New Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers flexible 5% bonus cash back with no category activation

Young man and woman sitting together on their couch at home, smiling add reading a book togetherImage: Young man and woman sitting together on their couch at home, smiling add reading a book together
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

Credit Karma’s editors and writers want to help you stay on top of credit card news. The information below is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. Heads up: Credit card terms are subject to change, and the terms outlined below may not be current after the date of publication.

A few notable credit cards offer 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories, but you might have to activate the bonus every quarter to earn it. The new Citi Custom Cash℠ Card looks like it’ll make earning rewards at that high rate a little easier.

The newly launched Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers cardholders 5% cash back on up to $500 spent (then 1%) in a category that can rotate every billing cycle — with no annual fee. It’s similar to both the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back cards, which offer 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent (then 1%) in categories that rotate every quarter. Each of these cards offers 1% cash back on all purchases outside of bonus categories.

Unlike those cards, though, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card doesn’t require you to activate your bonus categories before you can earn at that 5% rate. Instead, you’ll earn 5% back in one eligible category every billing cycle — and your bonus category is assigned to you depending on where you spend the most in that particular billing period.

That flexibility has the potential to make the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card an interesting addition to your wallet.

Read on for more details, including the bonus categories available at launch, and our take on how the card measures up against the competition.

How does the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card work?

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card brings relative simplicity to the world of 5% rotating cash back bonus categories. Each billing cycle, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $500 in purchases (then 1%) in your top eligible category.

Citi determines that category based on how you spent your money in that month — you don’t have to activate one preassigned category beforehand or select your eligible category before you know how much you’ll spend every month.

The categories available at launch include several common areas of spending:

  • Restaurants
  • Gas stations
  • Grocery stores
  • Select travel
  • Select transit
  • Select streaming services
  • Drugstores
  • Home improvement stores
  • Fitness clubs
  • Live entertainment

All other purchases earn 1% back, including everything after you hit the $500 cap in your top eligible category. Rewards are earned as Citi ThankYou® points, which can be redeemed for cash back (as a statement credit or direct deposit), gift cards and travel, as well as Shop with Points at, among other options.

At launch, the Citi Custom Cash℠Card also offers a sign-up bonus of $200 in cash back when you spend $750 on purchases in the first three months after your account opens.

Is the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card worth it?

If you’re attracted to the rotating bonus categories offered by the Discover it® Cash Back and Chase Freedom Flex℠ cards, we think the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is worth a closer look.

While we like how those rotating bonus category cards allow you to maximize your cash back, you’re stuck with whichever category the issuer decides to offer in a particular quarter. Plus, if you tend to be forgetful, remembering to activate your categories every quarter can be a hassle.

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card appears to solve those potential issues with its flexible eligible categories and lack of category activation. You can spend as you normally would and earn 5% back in whichever eligible category matches your budget for that month. Sometimes that might be groceries, and other times it might be home improvement stores. Ideally, you won’t have to worry about it.

That doesn’t mean the card is sure to be a better option for everyone. For instance, Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers several bonus categories in addition to its 5% rotating categories, along with the ability to pool your points with a powerful travel credit card in the vaunted Chase Ultimate Rewards® program.

For that matter, a rotating category card isn’t right for everyone. You might be better off earning the same rate on all purchases, like with the Citi Double Cash® Card. Or you might prefer to earn unlimited rewards with no cap in consistent bonus categories, like on groceries or gas.

We’ll have more on the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card in a forthcoming review, but for now it looks like an intriguing new addition to the world of cash back rewards.

About the author: Eric Freeman is a writer and editor at Credit Karma, specializing in credit cards and credit scores and reports. He strives to make personal finance relatable for readers and to ground complicated issues in everyday e… Read more.