash Back 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

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

Bottom line

It's pretty hard to beat 5% cash back, and the Discover it® Cash Back 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.

More on this card
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card Review

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

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

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.

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 new-cardmember 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

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

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.

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

Benefits

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer's combined 2% 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

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

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.

Benefits

The $0 pays an unlimited 1.5% cash back on everything. And unlike other cards that restrict when and how you cash in your rewards, you can redeem cash back in any amount at any time. This card also comes with an outstanding introductory APR offer: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.74% - 24.74% Variable APR. There's a nifty sign-up bonus: One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. The annual fee is $0.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

No bonus categories. If you're a hardcore rewards maximizer, this might be best as a secondary card.

Bottom line

Bottom line

Few cards offer as compelling a mix of rewards rate, redemption simplicity, 0% intro period and sign-up bonus as the Capital One® Quicksilver® Card - 0% Intro APR for 15 Months.

For a card with preselected 5% categories
Discover it® Cash Back

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

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

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.

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

Drawbacks

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

Bottom line

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.

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

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

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.

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® Card - 0% Intro APR for 15 Months, 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

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

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.

HOW THEIR REWARDS RATES STACK UP

Card Best for ... Cash-back rewards
Chase Freedom® 5% categories and a cash bonus • 5% cash back in rotating categories that you activate (on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending)
• 1% cash back on all other spending
Discover it® Cash Back 5% categories and a unique bonus • 5% cash back in rotating categories that you activate (on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending)
• 1% cash back on all other spending
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card Cash sign-up bonus • 1.5% cash back on all spending
• 1.8% cash back on mobile wallet purchases in the first 12 months
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Families • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 a year in spending)
• 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
• 1% cash back on all other purchases
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer Flat-rate cash back • 1% cash back on all purchases + 1% cash back when you pay them off
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card Customizable rewards • 5% cash back in two categories you choose (on up to $2,000 in spending per quarter)
• 2% cash back in one everyday category such as groceries or gas
• 1% cash back on all other spending
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card Annual rewards bonus • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
• Annual bonus of 10% of all cash back earned
Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card High rewards for bigger spenders • 3% cash back on all purchases in the first year
• 2.5% cash back on all purchases afterward
Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Average credit • 1.5% cash back on all purchases

OTHER RESOURCES

How to choose a cash-back credit card

Cash-back credit cards come in three varieties. Flat-rate cards, the simplest, give you the same rewards rate on everything. Tiered cards earn a higher rate in specific categories, such as groceries or gas, and usually 1% on everything else. Bonus category credit cards offer an even higher cash-back rate, typically 5%, in specific categories that change periodically, and 1% on everything else.

Which type is right for you depends on how you spend money and your patience for keeping track of rewards categories. If you spend a lot in certain categories, such as gas or groceries, consider a tiered or bonus category card. If you don’t want the fuss of remembering which of your cards have which bonus categories, opt for a flat-rate card.

Once you’ve decided which type of cash-back credit card works best for you, consider these factors:

  • Are you willing to pay an annual fee for higher rewards?
  • How flexible do you want your redemption options to be?
  • Does the card have a sign-up bonus?
  • Do you want a 0% introductory APR?

For more, see our guide to choosing a cash-back credit card.

Making the most of your cash-back card

Combine cards for optimum rewards. If you’re willing to switch among cards to maximize your rewards, be sure to get cards that complement one another's rewards structures. For example, you can get one card that offers extra cash back for dining, another that offers extra for shopping at Amazon and another that gives extra for gas and groceries. If your cash-back categories overlap, you’ll wind up with redundant cards in your wallet.

If there's an annual fee, make sure you’re getting more cash back. An annual fee is only worth it if you’re earning more in rewards than you pay — and more than you would if you were using a no-fee card. Most cash-back credit cards keep a running total of the rewards you’ve earned in the past year, so log in to your account and check your statements after a year to make sure it’s worth it to pay the annual fee again.

Take advantage of rotating bonus categories. If you have a card with rotating cash-back bonus categories, make sure to opt in to (or "activate") the categories every quarter so you don’t miss out on 5% cash back on featured categories like restaurants, wholesale clubs, gas stations, groceries and more.

Don’t miss out on your sign-up bonus. Make sure you meet the minimum spending requirement to qualify for the bonus, otherwise you could miss out on hundreds of dollars. Cash-back cards typically require less than $1,000 in spending to earn the bonus, so shift as much spending as possible to a new card until you have the extra cash sewn up.

Use your credit card’s shopping portal for extra rewards. Online credit card malls, accessible through your credit card login, can help you earn extra cash back on your web-based purchases, sometimes up to 10 times as much.

Other cards to consider

A cash-back credit card isn’t necessarily the best option for you. If you travel a lot, consider a travel credit card or an airline credit card. If you carry a balance from month to month, the interest can quickly gobble up more than you're earning in cash back. In that case, a low interest card is probably a better choice.

Still not sure? See our best rewards cards for a range of credit cards that earn cash, points or miles.

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 July 13, 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

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet's official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.