Best cash back credit cards of 2021

Smiling woman looking at a laptop with the best cash back credit cards for people with fair, good, and excellent creditImage: Smiling woman looking at a laptop with the best cash back credit cards for people with fair, good, and excellent credit
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

These offers are no longer available on our site: Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Chase Freedom Flex℠, Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Hear from our editors: The best cash back credit cards of October 2021

Updated September 30, 2021

This date may not reflect recent changes in individual terms.

Editorial note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

Written by: Tim Devaney

If you’re looking to earn cash back rewards, you should think about what things you spend the most money on.

Do you spend a lot on gas? Do you cook or get takeout more? Do you prefer a simple, flat rate on every purchase or a higher rate on rotating categories? How long will it take you to pay for your purchases? Figuring out the answer to these questions could help you find the card that’s best for you.

Here are our picks for the best cash back rewards credit cards.



Best for everyday spending: Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Here’s why: The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a great all-around cash back credit card.

The sign-up bonus offers $200 after you spend $500 on purchases during the first 3 months your account is open.

You’ll also find some generous cash back bonus categories.

  • 5% back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent during your first year
  • 5% on travel bookings made through Chase
  • 3% back at restaurants and drugstores

These bonus categories cover a wide range of everyday spending. But if all else fails, you’ll still get 1.5% back on all other purchases.

Plus, there’s a $0 annual fee.

For more information, check out our review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

Best for rotating bonus rewards: Chase Freedom Flex℠

Here’s why: The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is nearly identical to the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, but with one key difference: It features rotating bonus categories.

You could earn 5% cash back on up to the first $1,500 you spend each quarter in combined purchases in a revolving series of bonus categories.

Beyond that, it’s hard to tell these two cards apart.

For the bonus categories, you’ll get …

  • 5% back on travel purchases booked through Chase
  • 5% back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent during your first year
  • 3% back at restaurants and drugstores
  • 1% back on all other purchases

Even though the base cash back rate for purchases is lower than the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, you’ll still get a $200 bonus after spending $500 on purchases during the first 3 months your account is open — and there’s a $0 annual fee.

See what Credit Karma members think about the Chase Freedom Flex℠ to learn more.

Best for simple cash back: Citi® Double Cash Card

Here’s why: Earning cash back couldn’t be any easier than with the Citi® Double Cash Card.

You’ll earn 2% back on every purchase. That includes 1% back when you make a purchase, plus another 1% back when you pay it off.

There are no rotating or bonus categories to deal with. You just get the same flat rate of cash back on every purchase.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign-up bonus. But there’s also a $0 annual fee.

Take a look at our review of the Citi® Double Cash Card to learn more.

Best for groceries: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Here’s why: If you prefer to cook your own meals at home, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express rewards you for grocery shopping.

You’ll earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent in purchases each year (then 1%). That means if you spend about $115 per week on groceries, you could earn about $360 annually in cash back. (Keep in mind, though, that American Express excludes superstores and warehouse club stores from their definition of supermarkets.)  

Aside from groceries, you’ll also earn …

  • 6% cash back on certain U.S. streaming subscriptions — think streaming services like Spotify or Netflix
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 3% back on rideshares, taxis, trains, buses, tolls, parking, and other forms of transit
  • 1% back on all other purchases

Not to mention, you’ll receive a $300 welcome bonus as a statement credit after you spend $3,000 on purchases during the first 6 months your account is open.

Of course, to see if this card is worth it for you, you’ll have to weigh all this potential cash back against the $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. If you spend less than $60 per week on groceries, you might be better off with the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, which offers less cash back on groceries but comes with a $0 annual fee.

Check out our reviews of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express to help you figure out if either of these cards is a good option for you.

Best for dining and entertainment: SavorOne® Rewards from Capital One®

Here’s why: SavorOne® Rewards from Capital One® is a great choice for people who like to go out on the weekends.

You’ll earn …

  • 3% cash back on dining and entertainment
  • 2% on groceries (except at superstores like Target and Walmart)
  • 1% on all other purchases

Plus, there’s a $200 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

The $0 annual fee makes the card a great choice for people who occasionally dine out or go to the movies. But if you go out to eat (or get takeout) more often, you might benefit from Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card instead, which offers more cash back on dining and entertainment in exchange for a $95 annual fee. 

Learn more in our reviews of SavorOne® Rewards from Capital One®  and Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card.

Best for fair credit: QuicksilverOne® Rewards from Capital One®

Here’s why: The QuicksilverOne® Rewards from Capital One® gives people with fair credit a chance to earn cash back.

You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. Plus, Capital One will periodically review your account for a credit line increase, which can help your efforts to build credit.

