Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2018

What if I told you that you could make more than $300 this year in less than five minutes?

You’d probably think I’m trying to trick you; money is never free, right? Wrong. Welcome to the world of cash rewards credit cards. In the time it takes you to fill out a simple online application, you can earn at least $300 a year in free money.

Now, if it were truly that easy, there would be no need for this guide. A card’s terms and conditions, rates and rewards structures can make it difficult to know which credit card is right for you and how to get the most out of it.

And while research shows that cash back credit cards are consumers’ favorite among all rewards cards, there’s enough variation from card to card that a guide is necessary to help you choose the best fit.

This guide will help you understand which cash back cards are best and how you can maximize the rewards for whichever card you choose.

In This Guide:

HighYa’s Top Picks for the Best Cash Back Cards of 2018

Citi Double Cash - Best overall cash back card

We graded the most popular cash back credit cards and ranked them from #1 to #6. Those rankings are based on four important categories: the money you get as a bonus, the length of the card’s 0% intro APR, the money you earn every year and the card’s regular APR.

The grades say the Citi Double Cash is the best cash back card and we agree, but only if you’re someone who doesn’t carry a balance and never pays late. Not everyone falls into that category, so keep reading our rankings.

Rank Card Overall Grade Sing-Up Bonus Intro APR Yearly Cash Back Regular APR
1 Citi Double Cash B+ N/A B+ A D
2 Discover it B A C B B
3 Chase Freedom Unlimited C+ C B B D+
4 Capital One Quicksilver C C D B C
5 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred C B+ C C F
6 Bank of America Cash Rewards D+ C C C- F



#1. Citi Double Cash Card
Citi Double Cash Card
Highlights: A combination of the highest cash back rate and the longest 0% APR offer put this card at the top. Beware of the 29.99% penalty APR that activates when you make a late payment.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $500
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
None 18 months (transfers only) 14.74% - 24.74%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review


#2. Discover it
Discover it
Highlights: Lowest APR of all the cards and a decent 14 months of 0% APR. Double rewards the first year makes it a great choice.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $374
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
Discover will match all the cash back earned at the end of your first year 14 months 12.24% - 24.74%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review


#3. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Highlights: Nothing about the card stands out. An average rewards rate, sign-up bonus and 15 months of 0% APR make it a well-rounded but uninspiring choice.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $375
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$150 15 months 16.24% - 24.99%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review


#4. Capital One Quicksilver
Quicksilver from Capital One
Highlights: APR is better than rival Chase Freedom Unlimited but the card’s nine months of 0% intro APR is the worst of the bunch.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $375 (after annual fee)
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$150 9 months 14.24% - 24.24% 
More on this card: Read Our Full Review


#5. Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
AmEx Blue Cash Preferred
Highlights: Potential to be one of the best but the card’s $95 annual fee turns great rewards into average ones. Penalty APR is a drawback.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $354 (after annual fee)
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$200 12 months 14.24% - 25.24%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review


#6. Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card
Bank of America Cash Rewards
Highlights: A penalty APR and low rewards rates doom this card to last place even though its APR is relatively competitive.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $328
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$150 12 months 14.24% - 24.24%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review


HighYa’s Picks for the Best Cash Back Cards for Specific Situations

In a perfect world, none of us would pay late or carry a balance on our credit card. The world of credit cards isn’t perfect, though

In fact, four out of 10 people with credit cards carry an average balance of $16,000 across four cards.

If you’re one of those people, then the Citi Double Cash really isn’t a good fit because its interest rate is high, which means you’ll be making interest payments that could be as much as $160 more per year than other cards we graded.

This is just one example of why there isn’t one card that’s best for everyone. For that reason, we created a list of recommendations that fit real-life scenarios:

Best Cash Back Card If You Want the Most Up-Front Money

AmEx Blue Cash Preferred - Best for most up-front money

Sign-up bonuses are the best way to earn quick cash. The Discover it will double the rewards you earn the first year but Discover won’t give you those rewards until a year after you get the card.

Therefore, the American Express is the winner here because its bonus is higher than the rest.

To get these bonuses you’ll have to spend a certain amount of money in the first three months.

