Money

The best credit card for grocery shopping

Customers browse produce of the Lidl Ltd. store in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Benjamin Boshart | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Customers browse produce of the Lidl Ltd. store in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

If you spend a lot of money at the grocery store, the right credit card could save you hundreds of dollars per year. But finding the right card can be a challenge. Some offer better rewards than others, and many require an annual fee.

CNBC Make It looked at 50 popular credit cards in the U.S. to determine which one offers the best deal for grocery shoppers overall. Using a sample budget based on spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we estimated how much money each card would save a typical consumer after five years.

We also evaluated the ease of use of each card and its potential downsides, including interest rates and reward limits.

Based on the data, here is our No. 1 choice, an alternative that may best suit some brand-loyal shoppers and a third option for people who cook less often.

Our pick for the best card if you love to cook

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred offers a whopping 6 percent cash back on groceries year-round. Users earn up to $6,000 in purchases at that rate and save 1 percent on groceries thereafter. That means, if you reach the limit, which is especially doable if you're shopping for a family, you'll earn at least $360 in cash back per year.

The card offers 3 percent at gas stations and select department stores — including Nordstrom and Macy's — and 1 percent on all other purchases.

Its main drawback is the $95 annual fee, but the Preferred can still save you a lot of money, especially if you qualify for its $200 sign-up bonus, one of the biggest bonuses offered among cash back cards. The variable annual percentage rate (APR) is 14.99 to 25.99, after an introductory offer of no interest on purchases and balance transfers for a year.

At a glance:

  • Rewards: 6 percent at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases a year; 3 percent at U.S. gas stations and department stores; 1 percent on all other purchases
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Bonus: $200 if you spend $1,000 within the first three months
  • Estimated return after five years: $2,040
  • Variable APR: 14.99 to 25.99 percent based on your creditworthiness after 0 percent on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months
  • Notable perks: Exclusive ticket presales, travel insurance offers, purchase protection

The best for Whole Foods fans

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature, issued through Chase, offers some enticing rewards: 5 percent back on purchases you make on Amazon and at Whole Foods, as well as 2 percent back at restaurants, gas stations and qualifying drug stores, plus 1 percent on all other purchases. When you sign up, Amazon also throws in a $70 gift card bonus.

Users receive benefits from the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection and some travel coverage, including a damage waiver on auto rentals. There's no foreign transaction fee, so you're free to use it outside the U.S. without paying extra.

Be wary of carrying a balance, though, since its APR is relatively high. And although the card technically doesn't have an annual fee, it is exclusive to those who pay for Prime membership, which costs $119 per year.

If you decide Prime membership isn't worth the fee, you can still qualify for the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card. This card has a structure similar to the Prime Rewards card, except it only offers 3 percent back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods, not 5 percent, and a $50 gift card bonus rather than a $70 bonus.

The Prime Rewards card is the better option if you're spending more than $5,950 per year on Amazon and at Whole Foods. At that level of spending, the extra 2 percent back exceeds the Prime membership fee. Prime offers a number of other perks, though, including free two-day shipping on Amazon goods, Prime streaming benefits and free Whole Foods delivery in select cities, and many Amazon shoppers decide membership is worth the cost, with or without the credit card.

At a glance:

  • Rewards: 5 percent back on Amazon and at Whole Foods; 2 percent back at restaurants, gas stations and qualifying drug stores; 1 percent on all other purchases
  • Annual fee: $119 Amazon Prime membership
  • Bonus: $70 Amazon gift card
  • Estimated return after five years: $1,890
  • Variable APR: 15.74 to 23.74 percent based on your creditworthiness
  • Notable perks: Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection; travel coverage; no foreign transaction fee

The best with no annual fee

Blue Cash Everyday from American Express

Unlike the Blue Cash Preferred, the Blue Cash Everyday has no annual fee, but there's a trade-off: The card offers a downgraded version of the Preferred's rewards structure. Cardholders get 3 percent cash back on groceries, 2 percent at gas stations and department stores, and 1 percent on all other purchases.

If you're wondering which card is right for you, the Everyday or the Preferred, take a look at your spending. Apps like Mint, Clarity Money or Empower can sort your purchases over the last several months. If you're spending less than $3,167 on groceries per year, the Everyday is probably the better choice.

You may decide the Preferred is worth it if you spend a lot on gas and at department stores, since it also rewards an extra 1 percent back in those categories.

The Everyday offers a $150 sign-up bonus and the same perks as the Preferred, including ticket pre-sale access and purchase protection.

Its APR is 14.99 to 25.99 percent after a long no-interest introductory period of 15 months.

At a glance:

  • Cash back: 3 percent at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases a year; 2 percent at U.S. gas stations and department stores; 1 percent on all other purchases
  • Annual fee: None
  • Bonus: $150 if you spend $1,000 within the first three months
  • Estimated return after five years: $1,740
  • Variable APR: 14.99 to 25.99 percent based on your creditworthiness after 0 percent on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
  • Notable perks: Exclusive ticket presales, travel insurance offers, purchase protection

How we decided

To determine which cards offer the best return on grocery shopping, CNBC Make It vetted highly rated cards based on their reward offers, introductory and eventual APRs, annual fees, bonuses, recommended credit scores, late fees, balance transfer fees, foreign transaction fees, redemption options and customer reviews. The rate of return on grocery purchases was the most heavily weighted consideration.

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, since bouncing from card to card can be bad for your credit score.

To estimate the return, we used 2017 expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make a sample budget broken down by average annual spending in categories like gas ($1,968), groceries ($4,363), dining out ($3,365) and general purchases ($13,876). The general spending category includes shopping, entertainment, public transit, vehicle expenses other than gas, some household costs and travel expenses.

The estimates incorporate bonuses and assume 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. They also assume you don't carry a balance. For the Amazon Prime Rewards card, the estimate does not account for the cost of Prime membership, and it assumes you do 50 percent of your grocery shopping at Whole Foods.

It's worth noting that the estimates are derived from this single sample budget but, if you use a card strategically and take advantage of its rewards, your five-year return could be higher.

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