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Best Cash Back Credit Cards

If you’re one of us few and proud who religiously pay your credit card balance off in full each month, you get to benefit from cash credit card rewards — the percentage of your purchases that your card will pay you back as points, miles, or even pennies. (Congrats, I guess.)

The joke, of course, is that credit card companies charge stores fees to accept our credit transaction in the first place and then simply give us a piece of the action as cash or points. Cash rewards aside, we’re still paying more for our gas, groceries, and ShamWow than we would if we lived in a cash-only economy. But if you have to live with the system, you might as well use it to your advantage.

Unless you can score bigger discounts by using cash or a proprietary payment system (like Target’s Red Card which gives users 5 percent off), you can earn a few hundred (or even thousand) extra bucks each year by making most of your purchases with a cash rewards credit card.

Learning to maximize the value of your credit card rewards is a game that you may or may not care to play. got excellent credit and time on your hands? Go get a half dozen cards that pay rewards on different things. Keep track of when to use which, and you’ll probably nail a few more freebies than the rest of us.

If you don’t feel like keeping track of six more credit cards (or you’re just lazy), choose one card that you use for most everything that offers a good all-around cash rewards program.

The Best Cash Back Rewards Cards

Let’s compare five cash rewards credit cards I consider to be the best cash back credit cards.

The all-new Discover it Card combines cash rewards — 1 percent back on qualifying purchases plus up to 5 percent back on rotating categories — with long balance transfer rates and friendly features like U.S.-based customer service and late fee forgiveness.

Discover it®

Great For: Cash back rewards in revolving categories like dining, travel or gas.

Credit Needed: Excellent

Average Approved Score: 691*

Lowest Approved Score: 658*

  • 0% intro APR on purchases & balance transfers for 14 months-then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%. A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance.
  • Rated 4.8 out of 5 stars by over 5,000 cardmembers.*
  • No annual fee, no late fee for your first late payment - APR won’t go up for paying late, no overlimit fee and no foreign transaction fee.*
  • Free FICO® Credit Score online and on monthly statements.*
  • 5% cash back at gas stations on up to $1,500 in purchases from July through September 2014 after you sign up*. 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Each Discover purchase is monitored. If it's unusual, you're alerted by e-mail, phone or text-and never responsible for unauthorized Discover card purchases.
  • 100% U.S.- based customer service-anytime, day and night.
  • *See rates, rewards, free FICO® Credit Score terms and other info by clicking “Apply.”
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APR Annual Fee
0%14 Months 0%14 Months 10.99% – 22.99%* Variable $0

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is another no cash rewards card worth considering if your credit score is good but lower than required for the Amex or Discover cards. The QuicksilverOne card does have a $39 annual fee but pays ample cash rewards as you use it responsibly to continue managing and improving your credit.



Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Great For: Cash back rewards and low intro rates.

Credit Needed: Fair

Average Approved Score: 618*

Lowest Approved Score: 573*

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories and no sign ups needed to earn cash rewards
  • Redeem the cash back you earn for any amount, any time
  • Cash back doesn't expire and there’s no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases until June 2015
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud Coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APR Annual Fee
0%until June 2015 N/AN/A 22.9%* Variable $39

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Disclaimer: One way I’m able to support my blogging while helping you is to link to products I like and earn a referral commission if you sign up. I only link to products I trust. That said, you should know that if you click the links to these cards and ultimately apply for and are approved for that card, I may be paid for that. If you choose to support Money Under 30 in that way, thanks! This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

*Credit Karma users have received approvals with these TransUnion New Account credit scores. These approval metrics are only guidelines and approval is not guaranteed.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Chase Freedom now has an annual fee and is kicking in for cardholders sometime this year (when this happens is based on when you signed up.) When you sign up you get the first year free.

    Discover pays UP TO 1% cash back on all purchases. It is actually less than 1% until you spend at least $3,000 over the course of the year, and then it jumps to 1%. I called Discover last week and learned that lovely fact.

    • I had the Discover More card about a year ago. In addition to the “up to 1%” trick mentioned above. They also have limits that you quickly exceed for the 5% cash back categories. This may have changed since, but I recall one instance offering 5% cash back on gas and groceries for 3 months… up to $400. After that it went back to 1%. It’s not a bad card, but consider these tricks before jumping over.