Rank Card Sign-Up Bonus Spending Requirement Notes
1 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred $200 $1,000 Gives you $50 more than the next three cards but requires $500 more in spending.
2 Capital One Quicksilver $150 $500 Offers the standard sign-up bonus equal to the Chase and Band of Americal cards.
2 Chase Freedom Unlimited $150 $500 Not as lucrative as the AmEx but equal to what you get with the Capital One and Bank of America cards.
2 Bank of America Cash Rewards $150 $500 In a three-way tie with the Chase and Capital One cards for its $150 bonus.
5 Discover it $300 None Not the best card for quick cash, but if you can wait a year it gives the biggest bonus.
6 Citi Double Cash $0 N/A Relies on its top-notch 2% rewards to keep its customers happy. No up-front cash, though.

Things to consider about sign-up bonuses:

The main difference between the cards in this category is that four of them give you a lump sum up-front while the Discover and Citi card don’t.

To ace the up-front bonuses, make sure you know how much you have to spend in order to get that bonus. The AmEx card requires $1,000 spending in the first three months while the Bank of America, Chase and Capital One cards require $500 in three months.

Remember that balance transfers don’t count toward the spending requirements. Also, you can ensure victory if you realize that the three-month countdown starts the day you’re approved for the card, not the day you get the card in the mail.

Best Cash Back Card If You Want to Transfer a Balance

Citi Double Cash - Best for balance transfer

You’ve got great options here for transferring; all of them save you a ton of money.

We ranked the cards based on how much you’d save in one year on a $4,000 balance with a 19.99% APR. We also included how much the card’s balance transfer fee would cost you.

Rank Card 0% intro APR Period Balance Transfer Fee Amount Saved on $4k Balance Notes
1 Citi Double Cash 18 months 3% $1,199.40 18 months of no interest saves you more than $200 over the next closest card.
2 Discover it 14 months 3% $932.70 The 3% fee means this card gives you better savings than the Chase card even though its 0% offer is shorter.
3 Chase Freedom Unlimited 15 months 5% $999.50 5% fee drops the savings down to $799.50, or $20 less than what you’d save with the Discover card’s 14 months of no interest and a 3% fee.
4 Bank of America Cash Rewards 12 months 3% $799.56 Offers a year of 0% APR, which is 3 months less than the Freedom Unlimited.
4 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred 12 months 3% $799.56 Ties the Bank of America card for money saved. Nearly $200 better than the Quicksilver
6 Capital One Quicksilver 9 months 3% $599.67 Nothing to celebrate here. Nine months of no interest is half as long as what the Citi Double Cash offers.

How to win at balance transfers and 0% intro APR:

Transferring high-interest balances from another card to your cash back card is the single best way to win at intro APR.

The balance transfers won’t earn you any rewards points but the money you save on interest will be well worth it: between $599 and $1,199, according to the cards listed above.

Once your intro period is over, you’ll pay interest on whatever balance you have left over from that initial transfer.

Best Cash Back Card for Families

Citi Double Cash - Best for families

The bigger your family is, the more you’ll spend on groceries and gas. We’re estimating that a family of four will spend at least $7,500 on groceries, 2,400 on gas and $30,000 total each year.

Here are our top cards for families, a list that includes how much you can earn in rewards each year with gas, grocery, and other bonuses:

Rank Card Estimated Yearly Cash Back Best Rewards Category Notes
1 Citi Double Cash $600 2% on everything The $600 yearly rewards on this card prove that you don’t need category-specific bonuses to earn the most money every year.
2 Discover it $456 5% on groceries from April to June While the card’s $1,500 cap on rewards each quarter limits its potential, the 5% you get back on three months of grocery purchases and six months of warehouse club buys drives its value.
3 Chase Freedom Unlimited $450 1.5% on everything Hits $450 in cash back even though it doesn’t offer the rotating bonuses of the Discover it.
3 Capital One Quicksilver $450 1.5% on everything It’s worth noting that three flat-rate cash back cards occupy the top four spots in this category. This card is $7 ahead of the multi-bonus AmEx Blue Cash Preferred.
5 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred $443 6% on groceries The AmEx card would be in second place were it not for its $95 annual fee. The 6% on groceries is the most lucrative category found among the 6 cards.
6 Bank of America Cash Rewards $372 2% on groceries This card’s $1,500 limit on quarterly bonus spending hampers its ability to bring more rewards. Though gas gets 3%, higher spending makes the 2% on groceries the best bonus.

