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Credit Cards

The best cash-back credit cards of June 2021

We analyzed 50 of the most popular cash-back credit cards using an average American's annual budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your spending habits.

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When it comes to cash-back credit cards, it literally pays to do your homework. Using the right cash-back card strategically can earn you hundreds of dollars a year and thousands of dollars over time.

To help you find the right card, we analyzed 50 of the most popular cash-back cards using an average American's annual spending budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your consumer habits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

When choosing the cards in this roundup, we focused exclusively on cash-back offers, but of course there are lots of other cards to consider. Check out Select's picks of the best rewards cards for travel, online shopping, groceries and more.

Here are Select's picks for the top cash-back credit cards:

Winner

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining (including takeout) and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 23.74% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Long intro 0% APR period for purchases
  • Rewards can be transferred to a Chase Ultimate Rewards card
  • Generous welcome bonus

Cons

  • Below average 1.5% cash back on non-bonus category purchases
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $847
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,709

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Consumers who want a robust rewards card with no annual fee should consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card. Cardholders earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on drugstores and dining (including takeout) and 1.5% on all other purchases.

If you're looking to maximize your rewards, there's also a generous welcome bonus with a low spending requirement: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

This card has no annual fee, and you can benefit from a 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR).

This card also offers 5% cash back on Lyft purchases through March 2022 and complimentary three months of DashPass with 50% off for the next nine months. Simply activate by December 31, 2021.

Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back

Citi® Double Cash Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% - 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2% cash back on all purchases
  • Simple cash-back program that doesn't require activation or spending caps
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers at 18 months

Cons

  • No welcome bonus, so you can’t maximize rewards during the first few months of card opening
  • Minimum cash-back redemption of $25
  • 3% fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $443
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,213

Who's this for? The Citi® Double Cash Card is a solid choice if you're looking to maximize your money without having to worry about rotating reward categories. Earn 1% cash back on purchases and 1% when you pay off your bill. That makes the card's appeal almost universal, as you won't have to miss out on reward opportunities.

There's no annual fee and an easy-to-use rewards program with no activation required and no limit to how much cash back you can earn. Cardholders can redeem cash back for checks or statement credits once they've earned $25 worth of cash back. Plus, if you forget to pay your card, Citi will waive your first late fee. (Though we recommend you pay off your credit card balance on time and in full each month to avoid interest charges.)

Although this card doesn't come with a welcome bonus, the Citi® Double Cash Card offers cardholders 0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers (then a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR) initiated within 4 months of opening an account.

In addition to the cash-back rewards, there are a number of special cardmember programs, including Citi Entertainment℠, which gives cardholders first access to purchase tickets for thousands of concerts and events. The card also provides access to Citi® Identity Theft Solutions, a service that will help you if you're a victim of identity theft.

Best for Rotating Bonus Categories and Welcome Bonus

Chase Freedom Flex℠

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on dining and at drug stores, 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 23.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Opportunity to earn up to 5% cash back in select categories upon activation
  • Rewards can be transferred to a Chase Ultimate Rewards card

Cons

  • Bonus categories must be activated each quarter
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $814
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,647

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? If you're looking to maximize rewards, consider a rotating bonus category card like the Chase Freedom Flex℠. This card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate, then 1%. The cash-back calendar changes every quarter and currently includes wholesale clubs*, cable, internet, and phone services and select streaming services** (Learn more about how Chase classifies bonus category purchases.)

In addition to rotating rewards, you can earn 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, 3% cash back on dining and at drug stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ also has one of the best welcome bonuses around: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. That's like earning 40% back.

The Freedom Flex card also has no annual fee and offers a competitive 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR). Plus you can benefit from World Elite Mastercard benefits, such as cell phone protection and Fandango credits.

*The Chase Freedom Flex is a Mastercard, which is only accepted online at Costco.com, not in-warehouse. Learn more about what credit cards Costco accepts.

**Eligible streaming services include: Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, Fubo TV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube TV.

Best for Students

Discover it® Student Cash Back

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for 6 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    12.99% - 21.99% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Fair / New to Credit

Pros

  • Cash-back program
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years

Cons

  • Cash-back categories must be activated each quarter
  • Cash-back program limits earnings: Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back in various categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%
  • You must be a U.S. citizen and college student to apply for this card

Who's this for? Building credit while you're in college is a great way to establish good credit by the time you graduate. A student card, like the Discover it® Student Cash Back, can help you build credit while also earning cash back and benefiting from student-centric perks. To qualify, you need to meet a few requirements: attend a two- or four-year college, be over 18 and a U.S. citizen.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back has no annual fee and, upon activation, provides 5% cash back every quarter on rotating categories, up to a $1,500 maximum each quarter (then 1%). All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back automatically.

