4 credit cards to turn your wallet into a workhorse

By , Editor-in-chief
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American Express is a CardRatings.com advertiser.

Pay for your everyday purchases with a plain vanilla debit or credit card, and you could be leaving as much as 6 percent of your household budget in the cashier’s till each month. Our survey of the market’s best cash back rewards cards reminds us that you can earn some significant rebates, just by focusing your spending through the right account.

Best cash back card for busy families: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Your high credit score may earn you an invitation to one of the most consistently generous cash back credit card offers ever offered. "Preferred" Card Members enjoy 6 percent cash back at US supermarkets on purchases up to $6,000 per year, 3 percent cash back at US gas stations and select US department stores, 1 percent cash back on other purchases and no quarterly enrollment required. Terms and limitations apply. New Card Members can get $150 back, in the form of a statement credit, after making $1,000 in purchases on your new Card during the first three months of Card Membership. There's a $75 annual fee with this card. If you determine the benefits you'll receive by using this card offset the annual fee, it may be worth a closer look. Terms and limitations apply.

Don't lose hope if you've got one or two dings on your credit report. You may still qualify for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. This no annual fee card features a cash back structure that still rivals the best credit cards on the market. Card Members can get 3 percent cash back at US supermarkets on purchases up to $6,000 per year, 2 percent cash back at US gas stations and select US department stores, 1 percent cash back on other purchases and no quarterly enrollment is required. Terms and limitations apply. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. Terms and Restrictions Apply.

Best "hands-off" cash back cards: Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

While many cash back credit cards require you to opt-in for the biggest rebates, Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Cards caters to consumers who like to "set it and forget it." Build your reward's base with a consistent, 1.5 percent cash back on all of your purchases, all year long. Capital One® will kick in a one-time $100 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases on the card within the first three months of card membership. That's a great reward if you don't want to follow any specific purchasing pattern. Best of all, the Capital One® website makes it easy for you to cash in your rewards for statement credits, anytime. With no annual fee, this card makes a great companion to Blue Cash for those times when your merchant doesn't accept American Express.

Best cash back card with flexible rewards: Chase Freedom®

Chase has spared no expense over the past few years, educating consumers about the benefits of its flagship cash back credit card. In building Freedom's rewards structure, it swiped the best elements of the Discover Card rotating bonus categories. As a result, you get a no annual fee card with a consistent 1 percent rebate and up to 5 percent cash back on featured quarterly spending categories when you activate your bonus categories and stay within $1,500 spend cap in combined purchases.

But that's only part of the picture. You can exchange your rewards for gift cards or merchandise. If you're a really savvy shopper, you can even earn extra cash back with merchants at Chase's online mall. To sweeten the deal currently you can earn a $100 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening on the Chase Freedom. Plus you can earn a $25 bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period.

Best cash back card for focused shoppers: U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature®

This year's hottest rookie cash back card has already made a play to swipe market share from Discover and Chase. Every three months, U.S. Bank sends its Cash+ Visa Signature cardholders a text message reminder to choose two spending categories for 5 percent cash back and another for a 2 percent rebate. Your category choices include gas, groceries or drug stores for your 2 percent quarterly bonus, while U.S. Bank gives you a selection of merchant categories for your 5 percent deal like restaurants or department stores. Category purchases are subject to quarterly enrollment and 5 percent category is subject to quarterly maximum spend.

Time your purchase of airline tickets, appliances, or computers to enjoy some of the biggest possible rebates. If you can stand to let your cash back rebate grow, U.S. Bank will even bump your maximum reward up. Just wait to request a statement credit until you've accrued $100 in rebates. Ask for your reward after that, and the bank will kick in a bonus $25 gift card, limit of one per calendar year. With no annual fee, this card could end up paying out some of the biggest rebates on the market.

Cash back credit cards come with their own set of ground rules. Especially when you're not paying an annual fee, banks will usually notch your APR toward the high end of the spectrum. You'll really only get the most from these cards when you pay your bill in full at the end of each statement cycle. Otherwise, finance charges will eat most of your rebate. Pay your bills on time, too. Missing a payment could mean losing your accrued rebates. Just treat your new cash back credit card like it's the debit card connected to your checking account. That way, you'll enjoy bonus cash throughout the year.

Important Note! The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by any company mentioned in this article. Opinions expressed here are author's alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. This site may be compensated by companies mentioned in the article through advertising, affiliate programs or otherwise.

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