You asked for it and we got it. Here’s your District Capital-approved list of the very best no-fee credit cards for cash back. There are a variety of options depending on if you tend to spend most of your money on dining out, cooking at home, commuting, utilities, fitness, shopping online, home improvement, furniture and decor, entertainment, shopping on Amazon, your small business, or other categories. We prioritized predominantly ‘no annual fee’ cash back credit cards in this list.
What is credit card cash back?
Credit card cash back refers to a credit card benefit where a small percentage of the amount that you spend on the credit card is given back to you.
How does credit card cash back work?
Cash back credit cards work by giving you cash back on a certain percentage of every qualifying purchase. Compared to credit cards that offer points or miles as rewards, cash back credit card rewards are typically easier to redeem and understand.
For example, if a credit card offers 2 percent cash back on every purchase, then you will get 2 cents in cash back rewards for every dollar that you spend. This reward may be issued to you as either a statement credit, a check sent via mail, or deposited directly into your bank account.
Sometimes credit card companies also offer a higher cash back percentage for a specific category such as groceries. If you spend the majority of your money in one category, then it may be worth finding a cash back credit card that offers a higher reward percentage for that specific category.
How did we come up with the best credit card for cash back list?
We conducted hours of research to determine the best card for each use case. We considered the cash back rates for each major spending area versus spending limits, annual fee, signing bonus, and other perks and drawbacks. Our goal was to highlight the best-in-class card for each category and a list like this is not available anywhere.
Is there a specific amount that you need to spend to receive the credit card introduction bonus?
There is a specific amount that you need to spend in order for you to receive the introduction bonus. For example, some are $1,000 in the first 3 months. However, in the interest of preventing this list from becoming significantly more difficult to read, we’ve opted to leave out the spending requirement details.
Category 1: All Around Cash Back Credit Cards
Wells Fargo Active Cash Card (here): Our top recommendation for the best flat-rate cash back card is the Wells Fargo Active Cash. With 2% cash back on everything you buy, no annual fee, and a $200 intro offer, this is our recommendation for purchases of anything outside of featured categories, i.e., categories like those outlined below, where you’re able to earn high cashback rates in excess of 2%.
Citi Double Cash Card (here): Also excellent. Note that our recommendation in this niche has historically been this Citi card, which comes with the same 2% on every purchase as does the Wells card above, no annual fee, and – as of two weeks ago – a $200 limited-time intro bonus. The new Citi intro offer effectively ties the two.
However, the Wells card beats the Citi card for two reasons:
(1) the Wells 0% intro APR offer applies to balance transfers and purchases whereas the Citi APR offer applies only to balance transfers; an interest-free period on purchases matters a lot if you have a large expense coming up that you can’t pay off immediately and;
(2) the Wells card pays a standard $200 intro bonus whereas the Citi card only pays this bonus during rare special promotions; this simplifies things since at the time that you read this, the Citi card may very well have rolled back its $200 intro bonus.
Category 2: Dining Cash Back Credit Cards
Chase Freedom Unlimited Card (here): Our clear recommendation for the best low-fee credit card for people who love to eat out is the Chase Freedom Unlimited. With 3% cash back on dining, a generous 1.5% payout rate on all other spending, no annual fee, a $300 intro offer and valuable additional benefits, no card ranks as well as this one if you’re a foodie with otherwise normal spending patterns.
Why? Most other cards either don’t have attractive or comparable side benefits, place a limit on how much spend you can earn at the 3% rate, e.g., $500 per month, or come with a higher annual fee. The primary additional benefits of this card are 3% back on drugstores and 5% back on travel when you book it through Chase’s platform.
In addition, you can currently earn an additional 1.5% back on all purchases made during your first year using the link above (and here). It’s unclear how long this promotion will last, but it brings your total to 4.5% cash back on dining, 4.5% back on drugstore spending, 6.5% back on travel booked through Chase, and 3% back on everything else.
Note that the Freedom Unlimited is better than the Freedom Flex in our ranking because it has the same boosted categories – 3% cash back at restaurants and drugstores — while offering 1.5% on everything else. That said, if you’re a very active card user that doesn’t mind keeping track of rotating categories, the Chase Freedom Flex will give you 5% cash back on bonus categories that change every three months with, like grocery stores, streaming services, etc.
Category 3: Groceries Cash Back Credit Cards
Citi Custom Cash Card (here): We recommend the Citi Custom Cash if you buy less than $830 per month of groceries. You automatically get a whopping 5% back on your top eligible spending category every month up to $500 per month, no annual fee, and a $200 intro bonus. The eligible categories include groceries, dining, gas, transit, drugstores, home improvement stores, gyms and fitness centers, streaming services, and entertainment. Citi will automatically apply this 5% rate to your top category at the end of the month.
