Cash back is the most flexible of all credit card rewards. Instead of points that you have to figure out how to redeem — and that you might not be able to redeem for something you want — you get real dollars and cents you can use for, well, anything. Depending on the card you use and where you use it, you'll earn cash rewards of 1% to 6% of the amount of each transaction. Some cards pay a single, flat rate on every purchase, while others pay higher rates in specific categories and a lower rate on everything else.
Some of our selections for the best cash-back credit cards can be applied for through NerdWallet, and some cannot. Below, you'll find application links for the credit cards from our partners that are available through NerdWallet, followed by the full list of our picks.
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card: Best for Flat-rate cash back: High ongoing rate + incentives
Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for Bonus rewards: 5%/3% categories + high ongoing rate
Discover it® Cash Back: Best for Bonus rewards: Quarterly categories + cash-back match
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Bonus rewards: High rates on dining, groceries and more
Citi Double Cash® Card: Best for Flat-rate cash back: High ongoing rate
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for Bonus rewards: Groceries, gas, commuting, streaming
U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card: Best for Customizable rewards: Wide selection of categories
Citi Custom Cash® Card: Best for Bonus rewards: 5% categories tailored to your spending
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card: Best for Flat-rate cash back: Bonus offer + incentives
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for Bonus rewards: Popular 3% categories + no annual fee
Chase Freedom Flex℠: Best for Quarterly categories + cash bonus
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Flat-rate cash back: Bonus offer + intro 0% period
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: Best for Customizable rewards: 3% categories you can adjust monthly
U.S. Bank Shopper Cash Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card: Best for Bonus rewards: High rate for big box shoppers
Prime Visa: Best for Amazon Prime shoppers
|Annual fee||Rewards rate||Intro offer|
Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back — high ongoing rate + incentives
Among flat-rate cash-back cards, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card. It earns an unlimited 2% back on all purchases, which is excellent. But in addition, the card offers a rich sign-up bonus and a generous 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers. That's an impressive, hard-to-find combination of features on a card with a $0 annual fee. Read our review.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back — high ongoing rate
Year after year, the Citi Double Cash® Card has been a top choice among flat-rate cash-back cards. You earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy something and 1% when you pay it off. There's no 0% intro period for purchases and no bonus categories, but the high rewards rate more than makes up for the lack of bells and whistles. Read our review.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back — PayPal users
Earn unlimited 3% cash back on purchases made with the card through PayPal and unlimited 2% cash back on all other purchases. You'll need a PayPal account, but if you're the sort of person this card appeals to, you probably already have one. Read our review.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back — bonus offer + 0% period for purchases
The original 1.5% flat-rate cash-back card still holds its own in a now-crowded field. The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a compelling combination of a good rewards rate, redemption flexibility, sign-up bonus and introductory 0% APR period (see rates and fees). Read our review.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back — bonus offer + incentives
The Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card is one of many 1.5% flat-rate cash-back cards on the market. It comes with a decent sign-up bonus, a generous intro APR period, and the potential to supercharge your earnings through the Bank of America Preferred Rewards® program. Read our review.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back — high rewards for bigger spenders
The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card is designed for big spenders, although perhaps not the biggest spenders. It offers the highest ongoing rewards rate of any flat-rate cash-back card, but it also charges an annual fee, and it limits the amount of spending that earns rewards. (That limit is high, but it's still a limit.) If you're expecting to put more than $2,500 a month on a credit card, this is an excellent one to put it on. Read our review.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back — investors / savers / borrowers
This card earns 2% cash back on purchases, regardless of how you redeem your rewards. You can also snag a sign-up bonus. Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus rewards — groceries, gas, commuting, streaming
If your household spends a lot on groceries, gas, transit and streaming services, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is for you. The rewards it pays in those categories — particularly at U.S. supermarkets and on select streaming services — are among the richest of any card. There's a nice welcome offer for new cardholders and an introductory 0% APR period, too. The generous benefits come at a cost, though: Unlike most cash-back cards, this one charges an annual fee. Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus rewards — popular 3% categories + no annual fee
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express pays elevated rewards at U.S. supermarkets, at U.S. gas stations and on U.S. online retail purchases. The rewards might not be as rich as on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, but this card doesn't charge an annual fee either. New cardholders get a decent welcome offer and an introductory 0% APR period. Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus rewards — 5%/3% categories + high ongoing rate
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® was already a fine card when it offered 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Now it's even better, with bonus rewards on travel booked through Chase, as well as at restaurants and drugstores. On top of all that, new cardholders get a 0% introductory APR period and the opportunity to earn a sweet bonus. Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus rewards — high rate for big-box shoppers
The U.S. Bank Shopper Cash Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card is tailor-made for consumers who spend a lot of money at retailers that don't fit into (or are specifically excluded from) the bonus categories offered by other credit cards. The card also offers a higher-than-usual rate on spending outside its bonus categories. The downside: There's an annual fee. Read our review.
