Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2019

What if I told you that you could make more than $400 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 $400 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 a 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.

HighYa’s Top Pick for the Best Overall Cash Back Card of 2019

Citi Double Cash - Best overall cash back card

We graded the most popular cash back credit cards and ranked them from #1 to #7. Those rankings are based on seven important categories:

  • Sign-up bonus
  • Intro APR
  • Yearly cash rewards
  • Rewards rate
  • Rewards rate limits
  • Regular APR
  • Annual fee

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 these categories, so keep reading our rankings.)

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

 

 

#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: $600
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
None 18 months (balance transfers only) 15.74% - 25.74%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review

 

#2. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Highlights: A sign-up bonus of a first-year rewards match along with solid yearly rewards and no penalty APR are this card’s strengths.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $450
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
Up to $300 15 months 17.24% - 25.99%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review

 

#3. Capital One Quicksilver
Quicksilver from Capital One
Highlights: A solid APR, $150 sign-up bonus and a 15-month into APR are its best features.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $450
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$150 15 months 16.24% - 26.24% 
More on this card: Read Our Full Review

 

#4. Discover it Cash Back
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: $425
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 14.24% - 25.24%
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 cuts into its excellent annual rewards. Penalty APR is a drawback, too.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $605
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$200 12 months 15.24% - 26.24%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review

 

#6. Chase Freedom
Chase Freedom
Highlights: A mix of an average sign-up bonus and yearly rewards make this card a less-than-appealing option.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $425
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$150 15 months 17.24% - 25.99%
More on this card: Read Our Full Review

 

#7. 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 it offers three different rewards rates.

Estimated Yearly Cash Back: $422
Sign-Up Bonus 0% intro APR Regular APR
$200 12 months 16.24% - 26.24%
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 $60 more per year than other cards we analyzed.

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

Discover it Cash Back - Best for most up-front money

The Discover it Cash Back dominates this category because it offers a no-limit cash rewards match on all the rewards you earn the first year. At an average spending rate of $30,000 per year, we believe you can earn $425 with the card, which equates to an additional $425 bonus the first year.

Discover will deposit that rewards match after the first year, though. If you’re the impatient type, the Chase Freedom Unlimited may suit you better. It caps your first-year rewards match at $300 but will deposit the matched cash each month until you hit the limit.

The rest of the cards in this category offer you a lump sum of money once you hit a spending threshold.

Rank Card Sign-Up Bonus Spending Requirement Notes
1 Discover it Cash Back $425 None At $425 for a first-year match on $30K spending, this card is the top choice for the most sign-up money.
2 Chase Freedom Unlimited $300 None Your matching rewards will cap at $300 but that bonus is higher than all cards but the Discover.
3 Bank of America Cash Rewards $200 $500 The card’s sign-up bonus is equal to the AmEx but requires $500 less spending to earn it.
3 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred $200 $1,000 At $200, the bonus is higher than the next three cards but requires $500 more in spending than the Bank of America card.
5 Capital One Quicksilver $150 $500 Nothing jumps out at us here. The bonus is the lowest of cards that give one.
5 Chase Freedom $150 $500 Shares the lowest sign-up bonus with the Quicksilver.
7 Citi Double Cash $0 N/A The card offers no sign-up bonus, although occasional $100 offers pop up for certain consumers.

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 Chase Freedom Unlimited cards don’t.

The Discover card’s quarterly bonuses allow you to earn a 5% rewards rate. Check in on their rewards calendar and activate the quarterly categories so that not only can you earn the 5% rewards (10% with the rewards match) but so you know exactly which purchases get the extra bonus.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited’s first-year match utilizes a flat rewards rate so you don’t have to worry about rotating bonuses.

To master the lump-sum up-front bonuses, make sure you know how much you have to spend in order to get that bonus. The American Express card requires $1,000 spending in the first three months while the Bank of America, Chase Freedom, 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%/ $120 $1,199.40 18 months of no interest saves you more than $200 over the next closest card.
2 Chase Freedom Unlimited 15 months 3%/ $120 $999.50 Three fewer months of 0% APR puts you $200 behind the Discover card.
2 Chase Freedom 15 months 3%/ $120 $999.50 Same intro-ARP period as the Freedom Unlimited and Quicksilver. 15 months is above average.
2 Capital One Quicksilver 12 months 3%/ $120 $999.50 It has the exact same 0% APR offer as the two Chase cards along with the same balance transfer fee.
5 Discover it Cash Back 14 months 3%/ $120 $927.53 Because its intro APR is one month shorter than the three cards above it, you’ll save about $72 less.
6 Bank of America Cash Rewards 12 months 3%/ $120 $799.56 Offers a year of 0% APR, which is 3 months less than the Freedom Unlimited.
6 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred 12 months 3%/ $120 $799.56 Ties the Bank of America at the bottom of the list card for least money saved.

