Best Cash Back Credit Cards for February 2021

Looking for the top cash-back credit cards? Here's some of the hottest offers available right now, plus how cash-back credit cards work and how to get the most out of them.
By Maryalene LaPonsie
MoneyRates has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. MoneyRates and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
The specifics of cash-back-rewards programs vary from card to card and can be complex. Compare top cash-back credit cards and learn how to maximize their benefits.

How would you like to get a rebate on every purchase you make?

Cash-back credit cards do exactly that.

Regardless of what you buy or where you shop, these rewards cards put money back into your pocket each month.

However, not all cards are created equal.

Some may limit how much cash back you can earn while others may only provide their highest level of rewards on specific categories of purchases.

The best cash-back credit card for you depends on individual preferences such as whether you like rewards that never change or want to maximize money back with bonus categories.

Keep reading for the top cash-back cards currently available and what makes them stand out from the rest. (Plus, we've got tips on how to maximize your benefits, insight into the credit score you'll need to qualify and more.)

Best Flat-Rate Cash-Back Credit Card - Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

If you're new to cash-back credit cards, a flat-rate card can be the simplest way to get started.

These cards offer the same percentage of cash back on all purchases. Often, rewards on these cards are unlimited and don't expire so long as your account remains open.

Flat-rate cash-back credit cards are best for those who don't want to worry about spending tiers and bonus categories.

No matter what you buy or how much you spend, you always know exactly how much cash back is coming your way.

The following are our top picks for the best flat-rate cash-back credit cards. All are solid choices, but a high ongoing rewards opportunity takes Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer to the top of the list.


Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

The Basics: With no annual fee and other benefits like an intro 0% APR on balance transfers (then, Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Thanks to that higher-than-typical flat-rate rewards earning opportunity, it's hard to do better with a flat-rate cash-back card.

Citi<sup>®</sup> Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Rewards Rate: You can earn 1% cash back on your purchases when you buy and another 1% back when you pay for them, making the rewards rate effectively 2% back on all your purchases.

Annual Fee: AnnualFees

Credit Needed: Excellent


Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Basics: With the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, you get a competitive cash-back rate on your purchases. Rewards don't expire as long as your account is open, and you can redeem for cash, gift cards or a statement credit.

Cardholders get a host of other perks and services too, including 24-hour travel assistance, travel accident insurance and extended warranty coverage.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases.

Bonus: The bonus is $200 cash back after you spend $500 within 3 months of account opening.

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

The Basics: This card is a good pick for anyone who banks with Wells Fargo. That's because among its cash-back redemption options are the opportunities to redeem for cash in $20 increments at Wells Fargo ATMs or to apply a credit toward a Wells Fargo mortgage principal balance.

The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card should also be a top choice for anyone who uses Apple Pay or Google Pay since it offers an increased cash back rate on those purchases at first. It also offers cellular phone insurance (terms and deductible apply) when you pay your mobile bill with your card.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

Rewards Rate: Earn 1.5% cash rewards on all your purchases; plus, earn 1.8% cash back on qualifying digital wallet purchases during your first 12 months as a cardholder.

Bonus: There's a bonus of $150 cash back after spending $500 within 3 months from account-opening.

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


American Express Cash Magnet® Card

The Basics: In addition to cash back, the American Express Cash Magnet® Card gives its users benefits such as free two-day shipping though ShopRunner, a global-assist hotline for use in the event of a travel emergency and car rental loss and damage insurance (terms apply).

Rewards earned with this card can be redeemed for statement credits, gift cards or merchandise.

While the card offers a welcome bonus, note its spending requirement is double that of some of the other cards on this list.

American Express Cash Magnet® Card

Rewards Rate: Earn 1.5% cash back on all your eligible purchases.

Bonus: The bonus is a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 within 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Basics: For those with less than stellar credit, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good entry-level option.

It does charge an annual fee, and you won't get a welcome bonus - but you do get perks such as 24-hour travel assistance service and extended warranty protection. Plus, you'll get unlimited cash back on all your purchases.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on what you purchase.

Bonus: Currently, there is no bonus.

Annual Fee: The annual fee is $39.

Credit Needed: Average, Fair, Limited


Best Tiered Cash-Back Credit Card - Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Tiered cash-back credit cards pay out different levels of rewards depending on what is purchased. For instance, you may get 4% cash back when you eat out at a restaurant but only 2% cash back when you shop at the supermarket.

