Best Cash Back Credit Cards: Top Picks for 2020

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Cash back credit cards earn you money each time you make a purchase.
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If you are making the bulk of your everyday purchases on a credit card, it might be a good idea to have a cash back rewards card in your wallet.

But with so many options in the cash back credit card space, you may be having a hard time deciding which rewards program is right for you. Team Clark has set out to simplify the decision process for you by highlighting the best cash back cards for different spending circumstances.

Money expert Clark Howard believes having a cash back credit card at your disposal is preferable to some of the other rewards cards on the market because it gives you the flexibility to earn and spend on the things you care most about.

“My favorite reward cards are ones that actually pay you money. I want cash, because nobody can tell you when you can or can’t spend your cash,” Clark explained.


The Best Cash Back Credit Cards to Apply for Right Now

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Team Clark spent hours reviewing the market for these cards and put them under the scrutiny of the guidelines for usage set by money expert Clark Howard. We considered factors like annual fees, welcome bonuses, introductory APR and cash back bonus categories when assembling the list.

You can read more on our methodology for determining the best cash back cards here.


Best for Everyday Cash Back: Citi® Double Cash

Citi Double Cash is a popular cash back card because it offers unlimited 2%.

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Cash Back Rewards: Up to 2% in unlimited cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay)
  • Features: Introductory 18-month period for 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers, no cash back limits and no categories
  • Team Clark’s Card Review: Citi Double Cash Review: Earn Up to 2% Cash Back on All Purchases

Why This Card Made Our List

The Citi Double Cash is one of Clark’s favorites because it’s so straightforward. You can earn 2% cash back on everything that you purchase with the card. You get 1% when you make the purchase and 1% when you make payments on the purchase. If you’re regularly paying off your credit card bill each month (as Clark suggests you do), that’s going to pile up pretty quickly.

You can use it on any purchase and receive the full benefit. There are no stipulations or caps to the cash back you can earn on this card. You also get an 18-month introductory period of 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers (transfer fees apply).

If you’re looking for an everyday spender with no annual fee and easy-to-access cash back, this card makes a lot of sense.

Other Cards to Consider in This Category

The PayPal Cashback Mastercard also offers 2% cash back on all purchases, making it another great choice as an everyday spender.

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Both the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Quicksilver® from Capital One® offer 1.5% unlimited cash back without an annual fee. Both also feature a $200 welcome bonus opportunity.

If you’re not able to secure the Citi Double Cash for the full 2%, these two cards are very similar at a slightly lower rate of cash back. You also could check with a local or regional bank or credit union, as these institutions often offer straight cash back credit cards.


Best for High-Volume Cash Back: Alliant Visa Signature Card

Alliant offers a high-end 2.5% cash back bonus on all purchases.

Why This Card Made Our List

If you spend at least $2,000 per month on your credit card, the Alliant Visa Signature Card may be your top choice for a straight cash back card. The card does have an annual fee after the first year, but the 2.5% cash back will start to rack up rewards in excess of a 2% cash back card with no annual fee once you cross the $2,000 threshold each month.

For example, if you spend $5,000 per month with this card, you’d receive $1,500 cash back annually — as opposed to $1,200 with a card like Citi Double Cash. At that spending point, the $99 annual fee is well worth it. This card does require a credit union membership with Alliant, so you’ll want to check our review of the card to ensure your eligibility.

Other Cards to Consider in This Category

As mentioned above in the Everyday Cash Back category, the Citi Double Cash card is also a strong option in this category. Because it is without an annual fee and locks in a 2% cash back return, you really can’t go wrong with using this one as a high-volume option.


Best for Rotating Cash Back Bonuses: Discover it® Cash Back

The Discover it card has rotating 5% cash back category and a one-time cash back match.

Why This Card Made Our List

The combination of an opportunity to earn 5% cash back on popular spending categories throughout the year and Discover’s promise to match your total cash back earnings after one year with the card is pretty great. For example, if you earn $300 in cash back during your first year of membership, Discover will make an additional $300 cash back deposit into your account at the end of the year.

The rotating 5% categories for 2020 — which cap at $1,500 in spending per three-month period — include bonus periods for grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and online shopping with Amazon, Walmart and Target.

Other Cards to Consider in This Category

The Chase Freedom Flex card has many of the same characteristics as the Discover offering. It, too, has rotating 5% bonus periods and an introductory 0% APR period. Chase also offers a $200 welcome bonus when you spend at least $500 during your first three months of card membership. That may not be as large of a potential bonus as the Discover card, but you do get it sooner.

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Best for U.S. Supermarkets and Streaming TV: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred offers an impressive 6% cash back on supermarkets and streaming.

Why This Card Made Our List

While the annual fee may cause some to pause, there is so much to like about everything else that goes along with this Blue Cash Preferred card. We ran a few different spending simulations in our review of this card, and if you’re a regular supermarket shopper, you’ll most likely find yourself coming out ahead using this instead of a fixed cash back card.

Additionally, if you have streaming subscriptions for services like YouTube TV, Netflix and Disney+, you can easily rack up 6% back each month by using this card for your direct auto-payments.

Other Cards to Consider in This Category

If you purchase your groceries from a superstore like Walmart or Target, those superstores each offer a credit card that has perks for purchases made with their respective businesses. Since the American Express card is limited to supermarkets only, you may find that you save more on your groceries by holding one of the brand-specific cards instead.