Our pick for: Amazon Prime shoppers
If you drop a lot of money at Amazon and/or Whole Foods Market, this is the card for you, with 5% back on such purchases, plus bonus rewards at restaurants and gas stations, plus local transit and commuting (including rideshare). There's no annual fee, but you have to be a Prime member, and that does have a fee. Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus rewards — high rates on dining, at grocery stores and more
Love the night life but dead-set against paying an annual fee? Consider the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It pays a lower cash-back rate on dining and entertainment than the regular Savor card, but the rewards are nevertheless quite good (see rates and fees). The sign-up bonus is smaller than on the annual-fee version, too, but it's still solid (see rates and fees). Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus rewards — quarterly categories + cash bonus
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate, as well as on travel booked through Chase, at restaurants and at drugstores. Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending matches the categories — and for a lot of people, it will — you can rack up hundreds of dollars a year. There's a fantastic bonus offer for new cardholders and a 0% intro APR period, too. Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus categories — quarterly categories + cash-back match
The Discover it® Cash Back earns bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate. In past years, those categories have included common spending areas like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and specific major retailers. Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending aligns with those categories (and for most households, it probably will), you can rake in serious rewards. You also get the issuer's signature "cash-back match" bonus in your first year. Read our review.
Our pick for: Customizable rewards — 5% cash back tailored to your spending
The Citi Custom Cash® Card offers a lot of value for a $0 annual fee: 5% back automatically in your eligible top spending category on up to $500 spent per billing cycle (1% back on other spending). The list of eligible 5% categories is varied and includes biggies like restaurants, grocery stores and more. And unlike with its competitors, there's no activation schedule or bonus calendar to keep track of. Read our review.
Our pick for: Customizable rewards — 3% categories you can adjust monthly
The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card gives you a little more control over your credit card rewards by letting you choose which category earns the highest cash-back rate, from a list that includes gas stations, restaurants, travel, home improvement and more. You also get bonus rewards at grocery stores and supermarkets, plus a great new-cardholder bonus offer. Read our review.
Our pick for: Customizable rewards — wide selection of categories
If you don't mind putting some work into your rewards, check out the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card. It might be the most customizable cash back card available. You pick which categories earn the most cash back — you get two 5% categories and a 2% category — and you can change those options every quarter. There's a good bonus offer for new cardholders, too. Read our review.
By Gregory Karp, NerdWallet
Cash-back credit cards offer the most useful and flexible rewards currency there is: cash. Points and miles can have squishy value and limited flexibility when redeeming. But a dollar in cash back is a buck you can spend anywhere.
Also, cash-back cards are typically the simplest rewards cards: You get a certain amount of cash for every dollar you spend. You might get more cash back for certain types of spending — at restaurants or gas stations, for example.
If you spend $60 at a restaurant using a card that gives 3% back on restaurant spending, you just earned $1.80 for doing nothing. Think of it this way: A cash-back rewards card is like getting a discount on everything you buy with the card. The fun comes when you use the card everywhere and your cash back piles up.
Even the best cash-back credit cards probably aren't as flashy as travel rewards credit cards, but as with the hare and the tortoise, sometimes slow-and-steady wins the race.
Cash-back credit cards come in three basic types that determine how you accumulate cash rewards.
Flat-rate cash-back cards give you a set percentage of cash back regardless of what you buy with the card. A good benchmark is 1.5% cash back on everything. But several cards give you back 2% or even more.
Tiered cards earn a higher rate in specific categories of spending, such as groceries or gas, and usually 1% on everything else. With some cards, you get to choose which categories earn the higher rewards.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Earn 6% back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year (then 1% back); 6% on select U.S. streaming services; and 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit. All other spending earns 1% back. Terms apply.
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. Earn 3% back at restaurants and grocery stores, and on eligible streaming services and entertainment; and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Rotating bonus category credit cards offer a high cash-back rate, typically 5%, in specific categories that change periodically — usually every three months. Everything else earns 1% on everything else. You have to "opt in" or "activate" the bonus categories online each quarter.
Examples (with both of these cards, the 5% cash back applies to the first $1,500 in bonus category spending per quarter):
Chase Freedom Flex℠. (In addition to the rotating categories, this card earns 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3% back at drugstores and restaurants; and 1% back on everything else).
Many cash-back cards earn a higher rewards rate for certain purchases. That’s usually based on where you use the card rather than what you buy with it. You’ll see this with all rewards cards except flat-rate cards.
Examples of common bonus categories:
Supermarkets. Sometimes card issuers call this category “groceries,” but the rewards are determined by the type of store, not the specific items you purchase. So it applies to groceries, cleaning supplies, toiletries, prepared meals and anything else bought at the supermarket. You can often buy a gift card for a restaurant or retailer at the supermarket, and it counts as a supermarket purchase. Often warehouse clubs and superstores, like Target and Walmart, are excluded. For larger households, this can be one of the most valuable categories to get accelerated rewards.
Restaurants. Sometimes called "dining" this usually includes everything from fast-food restaurants and pizza delivery to white-tablecloth fine dining. Your whole restaurant bill, including the server’s tip, counts for accelerated rewards.
Gas stations. This is often described as "gas" and usually applies to traditional gasoline service stations, such as Mobil, Shell and BP. It usually doesn't extend to gas stations affiliated with supermarkets or warehouse clubs. Often, it counts everything you buy in the associated convenience store, too, although a few cards count only gas paid for at the pump. Gas sounds like a really useful category, but unless you’re a long-distance commuter, most households don’t spend as much at gas stations as they do at, say, supermarkets.
That last point hints at the key to cash-back categories — the best ones are where you spend the most money regularly. So a bonus category like digital streaming services might be comparatively less valuable because while you might spend money on Netflix and Spotify, you probably don’t spend very much.
Other bonus categories you might see include entertainment, drugstores, home improvement stores, wholesale clubs and mobile wallet purchases. Rotating bonus category cards sometimes designate specific retailers for bonus rewards for a quarter, such as Amazon or Walmart.
Card issuers determine whether a purchase earns a higher rate based on the retailer's merchant category code, which usually describes the merchant’s primary business.
Which type of cash-back credit card is right for you depends on how you spend money and your patience for tracking 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:
Nobody wants to pay an annual fee — and most cash-back cards don’t have one — but sometimes it can work out better. That’s because cards with annual fees often have more lucrative rewards like higher cash-back rates for some or all of your spending.
The key is to make sure paying the annual fee is worthwhile mathematically. Think of the fee as a reduction in your annual cash-back total.
A cash sign-up bonus is nice to get — if your regular spending will be enough to earn it. (You typically have to spend $500 to $1,000 in the first few months.) It’s essentially free money. Or, for a card with an annual fee, it might compensate for the annual fee for a few years.
Don’t disregard cash-back cards without a bonus, though. Bonuses are less common with cash-back cards, and bonuses are low compared with those on travel credit cards. A higher rewards rate on one card could be a better deal than a card with a bonus and a lower rate, depending on how much you spend and where you spend it.
What are the rules for getting your cash back? Some cards have a threshold amount — maybe you need to earn $25 in cash back before you can redeem, for instance. Some cards allow you to take the cash back as a statement credit, which can lower your next credit card bill. Others allow you to redeem cash directly into your bank account, while some offer to mail you a paper check. Some issuers allow you to redeem rewards for more than cash back — for merchandise or gift cards, for example. And others might allow you to transfer cash-back points to another card program where strategic use might yield better value.
You typically don’t want to carry a monthly balance with rewards cards, but some cash-back cards offer 0% intro APR periods on new purchases, balance transfers or both.
Cash-back cards are easy to understand and use, but they can also seem boring. That’s especially true when they're compared with travel cards, which can be aspirational — visions of earning a free flight to Bora Bora in first class or a night at a swanky hotel in New York City.
And co-branded travel cards for airlines and hotel companies might give you perks no other card will. For example, airline cards often offer free checked bags and priority boarding. Many of the best hotel credit cards give you a free night's stay each year.
Still, while travel dreams are more exciting than another $90 in cash back on your credit card statement, cash-back credit cards might actually be the right choice for most people. A 2016 study by NerdWallet found in many cases, a consumer could get more value by using a cash-back card and using the cash rewards to pay for travel expenses.
The study found that domestic travelers who spend less than $8,600 per year on travel earn more rewards with a cash-back card than a travel rewards card, especially if they hold the card a long time.
A big exception: Americans who travel overseas an average of at least once per year are often better off with a travel rewards credit card because of higher point values and no foreign transaction fees.
