The 4 best simple cash-back credit cards

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The 4 best simple cash-back credit cards

By LOUIS DENICOLA

Do you want to think about which credit card to use every time you make a purchase?

Some people enjoy trying to maximize their rewards by switching cards depending on where they're shopping, current promotions and whether they want to earn cash back or travel rewards. Others want a simple choice -- a single card that'll always earn them the same cash-back rate.

Han Chang, a co-founder of InvestmentZen, is part of the group who prefers a simple cash-back credit card. "I love being able to see the cash-back balance and just apply it to my bill anytime," Chang says.

While Chang recognizes that he could potentially earn more valuable rewards with a travel-rewards card, he says, "it takes a lot more effort to figure out."

If you're also looking for simplicity, consider these four cash-back credit cards. They offer a variety of perks, along with a few potential drawbacks, and may require you have good to excellent credit to get approved.

Citi® Double Cash Card

With the Citi® Double Cash Card, you can earn 1 percent back when you make purchases, plus an additional 1 percent as you pay for those purchases.

Pros

  • No annual fee.
  • Earn cash back twice.
  • 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months (after that, the variable APR will be 14.49-24.49 percent, depending on your creditworthiness).

Cons

  • No introductory 0 percent APR offer on purchases (there's a variable APR of 14.49 to 24.49 percent for purchases).
  • No sign-up bonus.
  • 3 percent (minimum $5) balance transfer fee.
  • 3 percent foreign transaction fee.

The ability to earn cash back twice on your purchases makes the Citi® Double Cash Card potentially the most rewarding card on the list.

However, you only earn the second 1 percent cash back on the amount you pay, and you won't get anything if you don't make at least the minimum payment each billing period. (Regardless, it's a good idea to try to make at least minimum payments because missing a payment could hurt your credit.)

Also, keep in mind that while the introductory 18-month 0 percent APR balance-transfer offer may be appealing, the lack of an introductory 0 percent APR on purchases means you could still wind up with an interest-bearing balance.

Chase Freedom Unlimited℠

The Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ was launched in March 2016 as a simplified addition to the Chase Freedom® credit card line.

John Rampton, founder and CEO of online invoicing and payment servicing platform Due.com, has the Chase Freedom® but dislikes having to activate the 5 percent bonus categories each quarter. He plans to switch to the Chase Freedom Unlimited℠, which would earn him 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, when his current card expires.

Pros

  • No annual fee.
  • 1.5 percent automatic cash back on purchases.
  • Introductory 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months from account opening (then a variable APR of 15.99 to 24.74 percent).
  • $150 bonus if you spend $500 within three months of your account opening.

Cons

  • 5 percent (minimum $5) balance transfer fee.
  • 3 percent foreign transaction fee.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ has a good cash-back rate and a 15-month introductory APR offer. However, the 5 percent (minimum $5) balance-transfer fee means it would be the most expensive card on this list if you plan to transfer balances to this card.

With the Chase Freedom Unlimited℠, you earn rewards as Cash Back rewards, which are tracked as points. You can redeem the points for cash back if you want to keep things simple, or you could redeem them for gift cards or travel.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

You can earn 1.5 percent cash back on purchases you make with the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card. Plus, you get an additional 0.3 percent cash back on qualified mobile wallet purchases, such as Android Pay™ and Apple Pay®, for the first 12 months from account opening.

Pros

  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
  • No annual fee.
  • 1.5 percent cash rewards on purchases.
  • 1.8 percent cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Android Pay™ and Apple Pay®, for the 12 months from account opening.
  • Introductory 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months (after that, the variable APR jumps to 13.99 to 25.99 percent).
  • $600 worth of protection on your cell phone (subject to a $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you use the card to pay your monthly cellphone bill.

Cons

  • Variable APR range is 13.99 to 25.99 percent.
  • Introductory balance transfer fee of 3 percent (or $5, whichever is greater) for the first 12 months, then up to 5 percent (with a minimum of $5).
  • 3 percent foreign currency conversion fee.

The 1.5 percent cash rewards rate you get with the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card is on par with many other cards.

During the first 12 months, you can also increase your rewards a bit by making purchases through Android Pay™ or Apple Pay®, which are accepted at many major retailers and millions of stores. The cellphone protection plan is generous compared to other cards offering this perk, and it could save you money if something happens to your phone.

However, the standard variable APR can be as high as 25.99 percent, the highest here.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a sign-up bonus, no annual or foreign transaction fees, and you can earn 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase.

Pros

  • No annual fee.
  • 1.5 percent cash back on purchases.
  • One-time $150 cash bonus if you spend $500 within three months of your account opening.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Cons

  • 3 percent balance transfer fee.
  • Relatively short introductory nine-month 0 percent APR offer on purchases and balance transfers (after that, there's a variable APR of 13.99 to 23.99 percent for both purchases and balance transfers).

Without a foreign transaction fee, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card stands out as the best option (of these four cards) if you're planning on traveling and making purchases outside the U.S. However, the Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ has a longer introductory 0 percent APR offer.

Bottom line

With a simple cash-back credit card, you don't have to worry about tracking rewards points or miles that vary depending on where you shop or activating quarterly bonus categories. Even so, there are some differences between issuers' cards.

Consider the cash-back rate, sign-up bonus, promotional 0 percent APR offers, fees, and other perks, and then choose the card that best fits your needs.

About the Author: Louis DeNicola is a personal finance writer and educator. In addition to being a contributing writer at Credit Karma, you can find his work on MSN Money, Cheapism, Business Insider and Daily Finance. When he's not revising his budget spreadsheet or looking for the latest and greatest rewards credit card, you might spot Louis at the rock climbing gym in Oakland, California.

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