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How I Use Citi Double Cash: Easy Earn, Easy Burn for NerdWallet’s ‘Lazy Optimizer’

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Sean McQuay is NerdWallet’s credit cards expert and in many cases its public face and voice. He appears on television and radio and in print and online publications delivering NerdWallet advice to consumers. He’s also responsible for consumer research in credit cards and improving consumer-education tools at NerdWallet.

So it’s interesting to know that McQuay’s go-to credit card in daily life is the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer — and that his experience with the card over the past year involves Legos, a scooter and his sister’s wedding.

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer gives 1% cash back on all your purchases, then another 1% back when you pay them off. It has an annual fee of $0 and an introductory APR of 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 24.24% Variable APR.

Why is the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer your primary card?

“I love how simple the card is to use,” McQuay says. “It is honestly one of the best rewards rates on the market for any card.”

What are your favorite features of the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer?

Besides the great rewards rate, McQuay points to three additional advantages:

Sean McQuay

Sean McQuay

  • As a MasterCard, it’s accepted almost everywhere. “That’s a really big deal for me. I get very impatient when stores tell me they don’t accept a credit card.”
  • Earning rewards is stress-free, since he gets the same cash-back rate everywhere — meaning no bonus tiers or rotating categories to remember. “I don’t have to think about which stores I use it in.”
  • Rewards are easy to redeem. “I never have to feel bad that I’m not getting the best value for my points.”

Come on, you’re one of the nation’s leading experts on credit cards. You don’t have a complex strategy to share?

“I’d call myself a lazy optimizer,” McQuay says. “I want to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck, but dollars aren’t the only thing I’m optimizing for. I’m also optimizing for time and mindspace.”

McQuay adds a more practical consideration: His wife makes more day-to-day purchases than he does. “And she’s not interested in worrying about which cards to use at which store,” he says.

How much have you earned with the card?

McQuay says he earned $376 in cash back in his first 10 months with the card. He’s used the extra cash to help pay for about half the airfare for a family trip from San Francisco to Houston for his sister’s wedding.

What are a few interesting things you’ve purchased with the card?

  • Adult kick scooter.
  • Tickets to see his favorite band, Copeland.
  • A Lego base to make a Lego table for his 4-year-old.
  • Material and tools to build a new kitchen table from scratch.

How big a deal is it to you that Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer rewards are unlimited?

“Hugely. It fits into the same concept that I hate needing to think about which store I’m in and which card to use,” he says.

McQuay says it’s hard enough tracking a household budget. He doesn’t want to track credit card maximums, too. “I don’t want to think about that. That’s way too much. With Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, I don’t have to think about how close I am to my spending cap when I go grocery shopping.”

Anything you dislike about the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer?

“I wish they would just say it was 2% back,” he says.

But there’s a reason Citi doesn’t say this: The card gives 1% back on every dollar you spend, then another 1% back on every dollar you pay off. But to get the second 1%, you have to pay on time and pay at least the minimum amount due. You also don’t get the additional 1% back when you “pay” by redeeming cash back for statement credit.

When don’t you use the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer?

For online purchases at Amazon, McQuay uses the Amazon.com Store Card, which gives 5% back for those with a $99-per-year Prime subscription. That card is the default card in his Amazon account, so it requires no fuss to use but has a greater reward. “It’s just as easy,” he says.

When traveling, he’ll sometimes use his United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. “If I fly United, which I do relatively often, I’ll use that card to make sure I get the free checked-bags benefit,” he says.

And if he were traveling overseas, he would opt for a card with no foreign transaction fees, he says.

Is the card’s interest rate a factor?

McQuay says he doesn’t revolve a balance, so it’s not an issue. “I don’t even know what the interest rate is,” he says. For the record, it’s 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 24.24% Variable APR.

Overall, McQuay says he’s happy sticking mostly to one card.

“The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is great because you can be confident up front that you’re maximizing,” he says. “With many other cards, you sign up and you have to make sure every time you use it you’re maximizing the right card at the right time at the right store. But with the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, I’ve already maximized all my future purchases. I don’t need to think about it anymore.”

Interview by Gregory Karp. 

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart.