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Cash back credit cards are the most flexible types of rewards cards. In return for using a cash back credit card, you receive a percentage of your purchases back---as cold hard cash! This is usually in the form of a statement credit, gift cards, or cheques. Unlike some restrictive point systems, these cash rewards are yours to put towards whatever you like.

It's pretty much getting paid for making purchases, so you might as well use plastic instead of cash.

All cash back credit cards are not created equal, though. Some may have hefty annual fees. Others reward you more generously for shopping in certain categories.

Learn more about what the best cash back credit cards can do for you whether you’re a student, parent, frequent traveler, small-business owner — or any other type of credit card holder.

What are the types of cash cack credit cards?

Credit cards
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With hundreds of cash back credit cards available, you might have trouble choosing the best one for you. To make things even more confusing, there are different types of cash back credit cards.

Flat-rate cards

Flat-rate cards may be the easiest to understand how to use, but they don’t always deliver the most value. These pay you back at the same rate for every purchase. Therefore, you don’t have to do messy calculations or track which categories give you the best return rates.

Just use your card and bask in the benefits. Flat-rate cards typically give you 1.5% back for every purchase.

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The Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card provides 1.5% back on every purchase. It doesn’t matter where you shop. Upon sign-up, you get 3% cash back on all purchases up to $20,000 for a year. That's much higher than most flat-rate cards.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Credit Rating Needed:
Excellent, Good
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Who it's good for:

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® Visa card is a strong choice for anyone who's in the market for either a cash-back credit card or a balance transfer card. It offers freedom from the usual cash-back restrictions and from interest on balances transferred over.

Key benefits:

The card offers unlimited and automatic 1.5% cash back on every purchase, and there's no minimum for redeeming cash back rewards. Cardholders also enjoy a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR (currently 17.24% - 25.99%). The fee on balance transfers is either $5 or 3%, whichever is greater.

Double Cash Back: Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent.. Redeem your cash back whenever, no minimums required. The annual fee is $0.

Tiered cards

Tiered cards give you greater rewards in some categories than others. For example, you may earn 3% for purchases at restaurants and gas stations but 1% everywhere else.

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The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, pays you 4% for unlimited dining and entertainment purchases. It offers 2% cash back at grocery stores. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Credit Rating Needed:
Excellent, Good
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Who it's good for:

The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card is excellent for cardholders who enjoy dining and entertainment experiences --- concerts, sports and theater.

Key benefits:

Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases. Plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through May 2020.

Cardholders will also receive a monthly credit for a Postmades Unlimited membership through December 2019.

Rotating categories

You might get the most benefit out of cash back credit cards with rotating categories.

These typically offer a flat rate for most purchases.

For a specific period of time, though, certain shopping categories will be eligible to give you greater returns. For the first three months of the year, you might earn a higher cash back percentage at grocery stores. During the next three months, you might earn more at restaurants. And so on.

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With the Chase Freedom® card, you get 1% cash back on all purchases. Every quarter features bonus categories that give you 5% cash back up to $1,500.

Chase Freedom®
Credit Rating Needed:
Excellent, Good
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Who it's good for:

The Chase Freedom® credit card is an excellent no-frills option for first-time cardholders, or cardholders looking to consolidate their debts.

Key benefits:

The Chase Freedom® credit card has a 0% introductory APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers.

Chase Freedom® also offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter.

Cardholders will earn a 1% cash back on all other purchases.

What kind of card serves you best?

Brunette and her boyfriend buying some groceries at the supermarket and paying with a credit card
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If you spend most of your money on groceries, look for a card that regularly rewards you in that category.

The best cash back cards put money back in your wallet. Before you apply for a new credit card, pull out recent credit card statements. Breaking down your expenses by category will help you decide how to proceed.

If you spend most of your money on groceries, look for a card that regularly rewards you in that category. People who spend equally across the board may benefit from cards that don’t have such specific reward categories.

A credit card with rotating categories can benefit you, but it’s hard to plan when you don’t know which categories will be featured next quarter. U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card lets you pick the categories that fit your spending habits. You can change them up quarterly.

Some cards that are designed for small businesses, like the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, give you bigger rewards for shopping at office supply stores and paying for internet, cable and phone services.

Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card
Credit Rating Needed:
Excellent, Good
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Who it's good for:

The Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card is an excellent no-frills small business credit card, especially for small business-owners looking to consolidate their credit card debts.

Key benefits:

The card boasts a $0 annual fee and a 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months.

Employee cards can be issued at no additional cost.

Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.. Cardholders will also earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.

If you travel frequently, look for a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. This is rare among the best cash back credit cards. The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card waives foreign transaction fees, though.

What rewards and terms do cash back cards offer?

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Make sure that you read the fine print.

Comparing rewards and terms can help you make the most out of your credit cards. High cash back percentages are only valuable if they’re not offset by high interest rates or fees. At this point, you might have to crunch some numbers to determine which card is ideal for your needs.

For example, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card described above has a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year. If you easily spend more than $2,375 on dining and entertainment purchases every year, you’ll earn enough to cover the fee.

If you don’t spend enough to offset the fee, you might want to look at a different card. The Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you 3% back on dining and entertainment. The rest of the rewards tiers are the same as the Savor® card, and there is no annual fee.

Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card
Credit Rating Needed:
Excellent, Good
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Who it's good for:

People with reasonably good credit who are interested in cash back rewards.

Key benefits:

The Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card offers no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 15 months, which is a great deal. Cardholders can earn $150 Cash Back after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. Cardholders also earn unlimited cash back on every purchase, with bonus cash back on dining, entertainment, and grocery purchases.

Don’t forget to check out the interest rates. Some cards have great benefits but high APRs.

When it comes to rotating category cash back credit cards, make sure that you read the fine print. You usually have to activate the categories to be eligible for the increased returns.

You should also recognize the limitations of these cards. Cash back eligibility on the rotating categories may be capped at a certain dollar amount.

Many only allow you to earn increased cash back percentage for your first $1,500 spent. At 5% back, that’s a return of $75 a quarter if you use it effectively.

Check for sign-up bonuses

Man paying with credit card on smart phone at home office
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Always check to make sure you're taking advantage of sign-up bonuses.

Speaking of bonuses, most cards offer introductory specials that can make them more lucrative. Sometimes, the everyday rewards aren’t worth it, but the bonus is.

Many of the best cash back cards give you $150 cash back for spending $500 in the first three months or so. Some offer additional bonuses.

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is a tiered card that emphasizes 3% cash back for shopping at supermarkets. As a bonus, you get $150 cash back after spending just $500 in the first 90 days after opening your account as well as 0% interest for the first year.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Credit Rating Needed:
Good, Excellent
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Who it's good for:

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is a fantastic rewards card for everyday use, offering low costs and convenient opportunities to earn stepped up rewards.

Key benefits:

Earn a $150 statement credit after making $1,000 in purchases with a new card within the first 3 months. Earn up to 3% cash back at supermarkets and 2% cash back at gas stations and select U.S. department stores. Other purchases earn 1% back.

The card has a $0 annual fee, and cardholders enjoy a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. After that, they pay a variable rate (currently 15.24% - 26.24%).

Give it your best shot

Credit card form close up, fountain pen and denied stamped on a document.
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Don't be discouraged if you're denied!

Every time you apply for a credit card, you can experience a ding in your credit score. Therefore, apply for the card that is best suited for you. This means that you’ll have to take your credit score into account. Many of the best cash back cards require you to have excellent or good credit. Knowing your credit score before you apply is helpful.

If you have a fair or average score, you might want to look into the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card. This one has a low annual fee of $39. You still get 1.5% cash back on all of your purchases. There are no rotating categories or complicated rules to remember. Plus, if you pay your first five bills on time, you may qualify for a higher credit line. However, this card features one of the highest interest rates.

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Credit Rating Needed:
Average, Fair, Limited
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Who's it good for:

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card should be considered by consumers sick of cashback limits in the fine print, and just want to earn a fixed percentage.

Key benefits:

The fact that you earn unlimited, non-expiring, cashback of 1.5% on all purchases is pretty attractive. Being able to increase your credit limit after making your first 5 monthly payments is a nice plus.

Your needs may change throughout the year. It could benefit you to hold a couple different cash back credit cards to meet your needs. One for groceries and gas, and one for dining and entertainment.

Whatever you do, make sure that you pay your balance completely every month. Even the best cash back credit card won’t benefit you if you’re bogged down with credit card debt