Citi Custom Cash Card Review: Low-Maintenance 5% Cash Back

The card earns 5% cash back (up to a spending cap) in your top spending category each billing cycle. Everything else earns an unlimited 1% back.

Funto OmojolaAug 2, 2021
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Our Take

4.7

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: This no-fuss, high-earning cash back card is ideal for those who want to earn lucrative rewards for everyday spending with little work.

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

on Citibank's application

on Citibank's application

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • No annual fee

  • 5% bonus categories

  • Intro APR Period

Cons

  • Low rate outside bonus categories

  • Requires good/excellent credit

Alternate Pick: Unlimited Flat-Rate Rewards

Citi® Double Cash Card
NerdWallet rating 

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

2% cash back on every purchase

Earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy something and 1% when you pay the bill, all for an annual fee of $0

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months

Intro APR

0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

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Full Review

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is a competitive contender in the 5% cash back arena. It earns 5% back in one eligible spend category, on up to $500 each billing cycle, and an unlimited 1% back on all other purchases.

What sets the $0-annual-fee card apart from other 5%-back options is the fact that your rewards are automated and adjusted based on your spending habits each billing cycle. Similar cards typically require cardholders to activate bonus categories each quarter. The automated rewards from the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card can be a big draw for those looking to earn outsized earnings without added effort, but could be a downside for those looking to maximize rewards on every purchase.

While the 5% earning options on the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card include useful everyday categories like dining and groceries, the $500 cap on those rewards largely limits how much you can earn. And if your spending patterns tend to vary greatly, you may be better off with a more flexible and potentially more lucrative 5% cash back card.

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: Basics

Card type: Cash back.

Annual fee: $0.

Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

Rewards: 

  • 5% cash back on up to $500 spent in your highest spend category per billing cycle (from a list of eligible options, see below).

  • 1% back on all other purchases.

Rewards are earned in the form of ThankYou Points, which can be redeemed for cash back as a direct deposit, check or statement credit at a value of 1 cent per point. Other redemption options include gift cards, travel or purchases made on Amazon.com.

Note that points values will vary depending on what you choose to redeem them for. For example, points redeemed for gift cards might yield a value of 1 cent each, while shopping at Amazon.com will get you a value of 0.8 cent per point in some cases.

You can choose to transfer your ThankYou points to more than a dozen travel partners, mostly at a 1:1 ratio. This is a way for savvy travelers to earn outsize value for their points. But since the majority of the transfer partners are foreign airline carriers, the average traveler may not be interested. The only domestic transfer option is JetBlue, and points transfer at a ratio of 1:0.8, meaning that if you transfer 1,000 ThankYou points you'll get 800 miles.

APR: 0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR.

Foreign transaction fee: 3%.

Balance transfer fee: $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Why you might want the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

High rewards-earning potential in valuable categories

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card earns 5% cash back in your top eligible spending category, on up to $500 each billing cycle (1% back after that). Cardholders can earn this elevated 5% cash back rate in one of 10 fixed bonus categories:

  • Grocery stores.

  • Restaurants.

  • Gas stations.

  • Streaming services.

  • Drugstores.

  • Home improvement stores.

  • Fitness clubs.

  • Select travel.

  • Select transit.

  • Live entertainment.

The ability to earn lucrative ongoing rewards in broad and useful everyday spending categories makes the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card especially valuable, especially considering its $0 annual fee.

Some comparable $0-annual-fee, 5% cash back contenders, like the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Discover it® Cash Back, feature quarterly categories that are chosen by the issuer. In such cases, options offered may not be common expense categories for you and therefore may not match up with your spending.

And while another top 5% cash back card, the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, lets you chose your 5% categories, options featured tend to be more narrow and may not yield much everyday value for your spending.

5% rewards on autopilot

With the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, in each billing cycle your 5% cash back is automatically adjusted based on your spending in the card’s eligible bonus categories.

For example, if you earn 5% back for restaurant spending in one cycle, but begin to spend more heavily at grocery stores the next billing cycle, your bonus category will automatically adjust. You’ll then earn 5% for every dollar you spend on groceries (until you hit the $500 spending cap each billing cycle) and 1% per dollar on all other non-bonus category spending.

Compared with most other 5% bonus category cards, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is low maintenance. That's because other such cards typically require you to activate your bonus categories, which means you have to remember to activate your rewards every quarter. Additionally, because rewards on many other cards do not automatically adjust each billing cycle, it can be difficult to keep track of how your spending habits may change from one quarter to another.

Generous introductory offers

New cardholders are eligible for the following welcome offer: Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back. For a $0-annual-fee card, this bonus can get you a nice chunk of change, if you spend the required minimum.

Additionally, the card comes with a lengthy introductory interest-free offer that is on par with what other 5% cash back cards feature: 0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR.

This long interest-free window allows you extra time to pay down a large purchase or debts transferred from other cards.

Drawbacks and alternatives to consider

Low spending cap

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card earns 5% on up to $500 spent in your highest spend category per billing cycle, then 1% back on all other spending.

If you were to max out the 5% bonus category by spending $500 each billing cycle, you’d earn a meager $25 (excluding the 1% back you can earn thereafter). Plus, if your spending is greatest in a bonus category that lends itself to high monthly spending, such as groceries, it wouldn’t take you much time to hit the card’s bonus cap.

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card is a 5% cash-back card that features a more generous spending cap. It earns 5% back on the first $2,000 in combined eligible purchases each quarter in two categories that you choose. However, unlike the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, cardholders must opt in to bonus categories each quarter to earn the elevated rewards rate.

Low rewards rate in non-bonus categories

While you'll earn a hefty 5% on one bonus category each billing cycle, the rewards you'll get on any other spending you do on the card are underwhelming. Outside of your top bonus category, anything else you spend on the card will earn just 1%.

If you were to pair the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card with the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, you could earn 5% back on one bonus category each cycle and 2% back on all other purchases.

You’re limited to one bonus category

While your 5% earning category can change to reflect your spending habits, you’re limited to earning elevated rewards on just one spending category per billing cycle. And non-bonus category spending will only get you 1%. If your spending typically varies within a one-month period, you won’t earn high rewards for all of it. If you have to pay close attention to how much you're spending in certain categories each month, the card becomes higher maintenance for you in order to maximize your earnings.

There are other 5%-back cards that offer ongoing bonus tiers on additional spending.

The aforementioned U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, for example, earns 2% cash-back in one "everyday" category of your choice, in addition to the two 5%-back categories you can choose. Similarly, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers 3% back on dining and drugstores, along with the 5% you’ll earn in quarterly bonus categories.

For a predictable and easy card that still gets you a solid cash back rate, consider the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer. It earns a flat rate of 2% back: 1% when you make a purchase and the other 1% when you pay your bill. Or, consider pairing the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card with the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer. If you plan your spending, you could earn 5% on one top category each cycle and 2% on all other purchases.

Should you get the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card?

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card stands out among other 5% cash-back cards for its automatically adjusted bonus category. Although cardholders will be able to easily earn high rewards in useful categories like dining and groceries, the billing cycle spending cap limits how much can be earned with the card.

If you’re willing to put in some work to maximize your rewards and increase your spending cap, a different 5% cash back card might be a better option for you.