These cards are great for those who spend a significant amount of money in specific categories.

Some people apply for several tiered cards so they can get the highest earning rates possible in several categories.

Keep in mind that the default earning rate for purchases outside these special categories is usually 1%. That means that, if you aren't spending in the top-tiered categories, you may be earning less than what you'd get with a flat-rate cash-back card.

We think the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is hands-down the best tiered cash-back credit card, thanks to its impressive 6% earning rate at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 spent annually, then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming services. However, the best card for you will be the one that maximizes rewards on the spending you do most.


Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Basics: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express gives its members hefty cash back on purchases at U.S. supermarkets that alone could result in $360 annually in cash back.

The current welcome offer only sweetens the deal and makes this card hard to beat.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Rewards Rate: You earn 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets (then, 1%) as well as 6% back on select streaming subscriptions; 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on eligible transit; and 1% back on your other eligible purchases.

Welcome Offer: Earn $300 as a statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months from account opening.

Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Chase Freedom Unlimited®

The Basics: With an annual fee of $0 and other benefits like purchase protection, Chase Freedom Unlimited®has a pretty exceptional offer.

Freedom Unlimited® offers flexible redemption options including statement credits, direct deposits, gift cards and travel too. Plus, rewards accumulate as Chase Ultimate Rewards® points and can be combined with points earned through other cards to make this cash-back card a powerful travel rewards option as well.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Rewards Rate: You can earn 5% back on travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal; 3% back on dining at restaurants and drugstore purchases; and 1.5% cash back on your other purchases.

Bonus: For new cardholders, there's a generous welcome offer – a $200 bonus after spending $500 within 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Basics: If you're looking for a card without an annual fee, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a solid contender.

It's best for those who dine out frequently or spend a lot on entertainment. However, it also earns a respectable 2% back at grocery stores, making this a good choice even for the budding home chef.

The card's added perks include complimentary concierge service, travel accident insurance and extended warranty protection.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate: You earn 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on your other purchases.

Bonus: Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after spending $500 on your purchases within 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

The Basics: The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is another good option for those who want to skip an annual fee.

This card has a competitive welcome bonus and offers higher levels of cash back for purchases at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, which are common expenses in many households.

What's more, you get car rental loss and damage insurance and access to a global-assist hotline while traveling.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Rewards Rate: Earn 3% cash back on up to $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets annually (then, 1%), earn 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, and earn 1% back on your other eligible purchases.

Welcome Offer: Earn $200 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first three months.

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Best Cash-Back Credit Card for Cardholder's Choice Categories - U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Some cards allow you to select the rotating category for each quarter. This gives you freedom to select department stores for the quarter in which you know you'll be back-to-school shopping and utilities for those times of year when your energy bill is highest, for example.

The downside to selecting your own bonus categories is that you need to remember to make a choice before the next quarter starts. Otherwise, you could miss out on valuable cash-back savings. So these cards are best for those who feel confident in their ability to remember when new quarters start and choose their bonus categories in a timely manner.

Pro Tip: Create an event on your phone or computer's calendar to remind you three days before the quarter starts to select new categories.


Types of Cash-Back Credit Cards

The specifics of cash-back-rewards programs -- what's offered and how they work -- vary from card to card and can be complex. However, they can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Flat-rate cash-back credit cards

    These cards have the simplest rewards structure. They award the same amount of cash back on all purchases. Obviously, the higher the rate, the more cash you get back.

    If, for example, you earn 2% on all purchases and you charge $10,000 to the card in one year, you'd accrue $200 in cash back. Credit card companies can modify those rates at any time, however.

  • Tiered cash-back credit cards

    Other cards offer higher percentages on purchases in certain categories such as groceries, drugstore items and gasoline, or for purchases from selected merchants. Some even feature bonuses for the first purchase or bonuses for spending a certain amount in a year. These are known as tiered cash-back credit cards.

  • Cash-back credit cards with rotating categories

    These cards are a type of tiered cash-back credit card. However, rather than having permanent categories for higher cash-back rewards, these cards rotate through different bonus categories throughout the year. Typically, card issuers will change the categories each quarter.

