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Best Cash Back Credit Cards – 2013

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

What are the best cash back credit cards?If you’re looking for the best cash back credit cards available today, you’ve come to the right place.

Below you’ll find a list of only the best offers in the most complete, unbiased review of cash back cards that you’ll find anywhere. While many of the cards that made the cut this year also appear on last year’s list, there are a few new additions. In particular, the top two cards on this year’s list are among the newest offers. Read on to get all the details.

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.


Top Picks

Priceline Rewards Visa

Priceline Rewards Visa Pros: Earns an untiered, uncapped 2% rebate on all purchases; can earn even up to a 3% rebate when redeemed on Priceline auctions
Cons: Rewards system can be confusing to understand

For general purpose spending, the Priceline Rewards Visa is arguably the best cash back credit card available on the market today. When you take a look at its features, it’s easy to see why.

In spite of its name, you don’t need to be a Priceline customer in order for this card to be a great deal for you. If you do use Priceline, though, it becomes an even better deal.

The Priceline Visa is a points-based card with no annual fee. It earns 5 points per dollar on “Name Your Own Price” Priceline purchases and 2 points per dollar on everything else. Since each point is worth at least one cent towards a prior purchase, you’re getting at least a 2% rebate on all purchases from the very first dollar you spend. In addition, your points are worth even more when redeemed towards a “Name Your Own Price” Priceline purchase, making it so you can effectively earn a 3% rebate on all of your spending.

Update 6/3/13: Unfortunately, it appears that the version of the Priceline card that offered 2 points per dollar on all spending is no longer available. It has instead been replaced by considerably less attractive offer that earns 5 points per dollar on Priceline.com purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. As a result, we can no longer recommend the Priceline Rewards Visa as a top cash back card.

US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card

US Bank Cash+ Visa Pros: Earns 5% rebate in 2 categories that you choose; 2% at either gas stations, grocery stores or drugstores
Cons: Can currently only be opened at a US Bank branch

Introduced just within the past year, 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. The categories from which cardholders can select are subject to change, but currently include the following:

  • Department stores
  • Restaurants
  • Home improvement stores
  • Electronics stores
  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Bill payment (when you set up automatic bill payments for phone, internet, cable/satllite TV, utilities and insurance)
  • 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 drugstores. All other purchases earn 1%, but there is no limit to the rebate you can earn.

As if that wasn’t enough, when you redeem a rebate of $100 or more in single redemption, you’ll earn a $25 bonus in the form of prepaid card. Cash back rewards can be redeemed as a deposit into your U.S. Bank deposit account, a prepaid card or a statement credit.

As the program is still relatively new, it still seems to be going through some changes. While an online application was initially available at its launch, you are now required to go into a US Bank branch in order to apply. And recent application materials do not mention an extra rewards bonus that current cardholders enjoy–an extra 0.25% rebate on all spending for having a US Bank Gold Checking account or 0.5% for having a Platinum Checking account. Whether that bonus will continue to be awarded is unclear.

Update 1/11/13: There are rumors going around that there will be substantial changes to the program coming in the near-term for the worse. Among them: 1) The $25 bonus on $100 redemptions may be limited to one time per year, 2) the billpay, home improvement and airlines categories will be going away to be replaced with bookstores, sporting goods and cell phones, 3) a $2000 spending cap will be instituted on the 5% bonus categories. If these all come to fruition, it would represent a huge downgrade for the card.

Update 5/13/13: Read this post for pending changes to the US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature card.

The bottom line: In its current state, this is a fantastic cash back card for those who have concentrated spending in a few areas. There may, however, be big changes to the program coming.

 


Honorable Mention Cash Back Cards

Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express Card

  • Untiered, uncapped 2% rebate on all purchases
  • Low 1% forex fee
  • Requires Fidelity brokerate account

The Fidelity Amex continues to be an excellent card, earning a 2% rebate on all purchases, deposited into a Fidelity account of your choice. It falls from the “Top Pick” category this year, however, since the Priceline Rewards Visa also offers at least a 2% rebate on all purchases, is more universally accepted, and doesn’t require that you have a Fidelity account.

Cardholders earn 2 points for each dollar in net retail purchases. Points can be redeemed in 5,000 point increments into an eligible Fidelity account, at a rate of 1 cent per point. The Fidelity account may be a non-retirement account, an IRA or 529 college savings plan. You may also choose to automatically have your points swept as a cash deposit into your Fidelity account.

One often-overlooked benefit of the Fidelity Amex 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.

One of the drawbacks of the card is that it is an Amex, meaning that you’ll need to still carry a Visa and/or MasterCard in your wallet for those places that don’t accept American Express.

If you already have an existing relationship with Fidelity or are strongly considering one, then this is a great card to consider.

Fidelity Investment Rewards Visa Signature Card

  • Up to 2% rebate on all purchases
  • Requires a Fidelity brokerage account

The Fidelity Visa is very similar to the Fidelity Amex, though it offers a slightly lower rebate than its sibling. While the Amex offers a flat 2% cash back, the Visa card has a tiered rebate structure. For the first $15,000 in purchases of the year, you’ll earn 1.5 points for each $1. After you’ve reached $15,000 in spending, you’ll receive 2 points per $1 in purchases. As with the Amex, your points can be automatically converted into a deposit into your eligible Fidelity account in $50 increments.