How your family can win at bonus rewards categories:

Nailing this category is only possible if you have a budget that tells you how much you spend on groceries and gas every month, as those are the categories that get bonuses for the AmEx and Bank of America cards. The Discover it uses a system of bonus categories that earn 5% and change every quarter.

So, the first way to win is to make a budget. Then, look at the cards available to you and decide which one’s rewards rates will most benefit the way you spend your money.

For example, if you’re a big family and you spend more on groceries than the average person, then the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred is a good option because you earn 6% back on up to $6,000 yearly grocery purchases each year.

If you really want to be an expert in leveraging cash back rates, get multiple cards. For example, if you spend at least $6,000 a year on groceries, use the Blue Cash Preferred for grocery purchases, the Bank of America card on gas and the Double Cash for everything else.

The Discover it’s rewards categories include purchases at warehouse stores and on Since the AmEx’s grocery bonus doesn’t include warehouse stores or superstores, it would make sense to use the Discover it when it’s offering 5% back on warehouse and/or superstore purchases.

Best Card If You Always Pay Late

Discover it - Best if you pay late

One of the ways that credit card companies make money off their customers is through late fees. If you pay late, it’s a no-win situation because you’ll have to pay these fees. However, there are some cards that are better than others: 

Rank Card Late Fee Cost of 10 Late Payments Penalty APR Notes
1 Discover it $37
(first one free)
$333 None A free pass on your first late payment and no penalty APR put this at the top of the list.
2 Capital One Quicksilver $35 $350 None Has the lowest late but loses out to the Discover because of lack of a free pass on your first mistake.
3 Chase Freedom Unlimited $37 $370 None Ties the Discover’s fee but lags behind it by $37 after 10 late payments.
4 Citi Double Cash $35
(first one free)
$315 29.99% The penalty APR negates its low $35 fee and a free pass on your first late payment.
5 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred $38 $380 29.99% Last place in the group because of the highest late fee and the penalty APR.
5 Bank of America Cash Rewards $38 $380 29.99% Shares the last place in the group with AmEx due to high late fee and penalty APR.

How to avoid late payments:

The solution to avoiding late fees is to never pay late. Set up auto-pay on your card and choose to pay at least the minimum balance every month and you won’t have to worry. However, if you pay late anyway, you really need to pick a card that doesn’t have a penalty APR.

If that penalty APR kicks in, then any balance you carry afterward will get the 29.99% rate which.

» SEE ALSO: The Complete Guide to Credit Card Fees and How You Can Avoid Them

If your issue is that you just don’t have the money to cover your minimum payments, take two action steps. First, make sure that payment gets made within 30 days because once you pass that deadline, your credit score will drop and it will take years to recover.

Second, make a budget and figure out how you can control your spending and pay those monthly payments every month.

Best Cash Back Card If You Carry a Balance

Discover it - Best if you carry a balance

Carrying a balance on a credit card, as we said earlier, really hurts the rewards you earn because your interest payments cancel out your rewards earnings. The Discover it is the best card here, saving you $160 a year compared to the worst card on the list, the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Rank Card Regular APR Yearly Interest on $4k Balance Notes
1 Discover it 12.24% - 24.24% $489.60 With a low-end APR of 12.24%, this card is a full 2% better than other cards on the list. Over the course of one year with an average balance of $4,000, this card will save you $80 compared to the Quicksilver.
2 Capital One Quicksilver 14.24% - 24.24% $569.60 Will save you $20 per year on interest compared to the Citi Double Cash.
3 Bank of America Cash Rewards 14.24% - 24.24% (penalty APR up to 29.99%) $569.60 Shares the same APR as the Quicksilver, but the penalty APR knocks it down to third place.
4 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred 14.24% - 25.24% (penalty APR up to 29.99%) $569.60 The Blue Cash Preferred has the same low-end APR as the Quicksilver and Cash Rewards but its 25.24% high APR is 1% worse. Saves $20 per year over the Citi Double Cash.
5 Citi Double Cash 14.74% - 24.74% (penalty APR up to 29.99%) $586.60 This card’s low APR is 1.5% lower than the Chase Freedom Unlimited, saving you $65 a year.
6 Chase Freedom Unlimited 16.24% - 24.99% $649.60 The Freedom Unlimited is a bad choice if you carry a balance. The interest payments on a $4K balance are $160 higher than the Discover it.