      • … And that reward is for else o $400 in purchases, NOT $400 cash back per term. So you’re essentially getting 5% of $400 = $20 plus the 1% on everything else. still i’ve racked up over $1000 in rewards so far, I think it’s a good card

  2. David Weliver says:

    Wow, thanks for bringing up those points. That’s really sneaky fine print on Discover’s part; I’ve never noticed that about their rewards program.

    And I had heard Chase added a fee to some Freedom users but I thought it was those who had a slightly richer rewards structure; they’re still advertising no annual fee for new members but that would be equally sneaky if they start tacking them on after you sign up.

  3. A note about Chase. I had a card with them for several years and had a limit of $10,000. I did not keep a balance and instead only kept it open for emergencies. I received a letter from them this week telling me they had changed my limit to $500! I called to ask why, and I was told it was because I don’t use it often (I was also told I should have read the letter in more detail as the letter would have explained that-as if I hadn’t bothered to read it…).

    I let them know that when I did use it, it was almost always for more than $500 (when have you seen a car repair for less?), and I had always paid the balance in full. Apparently that didn’t matter. I was told my ONLY option was to wait 30 days before I could request an increase, but would not necessarily be reinstated to the original limit. I know that asking for an increase will ding my credit score just as they have altered my score by changing my debt utilization ratio—without my permission. I had them cancel the account.

  4. My cash rewards is great. 2% off all purchases all year long with no limits. The fact that the card company is no longer accepting any other applications is great. That means I’m part of an exclusive group and I can brag about it to my buddies. Good luck finding a better rewards card than the one I have. I haven’t found one better.

    • AMEX Blue Cash Preferred…a $75 annual fee but $150 sign on bonus. The important feature is the cash back though. 6% at supermarkets, 3% at department stores and gas stations I think, and 1% for everything else. You can achieve an effective 5% back by purchasing $500 VISA/MC gift cards at supermarkets for $5 per card. Then use those cards as your payment method for everything except supermarket purchases (which you would use your AMEX).

  5. I have a Chase Freedom (dates back to 1997), no annual fee, accumulates 1% on everything and 5% on some quarterly categories. When you accum $200, you can get a check for $250 so that’s equivalent to 1.25% for 1% rewards, 6.25% for 5% rewards. For all cards, PAY ATTENTION TO THE REDEMPTION RULES. Some are deceptive, e.g. the Discover “up to 1%”!!

    • The $200 to $250 rewards is no longer applicable. I had that option for a while and used it every time. Chase changed it so that you could only redeem at 1% rewards rates. 2000 points equal to $20 and only allows you to redeem at that rate.

  6. Every debt free person in America should use cash back credit cards. Pay the debt off every month, and it is free money. In the last three years the credit card companies have personally paid me thousands. I don’t think I’m alone, but sadly I know that I’m in the minority :-(. I know people who are debt free with a lot of money in the bank that claim that credit card companies are the devil. I completely disagree. Cash back cards are the best.
    Just, for god sake, don’t look at it as a license to shop. Ugh!

    • So true. I use CC’s almost exclusively for all purchases and pay off complete balance each month. I haven’t paid a penny in interest for the longest while getting paid good money by the CC companies. Unfortunately I know that money is coming from the less responsible/fortunate. The companies are going to still it anyway, may as well distribute it out. The irony is the industry term for people like us is “Deadbeats”… Ironic.

  7. Priceline is now offering a 2% cash back Visa. I’ve only had it for a month, but I think 2% cash back is great for a Visa. Personally, I find the rotating category cards to be too cumbersome to keep track of, and Amex isn’t accepted as universally as Visa. So this card fits my needs perfectly. We’ll see how long it lasts, though – A number of years back, Charles Schwab offered a similar Visa which I LOVED, and then they cancelled it without the option to stay grandfathered in.

    • Well, I’ve been using that 2% cash back Priceline.com Visa I mentioned in October and it’s been working out great. It actually offers 5% on Priceline name-your-own-price purchases, but I never use that feature. I just like the nice 2% cash back. The easiest way to get the cash back is to login online and apply your accruing credits towards purchases on your bill. Anyway, I’ve been very pleased with this card and don’t understand why it didn’t make the newest version of this list.