Cash-back cards are great for many people, but not everybody. Here’s a quick look at their advantages and disadvantages compared with other types of cards.
Best rewards currency. Cash is king for flexibility. Nobody can change the value of it, and you can spend it anywhere. You don’t have to wait years to accumulate enough miles or points to redeem them for a free flight or hotel stay, as you might with a travel card.
Simplicity. Cash-back cards tend to be far easier to understand and use than other types of cards that leave you wondering whether you’re getting the most value out of them.
No or low annual fees. You can find plenty of choices with no annual fee or reasonable fees if you want superior cash-back rewards.
Low bonus requirements. It’s usually easier to hit the required spending level for a sign-up bonus on a cash-back cards than on travel credit cards.
Relatively low sign-up bonuses. Bonuses might range from none to about $200, while some travel-card bonuses exceed $500.
No outsized value. Points earned with travel cards can sometimes be parlayed into huge value, far exceeding the value of any cash-back card.
Inappropriate for carrying a monthly balance. Some cash-back cards have a good 0% intro APR period, but most do not. If you carry a balance, you’re likely to pay more in interest than you earn in cash-back rewards.
Few perks. You’re unlikely to find such valuable perks as reimbursement for TSA Precheck applications or free checked bags or early check-in at a hotel.
Foreign transaction fees. Some cash-back cards charge you a percentage of every purchase you make abroad. Such fees are rarer on travel and luxury cards.
If you’ll have trouble paying off the balance every month, a cash-back card — or any reward card — might not be for you. But if you never carry a balance, try to pile as much spending as you can onto your cash-back card to pump up your 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 than that in cash back. An annual fee is worth it only 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.
If you have a card with rotating cash-back bonus categories, make sure to 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.
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 earn the bonus.
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. Not all card issuers offer shopping portals, but it’s worth checking.
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. If you need to transfer a balance, look for a balance-transfer credit card. If you have bad credit or you’re a student, there are specialty cards for you.
Still not sure? See our best rewards cards for a range of credit cards that earn cash, points or miles.
To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page.
Last updated on December 7, 2023
NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best cash-back credit cards based on overall consumer value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as their suitability for specific kinds of consumers. Factors in our evaluation include each card's cash-back earning rates, rewards structure (such as flat-rate or tiered categories), annual fee, redemption options (including minimum redemption amounts), promotional APR period for purchases, bonus offers for new cardholders, and noteworthy features such as loyalty bonuses or the ability to choose one's own rewards categories. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.
Every time you use a cash-back credit card, the card issuer "pays you back" a certain percentage of the purchase amount. For example, if your card earns 2% cash back on all purchases, and you buy something for $80, then you would earn $1.60 in cash back. Or say your card earns 5% at the gas station; in that case, a $42 fill-up would earn $2.10.
With most cash-back cards, you can see your accumulated earnings on your monthly statement or through your online account portal, and you can decide when and how to redeem your cash back. Some cards automatically apply your cash back to your account as a credit.
"Cash back" doesn't mean the card issuer sends you an envelope full of dollar bills. But the rewards do ultimately leave you with more cash in your pocket. The simplest way to redeem cash back is to take it as a credit that reduces your account balance: Redeem $50 worth of cash back, and a $325 balance becomes $275. Many cards also allow you to redeem cash back as a direct deposit into a bank account, and some will even mail you a paper check if you request it.
Every card issuer has its own rules for how you can redeem cash back. Some have a minimum redemption requirement — you might not be able to cash in your rewards until you have accumulated at least $20 or $25. Others let you redeem any amount at any time.
There are three basic kinds of cash-back credit cards:
• Flat-rate cards pay the same cash-back rate no matter what you buy. Flat-rate cards typically pay 1% to 2% on everything.
• Tiered cards pay higher rates at specific types of merchants, such as grocery stores or restaurants, and a lower rate (usually 1%) everywhere else. Some cards let you pick which types of merchants earn the higher rates, but most have set categories.
• Rotating category cards pay a higher rate (often 5%) in bonus categories that change from time to time and a lower rate (usually 1%) on everything else. You usually have to "activate" the category online to qualify for the higher rate.
Everyone's spending patterns are different, so the card that earns you the most cash back depends on your individual situation. If you spend far more money eating out than at home, for example, a card that pays 3% at restaurants would likely be a better fit than one that pays 6% at supermarkets.
Legally speaking, credit card rewards are treated as discounts on purchases rather than as income. That means you don't owe any taxes on your cash back.