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Which 1.5% Cash-Back Credit Card Should You Choose?

The field is so crowded that it can be hard to notice differences between contenders. Here's how to find the one that fits you.
Oct. 10, 2019
Cash Back Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards
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You’re not asking for much. You just want a flat-rate cash-back credit card that’s easy to use. No tracking bonus categories or juggling multiple cards. Just simple rewards on all your purchases.

But with so many similar-seeming cards that all earn the gold standard of 1.5% or better, how do you know what to pick?

To help you narrow down the options, here’s what to consider:

What do I qualify for?

In a sea of 1.5% cash-back options, your credit score can determine whether your application for a particular card will sink or swim.

Take the Capital One Quicksilver cards:

At first glance, you may not be able to tell the difference. Not only do they share similar names and card art, but they also boast some of the same key features, including the same rewards rate: an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

But there’s a key difference between the two: your credit.

  • The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card requires good credit or better, has an annual fee of $0 and a sign-up bonus: One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
  • The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is designed for someone with fair credit. There’s an annual fee of $39, and it doesn’t come with a sign-up bonus.

Both cards earn the same solid rewards rate, but if you’re working on building or repairing your credit, you’ve got a better shot at getting approved for the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card.

What are my redemption options?

A cash-back card will earn you just that — cash back — but it may not always come as physical, cold hard dollars. Different cards distribute cash back in different forms, and your preference may determine which 1.5% cash-back card you choose.

Statement credit

Statement credit is a common redemption option with most cash-back cards. It acts like a discount or rebate, allowing you to use rewards toward paying down your card’s monthly bill.

The American Express Cash Magnet® Card is an example. It offers 1.5% cash back on purchases, which comes in the form of “Reward Dollars” that can be redeemed for statement credit (or toward gift card purchases or select merchandise). You can’t, however, redeem Reward Dollars for physical dollars. Terms apply.

Direct deposit

Many cash-back cards allow you to move your cash back directly into a bank account of your choosing.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited®, for instance, offers this redemption option, among several others (including statement credit, travel, gift cards and more).

But other cash-back cards may offer direct deposit only under certain circumstances.

The HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card, for one, requires you to have an eligible HSBC bank account for direct deposit.

If you don’t have an eligible account, the card offers several other redemption options — but statement credit will likely be your least restrictive one.

Similarly, the U.S. Bank Cash 365™ American Express® Card allows direct deposit only into a U.S. Bank checking or savings account.

Otherwise, the card allows you to choose a statement credit or a rewards card.

Cold hard cash or old-fashioned check

The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card is another card that earns 1.5% back on purchases, but it’s one of the few that allows you to withdraw rewards in cash directly from an ATM (as long as it’s a Wells Fargo ATM).

You can also opt to have a paper check mailed to you.

Minimum redemption thresholds

Some cash-back cards won’t allow you to redeem your rewards until you reach a certain amount. For example, with the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card, you must redeem in increments of $20 for a Wells Fargo ATM withdrawal. You must redeem in increments of $25 via phone or online if you want a statement credit or a deposit into a Wells Fargo account, or if you want a paper check mailed to you.

The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, on the other hand, has no mininum redemption requirement. Redeem at any time, in any amount.

What are the card’s side perks?

If you’re having trouble choosing which 1.5% card to get, dive deeper into each card’s features. You might find they make one choice more appealing than another. Some examples:

These extras might add up to savings you can use.

» MORE: Credit cards that offer cell phone insurance

Can I do even better than 1.5%?

The short answer? Yes. A handful of cards offer an even higher flat rate than 1.5% back on everything, although they may come with drawbacks of their own.

The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card earns an unlimited 3% cash back in year one and 2.5% cash back thereafter.

However, the card charges an annual fee of $0 the first year, then $99, and you’ll have to join Alliant’s credit union to get the card. And unlike a lot of cash-back cards, it has no sign-up bonus.

If an annual fee is a deal-breaker, you could instead opt for the $0-annual-fee Alliant Visa® Platinum Rewards, which earns 2 points per dollar spent on all purchases. Points are worth one cent apiece, so your effective rate is 2% back on everything. But again, you’ll need to join the credit union to get it.

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer earns 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% when you pay your credit card bill.

The card does require a minimum redemption of $25, and it does not offer a sign-up bonus. But the annual fee is $0.

The PayPal Cashback Mastercard® also earns 2% on every purchase, with no minimum redemption requirement, all for an annual fee of $0 — although you must have a PayPal account to apply for it.

But even within the 1.5% family, you may find features that can boost that baseline rate:

  • The HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card earns an introductory 3% cash back on all purchases in the first 12 months, up to the first $10,000 in purchases. After that, the card returns to its regular ongoing flat rate of 1.5% back on everything. But this card also offers a recurring 10% anniversary bonus. That boosts your rewards rate to an effective 3.3% back in year one (up to the $10,000 spending cap), and 1.65% back in years two and beyond.
  • The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card earns 1.8% back on qualified digital wallet purchases during the first 12 months from account opening. (After that, the card earns 1.5% back.)

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