Citi Custom Cash℠ Card Review: Get 5% Cash Back In Your Top Spending Category
Rating as of Jun. 24, 2021 based on a review of services February 1, 2023.
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card earns a strong $200 in cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back and this card also includes an excellent 0% intro APR opportunity.
0% into APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (regular APR is 18.74% – 28.74% variable)
Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back
No annual fee
Credit cards offering both 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers, plus no annual fee aren’t typically known for their generous cash back rewards. That’s simply because most credit card companies see the ability to save on interest payments as rewarding enough.
Citi has never taken this view, as showcased by their unique and rewarding Citi Custom Cash℠ Card. With the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card you’ll get a 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers, a $200 welcome bonus after spending $1,500 within six months of account opening, and a whopping 5% cash back on your top spending category each billing cycle.
To top things off, you’ll get unlimited 1% cash back on everything else, making the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card a highly compelling choice for anyone who wants to earn hefty cash back rewards without accumulating interest on old or new debt.
- Best for – Balance transfers and cash back.
- Signup bonus – Earn $200 cash back (20,000 ThankYou® Points) after spending $1,500 within your first six months of account opening.
- Cash back – 5% cash back on up to $500 worth of purchases in your top spending category (travel, groceries, etc.) each billing cycle (28-33 days), plus unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Intro APR – 0% for 15 months on purchases and 0% for 15 months on balance transfers (balance transfers must be initiated within four months of account opening).
- Regular APR – 18.74% - 28.74% (Variable) APR.
- Other unique features – Digital Wallets, Citi® Quick Lock, Citi Entertainment®.
In-depth analysis of the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
Let’s break down what makes the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card so unique and compelling, starting with its clever take on the traditional 5% rewards structure.
Ever since the first “rewards card” emerged in 1986, credit card companies have been locked in an arms race to offer the best cash back rewards. 35 years later, the current “superpowers” are offering customers a whopping 5% cash back – but only in certain, predetermined categories.
This caveat is where Citi saw a competitive advantage, swooping in with the next evolution of credit card rewards.
5% in the category you spend in most
With the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, you now get 5% cash back in whatever category you’re spending the most in. No more having to “activate” your next three months of rewards, or worse, discovering the new 5% categories are in things you never spend money in (Gas? I drive a Tesla!).
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card simply calculates what you already spent the most money in the last billing cycle (28 to 33 days) and gives you 5% cash back in that.
There are limits to this cash back
There are caveats to this new system – you can only earn 5% cash back on up to $500 worth of spending each billing cycle (amounting to $25 or roughly $300 annually), and it’s worth pointing out that your 5% rewards are only coming from one category. Your spendiest category, granted, but just one nonetheless.
In addition to that 5% cash back structure, you’ll also get unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases, which is a nice touch that could end up equally as rewarding as your 5%.
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers a nice welcome bonus: $200 as soon as you spend $1,500 within the first six months of account opening (note: you will qualify for the bonus offer only if you have not received a bonus offer for opening a new Citi Custom Cash℠ Card in the past 48 months).
Your bonus will come in the form of ThankYou® Points, which are redeemable at ThankYou.com (still impressed they got that domain). Anyhow, one caveat to ThankYou® Points that you should know about is they’re only redeemable for cash in multiples of $25.
If you’re the type of person who cashes out your bonus points constantly and even factors them into your monthly budget, you may find these redemption limitations frustrating.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card’s generous APR structure:
- APR for purchases – 0% for 15 months on purchases from date of account opening. After that, your APR will be 18.74% - 28.74% (Variable), based on your creditworthiness.
- APR for balance transfers – 0% for 15 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer when transfers are completed within four months from date of account opening. After that, your APR will be 18.74% - 28.74% (Variable), based on your creditworthiness.
0% APR on both old and new purchases isn’t common among rewards credit cards, especially among those with rewards this high.
It’s a bit disappointing that Citi charges such a high fee for balance transfers with the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card. The fee is the greater of $5 or 5%, so basically 5%. That’s 2% higher than most other balance transfer cards and even Citi’s other balance transfer cards.
Granted, your welcome bonus will more than cover it, but the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card’s high balance transfer fee is still worth keeping in mind.
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card charges no annual fee. This puts it in line with similar, competing cards.
You can view the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card’s latest fee structure in the Terms & Conditions listed under Fees, but here’s a breakdown of the essentials:
- Annual fee: $0.
- Transaction fees:
- Balance Transfer fee: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
- Cash Advance fee: 5% of each cash advance; $10 minimum
- Foreign Transaction fee: 3% of each purchase transaction in U.S. dollars.
- Penalty Fees:
- Late Payment: Up to $41.
- Returned Payment: Up to $41.
All in all, there aren’t really any hidden “gotchas” in the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card’s fee structure. The only two times I raised my eyebrow were at the balance transfer fee, which I’ve already covered, and the 3% foreign transaction fee.
The foreign transaction fee serves as a gentle reminder that the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card isn’t a great travel rewards card. Sure, you can get up to 5% cash back on travel-related expenses each billing cycle, but the rewards cap out at $500 worth of spending – so you won’t get $100 back on your $2,000 cruise booking, just $25. Plus, unlike most dedicated travel rewards cards, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card doesn’t include travel insurance, nor its points carry a value multiplier when redeemed for travel.
So while it can’t exactly compete among true travel cards, it’s still a serious contender among general rewards credit cards – especially those offering 0% APR.
Other unique benefits
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card includes three other perks worth mentioning.
- Digital Wallets – Citi’s Digital Wallets let you securely store your payment info so you can speed through checkout with millions of online merchants.
- Citi® Quick Lock – Citi® Quick Lock will instantly block all new charges on your Citi Custom Cash℠ Card without blocking recurring charges, so you won’t have to worry about suspending your Netflix account.
- Citi Entertainment® – Citi Entertainment® gives you and other Citi cardholders exclusive access to live event ticket presales and special experiences.
How much can you earn with the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card?
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card has the ability to generate some serious cash back rewards – if you use it right.
To illustrate its potential, let’s look at two scenarios. The first will be someone a bit more budget-minded, trying to keep their credit card spending at or below $1,000 within each 28 to 33-day billing per. The second will be someone a bit more flexible with their budget, spending double that.
Let’s look at how much the “budget spender” can earn using their Citi Custom Cash℠ Card:
Spending per billing cycle Earnings after one year Earnings in subsequent years
Dining $140 $16.80 $16.80
Groceries $160 $96.00 $96.00
Entertainment $100 $12.00 $12.00
Other purchases $600 $72.00 $72.00
Annual fee -- $0 $0
Sign-up bonus -- $200 $0
Total earnings -- $396.80 $196.80
Let’s look at what a “premium spender” with a $2,000 budget per billing cycle can expect to earn from using the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card.
Spending per billing cycle Earnings after one year Earnings in subsequent years
Dining $280 $33.60 $33.60
Groceries $320 $192.00 $192.00
Entertainment $200 $24.00 $24.00
Other purchases $1,200 $144.00 $144.00
Annual fee -- $0 $0
Sign-up bonus -- $200 $0
Total earnings -- $593.60 $393.60
Pros & cons
- Clever 5% cash back structure — No more confusing, rotating 5% categories to track - the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card automatically gives you 5% cash back in whichever category you spend the most in during the last billing cycle.
- Generous welcome bonus — Spend $1,500 within the first six months of account opening and you’ll automatically receive $200 cash back (equal to 20,000 ThankYou® Points).
- 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months — 0% APR on both old and new spending can help you become debt-free faster.
- No annual fee — Enough said!
- Citi Entertainment® — All Citi cardholders get exclusive access to live event ticket presales and special events.
- Only offers 5% cash back in a single category — Unlike competing cards featuring rotating categories, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card only offers 5% cash back from a single category.