Unfortunately, the Fidelity Visa also charges a 3% forex fee, compared to the 1% charged by its Amex sibling.

Marukai Premium JCB card (CA, NV, OR, WA)

Marukai Premium JCB card (HI)

  • 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, 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. JCB lists accepting national merchants here.

Capital One Cash Rewards card

  • Effectively a 1.5% rebate on all purchases
  • Entire rebate is not received immediately
  • No forex fees

The Capital One Cash credit card offers an essentially flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Customers receive their rebate in two steps: 1) 1% cash back on all purchases is earned immediately. 2) On their anniversary, customers receive an additional 50% bonus on the rebates that they earned in the previous year. Rewards can be redeemed at any time with no minimum and can come in the form of a check, statement credit or gift cards.

Like all Capital One cards, it does not charge foreign transaction fees, making it an excellent choice for travelers.

Overall, the Capital One Cash card offers a relatively straightforward 1.5% rebate that doesn’t require a relationship with any specific financial institution.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

  • Earn 100 Reward Dollars after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn Cash Back: 3% at US supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 2% at US gas stations & select US dept stores, 1% on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • Simple and Straightforward: With the Blue Cash Everyday Card, you can start earning cash back. No rotating reward categories. No enrollment required. No annual fee.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 12.99%-21.99%, based on credit worthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and Restrictions Apply.

Compared to the old version of its Blue Cash Card, the current Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express has a more straight-forward reward structure and is more attractive to lower and moderate spenders.

It earns 3% at US supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 2% at US gas stations & select US dept stores, and 1% on 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 worth mentioning dubbed the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card carries a $75 annual fee and earns a 6% rebate at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases), 3% at US gas stations & select US department stores and 1% on other purchases.

For those who make a lot of purchases at the grocery store (or those who are more creative and buy store gift cards there), the Blue Cash Preferred® Card can be an attractive option.

Penfed Visa Platinum Cashback Rewards Card

  • 5% rebate on gas paid at the pump
  • 0.25% rebate on all other purchases
  • Rebate applied automatically every month as a statement credit
  • Must be a PenFed Credit Union member

Penfed’s cash back credit card has seen an evolution over the years. It still, however, arguably remains the best credit card for gas purchases. It earns an excellent 5% rebate on gas paid at the pump (with no limit), but a very poor 0.25% rebate on all other purchases. Your cash back is automatically applied monthly as a statement credit.

PenFed also offers a newer points-based card called the Penfed Platinum Rewards card. It earns 5 points per dollar spent on gas, 3 points per dollar spent at supermarkets and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Points can be redeemed for rewards such as Visa prepaid cards at a value of 1 cent per point. Unlike the existing PenFed cash back card, however, redemption is not automatic every month.

In order to get a card, you must be a member of the credit union. You’re automatically eligible if you’re a member of the military or related to someone who is, work at a qualified business or at the Red Cross. Otherwise, you can become eligible by joining the Voices for America’s Troops for a one-time $15 fee.

Fort Knox Visa Platinum Card

  • 5% rebate on gas paid at the pump
  • 1% rebate on all other purchases
  • Rebate applied automatically every month as a statement credit
  • Must be a Fort Knox Credit Union member

A lesser known but richer cousin of the PenFed Visa is the Fort Knox Visa. It also pays 5% cash back on gas, credited automatically on your monthly statement. Unfortunately in 2013, we see that the card’s cash back has dropped to 1% on all other purchases, down from the 1.25% that it used to earn.

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.

Some caveats:

  • 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.

PNC CashBuilder Visa Credit Card

  • Flat 1.75% rebate possible
  • Requires extensive banking relationship with PNC Bank
  • Cash back rewards credited to checking, savings or CashBuilder account

By default, the PNC CashBuilder Visa Credit Card earns a flat 1.25% cash back rebate. However, your rebate can be boosted depending upon either your level of spending or the extent of your relationship with PNC, up to a possible flat 1.75% cash back.

Discover it Card

  • 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • No forex fees

The brand new Discover it card is an improvement over the previous generation Discover More card. Instead of a tiered reward structure, the Discover it card earns an unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases.

Discover also pioneered the concept of rotating bonus spending categories that other issuers now copy. Currently, Discover is offering a 5% cashback bonus on up to $1,500 in purchases at movie theaters and restaurants. From April through June, the 5% bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in spending) will be clothing and home improvement stores.

In addition, you can get bonus cash back at select merchants when you use its online shopping portal, ShopDiscover, 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

Citi Dividend Card

  • 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

I’m grouping the Chase Freedom and the Citi Dividend card together because they are quite similar. They both earn a base 1% cash back with the opportunity to earn 5% in rotating categories that change every quarter, like the Discover card. While the Chase Freedom allows you to earn 5% on up to $1,500 in bonus category purchases each quarter, the Citi Dividend limits your total cash rebate to $300 per year, unless you received an offer stating otherwise.

If you can remember to sign up for the rotating bonuses every quarter and match your spending to the bonus categories, these cards can deliver a good percentage rebate. If you are looking for less hassle, however, you may want to look elsewhere. To see the rotating bonus categories for the entire year, see the cash back bonus calendar.

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:

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One Response to “Best Cash Back Credit Cards – 2013”

  1. Dan Says:


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