Best Cash Back Rewards Cards 2019

Credit Cards That Earn

For most consumers, credit cards do one of two things – earn you some bonuses or wreck your finances. Earlier this year, American household credit card debt crept over $1 trillion for the first time ever. To make matters worse, only 40% of all card users pay off their balance in full each month. If you carry a balance on your credit card month-to-month, you’ll be hit with interest charges between 15-27%. If you’re carrying credit card debt, you can’t worry about rewards just yet. Get a handle on your spending first, then try out a new card.

However, if you do pay off your balance each month, your responsible spending can fetch you some great perks. In an effort to lure in consumers, card companies offer cash back on certain purchases. Usually, you’ll earn this cash back through one of four ways – rotating purchase categories, tiered purchase categories, all purchases, and sign-up bonuses. Today, we’ll discuss the best available cards for each different cash back option. We chose cards based on criteria of no annual fee, reasonable approval rates, and easy-to-reach rewards. Here are the best deals out there right now.

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Best For Rotating Cash Back Categories

With rotating cash back categories, you’ll save money on specific purchases each quarter like groceries, gas, or dining. At the end of each quarter, the categories rotate to a new group. Since your bonus-eligible purchases are limited one category each quarter, these cards often have the best cash back rates.

Chase Freedom Card

  • 6% cash back on rotating quarterly categories
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • $150 sign up bonus
  • No annual fee

The Chase Freedom card gives users 5% cash back on rotating categories plus an ADDITIONAL 1% back on all purchases. That’s right, a total of 6% cash back! Chase will award points per dollar spent which can then be turned in for cash back, gift cards, or account credits. In 2Q this year, Chase Freedom paid 6 points for every dollar spent at grocery and home improvement stores. In Q3, those categories rotate to gas stations and streaming cable services. Rewards never expire and cardholders to earn the 6% bonus on up to $1500 in qualified purchases. Furthermore, new users will get a $150 bonus if they spend $500 on the card in the first 90 days.

Discover IT Card

  • 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Cash back match
  • No annual fee

The Discover IT card is similar to Chase Freedom, but rewards don’t stack (you can only earn 5% at most) and there’s no signup bonus. However, Discover will match dollar-for-dollar all rewards you earn during your first year as long as you keep the card active for 12 full months. In Q2 this year, Discover IT paid 5% cash back at gas stations and on Uber/Lyft rides. In Q3, the categories rotate to dining and PayPal transactions. Cardholders can view their FICO score for free each month and the card can be frozen if misplaced. Credit-crunched consumers also have better odds of approval with Discover IT than Chase Freedom.

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Best For Cash Back on All Purchases

Some cards simply offer a flat cash back rate on all purchases – but usually 1.5% at most. Here are a few cards that go beyond that rate.

Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus World Mastercard

  • 1.8% cash back on all purchases
  • $100 signup bonus
  • No annual fee

The Cash Back Plus World Mastercard simplifies the cash back reward system: 1.8% on all purchases every time. You won’t have to activate categories each quarter or search for eligible stores, And there’s no limit or expiration on your cash back rewards. World Mastercard members also get travel rewards, including trip cancellation insurance and concierge services. Certain customers are eligible for a $100 signup bonus too.

Citi Double Cash

  • 2% cash back on all purchases
  • Rewards split: 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay
  • No annual fee

The Citi Double Cash card rewards users twice – once when they make a purchase and again when they pay the bill. With this card, you’ll earn 1% cash back on all purchases and another 1% when you pay off the card each month. Note that you must make at least the minimum monthly payment to earn the extra 1% cash back and you’ll only earn 1% on the payments you make. If you buy a $500 television and only pay off $200 by the end of the billing cycle, you’ll get 1% back on the $500 purchase and 1% back on the $200 you paid off. If you can’t meet the minimum, you only get the 1% back on purchases.

Fidelity Rewards Signature Visa

  • 2% unlimited cash back
  • Rewards points must go into a qualified Fidelity account
  • No annual fee

Here’s another 2% cash back card with a twist – your rewards must go into a qualified Fidelity investment account. With the Fidelity Rewards Signature Visa, you’ll earn unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases. When you want to cash in, you’ll only get the full 2% back if you deposit your rewards into a Fidelity Investments brokerage account. Qualified vehicles include Fidelity IRAs, 529 Plans, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and traditional brokerage accounts. No 401k accounts unfortunately.

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Best Tiered Cash Back Card

With tiered cash back rewards, you’ll get different levels of cash back based on categories, but the choice of category is often up to the cardholder. For example, you could get 3% on purchases like groceries, 2% back on dining, and 1% back on everything else.

US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature

  • 5% cash back on two different categories
  • 2% cash back on a third category
  • 1% on all other purchases
  • $150 signup bonus
  • No annual fee

The US Bank Cash+ Visa is sort of a supercharged version of the rotating categories cards. But we put it on the tiered list because you do get a choice of your categories. Each quarter, you choose two categories to earn 5% cash back (up to $2000). Then, choose a third category for unlimited 2% cash back. You’ll get 1% cash back on all other purchases and your rewards never expire. There’s also a $150 signup bonus if you spend $500 in the first 90 days. One caveat: rewards can only be redeemed in US Bank accounts, otherwise they must be used for statement credits.

American Express Blue Cash EveryDay

  • 3% cash back on groceries
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and department stores
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • $175 signup bonus
  • No annual fee

With the American Express Blue Cash Everyday card, you don’t have to select categories. You’ll get 3% back on groceries, 2% on gas and shopping, and 1% on all other purchases each and every month. Rewards can be redeemed for statement credits or gift cards, plus you’ll get a $175 signup bonus if you spend $1000 in the first 90 days.

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Best Cash Back Sign-Up Bonus

Signup bonuses are the best kind of cash back. You just have to spend a certain amount within the first three months of opening your card and presto – free money in your account. Most cards will give you $100 or $150, here are a couple that offer even more.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card

  • $200 signup bonus
  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • No annual fee

With the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa, you’ll be eligible for a $200 bonus if you spend $1000 in the first 90 days of opening your account. No other card is currently offering more than $200 without an annual fee (or an 800 credit score requirement). You’ll also earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and there’s zero APR for the first 12 months.

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Card

  • $300 signup bonus
  • 4% cash back on dining/entertainment
  • 2% cash back on groceries
  • No annual fee for the first year

Yes, I know I said there would be no annual fees, but this card is too good to pass up, especially if you’re a big spender on nights out. You can get a $300 signup bonus if you spend $3000 in the first 90 days, plus you get 4% cash back at restaurants and entertainment venues. An additional 2% cash back comes with groceries and 1% goes on all other purchases. After the first year, you must pay a $95 annual fee though. Added bonus: you’ll get a whopping 8% cash back on tickets ordered through the Vivid Seats brokerage service.

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Final Thoughts

Credit card rewards won’t make you rich, but they do offer plenty of benefits for users who can keep their spending under control. With careful card usage, a crafty consumer can save a few hundred bucks per year using cash back rewards. But remember, rewards are pointless if you carry a balance each month. If you have credit card debt, work on paying it off before attempting to game the rewards system. Most credit card debt carries at least a 15% interest rate while the best cash rewards give you 6%. You do the math.

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June 21, 2019

Dan is a financial research and analysis expert.  He has been sharing his research on personal finance for years and has previously been published on Benzinga and Loan Gifting. 

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