Best Cash Back Credit Cards 2016
Over the past year, we saw some welcome competition in the 2% cash back credit card space, as the Citi Double Cash card is no longer the only game in town. We also saw the introduction of a new card offering 5% on all purchases, which was very exciting, but with a few important caveats. The true cash back powerhouse, however–for those who have an extensive relationship with Bank of America–remains the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program.
Read on to get the details on these cards and more.
Note: This list only includes personal cash back credit cards. As I first mentioned in this post, small businesses should probably get a rewards credit card instead of a cash back card.
Note 2: This list only contains cash back credit cards still open to new applicants. Otherwise, cards such as the grandfathered Priceline Rewards card would definitely make the list.
Pros: Untiered, uncapped 2% rebate on all purchases in a MasterCard
Cons: No sign-up bonus
The Citi Double Cash card earns 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases, plus an additional 1% unlimited cash back as you pay back your purchases, whether you pay in full or over time–provided you pay at least the minimum due. With no category restrictions and no caps on the amount of cash back you can earn, that means the card effectively earns a 2% cash back rebate on all purchases with no annual fee.
The Double Cash Card also currently comes with a 0% intro APR for 15 months on both purchases and balance transfers. However, balance transfers come with a fee of 3% (minimum $5).
Award redemption is straightforward–you can redeem your cash back as soon as your cash rewards balance is $25 or more, either online or by calling Citi. You can redeem your rewards for either a check, statement credit or gift cards. You can even have your cash back deposited into a linked checking account.
The only reasonable downside is that, by default, it does not come with a sign-up bonus, unless you are fortunate enough to have received a targeted offer with one. (Some people have receiving targeted offers in the mail with a $200 bonus after spending $1,000 in 3 months.)
Overall, however, if you’re looking for a cash back credit card that earns a good rate on any purchase, the Citi Double Cash card fits the bill quite nicely.
Pros: Untiered, uncapped 2% rebate on all purchases, low 1% forex fee
Cons: Requires Fidelity brokerage account for best redemption
The new year brought a number of new changes to the Fidelity credit cards, as Fidelity decided to drop its American Express card and transition its Visa card to US Bank. Those with old Fidelity Amex cards or Visas will have their cards converted to the new Fidelity Visa sometime in mid-2016.
For those who had/have the previous incarnation of the Fidelity Visa, the new Visa card is a clear upgrade, as you now earn an uncapped, untiered 2% cash back on all purchases, compared to the tiered 1.5%/2% reward structure of old. As with the older versions of the card, the new Fidelity Visa does not have an annual fee.
Cardholders earn 2 points for each dollar in net retail purchases. Points can be redeemed into an eligible Fidelity account at a rate of 1 cent per point, and cardmembers can opt to receive a one-time or automatic monthly cash deposit as long as they have at least 5,000 points. Eligible accounts include most non-retirement accounts, as well as Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA, SEP IRA, and Fidelity®-managed 529 College Savings Plan accounts.
Fidelity also allows a significant amount of flexibility in how you can distribute your rewards, as you can deposit your rewards into one account or divide them among many–including using rewards to fund a loved one’s account.
While you do not need to have a Fidelity account or other relationship with Fidelity Investments in order to get a card, or redeem for other rewards, it appears that you’ll need one in order to obtain the 2% rate. The redemption value is different (and not as favorable) if you choose to redeem your points for other rewards such as travel options, merchandise, gift cards, and/or a statement credit.
Another often-overlooked benefit of the Fidelity Visa is that it only carries a 1% fee for purchases made in foreign currencies, compared to the 2-3% fee that most other credit cards usually assess.
Pros: Potentially the highest cash back rates available
Cons: Requires extensive banking relationship with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
Originally launched in 2014, the Bank of America Preferred Rewards is a loyalty program that provides a wide range of benefits to customers who keep large balances with Bank of America and/or Merrill Edge and Merrill Lynch. One feature of the program is that once enrolled, members enjoy a boost to their credit card cash back on most Bank of America credit cards.
In particular, if you enroll in the free program and have eligible balances of at least $100,000 in your Bank of America/Merrill Lynch accounts, you qualify for the highest tier of membership, Platinum Honors. Platinum Honors members enjoy a 75% bonus on their credit card rewards.
What does this mean? Take as an example the BankAmericard Cash Rewards card. Normally, you would earn 2% at grocery stores and 3% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery store and gas purchases each quarter and 1% cash back on everything else. With the Platinum Honors bonus, however, you would earn 5.25% cash back on gas, 3.5% on groceries and 1.75% on everything else.
As another example, consider the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card, which normally earns 1.5 points per dollar spent with no annual fee and no charges on foreign transactions. With the Platinum Honors bonus, the card earns 2.625 points per dollar spent. 2,500 points can be redeemed for $25 towards travel. So, assuming you have travel expenses to credit your points against, the card effectively earns 2.625% cash back on any type of spending.
