Best Cash Back Credit Cards 2015
If you’re in the market for a new cash back credit card, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll find the most comprehensive and unbiased list of the best cash back credit cards on the market.
Over the past year, the two major developments in the cash back credit card market were the introduction of the Citi Double Cash credit card and the Bank of America Preferred Rewards loyalty program. The Citi Double Cash card was a particularly welcome addition, filling the void in the market for 2% cash back non-Amex cards that had been left after the Priceline 2% Visa was discontinued for new consumers. The BofA Preferred Rewards program also made waves, by resetting expectations about what kind of cash back rewards were possible, setting new highs in terms of cash back rebates for customers with an extensive Bank of America relationship.
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.
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. Just as importantly, it comes as a MasterCard, making it the only non-Amex card currently available to the general public that earns 2% on all purchases without an 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 easiest redemption, Amex not universally accepted
A traditional stalwart, the Fidelity Amex maintains its “Top Pick” status this year, with its untiered, uncapped 2% cash rebate on all purchases and no annual fee.
Cardholders earn 2 points for each dollar in net retail purchases. Points can be redeemed starting at 5,000 points 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.
While having a Fidelity account makes for the easiest redemption opportunities, it should be noted that you can still apply for the card without one. You’ll just need to wait until you have more points to redeem them to earn an effective 2% cash back. To redeem for check or statement credit (not into a Fidelity account), the redemption schedule is as follows:
Redemption schedule for cash without a Fidelity account
So, as long as you wait until you have $250 in rewards to redeem, you’ll still get 2% cash back, even without a Fidelity account.
As an Amex, one downside to the card is that it won’t have the same nearly universal acceptance as that of a Mastercard or Visa. On the other hand, as an Amex, there are benefits you get access to, such as Amex Offers, which provide coupon-less discounts to many merchants.
Another 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.
Pros: Potentially the highest cash back rates available
Cons: Requires extensive banking relationship with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
Launched last year, 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 program–which is free–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.
- Earn 1.5 points per $1 on your first $15,000 in spending per year
- Earn 2 points per $1 on spending over $15,000 annually
- Points can be converted at 1 point:1 cent into an eligible Fidelity account in $50 increments
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. 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.
The upside to the Visa is that it does have more universal acceptance, so if you’re looking to have just a single credit card in your wallet, it may be the card you’re looking for.
- 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, 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 the highest general purpose cash back rebate, making it an excellent option for travelers.
- Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- No annual fee, low foreign transaction fees
- Must be affiliated with the Armed Forces, DoD, Coast Guard or National Guard
The Navy Federal Credit Union cashRewards Credit Card offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases with cash back that posts the same day as your purchase. There is no annual fee and no limits on the amount of cash back you can earn.
Foreign transaction fees for the card are also low–0.80% of the transaction amount if in U.S. dollars, or 1% of the transaction amount if the transaction must be converted to U.S. dollars.
The main catch is that membership is limited to those affiliated with the Armed Forces, DoD, Coast Guard or National Guard. If you are eligible, however, the cashRewards credit card offers a nice rate of cash back, fast and easy.
- Earn 5% on 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, and in fact, have over the past year.
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 Phone
- 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.
Recent changes to the card include:
- Select clothing stores was added as a 5% category
- Hotels were removed as a 5% category
- Restaurants replaced Drugstores as a 2% everyday category
- Currently, you can receive a $25 prepaid card bonus when you redeem cash rewards for $100 or more in a single redemption once per year. Beginning April 1, 2015, the $25 bonus will be limited to one per the lifetime of the account.
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.
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.
Note: An online application is currently not available for the card. To apply, you’ll need to apply in your local branch.
- 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.
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
- Must be a Fort Knox Credit Union member
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.
- 5% cash back on the first $250 per month on gas and groceries
- 5% cash back on the first $750 per month on eligible book purchases
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
Sallie Mae is most well known as a student loan provider, but also has an interesting credit card that is available to anyone. The Sallie Mae MasterCard earns 5% on on up to $250 in spending on groceries per month, 5% on up to $250 in spending on gas per month, 5% on up to $750 in spending on books per month and 1% on everything else.
One cool thing about the card is that Amazon purchases, provided they are directly from Amazon and not a third party, qualify for the 5% bonus.
Once you’ve earned 2,500 reward points, you can cash them out in the form of a $25 statement credit, have it applied to your eligible Sallie Mae student loan or redeem it as cash back in a Upromise account.
Tip: To further boost your cash back, what some like to do with this card is to open a High Yield Savings account (HYSA) with Sallie Mae, then either maintain $5,000 in their HYSA or auto transfer at least $25 a month for a year into the HYSA. Doing so makes you eligible to earn an annual 10% match from Upromise on all your Sallie Mae credit card reward redemptions to your Upromise account.
Discover it Card
- 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
- No forex fees
The 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, offering a 5% bonus on categories that change each quarter. It was also one of the first issuers to give its customers free FICO credit scores on their monthly statement.
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: