Most cash back cards require you to have good-to-excellent credit, meaning a credit score of 700 to 850, but some offer great rewards for those with lower scores.
To determine which card available to people with credit scores of 650-700 offers the best deal, CNBC Make It analyzed the most popular cash back offers in the U.S. Using a sample budget based on spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we estimated how much money each card would save you after five years, adding up bonuses and cash back rewards while deducting annual fees. We also considered other characteristics that could set a card apart, such as interest rates and introductory offers.
One card stood out as the best choice for those with average credit. While it doesn't quite compete with our No. 1 choice for the best cash back card overall, the Chase Freedom, it can still save you hundreds a year.
Capital One's QuicksilverOne offers an impressive 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. That's the same flat-rate offered by popular cards such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa.
The QuicksilverOne beats out the competition among cards for people with less than stellar scores, too. The Credit One Bank Platinum Visa only offers 1 percent cash back on all purchases. The Discover It Secured card, meanwhile, available to those looking to build credit for the first time, offers 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants and 1 percent on all other purchases, but it also requires a security deposit.
The drawbacks to the QuicksilverOne are its $39 annual fee and its lack of sign-up bonus. But the card can still save you hundreds of dollars a year if you access a high credit line. Just be sure to pay off your balance each month. You don't want to get stuck paying off debt at that high variable interest rate.
To determine which cash back card offers the best deal for those with average credit scores, CNBC Make It vetted highly rated cash back cards based on their cash back offers, introductory and eventual APRs, annual fees, bonuses, recommended credit scores, late fees, balance transfer fees, foreign transaction fees, redemption options and customer reviews.
We then estimated how much money each card would save the typical American after one year, two years and five years. Our assessment heavily weighs the five-year return to avoid a large sign-up bonus skewing the results. We also assume that most people want a great card that they can stick with for years, especially since bouncing from card to card can be bad for your credit score.
To estimate the return, we used expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make a sample budget broken down by average annual spending in categories like gas ($1,909), groceries ($4,049), dining out ($3,154) and general purchases ($10,529). The general purchase category includes shopping, entertainment, public transit and vehicle expenses other than gas.
The estimate incorporates bonuses and assumes you have a high credit limit and that you use your card for 90 percent of the purchases you make in these categories, accounting for instances where you have to use cash or shop somewhere that doesn't accept your card.
Once we had our estimates, we then weighed cash returns against other factors including interest rates and fees, cash-back categories, practicality, bonuses and other perks.
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