- Restrictive cash back denominations — Citi will only let you redeem ThankYou® points for cash back in multiples of $25.
- No travel redemption bonus or travel insurance — Citi does not offer multipliers when you redeem ThankYou® points for travel bookings, nor do they include travel insurance with their cards as some competitors do.
- High balance transfer fee — The greater of $5 or 5% is 2% higher than competitors, and even other Citi cards charge for balance transfers.
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card compared
How does the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card stack up to the fierce competition?
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card Chase Freedom Unlimited® Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card
Annual fee $0 $0 $0
Rewards 5% cash back on up to $500 in purchases in the top spending category from each billing period (30 days), 1% cash back on all other purchases 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, 1.5% on all other purchases 1.5% cash back on all purchases
Welcome bonus $200 after spending $1,500 within six months of account opening An additional 1.5% on all purchases (up to $20,000 spent in the first year) $150 after spending $500 within three months of account opening
Intro APR 0% for 15 months on purchases & 0% for 15 months on balance transfers (standard APR is 18.74% - 28.74% (Variable) 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months and 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months (standard APR is 19.49% - 28.24% Variable) 0% for 15 months on purchases & 0% for 15 months on qualifying balance transfers
Notable perks Citi Entertainment® 5% cash back on Lyft rides 1.8% cash back on digital wallet purchases
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers an additional 1.5% on all purchases (up to $20,000 spent in the first year), and like the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, they also don’t charge an annual fee.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®‘s cash back structure is a bit more specific, offering 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases. This covers a wide range of spending categories, but if you’re someone who spends in the aforementioned categories, you’re in for some serious cash back.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card
The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card offers a slightly lower bonus at $150 when you spend $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. And like its friends above, it comes with no annual fee.
If you like straightforward cash back, the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card offers a simple unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Currently, you can bump it up to 1.8% on eligible digital wallet purchases during the first 12 months you have your account. For those looking for a simple but powerful cash back credit card, the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card may be the perfect fit.
Should you get the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card?
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is a superb overall cash rewards card with just a few “buts” attached.
- It offers a generous 0% APR on both new purchases and balance transfers for an extensive 15 months, but its balance transfer fee is high at 5%.
- It offers a clever and unique 5% cash back system that rewards your existing spending but you have to spend $500 within a single category (travel, groceries, etc.) each billing cycle to maximize it.
- Finally, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card can generate as much as $680 in cash back rewards in your first year, but you can only convert it to cash in denominations of $25 at a time, which may feel limiting for folks who factor cash back into their monthly budgets.
Depending on what you’re seeking from your rewards card, the “buts” associated with the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card may either be a dealbreaker or vanish into insignificance.
Overall, I think you should get the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card if you:
- Value 0% APR on purchases and/or balance transfers.
- Tend to spend heavily in one category each month (or can adjust your habits accordingly).
How to apply for the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
Your first step in applying for this or any other rewards card is to ensure your FICO score is high enough. For the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, you’ll want a FICO score of at least 670 to be accepted.
Once you’ve confirmed your FICO score is high enough, your next step will be just as critical: to carefully read the card’s Terms & Conditions. I couldn’t include every granular detail in this review, so you’ll want to read the fine print before making this or any other big financial commitment.
Once you’re ready to apply, head to the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card’s homepage and click “Apply”. You’ll punch in the usual stuff: personal and contact info, SSN, and security questions. Upon acceptance you’ll be redirected to your new Citi dashboard and receive your card within 7-10 business days.
⁺Credit Score requirements are based on Money Under 30’s own research of approval rates; meeting the minimum score will give you the best chance to be approved for the credit card of your choice. If you don’t know your credit score, use our free credit score estimator tool to get a better idea of which cards you’ll qualify for.
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is an excellent jack-of-all-trades rewards card, offering a compelling mix of 0% intro APR and 1% to 5% cash back on all purchases. If you’re seeking a credit card that helps you avoid accruing interest on both old and new debt while earning hundreds in cash back rewards, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is a top choice.