As an incentive to maintain good grades, Discover offers an annual $20 Good Grades Reward statement credit each school year when you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA (valid for up to five consecutive years). Plus, there are no foreign transaction fees, which makes it a good choice for students studying abroad.

If you need to finance textbooks or dorm room essentials, you can take advantage of the introductory 0% APR for the first six months on new purchases. After the intro period, there's a 12.99% to 21.99% variable APR. We always recommend you pay your balance on time and in full in order to avoid interest charges.

Best for Average Credit

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    1.5% cash back on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $39

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    26.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Fair

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Redeem cash back at anytime and for any amount
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Access a higher credit limit after making your first five monthly payments on time

Cons

  • $39 annual fee
  • 26.99% variable APR
  • No welcome bonus
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $293
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,464

Who's this for? Many of the best cash-back cards require good or excellent credit, but there are some cards for people with fair/average credit that offer good cash-back rates. Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card gives consumers a competitive 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn. And cash back can be redeemed at any amount, without the typical $25 minimum some other cards set.

This card has a $39 annual fee, but the average American can earn $289 a year in cash back, which is more than enough to offset the fee. After five years, you could earn $1,444.

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card charges no foreign transaction fees and comes with travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and 24-hour travel assistance services. Plus, you can get access to a higher credit limit after making your first five monthly payments on time.

FAQs

Types of cash-back credit cards

There are many types of credit cards that offer a range of perks and rewards programs, especially when it comes to cash-back credit cards. The three main types are flat-rate, bonus rewards and rotating category.

  • Flat-rate cash-back cards offer the same amount of cash back on all purchases.
  • Bonus rewards cash-back cards offer extra rewards on select purchases, such as gas, groceries, dining and travel.
  • Rotating category cash-back cards offer higher cash-back rates on certain categories that change every month or quarter.

Depending on your spending habits, you can benefit from having one or more of cash-back cards.

How to choose a cash-back credit card

It can be hard to select just one cash-back card since there are so many to choose from. In order to choose the best card for your needs, you'll need to consider several factors. Here are some tips on how to choose a credit card:

1. Consider the annual fee: While many cash-back cards have no, or low annual, fees, consider if you're willing to pay for your credit card.

2. Do you want to take advantage of a 0% APR: Many cash-back cards provide an introductory 0% APR period that can save you money on interest charges. If you have large purchases coming up, or debt to refinance, consider a card with no interest for over a year, such as the Freedom Flex card with an intro 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR).

3. Review your spending habits. Taking the time to consider how you use your card, can help you narrow down the type of cash back you want to earn. If you spend a lot at the supermarket, consider a grocery rewards card, such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. But if your spending habits are unclear, stick with a flat-rate cash-back card, like the Citi Double Cash.

How to compare cash-back credit cards

If you're having trouble narrowing down the best cash-back card for you, it can be helpful to compare credit cards. You should first list the benefits you're looking for and any deal breakers, such as an annual fee. Then make a list of cards that offer those benefits so you can do a side-by-side comparison.

For instance, if you want a simple cash-back card that doesn't require bonus activation, consider the flat-rate Citi Double Cash. But if you don't mind activation and want to maximize rewards, opt for the Chase Freedom Flex.

Making the most of your card

In order to make the most of your cash-back card, you should familiarize yourself with the various credit card benefits and fees. Review the annual fee, foreign transaction fees and the APR. Plus consider the cash-back rates and redemption options.

Once you're familiar with the terms of your card, you can begin to optimize them. Set up autopay to ensure payments are made on time and consider how you want to redeem cash back. If there's an automatic redemption option, that can be a simple way to redeem rewards.

And if you have multiple credit cards, make sure you know the best time to use each card. Let's say you have the Citi Double Cash Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card. Use the Freedom Unlimited card for all your Chase Ultimate Rewards travel purchases (5% cash back), dining (3% cash back) and drugstore (3% cash back) expenses, then use the Double Cash for all your other purchases to earn an effective 2% cash back.

Best cash-back credit cards

Category Winner Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back Best for Rotating Bonus Categories and Welcome Bonus Best for Students Best for iPhone Users Best for Average Credit
Credit Card
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Citi® Double Cash Card
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Apple Card
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Estimated rewards earned after five years$2,709 $2,213$2,647 N/A$1,156$1,464
See below for our methodology Learn MoreOn Chase's secure siteLearn MoreOn Citi's secure siteLearn MoreOn Chase's secure siteLearn MoreOn Discover's secure siteLearn MoreInformation about the Apple Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreInformation about the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Our methodology

To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, Select evaluated 50 cash-back credit cards offered by the biggest banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join. We compared each card on a range of features, including cash-back rewards, annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming cash back for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.

For rates and fees of the Discover it® Student Cash Back, click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.