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When you’re looking to earn credit card rewards, the type of rewards you go for, beyond just the specific card you open, can make a big difference in how much value you get.
Specifically, the best type is transferable credit card points. That’s because it can be possible to earn anywhere from 1-4x points per dollar spent, and each point can be worth anywhere from 1¢ when redeemed for cash, 1.25¢-1.5¢ when used to purchase travel, and a potentially unlimited amount, even 10-15¢ each, when transferred to an airline’s frequent flyer program.
However, a downside to most credit card points and frequent flyer miles is that using them is complicated. Getting the highest value often requires compromises, like using points for travel when you’d rather use them for something else, or having to work around blackout dates or search for sparse availability.
Consequently, there’s a big argument to be made for cash back.
Cash is king, and even if the 3x points per dollar you earn from the Chase Sapphire Reserve can score a higher redemption value, cash is simpler, more flexible, and offers real, immediate value, rather than the perceived value you can get redeeming points for a flight you’d never, ever actually pay for with money.
Cash-back cards tend to be simple, straightforward, and rewarding. Best of all, some of the best ones don’t have an annual fee.
Take a look below at a few of the best cash back cards available.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards, perks, and sign-up bonuses that make these cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month (unless you’re taking advantage of an introductory APR), making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
Sign-up bonus: $500 (after spending $3,000 in the first three months).
The card earns unlimited 4% cash back on all dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. Plus, the card offers a whopping $500 sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
The Savor makes it easy to earn cash back quickly, but the downside is that it has a $95 annual fee, which is, at least, waived the first year. The earning rate may make up for the fee in some cases, but if that’s too high for you, there’s an alternative: the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card.
The SavorOne card has no annual fee, and offers a slightly lower — but still valuable — earning rate of 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. It offers a sign-up bonus of $150 when you spend $500 in the first three months.
Click here to learn more about the Capital One Savor card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
Click here to learn more about the Capital One SavorOne card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
Sign-up bonus: 15,000 points or $150 cash back (after spending $500 in the first three months).
While Chase markets the Freedom Unlimited as “cash back,” it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash (1 point = 1¢).
That means that if you also have a premium card like the Sapphire Reserve, you can pool your points from the two cards. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 points (or 1.5% cash back) per dollar spent, so paired with a Sapphire Reserve, it’s a great card to use for purchases that aren’t made on travel expenses or dining. Then, you’ll be able to transfer the whole body of points to partnering frequent flyer programs or use them to book travel through Chase with a bonus.
Of course, if you’re simply looking for cash back, the Freedom Unlimited remains a strong contender. The $150 sign-up bonus is equivalent to the cash back you’d earn after spending $10,000 with the card — that’s nothing to sneeze at. The 1.5% cash-back rate can add up quickly, and is a strong earning rate across the board, without any need to figure out bonus spending categories.
Best of all, the card has no annual fee and often has 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, there’s a 17.24%-25.99% variable APR. If you have a major purchase ahead of you, that introductory offer can be useful.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
Sign-up bonus: None.
In terms of spending rewards, the Citi Double Cash is the best single cash-back card. It earns 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you make the purchase, and 1% when you pay your bill. Since you should be paying your bill in full each month, that means you’ll earn 2% back on purchases each billing cycle.
However, there are a few reasons that this card isn’t our top pick.
First, there’s no sign-up bonus. Assuming you spend $15,000 on the Double Cash in a year, you’ll earn $300 in cash back. On the Freedom Unlimited, with a lower earning rate, you’ll only earn $225. However, factoring in the Freedom Unlimited’s $150 sign-up bonus, you’ll actually earn $375 that first year, making it easily the winner.
Second, while it offers a 0% introductory APR for 18 months, that’s only on balance transfers, not purchases, so you can’t use it to fund a major expense without interest. After those 18 months, it’s a variable 15.49%-25.49% APR.
Additionally, unlike with Chase, you don’t have the flexibility to decide later to combine unredeemed cash back with a points-earning card. The Citi Double Cash has a minimum redemption amount of $25, and if you don’t have any account activity for 12 months, unredeemed rewards can expire.
Still, 2% across the board is a good earning rate, and the $0 annual fee is attractive if not uncommon. Whether that’s worth passing on a sign-up bonus is up to you.
Sign-up bonus: 15,000 points or $150 cash back (after spending $500 in the first three months).
The Freedom offers 5% cash back on a few different categories that change quarterly, on the first $1,500 of purchases. The card earns 1% on all other purchases, and on those bonus categories after you pass $1,500.
Sometimes there’s just one major category per quarter, while other times there can be a few different ones. Past categories have included gas stations, local commuter transportation, department stores, grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and event Amazon. Q1 this year was one of the broadest ever: any payment made through a mobile wallet like Apple Pay, Chase Pay, or Android Pay.
The usefulness of the categories varies each quarter, with some being better than others. If I had to choose one, I’d stick with the Freedom Unlimited. However, there’s no denying the potential value of the bonus categories, and fortunately, Chase lets you hold both cards.
Like the Freedom Unlimited, the regular Freedom has no annual fee, offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 15 months (and a 17.24%-25.99% variable APR after), and cash back can be combined with points earned from other Chase cards.
5. American Express Cash Magnet™ Card
Welcome bonus: $250 ($150 after spending $1,000 in the first three months; another $100 after spending an additional $6,500 in the first 12 months).
The American Express Cash Magnet card is one of AmEx’s most straightforward rewards cards. It earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and a welcome bonus of up to $250, broken into two chunks — $150 after you spend $1,000 or more in the first three months, and another $100 if you spend an additional $6,500 in the first 12 months.
Like the Freedom Unlimited, the card has no annual fee, and a 0% introductory APR for 15 months (with a variable 14.99%-25.99% APR after). However, unlike the Chase card, you don’t have an option to redeem your rewards as transferrable points by combining them with another card.
However, the welcome bonus is certainly higher than the Freedom Unlimited, and some people who already use an AmEx may prefer to stick with that lender. If that sounds like you, the Cash Magnet makes a solid option.
Welcome bonus: 30,000 Go Far points, worth $300 (after spending $3,000 in the first three months).
This new card from Wells Fargo has one of the more attractive rewards programs you’ll find from a no-annual-fee card. In terms of marketing, it’s the exact opposite of the Chase Freedom Unlimited— while it’s marketed as earning “points,” those points are worth 1¢ each and can be redeemed for cash, essentially making it a cash-back card.
The card earns 3x points (essentially 3% cash back) on all travel, dining, and select streaming services (and 1x point on everything else). If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost the same as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Of course, there are some key differences between the cards. The Propel is basically a cash-back card with a range of redemption opportunities, all of which value points at 1¢ each, while the Sapphire Reserve offers a potentially more valuable redemption options. Plus, the Sapphire Reserve offers a number of premium perks that the Propel doesn’t, like airport lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit travel delay insurance, and more.
The $300 welcome bonus, combined with the high 3% earning rate on popular spend categories including all dining and travel (and 1% on everything else), as well as the $0 annual fee, makes this a stellar option for a cash-back card. If I were solely interested in cash back, this would be my go-to.