For more details on the Preferred Rewards program, see this page.
- 5% cash back on all purchases, on up to $1,000/month
- Membership restricted to residents in Wisconsin near Green Bay or Marinette County
- $49 annual fee, waived first year and in subsequent years if conditions met*
The People Caring More Credit Union Platinum Rewards card is a fantastic card… if you qualify for it. It earns a whopping 5% cash back on all purchases (on up to $1,000/month in purchases), with cash back automatically credited to your account on your next monthly statement.
Unfortunately, you do need to be a member of the credit union in order to apply and membership is not easy to come by, unless you live in Wisconsin near Green Bay or Marinette County.
The card also carries an annual fee of $49, which is waived for the first year. The $49 fee can be waived in future years, however, as long as the member maintains an active Rewards Savings Program and No Fee Checking account, plus related services including, direct deposit, debit card, free Virtual Branch, and is enrolled in paperless statements on all accounts.
Other features of the card include no balance transfer fees, no cash advance fees and just a 1% foreign transaction fee.
Should you happen to live in PCM’s limited geographic service area and can meet its requirements, this card is fantastic.
- Earn up to 1.8% cash back on all purchases
- Requires living in one of 11 states to earn the highest rate of cash back
- No foreign transaction fees, no annual fee
At the minimum, the Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus™ World MasterCard® earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back rewards on all purchases. You can increase this cash back rate in a couple of ways:
- Make at least one purchase every month for at least six months, and you’ll earn a 10% purchase bonus
- Directly deposit your rewards into a Citizens Bank checking, savings or money market account to get another 10% bonus
Taking advantage of both of these bonuses will effectively boost your 1.5% cash back to about 1.8%.
You can redeem your reward points in increments of 25 for $25 in cash back, either as a deposit to your Citizens Bank personal checking, savings, or money market account or as a statement credit.
While anyone in the U.S. can apply for one of its credit cards, you must currently reside within Citizen Bank’s service area in order to open a new checking or savings account. Citizens Bank operates under the Citizens Bank brand in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, and the Charter One brand in Michigan and Ohio. This means that if you live outside one of these 11 states, while you can apply for the credit card, you won’t be able to take advantage of the 10% Relationship Bonus, which requires a checking, savings or money market account. That would limit your cash back to a maximum of 1.65%, assuming you take advantage of the 10% Purchase Bonus.
You might wonder why this card is on the list, since even 1.8% is less than the 2% cash back offered by the Citi Double Cash card or the Fidelity Visa. That’s because all of the 2% cards currently charge a foreign transaction fee. For those who are looking for a card with no foreign transaction fee and no annual fee, the Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus World MasterCard is as good as it gets.
- Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees
The Capital One Quicksilver Rewards card makes the list solely because it does not charge foreign transaction fees and is available nationwide, while offering a very reasonable 1.5% cash back rebate on all purchases with no annual fee.
Whereas its predecessor, the Capital One Cash Rewards card, also earned a 1.5% rebate, it was on a delayed schedule. While the Cap One Cash card earned a 1% rebate immediately, you only received the other 0.5% rebate on your card anniversary. The Quicksilver card promises to deliver your 1.5% cash rebate immediately, allowing you to redeem your cash back for any amount at any time, in the form of an account credit, check or gift card.
Among cash back credit cards with no annual fees and no foreign transaction fees, the Quicksilver card offers one of the highest general purpose cash back rebates, making it an excellent option for travelers.
- Earn 5% on first $2,000 in purchases in 2 categories that you select each quarter
- Earn 2% on either gas stations, grocery stores or restuarants
- Earn 1% on all other purchases, with no caps
When it was first introduced, the US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card was one of the best cash back cards on the market. However, the program in its initial incarnation was simply too good to last. Over the past few years, it has undergone a number of changes that have caused it to drop from initial lofty perch. Even after the changes it’s seen, however, the card is still a reasonable cash back option.
The US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature takes the concept of cash back cards with rotating quarterly bonus categories and improves upon it. Instead of being stuck with categories that the card issuers have selected for each quarter, cardholders can pick for themselves 2 categories each quarter in which they will earn a 5% rebate (on up to $2,000 in net purchases in their 2 bonus categories). The categories from which cardholders can select are subject to change.
The current list of 5% categories that you can choose from includes:
- Department stores
- Select clothing stores (such as Ann Taylor, Eddie Bauer, GAP, Old Navy and The Limited)
- Sporting good stores
- Electronics stores
- Cell Phones
- Fast food
- Furniture stores
- Car rental
- Charity (such as American Red Cross, United Way, Samaritan’s Purse International Relief and Mercy Chefs)
- Movie theaters
Cardholders can also select to earn a 2% rebate at either gas stations, grocery stores or restaurants. All other purchases earn 1%, but there is no limit to the rebate you can earn.
You’ll also earn a one-time bonus of $25 (for the lifetime of the account) the first time you redeem cash rewards for $100 or more in a single redemption.
