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Free money alert: These cash back credit cards basically pay you for using them

Published Dec 6th, 2019 11:40PM EST
Cash back credit cards
Image: The Points Guy

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We cover a wide assortment of credit card products that offer benefits ranging from mileage and points to access to online shopping portals. But with the year drawing to a close — and the arrival of the holiday shopping season — we’d like to take a look back at 2019 and rank what we think are three of the best credit cards currently available on the basis of a much simpler benefit: Money in your pocket! (i.e., cash back.)

Many of the best travel credit cards out there let you earn cash back on your purchases, but you’re sometimes forgoing better value redemption options to do so. Our hope is that you’ll use this run-down as a guide to some of the best cash-back cards of 2019 and use it to help you do your own ranking of cards where cash back is the value redemption that provides the best or most sought-after return. We’ll sort these cash-back cards on the basis of who they’re best for, like — just to go ahead and dive right in — the Citi® Double Cash Card, which we think is the best card on this list for anyone mostly interested in flat-rate cash back.

Image source: The Points Guy

Citi Double Cash Card

Who it’s perfect for: Anyone hunting for a flat cash-back rate.

Welcome bonus: No welcome bonus, unfortunately. However …

Annual fee: $0, which is always nice!

Rewards rate: You’ll earn 2% cash back, as follows — 1% when you buy something, plus another 1% when you pay your bill each month.

What else to know: Citi’s Double Cash Card is arguably one of the most straightforward and rewarding cash-back cards you’ll find in this guide. As we noted, you’ve got two opportunities to earn cash back. What’s more: Cardholders can now convert the cash back they earn on the card into ThankYou Points via a linked ThankYou account. This converts into an effective 2x ThankYou Point earning rate on all purchases. All in all, definitely a solid card here offering simple, long-term value.

Image source: Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Who it’s perfect for: Regular travelers

Welcome bonus: 30,000 points once you’ve spent $3,000 in the first three months of owning the card.

Annual fee: $0

Rewards rate: Earn 3x points on dining, travel and select streaming services, while earning 1x on everything else.

What else to know: We put the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card on our list for its points earnings rate that’s worth 1 cent apiece toward statement credits, travel, gift cards or charity donations. The card also offers cell phone protection and the ability to boost the value of your point redemptions toward airfare to 1.75 cents per point if you have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card AND if you spend at least $50,000 on it in a year.

Image source: Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy

Chase Freedom

Who it’s perfect for: Anyone new or just starting out in the world of credit card rewards

Welcome bonus: $150 cash back after you’ve spent $500 on purchases within the first three months of owning the card.

Annual fee: $0

Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases on rotating quarterly bonus categories each quarter you activate. If you activate the bonus categories through the end of December, the categories you’ll earn 5% cash back in are department stores, PayPal and Chase Pay purchases.

What else to know: We think this is a great card for beginners — as long as you don’t mind keeping an eye on the different quarterly bonus categories, that is. The great thing about them, though, is that they’re generally seasonally-appropriate, which is why you see department stores, for example, as a bonus category during the end-of-year holiday shopping season. Note: With this card, you can only earn $300 in bonus rewards each year, but that turns into 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred. At which point, you can then redeem those points at a higher rate through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, or you can transfer them to travel partners for additional value.

A few more things to note

When taking a closer look at these (or any other cash-back cards), here are some of the things you should keep in mind:

Factors to consider include whether the card offers an annual fee. We’ve listed the annual fees or lack thereof above. It’s important to note this, in case the cash back you earn is offset by what you’d end up paying for the annual fee. Also, check for additional perks. Some cards don’t incur foreign transaction fees, while others include added protection for your purchases and/or trips, which can add lots of value to a card.

The earnings rate — again, as we noted above — is another significant factor to look at. Not every card offers a return that’s consistent across all purchases. Finally, we’d also suggest familiarizing yourself with terms of your card’s redemption. Some cards post rewards automatically to your statement, while others earn you points and/or miles that can be redeemed for cash back.

The final word

Cash-back credit cards like the trio we highlighted above (the Citi Double Cash Card, Wells Fargo Propel American Express, and Chase Freedom) are great for travelers of all kinds, from beginners to travelers who don’t have a lot of time or patience to sort through all the different rewards and redemption options out there. And unlike perks, cash doesn’t have a specific use attached to it — when you’re given cash, you can do whatever you want with it! Even though many travelers ignore the world of cash back credit cards in favor of cards that earn points and miles, earning cash back is generally a much simpler and straightforward proposition, and we hope this guide gives you plenty of food for thought in deciding on the next credit card to make room in your wallet for.

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Andy Meek Trending News Reporter

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.