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Top Cash Back Credit Cards

Top Cash Back Credit Cards
Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Updated September 24, 2021
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Editor’s note: At Lantern, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, we occasionally feature content that includes information about our partners and their products or services. We do not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendations—and our opinions are our own.
Cash back has a real appeal. Many rewards credit card users prefer cash back over points and miles due to the clear value and flexibility of cash back. However, not all cash back credit cards are created equal. These cards come in a variety of types, including both flat-rate cards that offer high levels of cash back on all purchases and cards that feature bonus categories while only earning 1% on other purchases. When we were selecting the top cash back credit cards, the most important factor we considered was the rate of cash back offered, followed by annual fees and any new account bonus offered. 

How We Chose the Top Cash Back Credit Cards

To find the top cash back credit cards, we first divided the market into the following seven categories:
  • Flat-rate cash back cards with no annual fee
  • Flat-rate cash back cards for high spenders
  • Top cash back cards for entertainment spending
  • Top cash back cards for groceries
  • Cash back cards with the top bonus rewards
  • Small business cash back cards
  • Cash back cards for first year rewards
We then considered more than a dozen major card issuers and credit unions that issue cards and looked at their cards that best fit each of these categories. However, we included only cards that are offered to all applicants, which leaves out products offered by credit unions that not everyone can join.For each category, we looked at the factors that would be most important to someone choosing a card from that group. For example, the top cash back cards for groceries need to not only offer great cash back opportunities on grocery spending, but also on other spending categories. As with all rewards cards, you can expect a higher interest rate on cash back cards than you’d receive on similar cards that don’t offer rewards. Therefore, these cards are best for those who avoid interest charges by paying their balance in full each month. So we didn’t consider the card’s standard APR when choosing the top cash back cards. And while credit card terms may change from time to time, the following rankings reflect information that was accurate in September 2021. Recommended: Credit Card Terms, Explained

Top Flat-Rate Cash Back Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

Many people may want a card that earns cash back but doesn’t require an annual fee. To find the top cash back cards with no annual fee, we looked for cards with a flat-rate earning structure for ease of use. We also factored in the card’s new account bonus, introductory financing offers, and benefits. 

If You Want a Top Flat-Rate Cash Back Card with No Annual Fee: Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card

The Active Cash card from Wells Fargo is a top option for a flat-rate cash back card without an annual fee. It features a simple unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases. New applicants also earn $200 in cash back after spending $1,000 on purchases within three months of opening the account.The card also offers 0% introductory APR for 15 months after account opening on new purchases and qualifying balance transfers made within 120 days of account opening. Balance transfers are subject to an introductory fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater, for 120 days from account opening. After that, there will be a balance transfer fee of up to 5% for each balance transfer, with a minimum of $5. After the introductory financing period expires, the variable APR will be 14.99%, 19.99%, or 24.99%, depending on your creditworthiness when you applied. There’s no annual fee for this card. 

Top Flat-Rate Cash Back Cards for High Spenders

Many cash back cards have a cap on how much cash back you can earn. If you spend a lot of money on your card, you may exceed this limit, making the cash back opportunities for this extra spending limited. If you’re a high spender who wants a cash back card, you may want to check out a flat rate cash back card that’s meant specifically for high spenders. Bear in mind that high spenders might earn enough additional cash back to make it worth paying an annual fee if the tradeoff is a higher cap. Therefore we balanced these factors in making our selection. 

If You Want a Top Flat-Rate Cash Back Card for High Spenders: Alliant Visa Signature

The Alliant Visa Signature card offers good cash back rates for high spenders, though it does have some limits. The card offers a unique opportunity to earn up to 2.5% cash back on the first $10,000 spent on qualifying purchases each statement cycle. However, a cardholder must also have an Alliant checking account in order to qualify for the 2.5% cash back. That means you must have met the requirements for an Alliant High-Rate Checking account for each month of the preceding calendar quarter, and have maintained an average daily balance of $1,000 or more in your Alliant High-Rate Checking account for each month of the preceding calendar quarter. If you don’t qualify for the 2.5% cash back, you will still earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back with no categories. Additionally, after spending $10,000, you will earn 1.5% cash back on any additional spending.The card also comes with several additional benefits, including travel accident insurance, roadside dispatch, and an auto rental collision damage waiver. As a cardholder, you can also get extended warranty protection, which will double the term of your eligible U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by up to one additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less. For warranties of less than one year, the term is doubled. For warranties of one year or more, an additional year of coverage is provided. There’s also no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. 

Top Cash Back Card for Entertainment Spending

Entertainment is not a category that often gets bonus spending opportunities, and for some people, it can be a large part of their budget. If you spend a lot on entertainment, you may want to make that money work for you by earning cash back. In evaluating cards in this category, we looked at how much you could get back for your entertainment spending. 