  • Cash-back credit cards with cardholder-choice categories

    The final type of cash-back credit card also uses rotating categories, but it lets cardholders choose the category rather than leaving that choice to the card issuer. This provides for the most flexibility possible to maximize cash-back rewards.


How Cash-Back Credit Cards Work

To make the most of cash-back credit cards, you need to understand the ins and outs of how they work. That means knowing what fine print to read and the best ways to redeem your cash back once it's earned.

Cash-Back Credit Card Limitations

Most of these rewards cards have rules concerning usage and redemption. Here are a few to know:

  • Cap limitations

    Some of these cards have a limit on the cash back you can get monthly, annually or both. For instance, an annual cap may mean you can't earn any more than $600 per year. However, many of the best cash-back credit cards don't have caps.

  • Redemption minimums

    Sometimes you have to charge a certain amount on the card before your reward takes effect or before you can redeem your reward. With some cards, you may redeem your reward each time you meet the minimum; with others, redemptions can be done monthly or annually.

  • Expiration dates

    Expiration dates on the rewards themselves are not uncommon. On cards with a rewards expiration date, if you don't retrieve your cash back by that time, you lose it. For instance, on the Citi Double Cash Card, a cash-back balance will expire if no new cash back has been earned in 12 months. You also could forfeit your rewards in other ways, such as defaulting on the account.

Cash-Back Credit Card Fees

Cash-back rewards cards often have higher interest rates than cards without rewards, so it's best to pay any balance off in its entirety every month. Otherwise, interest will eat away at your cash rewards and you won't reap any true benefits.

Also, as with any credit card, check for the following fees and see which terms apply to them:

  • Annual fee

    It's not unusual for rewards credit cards to have annual fees. Before you pay an annual fee, make sure the value of the cash back you expect to receive will offset the cost.

  • Balance transfer fee

    Some credit cards offer a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers. You won't earn cash back on a balance transfer, and you could be charged a fee equal to 3-5% of the transferred amount. So make sure the interest savings will be enough to justify paying the balance transfer fee.

  • Foreign transaction fees

    If you travel frequently, look for a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. These fees usually run anywhere from 3%-5% of your transaction amount. Keep in mind, too, that these will be assessed if you buy an item from a foreign website in foreign currency. We primarily think of these fees as only affecting you when you travel, but they can crop up when you're shopping from the comfort of your own sofa.

Cash-Back Credit Card Redemptions

Obviously, your rewards with a cash-back credit card will most likely come in the form of cash. How you get that cash can depend on your card. Generally, you'll have one or more of these options:

  • Statement credit
  • Paper check
  • Automatic deposit to bank account
  • Use of cash-back rewards to make purchases on partnering sites such as Amazon
  • Gift cards
  • Travel
  • Merchandise

Most of these methods result in a dollar-for-dollar redemption. In other words, if you have one dollar of cash back in your account, you get one dollar for a statement credit or one dollar off your Amazon order.

Travel and merchandise can be a little tricky, though, since it's hard to know sometimes if you're getting the best value for your money. As a general rule, redeeming your cash back for cash rather than merchandise is the best advice.


Strategy: Getting the Most Out of Your Cash-Back Credit Card

Now we come to the nitty gritty.

How exactly do you get the most out of a cash-back credit card?

Well, it starts by not having just one cash-back credit card. You'll probably want two or even three to get the most money back.

If that sounds overwhelming, don't worry. We have the process broken down into eight easy steps:

1. Select your cards

Start by selecting an everyday card. This will be a flat-rate cash-back card that is used for all your purchases except those covered by a tiered card's bonus categories.

Then, look for one or two tiered cash-back cards or cards with rotating or customer-choice categories. You'll want to find cards that offer the most cash back for the categories you shop most frequently, such as groceries or gas. However, don't apply for any cards just yet.

2. Apply for your cards strategically

Now that you have cards selected, you need a strategy for when to apply.

Why? Because you want to be able to comfortably spend enough to earn each card's welcome bonus and pay off the balance before any interest starts.

That means looking at your expected spending patterns and deciding when a particular card might be a good fit. Do you have any big expenses coming up that would help meet that requirement? If so, time your application for the card a month before the purchase will be made.

