universal image alt


Go From 1% To Up To 5%* Cash Back With One of These Nerd-Approved Credit Cards

Whether you want to earn cash back on gas, groceries, dining out, or all of the above, our Nerds have the info you need to find the smartest credit card for you. Learn how to maximize your cash back, browse our Nerds' top cards, and apply for one that rewards your spending style.

universal image alt

How Do Cash-Back Credit Cards Work?

Every time you use a cash-back credit card to make a qualifying purchase in store or online, it earns a percentage of the amount paid. That means if you spend $500 on a card that earns 1.5% cash back, you'll earn $7.50 back in rewards. Cash back cards are so popular because they’re easy to understand, and the main benefit comes in the most useful rewards currency: dollars. Using a cash-back card is like getting paid to spend money that you were going to spend anyway. Or put differently, you get a discount on whatever you buy with the card, in the form of redemption options such as a deposit into an eligible bank account, a check, statement credit, or a gift card. Big spenders can easily earn hundreds of dollars per year in cash back.

What Types of Cash Back Can You Earn?
Flat rate on all purchases

A flat-rate cash-back credit card can offer up to 2% in cash back on all purchases. It's typically the simplest way to earn cash back, but it may not be as straightforward on some cards.

Elevated rewards in everyday categories

Other cash-back credit cards may offer higher rewards in certain categories and a base rewards rate. Some cards may also set a spending limit on the maximum amount you can earn in the highest-earning cash-back category.

Cash back in customized categories

Some cash-back credit cards earn rewards in a few high-spending categories from a list of several popular options that are likely to match your spending.

Bonus cash in rotating categories

A cash-back rate as high as 5% in common spending categories is possible to earn with a bit of maintenance. Your memory will have to be sharp with these options or you'll have to set reminders to stay on top of categories as they change.

How to Choose the Right Card For You
First, decide what type of cash back you want to earn:
  • Flat-rate: Lowest hassle, lower cash-back rate (but on everything you buy).
  • Fixed bonus categories: Medium hassle, higher cash-back rate on some purchases.
  • Changing bonus categories: High hassle, highest cash-back rate on some purchases.

    Then, narrow your list by considering how important the following factors are for you:
  • Does the card offer attractive rewards rates in your highest spending categories?
  • Does the card offer an intro offer to boost your short-term earnings?
  • Does the card charge an annual fee? If so, is the rewards rate so good that it makes back that fee every year?
  • How complex are the earning criteria, compared to how much effort you're willing to put in?

    Credit card issuers offer free features and tools to deal with identity theft and credit card fraud. To learn which fraud protections your card offers, like credit monitoring or card lock, see your issuer's website or search online using your issuer's name and a term like "credit card fraud protection.

    Ready to start racking up rewards?
    Compare our favorite picks below!
    universal image alt
    Flat-Rate Cash Back

    The Citi Double Cash® Card is notable among cash-back cards, especially for an annual fee of $0. With superior flat-rate cash back, it’s ideal for consumers who want low-hassle, unlimited cash rewards on everything they charge. What it lacks in sizzle, it makes up for in daily dependability.

    How does it work? The card gives you 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you make it, and another 1% back when you pay it off. The sooner you pay your balance, the sooner you earn the second half of the rewards. That's a powerful incentive to pay your credit card bill in full every month, which we recommend you do anyway to avoid interest.

    Elevated Rewards In Everyday Categories

    The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is one of our favorite cards offering elevated rewards in everyday spending categories. It pays an unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), plus 1% on all other purchases. If you're a frequent restaurant diner or grocery shopper, it'll be hard to find a better cash-back card for an annual fee of $0.

    The potential to earn such a rich rate on both eating out and eating in helps separate this card from much of its competitors, which tend to focus on only one of those categories or the other. Plus, unlike some other cards, it doesn't limit how much spending is eligible for its higher rewards rates, and it doesn't have a minimum amount for redeeming your rewards. It's possible to find similar or higher rates with other options, but rarely both with the same card unless you're willing to cough up an annual fee.

    Families can rack up serious cash back with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. The $95 annual fee is a whopper and pricey for a cash-back credit card, but if you spend at least $31 a week at the supermarket, you'll cover it.

    It offers an eye-popping 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in spending per year, 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, and a generous 3% back on transit including U.S. gas stations, plus 1% cash back on everything else. Terms apply. Cash back is received in the form of reward dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. Gift cards and merchandise are also available.

    Cash Back In Customized Categories
    The U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card is a good match for avid rewards optimizers — those who juggle cards strategically to get the best return for every dollar. It works fine as an everyday card, but keep in mind that it requires some work on your part.

    This card stands out from competitors in the 5% cash-back space by giving you the freedom to choose the categories where you'll earn that top rate. The card lets you select two 5% cash-back categories each quarter from a list of 12 (including home utilities, cell phone providers, ground transportation, gym and fitness centers, department stores, fast food and movie theaters), and it features a higher combined quarterly spending cap than the competition. Plus, you'll choose a 2% cash-back category every quarter from a list of three, and there's no spending cap on that category. Finally, you get 5% back on certain travel bookings through U.S. Bank.

    Bonus Cash In Rotating Categories
    The Discover it® Cash Back on the other hand offers a high rewards rate in rotating categories, a good 0% APR offer and an unusual intro offer that could become a windfall. If you don't mind keeping track of bonus categories that change every three months, this card is a winner either as an everyday card or as part of a multicard rewards-maximizing strategy.

    You would be hard-pressed to find a card with no annual fee that earns more than 5% cash back in bonus categories, which for the Discover it® Cash Back have recently included things like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and more. If you max out the 5% rotating quarterly category rewards each year on this card — that is, if you activated and spent up to $1,500 in those categories each quarter all year — you would earn $300 in bonus cash back, plus 1% back on every other purchase.

    *Terms and conditions may apply to cash back benefits. Credit products subject to lender approval. See NerdWallet.com for details.