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Best cash-back reward credit cards for 2017 from our partners

Updated, October 3, 2017

Cash-back credit cards can be worthwhile tools to have in your financial workshop. They offer cardholders the chance to earn rewards on everyday purchases and, in some cases, even offer bonus cash back in specific categories.

The key with these cards, as with any credit card, is to ensure that you’re using them smartly and that you’ve selected a card that aligns with your spending habits, financial goals and credit history.

TYPES OF CASH-BACK CREDIT CARDS

Before jumping into a credit card application, take some time to understand the three types of cash-back credit cards.

  • Flat-rate

    - Receive a static percentage cash-back on your purchases regardless of amount or spending category.
  • Tiered

    - Your amount of cash back varies depending on the spending category, but those categories are constant. For instance, the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 3 percent cash back on gas, 2 percent back on grocery and wholesale club purchases and 1 percent back on all other purchases. Bonus categories often have an annual or quarterly cap on the spending that will qualify.
  • Rotating categories

    - These cards offer a flat-rate across all categories, but also offer bonus cash back on purchases made in particular categories that change each quarter. Cardholders generally must sign up quarterly in order to receive the bonus cash back, which is usually capped at a certain level of spending.

EDITOR'S PICKS: BEST CASH-BACK CREDIT CARDS

The average American credit card holder has four credit cards in his/her wallet, and there are literally hundreds of options out there. If you’re looking to add a cash-back credit card to your portfolio, we can help. We can even give you some ways in which to use more than one cash-back credit card to maximize your rewards.

We reviewed several of our favorite cash-back credit cards, taking a look at their reward structures, credit score needed, best features, potential drawbacks and more. Still have questions? Reach us at editors@cardratings.com.

Chase Freedom®:

Chase Freedom®

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Why We Like It: Get the most out of 5 percent cash back in multiple categories. The categories rotate quarterly, but being strategic with your spending can mean big bucks. Plus Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are highly useful.

Bonus: Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in purchases in quarterly bonus categories when you sign up (then 1 percent). Earn 1 percent on all your other purchases. From Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2017, the bonus categories are Walmart and department stores, perfect for your holiday shopping needs from Halloween right through New Year's Eve.


Discover it® - Cashback Match™:

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

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Why We Like It: We love the cash-rich features on this card, especially for people who enjoy the thrill (and rewards) of tracking rotating categories.

Bonus: Discover will MATCH all the cash back new cardholders earn during the first year of card membership.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn 5 percent back on the first $1,500 spent in categories that rotate quarterly (from Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2017, the focus is holiday and the bonus categories are Amazon.com and Target). Earn 1 percent back on all your other purchases.


Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®:

Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®

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Why We Like It: This offers all the convenience of a flat-rate cash-back card plus a little something extra when the time comes to redeem your rewards.

Bonus: Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn an unlimited 1.5 percent back on all your purchases and then receive a 5 percent redemption bonus each time you redeem your rewards for statement credit, gift cards or as a deposit into a U.S. checking or savings account.


Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer:

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

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Why We Like It: With a simple earning structure that allows you to earn more than the typical flat-rate card, this is a winner.

Bonus: There's not a traditional bonus, per se, but this card does offer you 18 months of no interest on balance transfers, which could be "bonus" enough if you're paying hefty interest charges on a balance you're carrying on another card.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: You'll earn 1 percent back when you make your purchase and another 1 percent back when you pay your bill.


Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card:

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

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Why We Like It: Another flat-rate cash-back option, but this one offers the added perk of cell phone protection that covers you for covered damage and theft to your phone when you pay your cellular bill with your card. Additionally, you can redeem your cash rewards directly from a Wells Fargo ATM.

Bonus: Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Plus, earn 1.8 percent cash back when you use your Android Pay™ or Apple Pay™ mobile wallet during the first 12 months.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn an unlimited 1.5 percent back on all your purchases.


Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express:

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

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Why We Like It: This card rewards you handsomely for living your everyday life – groceries, gas and select department stores all earn bonus cash back.