Also take into consideration whether a card's welcome bonus is higher than usual. Limited time offers are just that: limited. We don't know how long offers will last, so it's best to apply right away if a card has an enhanced bonus available and the application fits well into your lifestyle and needs at that moment.

Keep in mind that a rash of applications can have a negative impact on your credit score. They could also raise a red flag to card issuers who might think you're in a financial crisis and desperate for money.

To improve the odds of having applications approved, some people recommend applying for 2-3 cards on the same day and then waiting 3-4 months before applying for any additional cards. Others suggest applying for only one card every 6 months. However, there is no magic number for how long to wait between applications since each card issuer has its own evaluation standards.

If you have excellent credit and a stellar on-time payment history, waiting between applications probably isn't as important as it is for those with lower credit scores.

3. Separate cards in your wallet

As you receive and begin to use your cards, have a designated place in your wallet for each one. Storing them together increases the chances of pulling out the wrong one if you're in a rush in the store. Then, you'll have earned only 1.5% cash back at the supermarket instead of the 6% you could have gotten if you'd pulled out the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (assuming you're under the $6,000 annual spending cap).

Using a removable label to note the card's cash-back rate on the card itself can also be helpful. Whichever system you use, just be sure it makes it easy to quickly pull out the right card for each purchase.

4. Use cash-back cards for all your monthly bills

One way to maximize cash-back is to use cards for monthly expenses in addition to everyday purchases. That means, for instance, setting up payments from your Chase Freedom Unlimited® card for your phone and internet bills or using your CardName for utility bills if you've selected utilities as one of your choice categories.

It doesn't make sense, though, to use a cash-back card if a provider charges a fee for credit-card payments. There's no reason to pay a 3% processing fee in order to get 1.5% cash back. The only exception might be to earn a welcome bonus. In that case, it might be worthwhile to pay a fee if you'll earn $150 or $300 as a result. However, always do the math first to be sure.

5. Change cards when you hit spending limits

Once you hit the spending limit for a particular category, switch to a new card. Otherwise, you could miss out on valuable cash back.

For example, let's say you have a large family and charge $750 worth of supermarket purcases to your Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express each month. This gives you 6% cash back on your purchases. However, by September, you will hit the $6,000 spending cap for the category. After that, groceries will only earn 1% cash back, and it's time to switch to a new card, perhaps a flat-rate card that offers 1.5% or even up to 2% back on your purchases.

6. Create category and payment alerts

To ensure you don't miss the opportunity to activate or choose categories, set a calendar reminder on your phone or computer. You can also set up payment alerts through most credit-card accounts, and these will issue reminders of upcoming due dates. Don't forget that, with some cards, a missing or late payment could mean forfeiting some or all of your cash back.

7. Pay off your balance every month

Only charge expenses you can comfortably pay off each month. Once interest starts to accrue on an account, even the best cash-back credit card will cost more money than it earns in rewards. If you're having trouble making payments, stop using the card until you have paid off the balance and determined what caused the problem.

8. Regularly reevaluate your current cards

Cash-back credit cards are constantly evolving. Terms change, rates and fees fluctuate and welcome offers come and go. It's always smart to keep an eye open on what else is available for cash-back rewards. We also recommend doing a full evaluation of your cards once a year. Make sure they still align with your spending patterns and decide whether any annual fees you're paying are worth the rewards you're reaping.


Credit Score You Need for a Cash-Back Credit Card

In general, rewards credit cards require applicants to have good or excellent credit scores.

While the number can vary by issuer, a credit score at or above 700 is usually considered good, according to the credit reporting company Experian. Some cards, such as the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, are available to those with lower credit scores - but they may charge an annual fee or offer fewer rewards than those provided by other cards.

If your score is lower than 700, consider taking some time to improve your credit before applying for a cash-back credit card.


Methodology

This list of cash-back credit cards featured in this article is certainly not exhaustive. There are plenty of other cards out there to consider. However, to make it easier for you to review your options, we took a select group of popular cash-back cards and analyzed them, giving weight to factors in this order:

  • Percentage of cash back offered
  • Value of welcome bonus
  • Cost of annual fee
  • Bonus category options (greater weight given to cards with broad, rather than niche, categories)
  • Redemption options
  • Other card perks and benefits
Give Us Feedback - Did You Enjoy This Article? Feel Free to Leave Your Comment Here.