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Here's why the Citi Double Cash Card is the best way to earn cash back—without paying an annual fee

Crystal Sing | Twenty20

The Citi® Double Cash Card hit the market in 2014 and has since become an essential credit card for putting cash back in your wallet. The card is pretty straightforward: It has a simple rewards program and offers one of the best flat-rate cash-back programs so you can earn rewards on anything and everything you buy.

Cardholders earn cash back twice (1% when you buy and 1% as you pay), which is one reason the Citi Double Cash Card is on CNBC Select's list of best cards for shopping this holiday season.

To determine the best cash-back credit cards, CNBC Select analyzed 50 popular 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.)

Below, we break down Citi Double Cash Card's rewards, benefits and fees to help you decide if it's the right card for you.

Citi Double Cash Card review

  • Rewards
  • Additional benefits
  • Fees
  • Bottom line

Citi® Double Cash Card

  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all 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

    15.49% to 25.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • 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: $437
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,185
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On Citi's secure site

Citi Double Cash Card rewards

Cardholders earn 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay your credit card bill. This encourages good financial behavior, as you get the most rewards when you pay off your bill on time and in full. The card's easy-to-use rewards program requires no quarterly activation, there are no special bonus categories and there's no limit to how much cash back you can earn.

Once cardholders have earned $25 worth of cash back, they can redeem it for a check or statement credit. There is no welcome bonus, so there's no opportunity to maximize your rewards in the first year. But CNBC Select found that the average consumer could earn an estimated $437 in cash back the first year and more than $2,000 over five years.

Your cash back rewards balance can expire if you haven't earned any cash back on purchases or payments for 12 months.

Additional benefits

Unlike some rewards cards, the Citi Double Cash Card doesn't come with a ton of additional perks. Cardholders do have access to Citi Entertainment, which provides early access and special perks at music, theater, dining and sports events, such as Keith Urban in Las Vegas, Broadway shows and the Basketball Hall of Fame showcase.

Fees

The Citi Double Cash Card stands out in part because of its $0 annual fee. However, there is a 3% fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

For new cardmembers, this card has one of the longest introductory periods for balance transfers at 0% APR for the first 18 months (after that it's a variable 15.49% to 25.49%). Balance transfers must be completed within four months of opening an account, and there's a $5 or 3% fee (whichever is greater) charged to make the transfer.

Bottom line

The Citi Double Cash Card makes earning cash back look easy: It gives you money for shopping and rewards you for paying your bill on time. And if you do just that, the estimated cash earned after one year could be $437 back into your wallet, and after five years, a total of $2,185.

Our methodology

To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, CNBC 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.

CNBC 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 2018 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 $21,852 in retail spending. This budget is comprised of the most common spending categories, including groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC 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.)

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.

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

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