Bonus: Earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $1,000 within the first three months.

Annual Fee: $95. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees

Rewards Rate: Earn 6 percent back on up to $6,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets annually; earn 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores; earn 1 percent back on all other purchases.

Editor's Tip: If you like the sound of the categories, but can't justify the annual fee, consider the "lite" version of this card, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. You'll earn a bit less (3 percent on the first $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, then 1 percent; 2 percent at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. departments stores; and 1 percent on all your other purchases) but you won't pay any annual fee.


Chase Freedom Unlimited®:

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

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Why We Like It: The convenience of a flat-rate rewards card along with the flexibility and value of Ultimate Rewards® points goes a long way in our book.

Bonus: Earn a $150 cash-back bonus after you spend just $500 in the first three months. Plus, take advantage of 15 months no interest on purchases and balance transfers (balance transfer fee applies).

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn a flat 1.5 percent back on all your purchases.


QUESTIONS TO ASK

Jumping into the cash-back credit card world requires that you ask a few questions before you begin applying for a card.

  1. What are your goals?

    Be honest. Visualize how and when you’ll use the card and whether you want to keep track of rotating categories or if you’ll bet best served by a “one-size-fits-all-purchases” situation.
  2. What is your credit history and credit rating?

    Without a solid understanding of your credit status, you could miss out on valuable intro offers by applying for a credit card with sub-par terms despite your excellent credit. Worse yet, you could even damage your credit by applying for a credit card for which you are not qualified. Know where you stand so you can match your application to your credit history.
    Need help understanding what affects your credit history?
  3. Can you offset an annual fee?

    This is really a question of how often you expect to use the card. You’ll want to use the card frequently enough to earn rewards enough to offset the annual fee, whatever it may be. There’s some wiggle room here if you will use other perks offered by the card, but usually you’ll only want to pay an annual fee if you can recoup that cost in rewards or features.
  4. What does the fine print say?

    It's no fun to sign up for big cash rewards only to be hit by fees on the back end and wipe out any potential gains. Be certain to look beyond intro offers and teaser rates.

USING YOUR CASH-BACK REWARDS: BEST PRACTICES

You've followed our advice and narrowed the field down to your perfect card. Congratulations! Here's more expert advice to keep in mind as you use your card and rack up cash back.

Change is Constant.

When your circumstances change - and they likely will – your card needs will likely change . Periodically review your spending situation and make sure your cards are working for you. Don’t be afraid to break up with your card if things aren't working out.

Actually Use it.

It sounds simple, but different cards maximize different things. Be aware before you swipe and always use the best card for the situation; don't just grab Old Trusty because it's handy.

Cash rewards or miles cards?

When it comes to card rewards, is it better to focus on cash or miles?

A lot of that depends on your lifestyle and goals but in order to make an apples-to-apples decision, the trick is to come up with the dollar equivalent of a mile or point then think about your use cases.

Say someone flies on United twice a month. The earning potential of getting a United Airlines branded credit card, or another points card, might allow the miles to accrue so fast that realizing rewards is a snap.

Contrast that with someone else who doesn’t fly or stay in hotels often. In this case, a cash-back program is the better and quicker path to getting the cash to spend on a flight or hotel stay – and allow you to spend that cash back on other things as well.

This really goes back to what we discussed earlier in the “Questions to ask” section. Know your goals and your spending habits before making a credit card decision.

Cash-back credit card bottom line

You are the best person to accurately assess which credit card will fit seamlessly into your lifestyle. Don’t be wooed by introductory offers from cards you know won’t ultimately be the best fit. Don’t fall into the “I’ll change my spending habits to make this card work because that intro offer is just too good to pass up” trap. Chances are, you’ll just end up carrying around the wrong credit card and not reaping maximum rewards.

Instead, do your research and take the time to know what you need. When it comes to credit cards, “To thine own self be true.”