Credit Infocenter

How to Pick the Best Cash Back Credit Card

By: Staff

Last Updated: July 26, 2017

If you're tempted by a cash back credit card — the lure of getting back some of the money you've already spent — who in their right mind wouldn't want that? Unfortunately, while cash back credit cards can be rewarding, they can also be confusing. And if you're not careful, they can even be costly. Here's what you need to know to choose and use a cash back credit card wisely.

What is a Cash Back Credit Card?

To entice consumers, credit card issuers offer some cards with cash back rewards.

When you reach a pre-determined spending level, you receive a percentage of your money back. This not only entices consumers to apply for the card in the first place, but also encourages consumers — once they're cardholders — to use the card more frequently than they probably would otherwise.

How is a Cash Back Credit Card Different From a Regular Credit Card?

About half of credit cards offer cash back rewards. The others (i.e., "regular" credit cards) offer no such incentive.

How Much Can You Earn With a Cash Back Credit Card?

Cash back rewards vary from card to card, but generally range from .5 to 1 percent. That said, you will see card issuers offering cash back as high as 2 to 6 percent. However, this usually requires an annual fee or qualifying spending limited to certain categories. These qualifying categories tend to change often, making it difficult to reach the required spending goal.

Are There Annual Fees For Cash Back Credit Cards?

Some cash back credit cards come with annual fees, others don't. The wisest choice to avoid annual fee cards. If you're pretty certain the rewards you can earn over the course of the year will exceed the annual fee, you may want to consider it. Just read the fine print carefully, as there may be restrictions that make it more difficult to earn cash back than you realize. Again, qualifying categories tend to change frequently — as often as every 3 months — making it difficult to reach required spending goals.

What Purchases are Eligible For Cash Back Rewards?

It depends on the card. Most seem to offer .5 to 1 percent cash back on all purchases. But spending within certain categories may garner you much larger cash back returns. Again, though, these can be spending goals hard to reach before the qualifying categories change on a quarterly basis.

How to Redeem Cash Back Rewards

Ease of redemption varies. Some credit card issuers require you to request your rewards; others award them to you automatically. As for how your rewards are distributed, it depends on the card. You may be able to have the rewards credited back to your balance. You may be able to shop for merchandise online. Or you may be able to get a good old fashioned check in the mail.

Is There a Cap on How Much Cash You Can Get Back Over the Course of a Year?

There may be. Again, read the fine print.

Can You Lose Cash Back Rewards?

It varies by card, but you could lose your rewards points if you go a certain amount of time without using your card, for example, or if you miss monthly payments. Also, keep in mind that credit card issuers reserve the right to change their terms at anytime.

What Are Cash Back Credit Card Best Practices?

Once you receive a cash back credit card, follow the same best practices you would for any other card. Only charge as much to the card as you can afford to pay back by the end of the month (i.e., avoid carrying a balance from month to month). This could prove tough with a cash back credit card, as you're trying to reach qualifying spending goals. But remember, any rewards you earn will likely be negated if you're paying monthly interest rates.