As is typical of rotating category cards, there is a bit of maintenance required to earn your bonus. You’re required to choose your categories each quarter–if you don’t, purchases will earn only 1% cash back, so this is not the card for the forgetful.
Overall, the Cash+ card provides greater flexibility in selecting your 5% bonus categories than any of its competitors. Plus, it also offers the opportunity to earn 2% in another category. For those with concentrated spending in one of its bonus categories, the Cash+ card is a nice option.
- Up to 1% rebate on first $1,000 annually
- Up to 2% rebate on next $2,000 annually
- Up to 3% rebate on over $3,000 annually
- Available only to Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington residents
- Accepted at most places Discover is accepted
- $25 annual fee (including Marukai membership), waived first year
The only card to make the list with an annual fee that can’t be waived, the Marukai Premium JCB card is certainly unusual. While it does feature a tiered reward structure in addition to its $25 annual fee (waived for the first year), the 3% top tier rebate can make it worthwhile for big spenders. It also features a $15 bonus when you spend $1,000 or more annually and another $50 bonus when you reach $5,000 in annual spend, which can help offset the annual fee.
Before you run out to apply, however, consider a few points: 1) JCB calculates your cash back by rounding down to the nearest $100 in net purchases for each statement, and 2) while the card is accepted at over 5.5 million locations in the US that accept Discover, as well as internationally, acceptance can be spotty. Some merchants may have locations that accept the card and others that don’t, so be wary of that.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
American Express currently has a few different flavors of its Blue Cash card available, each of which will appeal to consumers with different spending patterns.
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card earns 3% cash back at stand-alone supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases), 2% at stand-alone gas stations and select major department stores and 1% on all other purchases.
Rebates are earned in the form of Reward Dollars, which may be redeemed for statement credits, or additional items like merchandise and gift cards, whenever your available Reward Dollar balance is 25 or more.
The Blue Cash Everyday card also has a sibling dubbed the Blue Cash Preferred card. The Blue Cash Preferred card carries a $75 annual fee and earns a 6% rebate at stand-alone supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in per year in purchases), 3% at stand-alone gas stations and select major department stores and 1% everywhere else.
- 5% rebate on gas paid at the pump
- 1% rebate on all other purchases
- Rebate applied automatically every month as a statement credit
For years, the Fort Knox Visa has been one of the best overall cash back credit cards for gas purchases. It pays 5% cash back on gas, credited automatically on your monthly statement. On all other purchases, it earns 1%.
Membership in Fort Knox FCU is easy to satisfy, as there is a consumer’s organization, the American Consumer Council, that you can join for free as part of your application process. Membership to the credit union does require a payment of $15 upfront, $5 of which represents a share in the credit union and $10 of which covers the one-time membership fee.
- Be careful that you continue to use the card if you get it, as there is a $26 inactivity fee if you leave it dormant for a year.
- The max credit limit you will receive is $2,500 if you are a first time Fort Knox credit card applicant.
Discover it Card
- 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
- No forex fees
On the surface, the Discover it card offers a very uninspiring 1% cash back on all purchases. Fortunately, Discover has layered on a number of other features which make it more enticing.
The first of those features is a concept which is now quite familiar to everyone–rotating quarterly 5% bonus spending categories–a concept that Discover pioneered. Discover was also one of the first issuers to give its customers free FICO credit scores on their monthly statement.
The latest new perk that Discover has added for its new cardmembers is doubling all of your cash back during your first year of cardmembership. This means, for example, that for your first year, you can earn a 10% rebate on your spending in bonus categories. Your non-bonus cash back is also doubled, so that you’ll earn a minimum of 2% on your spending during your first year.
In addition, you can get bonus cash back at select merchants when you use its online shopping portal, Discover Deals, often much higher than similar shopping portal sites. Discover also features redemption options that increase the value of your rewards when redeemed at select merchants for gift cards or instant eCertificates. For instance, you can turn $20 in rewards into a $25 gift card.
Travelers will also enjoy the fact that Discover does not charge foreign transaction fees made on international purchases. Discover cards are accepted internationally through the Discover Network, as well as through partnerships with China Union Pay, JCB and Diners Club International.
Chase Freedom Card
- 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
The Chase Freedom earns a base 1% cash back with the opportunity to earn 5% in rotating categories that change every quarter, like the Discover card. The 5% bonus, however, is limited to your first $1,500 in bonus category spending per quarter.
If you can remember to sign up for the rotating bonuses every quarter and match your spending to the bonus categories, the Freedom card can deliver a good percentage rebate. If you are looking for less hassle, however, you may want to look elsewhere.
A final word
It’s good to remember that cash back cards are only valuable for consumers who pay their balance in full every month. If you carry a balance, you are better off finding a low-interest rate card, since the interest you are paying will more than offset any cash back you might receive.
Editor’s note: For historical versions of this list, see: