Best Cash Back Credit Cards for September 2021

Different types of cash back credit cards

There are three basic types of cash back credit cards: Flat-rate cash back cards, bonus category cash back cards, and rotating bonus category cash back cards. By understanding how each type works, you’ll be able to figure out the best credit cards for maximizing your cash rewards.

Flat-rate cash back cards

A flat-rate cash back card earns the same rate on purchases, typically 1.5% or 2%. This type of cash rewards credit card is ideal if your spending is fairly balanced and you don’t have any particular big spending categories among your everyday purchases.

Consumers who do the math often find that they’ll earn the most with a flat-rate cash back card. If you’re interested in getting one, the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card is hard to beat. It can get you 2% cash back on purchases.

Bonus category cash back cards

A bonus category cash back card offers a higher cash back rate in one or more categories, such as groceries, dining, or gas.

Those who spend a lot in certain categories could collect more cash back with the right bonus category card. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns an industry-leading 6% back at U.S. supermarkets for up to $6,000 per calendar year. Terms apply. That’s an extremely valuable offer, even with the card’s annual fee (see rates and fees). There are bonus category cards to fit just about everyone, whether you need the best credit cards for gas, dining, or a different category.

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On eligible purchases outside of bonus categories, these cards have traditionally earned 1% back. But not all bonus category cards are like this anymore.

Rotating bonus category cash back cards

A rotating bonus category cash back card offers a higher cash back rate in a changing mix of categories. You typically get new bonus categories every quarter with this type of card. In most cases, cardholders must activate their bonus categories before or during the quarter to earn the bonus rate.

The advantages with these cards are a very high cash back rate in bonus categories and the fact that you get new bonus categories regularly. But the latter can also be a downside, because you may occasionally get stuck with bonus categories that you won’t spend much money in.

Two of the most popular rotating bonus category cards are the Discover it® Cash Back and the Chase Freedom Flex℠. Each offers 5% back on your first $1,500 spent in rotating bonus categories you activate every quarter. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is unique in that it also offers several fixed bonus categories.

How to compare cash back credit cards

As you shop for reward credit cards, there will probably be multiple cards that you like. To pick the best one, you’ll need to compare them. The Ascent’s tool to compare credit card offers can help with this. You’ll be able to get a feature-by-feature comparison of multiple cash back cards. Here’s what to look at to decide on the right card:

  • Cash back rate: This is the most important feature. A higher cash back rate will save you more money whenever you use your card. The card you choose should have either bonus categories that match your spending habits or a high flat rate on purchases.
  • Annual fee: Most cash back cards are no-annual-fee cards, although there are some exceptions. Cash back cards with annual fees tend to have higher cash back rates. Those higher rates can make up for the annual fee if you spend enough, but you’ll need to do the math on the rewards you’ll earn to make sure.
  • Sign-up bonus: Quite a few credit cards include introductory bonus rewards, such as $100 to $200 when spending a certain minimum in the first three months. A welcome bonus like this is an easy way to collect cash back. If there are a couple cards you like, you may want to pick the one offering the most bonus cash.
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There are other things you may want to consider. You could look for cash back cards that also have 0% intro APR offers, free credit score monitoring, or any other perk that would be useful to you. But the three features above usually determine which cash back card offers the most value.

To learn more, check out this video on how to pick the best cash back credit card.

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