Best for Dining and Entertainment: Capital One® Savor® Rewards

Capital One's Savor card offers 4% cash back on dining and entertainment.

Why This Card Made Our List

If you’re the type of person who enjoys your food and entertainment, you could pile up rewards pretty consistently with a 4% cash back offering in those categories with the Capital One Savor. The definition of dining includes fast, casual, and fancy restaurants alike, so you’ll be covered no matter your food preferences.

What’s considered entertainment also is wide enough that you can really rack up some cash back. Movie theaters, sporting events, concerts and things like trips to the amusement park and zoo all qualify for the 4% cash back.

Other Cards to Consider in This Category

If you’re not keen on the annual fee associated with the Savor card, you may instead prefer the Capital One SavorOne card. While this offering has a similar name, it actually has a different set of benefits that we outline in a comparison between the Savor and SavorOne cards.

SavorOne offers 3% cash back on dining and entertainment and a smaller welcome bonus opportunity ($200), but it comes with no annual fee and a 15-month 0% APR introductory period for purchases and balance transfers (transfer fees apply).


Best for Gas and Travel: Costco Anywhere Visa® by Citi

Costco Anywhere offers great cash back on gas and perks for Costco members.

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  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Cash Back Rewards: 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases, 3% restaurants and travel, 2% on Costco purchases and 1% on all other purchases
  • Features: Doubles as Costco membership ID, receive special Costco rewards and no foreign transaction fees
  • Team Clark’s Card Review: Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi

Why This Card Made Our List

Clark carries this card in his wallet and likes it because it has versatile cash back offerings, especially if you’re a Costco member. Not only are you able to get a solid 4% cash back on select gas purchases, but you can also do well on travel expenses and dining at the 3% level.

And if you’re a Costco member, the 2% cash back can add up quickly on purchases you make at the store.

Other Cards to Consider in This Category

Clark also carries the Sam’s Club Mastercard as one of the four credit cards in his wallet. It actually earns more cash back than the Costco card for gas at select stores (5% vs. 4%), so this card could be the move if you are only worried about paying for gas and don’t have a preference between the two warehouse stores.

Oddly enough, Sam’s Club purchases are only eligible for 1% cash back with this card. That leaves us giving a slight edge to the Costco card when it comes to picking between them.


Clark Howard’s Strategy for Credit Cards

Money expert Clark Howard believes it is important to have a credit card for the purposes of building and maintaining a solid credit history for when big life events like a home purchase or job application require a credit check.

He also believes that focusing on a rewards credit card — like a good cash back credit card — should only be a consideration for consumers who are planning to regularly pay off their balance to avoid interest charges. If that’s not your plan, Clark would point you to the credit card with the lowest possible interest rate or advise you to avoid a credit card altogether.

Assuming you’re here because you are in search of the maximum benefits from your cash back credit card decision, Clark wants you to think about how you spend your money and how it might best be complemented by the rewards programs from the various cards.

“Really think through your charge patterns and whether or not those rewards really give you a bang for your buck.”

Clark, for example, carries the Costco Anywhere Visa card in his wallet because he’s a frequent Costco shopper. He also likes the Citi Double Cash card because of the simplicity of the unlimited 2% cash back program.


Methodology for Cash Back Credit Cards

For the purposes of determining which cards are “best” in this category, we took input from money expert Clark Howard and sought to find cards that best fit his credit card strategy.

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Team Clark spent many hours reviewing the available cash back credit cards on the market, assessing them for things like:

  • Annual fees
  • Welcome bonuses
  • Introductory APR periods
  • Spending categories for maximum cash back earnings
  • Additional fees (transaction or otherwise)
  • Perks offered to cardholders

We did not factor in non-introductory APR as a part of the evaluation, because interest rates are going to vary based on your individual financial circumstance. Clark recommends not carrying a balance on these cards. That should curb the concern over the interest rate.

We also did not include offerings from local or regional banks and credit unions due to availability concerns. Often, local institutions will have desirable cards, so we do recommend that you compare your local bank or credit union’s cash back credit cards to the ones that made this list.


Frequently Asked Questions: Cash Back Credit Cards

Should I Avoid an Annual Fee With My Cash Back Card?

In most cases, this will depend on your spending volume. For instance, the Citi Double Cash card offers 2% cash back with no annual fee, while the Alliant Signature Visa offers 2.5% with a $99 annual fee.

Based on those numbers, you’d need to spend at least $2,000 monthly to see an advantage from paying Alliant’s annual fee. Otherwise, you’d be better off with Citi’s no annual fee.

Are Rotating Cash Back Bonuses Better Than a Fixed Cash Back Rate?

The answer to this could vary greatly from one rotating bonus period to the next. Using the Discover it Cash Back card (rotating 5%) and the Citi Double Cash (fixed 2%) as an example, you’d need to make at least 25% of your purchases in the 5% bonus category with Discover to match the amount of overall cash back you’d earn with the Citi card at the same spending level.

For best results, you could utilize a rotating cash back card in its bonus category only and then make other purchases with a card with a higher fixed cash back rate.

What’s the Difference Between A Cash Back Card and a Points Card?

Typically, it has to do with the way the credit card company decides to reward you for your purchases.

With a cash back card, your reward is of monetary value that can be used for things like statement credits or purchases.

A points card often rewards purchases in certain categories and allows for the accumulation of a points balance. The balance can then be used to claim rewards like free hotel nights or flights. Like a cash back card, some points cards will allow you to use your balance for statement credits.

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