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

AmEx Blue Cash Preferred - 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 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred $642 6% on groceries The AmEx card leads the way because of the 6% rewards rate it provides on the first $6,000 of grocery spending.
2 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 a lot of cash back each year.
3 Chase Freedom Unlimited $450 1.5% on everything This card implements a flat rate that generates more rewards than the Discover and Chase Freedom’s rotating quarterly rewards.
3 Capital One Quicksilver $450 1.5% on everything At 1.5%, this card brings in $450 a year even though it lacks bonus categories and rotating rewards.
5 Discover it Cash Back $425 5% rotating quarterly categories While the card’s $1,500 cap on rewards each quarter limits its potential, the 5% you get back on shopping categories helps families maximize their rewards.
5 Chase Freedom $425 5% rotating quarterly categories Like the Discover Cash Back, it has a $1,500 cap on rewards but also has 5% categories.
7 Bank of America Cash Rewards $425 3% on dining out, gas, drug stores, online shopping, travel or home improvement/furnishings The card limits your rewards potential by limiting its 3% bonus to one category and putting 2% on groceries and wholesale clubs.

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 bonus categories like groceries, gas and more. This especially pertinent with cards like the AmEx and Bank of America because they give bonuses in those areas.

The Chase Freedom and Discover cards make tracking your rewards and matching up your budget harder because their bonus categories change every quarter.

That being said, 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 card’s rewards categories change each quarter but tend to include purchases at warehouse stores and on Amazon.com. 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 Cash Back - 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 Cash Back $39
(first one free)
$351 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 $38 $380 None Has the lowest late fee but loses out to the Discover because of lack of a free pass on your first mistake.
2 Chase Freedom $38 $380 None No penalty APR and a slightly lower late fee make this the better option over the Freedom Unlimited.
4 Chase Freedom Unlimited $39 $390 None $1 more expensive than the Freedom, putting it at the bottom of the list of cards with no penalty APR.
5 Citi Double Cash $39
(first one free)
$351 29.99% The free pass on your first late payment puts this ahead of the cards with penalty APR’s.
6 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred $38 $380 29.99% Lowest late fee of cards with penalty APR’s but lack of free first late fee pushes it behind Double Cash.
7 Bank of America Cash Rewards $39 $390 29.99% At $1 higher than the AmEx card, the Cash Rewards is last on the list for its 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 accrue after that will get the 29.99% rate.

» 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 Cash Back - 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 could exceed your rewards earnings. The Discover it Cash Back is the best card here, saving you $120 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 Cash Back 14.24% - 25.24% $569.60 With a low-end APR of 14.24%, this card is a full percent 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 $40 compared to the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred.
2 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred 15.24%–26.24% (penalty APR up to 29.99%) $609.60 The Blue Cash Preferred saves $20 per year over the Citi Double Cash.
3 Citi Double Cash 15.74% - 25.74% (penalty APR up to 29.99%) $629.60 This card’s low APR is 1.5% lower than the Chase Freedom Unlimited, saving you $65 a year.
4 Capital One Quicksilver 16.24% - 26.24%) $649.60 Its lowest APR is a full percent lower than the Freedom Unlimited and the card has no penalty APR like the Bank of America Cash Rewards.
5 Bank of America Cash Rewards 16.24% - 26.24% (penalty APR up to 29.99%) $649.60 It has the same APR and interest payments as the Quicksilver but the penalty APR pushes it into fifth place.
6 Chase Freedom Unlimited 17.24% - 25.99% $689.60 The Freedom Unlimited is a bad choice if you carry a balance. The interest payments on a $4K balance are $120 higher than the Discover it.
6 Chase Freedom 17.24% - 25.99% $689.60 Identical to the Freedom Unlimited, this card will cost you between $40 and $120 a year over the other cards.

How to Win at Carrying a Balance

As someone who carries a balance, you need to go after the Discover it Cash Back 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

Discover it Cash Back - 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, Discover had the best customer service in 2018. 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 2018 J.D. Power Ranking 2017 J.D. Power Ranking
1 Discover it Cash Back 1 2
2 AmEx Blue Cash Preferred 2 1
3 Chase Freedom Unlimited 4 4
3 Chase Freedom 4 4
3 Capital One Quicksilver 5 3
6 Bank of America Cash Rewards 7 5
7 Citi Double Cash 6 7

There’s a really good chance that anytime you call Discover or American Express, 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 12 weeks for a sign-up bonus to show up in your account. Your daily rewards rate bonuses may arrive at the end of the billing cycle or between four and eight weeks from the date of purchase.

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. Read our rankings of the best travel cards of 2019 to find out how the top travel cards compare to the top cash rewards cards.

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

Yes. There are dozens of cash rewards cards out there but the seven 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 unless you 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 $450 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 $30,000 overall, per year
  • About $4,363 on groceries
  • About $3,365 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 or more
  • Intro APR equal to or longer than 18 months
  • Cash back rate at or above 2%
  • Bonus cash back rates that earn $200 or more per year
  • A rewards limit of more than $1,500 per quarter
  • High APR below 25%, low APR below 15%, and 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: How to Get Credit Card Rewards With Minimal Effort: A Slacker’s Guide


J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a personal finance reporter who examines credit cards, credit scores, and various bank products. J.R. is a three-time winner at the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism contest. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and his insight has been featured on Investopedia, GOBankingRates, H&R Block and Huffington Post.

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