Citi is in the 5% cash back game with a rewards credit card that lets you make the decision on the category for your bonus earnings.
This is in contrast to other popular 5% cash back cards on the market, which typically have a rotating category that changes every few months or requires that you spend at a certain retailer to earn 5% back.
This could be useful as you try to decide which cards are right for earning optimal cash back for your monthly spending. But before you rush to submit your application, let’s dig a little deeper into this cash back credit card.
Citi Custom Cash Card: The Basics
The Citi Custom Cash Card is a cash back rewards credit card with no annual fee. It rewards card holders with 5% back on their most-used spending category each billing cycle, but every other purchase made with the card returns only 1% back.
|Fee Type||Card Policy|
|Balance Transfer||5% of the transfer amount (minimum fee is $5)|
|Cash Advance||5% of the cash advance amount (minimum fee is $10)|
|Late or Returned Payment||Up to $40 per incident|
Unlike the Citi Double Cash Card, which is one of money expert Clark Howard’s favorites because of its flat 2% cash back (1% as you buy, 1% as you pay) on every purchase, this Citi card focuses on helping you earn a higher rate of return on a single category of purchases.
This is done by giving you 5% back (on up to $500 spending) for the category in which you spend the most with the card each month. All other spending categories are worth 1% cash back during that billing period.
Spending Categories Eligible for 5% Back
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Streaming services
- Home improvement stores
- Fitness clubs
- Live entertainment
At the end of each billing cycle, Citi will determine in which of these categories you made the most purchases and give you 5% cash back on the first $500 spent in that category.
The category you qualify for can change from month to month based on your spending habits.
The cash back is awarded as Citi Thank You points, which can be redeemed for statement credits, direct deposits, check by mail, travel or Amazon purchases. There is no minimum for redeeming via statement credit or direct deposit.
Citi Custom Cash Card: 5 Things To Know
If the basic premise of this card has you intrigued, here are some more things you should know as you consider it for your wallet.
1. The 5% Cash Back Is Great, But It’s Limited
I mentioned this briefly in the description of this card, but it’s worth a little deeper discussion.
Not only does Citi limit you to 5% on one spending category each billing cycle, but that category is also limited to earning the 5% rewards for the first $500 that you spend. Once you’ve spent more than $500 in that category, the remainder of your spending earns only the 1% cash back rate.
On the plus side, you’re still able to earn $25 in bonus cash back each month if you pick the right category and max it out at $500. That’s as much as $300 in cash back per year on $6,000 in spending.
On the downside, you’re not only going to have to pick a spending category and stick with it, but you’re also going to need to monitor the threshold at which you go from 5% to 1% in cash back rewards. Because at that point, you may be better off spending with another credit card for better rewards.
2. This Card Is Probably Best Used In Conjunction With Other Rewards Cards
This credit card is not the best candidate to be used an everyday spender.
Because of the limitations to the 5% cash back outlined in the section above, I believe this credit card belongs as part of a more complex credit card strategy than your “spend it and forget it” that a 2% cash back card might produce.
Instead, I suggest considering designating this card as your “grocery card” or your “gas card.” It could be a great opportunity to pick an expense item that is near $500 per month and secure a solid 5% rate of return on that spending each billing cycle.
Obviously, you’ll only want to do this if you already have a solid everyday cash back card in your wallet.
To get more tips on making sure you have the right amount of credit cards in your wallet, check out this article with advice from Clark and credit card expert Jason Steele.
3. The Welcome Bonus Is a Layup
While $200 isn’t exactly the biggest credit card welcome bonus on the market, Citi makes this one really easy to get.
All you have to spend is $750 within the first three billing cycles, which works out to an average of just $250 per month.
If handled properly, the entire welcome bonus spending requirement can be achieved without having to spend in a category that rewards 1% cash back.
4. There’s a Good Balance Transfer Period on This Card, But Watch Out for the Fees
This card offers an introductory 15-month period for 0% APR on balance transfers and new purchases. While Team Clark doesn’t recommend signing up for a card to spend at 0%, we do acknowledge there are times when a balance transfer could save you money on the interest accruing on existing credit card debt.
If you’re signing up for this card to seek relief from a high interest rate on another credit card, I would caution you to look closely at the fine print on the balance transfer promotion.
You must complete your balance transfer within the first four months of card membership to qualify for the 0% APR. And you’ll be subject to a transfer fee that is 5% of your balance.
If this is your main reason for applying, you may want to seek a card with a lower fee and a longer 0% APR period. The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card that offers 20 months of 0% APR with a 3% transfer fee.
5. Those Spending Categories Have Some Notable Exclusions
I dug into the fine print on this credit card’s rewards program to find some potential hurdles for people who are looking to use this card consistently for 5% in a specific category.
Here are some things you’ll want to know about a few of the popular spending categories:
- Gas purchases at wholesale clubs (like Sam’s and Costco) are excluded from earning rewards in that category.
- Restaurant purchases include purchases at cafes, bars, lounges and fast food restaurants, but they do NOT include purchases at bakeries, caterers, restaurants located inside another business, or third-party delivery purchases.
- Grocery purchases excludes purchases at general merchandise and discount superstores, wholesale and warehouse clubs. That means you’re going to need to shop at a grocery store, not places like Walmart, Costco or Target.
Many of these “red tape” items are likely due to the way that purchases are coded by the merchant.
Pros and Cons: Citi Custom Cash Card
Are you considering adding the Citi Custom Cash Card to your wallet? Let’s review some of the major pros and cons of the card before you make your final decision:
|Unique cash back structure lets you earn 5% back in category you spend the most each month.||You earn only 1% cash back on all purchases outside of the top spending category each month.|
|There is a 15-month period for 0% APR on both new purchases and balance transfers.||The 5% balance transfer fee (minimum $5) takes some of the shine off the 15-month 0% APR period.|
|The welcome bonus spending requirement is very low.||There is red tape on certain purchases that limit your ability to earn rewards in key categories.|
Bottom Line: Used in the proper context, this credit card could be a useful secondary card in many consumers’ wallets.
If you are pairing it with a 2% back card that assures you at least twice as much as you’d earn with the Citi Custom Cash’s base 1% returns, you can use this card solely on one oft-used spending category to enhance your cash back returns.
However, this card has very little value to you beyond the monthly 5% cash back category and the temporary benefit of the introductory offers. So it probably isn’t for people who are looking for a first credit card or consumers who will carry only the Clark-recommended minimum of two credit cards.
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