Warning: Read this before using a cash back credit card to buy groceries

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Using a cash back credit card can be a great way to save money on all of your purchases, as long as you avoid interest by always paying your balance in full.

The cards that offer bonus cash back of up to 6% at grocery stores can be especially attractive.

Think you’re earning bonus cash back on groceries? Some stores are excluded 

As you might suspect, there can be a catch. Each card issuer has a different definition of what counts as groceries, and your favorite places to shop might be excluded.

The only way to know for sure is to check the fine print, but I’m happy to do the work for you when it comes to these major card issuers:

American Express

American Express offers many cards that include bonuses at US supermarkets, including the Blue Cash Preferred card which offers an amazing 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent each year. But you’ll only earn this bonus at U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores like Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s.

These terms exclude all stores outside of the United States, as well as superstores and warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club and BJ’s. Costco only accepts Visa, so your American Express card won’t work there, anyway.

Barclaycard

The JetBlue and JetBlue Plus cards offer bonuses on supermarket purchases from places categorized as grocery stores and supermarkets. However, the fine print states that “large warehouse-type stores (Target, Walmart and Costco) are generally not classified as grocery stores.”

Bank of America

Bank of America is unique in that it specifically includes wholesale stores under its definition of supermarkets for its Cash Rewards credit card.

Capital One

Capital One’s Savor and SavorOne cards offer 2% cash back at supermarkets, which includes meat lockers, freezers, dairy product stores and specialty markets. We did notice that it excludes superstores like Walmart and Target. Warehouse clubs would certainly be excluded, as well.

Chase

Chase doesn’t offer many cards that give you a year-round bonus on supermarkets, but its popular Freedom card will sometimes offer 5% cash back on grocery purchases for part of the year. Exclusions include Target, Walmart, discount stores, warehouse clubs and some smaller merchants like drugstores and merchants that specialize in only a few grocery items.

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Citi

Citi doesn’t offer any cards that feature a bonus on grocery purchases.

Discover

The Discover it card often includes grocery stores as qualifying for 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent per quarter. When grocery stores are featured, it excludes purchases made at convenience stores, gas stations, warehouse clubs, discount stores and supercenters. Purchases made at Walmart and Target are specifically excluded.

US Bank

US Bank has some cards that can earn a bonus at grocery stores, but it specifies that “Purchases at discount/retail stores that sell groceries may not qualify for the grocery store category.” So, don’t expect to receive this bonus at Walmart, Target or any superstore.

What can you do if you aren’t sure?

No card issuer offers a guarantee that a particular store will qualify for a grocery store bonus, but you can be pretty sure that a store will qualify if it’s part of a national chain of traditional supermarkets.

Credit card issuers rely on something called merchant category codes (MCC) to determine what type of merchant you’re shopping at. Thankfully, there is an online tool available from Visa for you to look up a particular merchant’s category code. You can also find more information about these codes by reading this online guide from Citi.

The only way to be absolutely sure whether your favorite store will qualify for the bonus from your credit card is to shop there: Make a small purchase, then wait for your statement and see if the transaction received a bonus.

The statements of some card issuers will indicate which purchases qualified for a bonus, but with others, you might have to call and ask.

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