How to win at carrying a balance:

As someone who carries a balance, you need to go after the Discover it because it has the lowest APR of the cards in this article.

To get that low APR, you’ll need to have a better than average credit score. Check your credit on a free credit-score website. If your score is higher than 700, there’s a good chance you can get Discover’s lowest rate.

The low APR and the fourteen months of 0% intro APR will help reduce the interest you’ll pay.

Best Card If You Want Top-Notch Customer Service

AmEx Blue Cash Preferred - Best for top-notch customer service

Every year research firm J.D. Power releases rankings of the best credit card companies for customer service.

Their conclusions are based on the input of tens of thousands of consumers who’ve interacted with their credit card company’s customer service.

According to J.D. Power’s research, American Express had the best customer service in 2017. In the rankings to follow, we’re including how the cards ranked among all credit card companies J.D. Power researched, not just the ones we compare in this guide:

Rank Card 2017 J.D. Power Ranking 2016 J.D. Power Ranking
1 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred 1 2
2 Discover it 2 1
3 Capital One Quicksilver 3 3
4 Chase Freedom Unlimited 4 5
5 Bank of America Cash Rewards 5 7
6 Citi Double Cash 7 9

There’s a really good chance that anytime you call American Express, Discover or Capital One, you’ll have an above average customer service experience.

This will be important because there’s bound to be a situation in which you notice you didn’t receive the cash back you should have on certain purchases.

When that happens, you’ll want a customer service rep who understands how your card’s rewards work and who can give expedient, helpful answers that address your problem.

How to have a great customer service experience:

We tend to call our credit card companies when something goes wrong. It’s important to remember that the person on the other end of the line isn’t the one who made the mistake but they are the ones who can help you resolve it.

Keep this in mind when you call. Being defensive and accusatory won’t give your customer service rep confidence; even the best reps from AmEx, Discover and Capital One may have a hard time being patient if you’re combative.

We’ve read through some first-hand accounts of employees at credit card call centers and found that some banks will mark your file “verbally abusive customer” if you berate your rep.

These same first-hand accounts provide another important fact. Customers service reps may be getting bonuses for resolving calls in less than 3 minutes. If yours is a minor issue, know that you and your rep want the same thing: a quick call where everything is solved in a matter of minutes.

Also, there’s a good amount of research out there that says you can have late fees removed and even annual fees waived if you ask politely.

Our final suggestion: Say thank you when it’s warranted and, if the rep resolves your situation with grace and expediency, ask to speak to their manager.

In most cases, the rep will transfer you to a manager or supervisor, at which point you can laud their efforts. I’ve done this several times and can attest to how happy both the rep and the manager are to hear words of praise.

Cash Back Cards FAQ

How do cash rewards rates work?

Every cash back credit card has a rewards rate on purchases. Some cards have one rate (flat rate) or multiple rates that apply to specific types of purchases (bonus rates).

The rates are expressed as percentages which are applied to every purchase you make. A card with a 2% flat rate will earn you $2 in cash back on a $100 purchase. A card with 6% back on groceries will earn you $6 on a $100 grocery purchase.

Do certain transactions not get rewards?

Yes. In general, interest fees, late fees, foreign transaction fees and any other similar fees don’t earn rewards. Balance transfers don’t earn rewards, either.

Cards with bonus categories for groceries and gas tend to exclude superstore purchases (Walmart, Target, etc.) and warehouse club purchases (Costco, Sam’s Club, B.J.’s, etc.). These types of transactions get the base cash-back rate: 1%.

How long does it take to get your cash rewards?

It typically takes up to eight weeks for rewards to show up in your account. Some cards deposit the rewards at the end of the billing cycle while some do it between four and eight weeks.

Your credit card account will have a rewards balance that you should be able to see on your home page.

