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Best Cash-Back Credit Cards For 2021

Sarah Li Cain9-minute read
June 14, 2021

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If you want to earn rewards with every credit card purchase, figuring out how to maximize and redeem travel rewards points can be intimidating. Instead, choose one that earns you cash back. These types of rewards credit cards are flexible and offer you the ability to get money back on each eligible purchase.

Given the sheer number of choices out there, how do you know which one to pick? Here, we’ve compiled our list of the best cash-back rewards cards to help you choose.

How Do Cash-Back Credit Cards Work?

Cash-back credit cards are different from other types of credit cards in that you earn cash-back rewards. Instead of other types of rewards credit cards where the cardholder earns points, cash-back cards earn a percentage of cash with each purchase. Depending on the type of card, you may find there are flat rewards for all purchases, rotating categories, or tiered rewards depending on the type of purchase.

Before signing up for any credit card, it’s important to determine your individual needs. For instance, if you don’t mind spending some time maximizing rewards, consider cash-back rewards credit cards that offer higher rewards on purchases you make often. Or if you rather have a simple earnings structure, a flat rewards card may be best.

Don’t forget to compare other factors such as annual fees and sign-up bonuses so you know what you’re getting into. Checking into credit score requirements will ensure that you’re applying for cards you’re most likely to qualify for.

Types Of Cash-Back Credit Cards

There really is no one best credit card with cash back. Instead, there are ones better suited for your needs.

Here are the most common types:

  • Flat rate: Cardholders will earn the same rate of cash back for all qualifying purchases. Although it's great for those who want a simple earnings structure, you may not be able to earn as much compared to other types.
  • Tied: This type of card allows you to earn higher cash-back rewards for certain predetermined categories. For instance, you earn 2% cash back on groceries, and 1% on everything else.
  • Rotating categories: These cards are similar to ones that are tied, except the categories will rotate, typically every quarter. Cardholders may also get a choice of which ones they want, but they'll need to choose them well before a deadline.
  • Choose-your-category: Some cash-back cards allow you to choose a category, earning you extra rewards. Some allow you to change categories each year, while some only allow you to do it once.

What Are The Best Cash-Back Credit Cards For 2021?

Remember, the best cash-back credit card is one that suits your needs and budget. Feel free to check out the ones we’ve listed below and start earning cash back on purchases.

The Best Overall Cash-Back Credit Card: Chase Freedom Unlimited

We chose this card as the best overall because of its decent earnings structure, no annual fee, and introductory bonus that's relatively easy to earn. Plus, you can redeem your rewards as cash back or as travel rewards through the Ultimate Rewards program.

  • Annual fee: $0
  • APR: 0% Intro APR for the first 15 months on purchases; afterwards a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
  • Reward rate: 5% back on travel booked through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, 1.5% on everything else
  • Key perks: There is no minimum to redeem rewards and they can be used for statement credits, gift cards, or travel points. Rewards also don’t expire as long as you’re a cardholder
  • Cons: You’ll be charged a 3% foreign transaction fee

The Best Cash-Back Credit Card For Balance Transfers: Citi® Double Cash Card

If you want to consolidate your high-interest credit card debt, the Citi Double Cash card offers a solid 18 months of 0% APR (as long as you pay the minimum balance due). That’s over a year you’ll have to pay down your credit card debt without paying any interest, helping you get closer to being debt free.

  • Annual fee: $0
  • APR: 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months; afterwards, 13.99% - 23.99%
  • Sign-up bonuses: None
  • Reward rate: Earn a flat 2% cash back on all eligible purchases or convert them to Citi ThankYou points.
  • Key perks: Earn 1% cash back when you make the purchase, and the other 1% back when you pay at least the minimum amount due on your next statement.
  • Cons: There is no sign-up bonus and cardholders will need to pay a balance transfer fee

The Best Cash-Back Credit Card For Common Purchases: Blue Cash Preferred® Card From American Express

Yes, you'll have to pay an annual fee, but the cash back rewards earnings – if you spend enough – make up for it. If you spend a lot on gas, transportation and groceries, this is the perfect card to rack up rewards, as you'll earn up to 6% cash back on these purchases. The sign-up bonus offers cash back rewards on both and regular purchases.

  • Annual fees: $0 the first year; afterwards $95 (higher than some other cash back credit cards)
  • APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Sign-up bonuses: 20% back on purchases within the first six months, up to $20. You can also earn $150 back after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first six months
  • Reward rate: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 each year) and qualifying U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% back on transportation and U.S. gas stations, and 1% back on all other qualifying purchases. Cash-back rewards will be in the form of statement credits.
  • Key perks: Offers high cash-back rewards earnings on common purchases, such as U.S. supermarkets
  • Cons: You need to pay an annual fee and spend enough to offset it to be worth getting this card

The Best Cash-Back Credit Card For Dining: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

This card allows you to earn unlimited cash back on dining, entertainment, streaming services and select grocery stores. While other cards also offer cash back in these categories, it’s rare for a card with no annual fee to offer a high rewards rate for them. There are also reports that it’s easier to get approved for this card, great for those with fair credit scores.

  • Annual fees: $0
  • APR: 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 15 months; afterwards 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR
  • Sign-up bonuses: Earn $200 after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months
  • Reward rate: Unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, qualifying streaming services and select grocery stores; 1% back on all other purchases
  • Key perks: No foreign transaction fee and rewards don't expire as long as you're a cardholder
  • Cons: Relatively high APR and card not as useful if not used for bonus categories

The Best Cash-Back Credit Card For Cash-Back Bonus: Discover it® Cash Back

Not only do you get a whopping 5% cash back on a rotating category of your choosing, you also get your cash back matched in your first year. That means if you earned $100 cash back, Discover will give you another $100. Plus, there's no annual fee and no minimum threshold to cash out rewards.