Unfortunately, it also comes with a $39 annual fee that can eat into the cash back you earn. But if you’re in the process of building credit, this could be a good option.

Find out more in our review of the QuicksilverOne® Rewards from Capital One®, or compare other offers for people with fair credit on Credit Karma.

Best for gas: Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Here’s why: The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi actually gives you more cash back to fill up your tank at other gas stations than it does to shop inside a Costco store.

You’ll earn a whopping 4% cash back on gas (including at eligible non-Costco gas stations) on up to the first $7,000 you spend each year (then 1%). You’ll get 3% back on dining and travel (including purchases made from Costco), 2% cash back on all other Costco purchases, and 1% on all other purchases.

There’s also a $0 annual fee. But you must be a Costco member to apply, and the cost of the membership could eat up any money you save on that fee.

That’s why we think this card is best for people who are already Costco members: There’s no additional cost for them.

Take a look at our review of the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi to learn more.


How we picked these cards

We started by narrowing down our list to only cash back credit cards, which offer rewards that can be redeemed for statement credits, bank deposits or paper checks.

Then, we looked through the list to determine the different types of cash back they offer.

Once we picked the categories, we looked for the cash back cards with the best features to see what exceptional offers and perks they have.

Is it worth getting a cash back credit card?

Whether there’s a right cash back credit card for you depends on your situation. For example, if you dine out or get takeout most of the time, you probably want a card that rewards you more for restaurants than it does for grocery shopping. If you don’t drive very often, a card that rewards you for gas probably won’t do you much good.

It’s important to take a look at your personal spending habits when considering which card fits best for you.

Are travel rewards credit cards a better option?

Perhaps. But travel rewards credit card programs can be much more complicated than cash back credit card programs.

For example, many travel rewards cards earn points that may have no set value. You’ll need to research how to redeem your points for the best possible value while finding availability for your chosen reward type, such as hotel stays or airline tickets.

Different travel rewards cards may also have different redemption options, which sometimes include transferring points, as well as converting them to miles, to yet another rewards program, such as an airline’s loyalty program. While having more options usually presents the opportunity to get more value per point or mile, those options come at the cost of more time spent researching and planning to get the best deal.

What are the common types of cash back cards?

Broadly, there are three ways to earn cash back from a card — flat-rate cash back, tiered cash back and rotating cash back.

  • Flat-rate cash back — The simplest way to earn cash back is with a flat-rate cash back credit card that offers the same amount of cash back for every purchase you make. These cards are great for people who don’t want to waste time maximizing credit card rewards. But they don’t typically offer the highest cash back rate. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® card is an example of flat-rate cash back.
  • Tiered cash back — This type of cash back card may also offer more cash back than a flat-rate card, but your cash back will be on a limited number of purchases. Tiered credit cards offer several categories with varying amounts of cash back. It’ll be up to you to keep track of how much you’re spending in various cash back categories in order to make the most of this type of cash back card. The SavorOne® Rewards from Capital One® card is an example of this tiered cash back.
  • Rotating cash back — Like tiered cash back, this type tends to offer more cash back but on a limited number of purchases. The difference is that rotating credit cards feature bonus categories that change every quarter and require activation. So if you’re not one to remember to opt-in to cash back, this type of card may not be for you. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ card is an example of a rotating cash back card.

When’s the best time to redeem your cash back?

At the very least, you want to make sure you redeem your cash back before it expires. If you’re not sure when that is, check with your credit card issuer.

You might be tempted to save up your cash back for a big redemption. But there’s something to be said about using it sooner than later.

For example, if you’re carrying a balance on your credit card, redeeming cash back for a statement credit could help you save money on interest charges over time by lowering your balance. On the other hand, if you pay your credit card bill in full every month, you could actually earn interest on your rewards by redeeming your cash back for a bank deposit into an account that has a decent APY. Either way, the sooner you redeem your cash back, the more it could be worth for you in the long run.

How can I redeem cash back?

The simplest way to redeem your cash back is often by requesting a statement credit, bank deposit or physical check in the mail, depending on what your issuer offers. Some credit card issuers might give you other options. If you have the choice to convert your cash back to travel rewards, you could potentially get a better value that way.

Can I lose my cash back rewards?

If you return an item you purchased, rewards may be deducted from your account. Some other ways you can lose access to rewards, whether temporarily or permanently, include …

  • Closing your credit card before claiming or using the rewards
  • Allowing the rewards to expire
  • Breaking the rules of the rewards program
  • Missing a credit card payment
  • The card issuer changing the rewards offer

Generally, it’s a good idea to keep track of your rewards and redeem them shortly after you’ve reached the minimum redemption threshold. That way, you won’t forget about them. Some card issuers may enable email or text alerts to help you remember when your rewards are about to expire.


About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.