Making purchases can be fun, but paying for those purchases generally isn't. A cash-back credit card can take some of the pain away. If you choose your credit card(s) wisely, you can reap significant financial rewards.
Here's a look at the best cash-back credit cards. They're suited for people who want significant cash-back rewards, but will vary in how perfect each one may be for you.
What to know about cash-back credit cards
First off, understand that cash-back credit cards vary in what they offer. Some offer a flat percentage back on all purchases. Others have tiers of percentages applying to different expense categories. Still others offer big rewards on purchases in specified spending categories that rotate every few months. Some cards offer a combination of these features.
Best cash-back credit cards
Below are seven of the best cash-back credit cards that can help you keep more cash in your coffers. Each offers a suite of other benefits, as well.
- Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: This credit card offers some of the most generous terms: led by 6% cash back at supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in annual spending, after which it becomes 1% cash back), 3% cash back at gas stations, and 1% cash back on everything else. If you spend $6,000 or more at the supermarket (that's about $115 per week), you're looking at $360 or more in cash back just for that. The card does sport a $95 annual fee, but many people will find it well worth that. If you're not one of those, you might prefer the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express, which charges no annual fee and offers 3% back at the supermarket, 2% back at gas stations, and 1% back on everything else. The card also has a special offer in effect as of this writing: If you apply by May 3, 2017, you can earn 10% back on what you spend at U.S. restaurants in the first six months -- up to earnings of $200. On top of that, you can earn $150 if you spend $1,000 on the card in your first three months. (Read our full review of the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express to learn more.)
- Citi Double Cash Card: The Citi Double Cash Card looks like it offers 1% cash back on just about all purchases, but it actually offers 2%. It pays you 1% cash back when you make a purchase -- and then another 1% back when you pay off that sum. Better still, there's no annual fee. TheCiti Double Cash Card also offers access to your FICO credit score, which can be helpful if you're working on beefing up your score or if you're keeping an eye on it before, say, taking out a mortgage. (Read our full review of the Citi Double Cash Card to learn more.)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: This card offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with no limit. You can collect a $150 bonus once you spend $500 in your first three months. There's no annual fee, either. This card also gives you the option of later getting a fancier Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and moving your accumulated points there, where they can be redeemed for travel at $0.015 per point. (Read our full review of Chase Freedom Unlimited to learn more.)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: This card is best suited for travelers. A key appeal is its sign-up bonus -- awarding you 50,000 points once you spend $4,000 on the card in your first three months. Those points are worth $625 in travel expenses when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards. It's also good for those who like to eat out, as you'll earn double points for spending on travel and meals at restaurants. There's a $95 annual fee -- but it's waived in the first year. (Read our full review of Chase Sapphire Preferred to learn more.)
- Discover it -- Cashback Match: This card offers a hefty 5% back on up to $1,500 spent over three months in categories that you activate (such as restaurants, gas stations, home improvement stores, or Amazon.com). That alone is worth up to $75 per quarter, but on top of that it also offers 1% back on all other spending. Note, too, that you get to specify the categories for your extra rewards -- many other cards choose the categories themselves, which can be inconvenient if you expect to spend a lot on the current category next quarter instead of this one. The Discover it -- Cashback Match has one more big benefit: It will match all the cash-back money you earn in your first year, paying you that same sum again. The card charges no annual fee and it includes your FICO score on each statement. You might also consider the Discover it Miles card, which offers 1.5 miles for each dollar spent on purchases. You can redeem your points for a credit on your statement that can cover travel-related expenses such as flights, hotels, car rentals, travel agents, commuting expenses, and so on. As with the Discover it -- Cashback Match card, this card will match all your miles earned in your first year. (Read our full review of Discover it Miles to learn more.)
- AARP Credit Card: This card offers a hefty 3% back on spending at restaurants and gas stations, and 1% back on all other purchases. It offers a $100 bonus (in the form of 10,000 rewards points) after you spend $500 on the card in the first three months. There's no annual fee, and each time you make a purchase, the card will send $0.10 to the AARP Foundation to support the Drive to End Hunger -- a program feeding hungry older people. That might not seem like much, but together, all card holders have raised more than $6.5 million for the cause since 2011.
- Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card: This card offers a simple 2% cash-back reward -- with a catch. The 2% will be deposited in a Fidelity account. That can be perfect if you've got a Fidelity savings account, retirement account, brokerage account, or other account. There's no annual fee, either.
Don't just apply for or own any old credit card. They may all look similar, but some will serve you better than others. Be sure to read the fine print and terms for any card of interest, too -- as some might delight or dismay you. Some, for example, may limit how big a balance transfer you can make, while others might be offering an enticing sign-up bonus. Many of the terrific cards above also require a good or great credit score -- so you might want to beef up your score before applying.
Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amazon, American Express, and JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends American Express. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.