However, the biggest drawback of this card is that this earning is capped at $6k per year split into $500 per month. Which is why…
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Card (here): We recommend the SavorOne if you buy more than $830 per month of groceries. You’ll get 3% back on groceries, dining, streaming, and entertainment, no annual fee, and a $200 intro bonus. While it doesn’t earn as much on groceries as the Citi Custom Cash directly above, you’ll end up earning more cashback if your monthly grocery purchases exceed $830.
While $500 per month is the limit on the Custom Cash card’s 5% offer, meaning that you’ll only earn at 1% for grocery purchases beyond that ceiling, you only make out better and break even on the lower 3% SavorOne payout rate if your monthly spending exceeds the aforementioned $830; $834, to be precise. In addition, you might also notice that it earns the same 3% back on dining as the Chase Freedom Unlimited, but less on everything else at 1.0% versus 1.5%. However, it’s still the best card for those that invest heavily in home cooking.
Category 4: Online Shopping Cash Back Credit Cards
Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Card (here): The BofA Customized Cash Rewards is our top recommendation for shopping online. The best things about this card are that you’ll get the high payouts on online shopping at 3% back – or dining, gas, travel, drugstores, or home improvement based on your preference, 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, no annual fee, and a $200 intro bonus.
The worst thing about this card? Your earning is limited. You have to choose one category and can only earn the high 3% payout rate on your first $2.5k of purchases in 3% and 2% categories each quarter, for a total limit of $10k per year. However, the good news is that $10k of online shopping is enough for most people.
We recommend setting your 3% cash back to a single category, which for most people will be online shopping since this is one of the only low-fee cards that offers this, and only using this card for digital retail therapy so that you don’t go over the quarterly limit.
American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card (here): Second best. This card is only better than the BofA Customized Cash Rewards directly above if you already bank with Amex and would like more exposure there. This is because of the lower cap on high-rate earnings. However since it’s comparable otherwise, it’s also good.
You’ll get the same 3% cash back on online shopping, annual fee, and sign-on bonus, but your 3% earning limit is lower at $6,000 spend per year. That said, this is a good card nonetheless and the 3% earnings rate also applies to Groceries and Gas.
Note that, whereas the Chase Freedom Unlimited pays you 3% cash back on Dining and Groceries regardless of how much you spend, this card only does so on the first $6k of spending in that category each year. Thus, the distinction of this card is the 3% rate that it offers on online shopping, though like we mentioned, the annual limit on which you’ll earn 3% is lower than the Customized Cash Rewards directly above at $6k versus $10k.
Category 5: Gas Cash Back Credit Cards
Citi Custom Cash Card (here): For avid drivers, we recommend the Citi Custom Cash, which is also our above recommendation for grocery purchases below $830 per month. We recommend only using this card for gas, since Citi will only give you 5% back on your first $500 of gas purchases each month. However, for most people, this is plenty. You don’t have to select “Gas” as your high-earning category since Citi will automatically pay out 5% on your top eligible category, and again, this card comes with no annual fee and a $200 intro bonus.
The eligible 5% categories are gas, groceries, restaurants, transit, drugstores, home improvement stores, gyms and fitness centers, streaming, and entertainment. The biggest (and only) drawback of this card is that this earning is capped at $6k of purchases per year split into $500 per month.
Category 6: Transportation, Utilities, and High Rates on Other Categories with a little more effort
American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card (here): For avid commuters, we recommend the Amex Blue Cash Preferred. Note that this is the only consumer card that we’ve recommended that comes with an annual fee. This is because for an annual fee of $95, you’ll get 3% cash back on transit such as taxis, rideshares, trains, buses, tolls, parking and gas, making it a stellar card for commuters and drivers alike, in addition to 6% cash back on groceries up to $6k or purchases per year and 3% on streaming subscriptions, and an intro offer of $350.
You’ll break even on the annual fee if you spend more than $265 on transportation each month, and any additional spend on groceries or streaming will just be additional earnings on top of that.
The unique benefits of this card are the high rewards on commuter spending, larger welcome bonus of $350 vs. $200, and less notable benefits of 3% back on gas, 3% on streaming, and 6% on groceries. The drawbacks of this card are: $95 annual fee and $6k limit on annual grocery purchases that can be rewarded at 6% cash back. In fact, the $95 fee combined with the $6k limit makes it such that this card is never better than our grocery recommendation above, the Citi Custom Cash Card, which offers 5% cash back on groceries until $6k purchased per year with no annual fee. If you spend $500 per month on groceries, you’ll earn $25 back each month with the Citi Card versus $22.08 per month net of fees with this Amex Card.
U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card (here): The benefit of this card is that you’ll earn 5% cash back on a number of categories that aren’t usually rewarded at high rates. However the drawback – as with many others, some highlighted above – is that you can only earn that rate on $8k of purchases per year, and this card takes more active management. Notably, this is also one of the only cards that offers boosted rewards of 2% back on gas and electric vehicle charging stations, which makes it an interesting option for our EV owners.