If You Want a Top Cash Back Card for Entertainment Spending: Capital One Savor

Savor Rewards card from Capital One lets you earn back for entertainment spending, whether you entertain in or outside the home. With this card, earn an unlimited 4% cash back on dining, entertainment, and popular streaming services. Plus, earn 3% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you love attending concerts, sporting events, or shows, you’re in luck. You can earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats, an independent online ticket marketplace that offers a 100% buyer guarantee.New cardholders can earn a $300 cash bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases within three months after account opening. The card comes with travel accident insurance and a complimentary concierge service to assist with dining, entertainment, and travel services. There are no foreign transaction fees with this card. There is a $95 annual fee for the card, which is not waived in the first year.

Top Cash Back Card for Groceries

Groceries are often one of the top budget items for families. If you want to help offset some of this cost, a top cash back card for grocery store purchases may be for you. While it was important when we were determining top choices that the cards have good earning potential for groceries, we looked for cards that also earn cash back on other expenses as well. And we bore in mind that it can be worth paying an annual fee to earn an exceptionally high rate of cash back. 

If You Want a Top Cash Back Card for Groceries: Amex Blue Cash Preferred

The Amex EveryDay Preferred credit card can be an excellent option for people who want to earn cash back on groceries. The card earns 6% cash back on groceries at U.S. supermarkets for up to $6,000 per year. It also earns unlimited 6% cash back for purchases of select U.S. streaming subscriptions. Plus, you earn 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit expenses, including taxis, rideshares, and parking. You earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.New applicants earn $150 in cash back after spending $3,000 in purchases within six months of account opening. You can also earn 20% back on your Amazon.com purchases within six months, up to $200 back, for a total of up to $350 in bonus cash back for new accounts. This card has an annual fee of $95 that’s waived the first year. 

Top Cash Back Card for Bonus Rewards

Bonus rewards offer opportunities to earn cash back for certain purchases at an even greater rate than normal. To find the top cash back cards for bonus rewards, we looked at the categories of the bonus rewards as well as how much cardholders can actually earn on those categories.

If You Want a Top Cash Back Card for Bonus Rewards: Chase Freedom Flex

The Chase Freedom Flex card offers a great earning structure for bonus cash rewards categories, with many additional benefits as well. The card earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 on combined purchases in rotating quarterly bonus categories. Plus, it earns 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 3% cash back on dining, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you take rideshares frequently, this card may suit you even better. Through March 2022, the card earns 5% cash back on Lyft rides.New account holders can also earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases up to $12,000 spent in the first year. They can even earn a $200 bonus once they’ve spent $500 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.The card comes with many additional benefits, including purchase protection, extended warranty protection, auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, and cell phone protection. Plus, get a complimentary three months of DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service that provides unlimited deliveries without a delivery fee on eligible orders over $12 on DoorDash and Caviar. After that, you are automatically enrolled in DashPass at 50% off for the next nine months. Just note that this offer must be activated by December 31, 2021.There is a 0% introductory APR offer for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. Balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening are subject to a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer. After 60 days, there will be a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. A variable APR between 14.99% and 23.74% will apply after the introductory offer. This card doesn’t have an annual fee.

Top Small Business Cash Back Cards

Small businesses may want to take advantage of their spending with a card that earns cash back on purchases. For the top small business cash back cards, we looked at cards that have a high spending limit for cash back eligibility. We also considered whether the cards had low or no annual fees.

If You Want a Top Small Business Cash Back Card: American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card

The American Express Blue Business Cash card is a top small business card for cash back rewards that also features a new account bonus and no annual fee. New account holders can earn a $250 statement credit after spending $3,000 on new purchases within the first three months after opening the account. The card earns 2% cash back on all eligible purchases, up to $50,000 per calendar year. After that, you still earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. Cash back is automatically credited to your statement balance. The card even offers 0% introductory APR for any purchases made within the first 12 months after account opening. After that, your APR will be a variable rate of between 13.24% and 19.24%, depending on creditworthiness. This card doesn’t have an annual fee.

Top Cash Back Cards for First Year Rewards

The first year you have a credit card can often be the time when you can get the best value from it, whether due to a waived annual fee or a new account bonus. If you want your first year with a card to be even more valuable, you may want a cash back card that offers special first year rewards. So in this category, that’s what we prioritized. 

If You want a Top Cash Back Card for First Year Rewards: Discover it Travel Card

The Discover it Travel card offers significant cash back earning for the first year. The card earns an unlimited 1.5x Discover Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases, and these miles can be redeemed for one cent each as cash back. However, Discover will automatically match all the Discover Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earned 30,000 Discover Miles, you will get an additional 30,000 miles at the end of the first year of your account. You don’t need to sign up and there is no minimum spending or maximum amount that they will match. Discover Miles can be redeemed for cash back or as a statement credit for travel expenses such as hotels, flights, and rental cars. The card also offers 0% introductory APR on new purchases for the first 14 months of account opening. After the introductory APR expires, your APR will be between 11.99% and 22.99%, based on your creditworthiness. There’s no annual fee for this card. 

The Takeaway

If your credit is good enough to qualify for a top cash back credit card, it can provide tremendous value. By choosing the top cash back credit card for your needs, you can earn more rewards for your spending than you might have thought possible. If your credit is less than stellar, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a credit card. Lantern by SoFi may be able to help with credit card offers from multiple credit card issuers.
Photo credit: iStock/Andrii Zastrozhnov
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About the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.
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