How do you redeem your rewards?

Your online credit card account should give you the option of adding your rewards balance to your credit card statement.

In some cases, you can ask the credit card company to send the rewards balance to you in the form of a check.

Are cash back credit cards better than other rewards cards?

Depends. Cash back cards are great if you want an easy way to earn free cash. However, if you want to use your credit card to earn free travel, then travel-focused rewards cards are the best choice. See our comparison of excellent travel cards whose points provide you with free flights or hotel nights.

Are there other cash back cards besides the ones listed here?

Yes. There are dozens of cash rewards cards out there but the six listed here, in our opinion, are some of the best. The only other card we think might be better than the ones we compare in this article is USAA’s Limitless Cashback Visa. However, only members of the military and their family members are eligible to join USAA and get the card.

How to Maximize Your Cash Back Rewards: Three Foolproof Rules

You’ve got your list of best cash back cards, so there’s nothing else to do, right? Not quite. If you want to win at cash back rewards, you have to take a moment to look at your own financial habits and how those habits could affect the rewards you earn.

The statistics show that 41% of people with credit cards carry a balance. When you carry a balance, you pay interest on that balance. When you pay interest, you undercut your rewards. The bank wins, you lose and that’s just kind of how it goes. know how to work the system.

Rule #1: Don’t Carry a Balance on Your Card

Every time you head into a new billing cycle with a balance on your card, the credit card company is charging you an APR. So, if your average balance is $4,000 and your APR is 20%, you’ll pay $66 a month in interest – that’s $800 a year.

Cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited will get you about $375 a year in rewards. Carry a balance and you’ll obliterate those rewards.

Budgeting is the way to make sure you have enough money to pay the bills and avoid racking up a balance on your cards. Apps like FudgetMint, and YNAB are great tools for getting your spending in order.

Rule #2: Match Your Rewards Card to Your Spending Habits

The Bank of America Cash Rewards, AmEx Blue Cash Preferred and Discover it give you bonus cash-back rates on certain purchases. If you think one of these cards is a good fit for you, then you’ll need to find the card with the bonuses that match your spending.

The Cash Rewards and Blue Cash Preferred are best for those who spend a lot on gas purchases. The Blue Cash Preferred is excellent for families with big grocery bills.

The Discover card is best if you spend a lot at warehouse clubs because it gives a 5% bonus at warehouse clubs from January to March and from October to December. It’s also the best card if you do some or all of your Christmas shopping on Amazon because, from October to December, you get a 5% rewards rate for Amazon purchases.

Rule #3: Avoid Penalty APRs

A card’s penalty APR is usually 29.99% and kicks in the moment you make a late payment. It is either permanent (Citi Double Cash, Bank of America Cash Rewards) or will be reviewed after six months (AmEx Blue Cash Preferred).

There’s really no need to go further here. If you’ve got a card that has a penalty APR lurking in the terms and conditions, do one thing: Set up automatic payments that cover at least the minimum payment. This will guarantee that you’ll pay on time every month and won’t get that penalty APR.

The Data and the Methodology

To make an even playing field for credit card comparisons requires using the same spending averages for all cards.

We made things even by using the average household spending numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most recent version of those numbers are:

  • About $25,000 overall, per year
  • About $4,000 on groceries
  • About $3,150 on eating out
  • About $1,900 on gas

We Score Each Card Based on the Ideal Set of Rewards, Rates, and Fees

We created a letter-grade scoring method in which an A grade represents the ideal credit card. In order to earn an A in a category, the card has to hit the range or number we feel would be ideal.

In our opinion, the ideal cash rewards credit card would have:

  • Intro bonus of $200+
  • Intro APR longer than 18 months
  • Cash back rate above 2%
  • Bonus cash back rates that earn $200+ per year
  • A rewards limit of more than $1,500 per quarter
  • High APR below 22%, low APR below 12% & no penalty APR

As you probably noticed from our rankings, no card meets the ideal standard and that’s why none of the cards earned an A for its overall grade.

» Further Reading on Cash Back Cards:

J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a personal finance reporter who examines credit cards, credit scores and bank products. J.R. is a three-time winner at the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism contest and his advice has been featured in MSN and Fox’s money sections.


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