  • Annual fees: $0
  • APR: 0% introductory APR for the first 14 months; afterward 11.99% to 22.99% variable APR
  • Sign-up bonuses: Cardholders will automatically get all the cash back rewards they've earned matched by Discover in their first year
  • Reward rate: 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories (examples include purchases at restaurants, grocery stores and restaurants); 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Key perks: Lower APR than most, unique sign-up bonus, and rewards can be used at checkout
  • Cons: You need to manually activate rotating categories, so if you forget, you won’t get 5% cash back

The Best Cash-Back Credit Card For Customizable Rewards: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards

This cash-back credit card doesn't offer as high bonus category earnings compared to others, but you can switch it up monthly. This way, it offers you the most customization on how you want to maximize your rewards earnings, based on your spending that month. Those who are looking for a credit card to consolidate debt will like that the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards card offers a 0% introductory APR for both purchases and balance transfers.

  • Annual fees: $0
  • APR: 0% Introductory APR for the first 15 months for purchases and balance transfers conducted within the first 60 days; afterwards 13.99% - 23.99% variable APR
  • Sign-up bonuses: Earn $200 once you make a minimum of $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days
  • Reward rate: Earn 3% cash back on monthly rotating category of your choosing, 2% back (up to $2,500 in purchases) at grocery and wholesale stores, unlimited 1% back on all other purchases
  • Key perks: Rewards don't expire and earn 15% to 75% more in cash back rewards if you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member
  • Cons: Structure to earn rewards may be complicated for some cardholders compared to cards offering flat rate rewards

The Best Cash-Back Credit Card For No Annual Fee: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

This card offers high rewards rates on similar categories as the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, but there’s no annual fee. If you’re looking for a credit card that allows you to earn a decent cash-back rate on everyday purchases such as gas and groceries, this one is a good contender. The sign-up bonus is also a nice touch if you’re an avid customer.

  • Annual fees: $0
  • APR: 0% for the first 15 months on purchases; afterwards 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR
  • Sign-up bonuses: Earn 20% back on purchases within the first 6 months (up to $150) and earn $100 back after spending $2,000 within the first six months. Both rewards will be in statement credits
  • Reward rate: Earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 each year in purchases), 2% back at U.S. gas stations and qualifying U.S. department stores, and 1% back on all other purchases
  • Key perks: Cash back can be redeemed for statement credits, cardholders pay no annual fee and simple rewards structure for bonus categories
  • Cons: Rewards not as high as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Best Cash-Back Credit Card For Fair Credit: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

While the rewards structure isn't anything to write home about, what stands out about this card is that it has a lower minimum spending requirement to earn the sign-up bonus. Plus, those who prefer a simple earnings structure will like that cardholders will receive 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

  • Annual fees: $0
  • APR: Earn 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 15 months; afterwards 15.49%-25.49% variable APR
  • Sign-up Bonuses: Earn $200 once you spend at least $500 in purchases within the first 3 months
  • Reward Rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Key Perks: No minimum threshold to redeem rewards, no foreign transaction fees and relatively easy to earn sign-up bonus
  • Cons: Other cards offer higher cash-back rewards, though you may need to put in some more effort

How Do I Choose The Right Cash-Back Credit Cards?

Here are a few factors to consider when tailoring a cash-back credit card to your personal needs:

  • Personal finances: If your credit score isn’t great, your chances of being approved for the best cash-back credit cards may be slim. Instead, you can choose ones that may not have a great earning potential and upgrade when your score is up. You’ll also want to consider whether it’s worth it to pay for an annual fee to potentially earn higher rewards.
  • Financial goals: Consider what you want to get out of your rewards. Is it that you want to save money on all your purchases, or ones you spend on most often? Plus, if you want to earn a sign-up bonus, you’ll need to make sure you can budget accordingly to meet the spending requirements. That’s not to say cash back cards that don’t have a sign-up bonus aren’t good — some may offer a higher percentage back.
  • Level of flexibility: Take a look at the fine print when it comes to earning your cash back. Some allow you to redeem them at any amount or there could be a minimum threshold. You'll also want to see whether you can redeem rewards as a statement credit, lowering your credit card bill or give you cash back directly.

The Bottom Line: Start Earning Cash On Your Purchases

Cash back credit cards offer you the opportunity to earn a percentage back with each purchase — you’ll get it back either as a statement credit for your next credit card bill or in cash directly. Choosing the best cash-back credit card depends on how you spend and whether you prefer a simple rewards structure or to maximize earnings in specific categories.

Even if you find that after your research, cash-back rewards credit cards aren’t for you, there are plenty of other options. Both travel and store credit cards offer a lot for cardholders — it may be the better choice depending on your financial goals.

RocketHQSM has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. RocketHQ and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Opinions, reviews, analyses and recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

Sarah Li Cain

Sarah Li Cain is a freelance personal finance, credit and real estate writer who works with Fintech startups and Fortune 500 financial services companies to educate consumers through her writing. She’s also a candidate for the Accredited Financial Counselor designation and the host of Beyond The Dollar, where she and her guests have deep and honest conversations on how money affects our well-being.