We recommend the U.S. Bank Cash+ for those that spend a lot in one of several other categories that aren’t already covered above, i.e., utilities, TV & internet & streaming, cell phone providers, electronics stores, sporting stores, department stores, and clothing stores, along with the more common categories of transportation, gyms and fitness centers, furniture stores, and movie theaters with the full list here.
You’ll get 5% cash back on any two of the categories above up to purchases of $8k per year split into $2k per quarter, an unlimited 2% back on one of the following three categories – dining, groceries, gas & EV charging, no annual fee, and a $200 intro bonus. This is our recommendation if you spend a lot in one of these untraditional categories, and we recommend you just set your bonus categories, use this card only for that, and otherwise leave it alone.
Category 7: Amazon with a Prime Membership
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card (here): Our top recommendation for Amazon loyalists with a Prime Membership is the Amazon Prime Rewards card. With 5% cash back on everything you buy from Amazon or Whole Foods, no annual fee, and a $100 Amazon gift card or “intro offer”, this is a nice card for virtually anyone that has a Prime membership.
Keep in mind that you do have to have a prime membership to get this card, so your $0 fee explicitly includes the current $139 annual cost of Prime. You’ll also get 2% back on restaurants, gas, and drugstores, but there are better, truly no-fee cards outlined above if you’re a heavy spender in these categories.
Category 8: Amazon without a Prime Membership
Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Card (here): Our top recommendation for Amazon loyalists without a Prime Membership is the BofA Customized Cash Rewards card, also recommended above for online shipping. You’ll get 3% back on Amazon and online shopping (or dining, gas, travel, drugstores, or home improvement based on your preference), 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, no annual fee, and a $200 intro bonus.
Again, you’ll have to choose one category for 3% rewards and your earning is capped at your first $10k of purchases, split into $2.5k per quarter. However, $10k of Amazon shopping is more than enough for anyone that isn’t a Prime member, and even most of those who are.
Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card (here): Second best. While the Amazon Rewards card is another option for those without a membership and offers 3% cash back on Amazon, it doesn’t offer the 3% rewards on online shopping that you get on with the BofA card above, and its intro bonus of a $50 Amazon gift card is weaker than the BofA card’s bonus of $200. However, this card will pay off if you spend more than $10k each year at Amazon. For no annual fee, you’ll get unlimited 3% back at Amazon/Whole foods and 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores.
Category 9: Business Cash Back Credit Cards
American Express Blue Business Cash Card (here): This is our first-line recommendation for business owners for 3 reasons: the 2% cash back, no annual fee, and $250 intro offer. Our former recommendation – the Capital One Spark Cash Select card – offers the same $0 annual fee and a larger $500 intro bonus but only 1.5% unlimited cash back.
Another great option, the Ink Business Unlimited card offers the same annual fee and a still-larger $750 intro bonus but is limited to the same 1.5% rate. The new Paypal Business Cashback card offers 2% unlimited cash back and the same $0 fee, but doesn’t come with an intro bonus. The only downside of this card is that you’ll want to go with something else if you spend a lot for your business, because the 2% rate is limited to your first $50k of purchases each year.
Chase Ink Business Preferred Card (here): This card has an annual fee but is appealing for its 3% reward rate in standard business categories and large intro offers. It’s good for those that spend a lot on their business and do so in these categories. The downside is that this card’s bonus categories aren’t a good fit for all business owners and there’s an annual fee of $95. After the first year, you’d have to spend at least $2,534 before you break even on the annual fee. However if you spend a significant amount, for $95 a year, you’ll get 3% rewards on travel, telecommunications (internet, phone and cable), shipping, and digital advertising up to $150k a year and an intro bonus worth $1,250.
Category 10: No FX Fees Cash Back Credit Cards
In addition to recommending the best card in each category, we wanted to specify which of the cards in this list also come without foreign transaction fees.
The only annual-fee free card that is also free of FX fees is the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Card (here).
The other FX-fee free cards above are two Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Cards (here) and the Chase Ink Business Preferred Card (here). The former requires the aforementioned Amazon Prime membership and the latter requires the aforementioned $95 annual fee. That said, the no-fee Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card – ranked second best for Amazon loyalists without a Prime Membership – also offers 0% foreign transaction fees.
Are cash back cards worth it?
A cash back credit card can be a great way to save money, as long as you spend within your budget and pay off your credit card in full each month. After deciding on the type of cash back that you prefer, find a card with a rewards rate that best suits your spending category and habits. If you are interested in having a comprehensive financial plan, including which cash back credit card may be right for you, schedule a free discovery call with one of our financial advisors today.
Alvin Carlos, CFP®, CFA is an investment advisor and fee-only financial planner, in Washington, D.C that works with clients across the country. He has a Master’s degree in International Relations from SAIS-Johns Hopkins. Alvin is a partner of District Capital, a financial planning firm designed to help professionals in their 30s and 40s achieve their financial goals through smart investing, reducing taxes, retirement planning, and maximizing their money. Schedule a free discovery call to learn how we can help elevate your finances.