Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Newcomers to the world of credit cards will soon realize that rewards programs are a dime a dozen. Credit card companies make a profit every time you use their card, so they increasingly add on benefits to attract new customers. While rewards programs can range from travel miles to restaurant gift cards, some of the best rewards programs out there keep it simple and give you money back.

Can you trust these benefit programs? Yes, actually! Some rewards programs can earn you hundreds of dollars back each year, depending on how much you use your card. You gain a net benefit of overall discounts on almost all of the purchases you make.

The competition between companies is fierce, and it can be confusing for shoppers to find the best credit picks among all the seemingly good deals. Let's look at some general tips on cash-back cards and some of the best reward programs 2018 has to offer.

What To Know
Here are some conditions to consider before you sign on the dotted line:

Most cards are limited. You won't always get that 5 percent cash back. Many reward programs have quarterly or yearly spending limits, at which point the benefit downgrades to a lower percentage. For example, it might be at a 5 percent rate until you've spent $1,500 during that quarter, and then reduces to 1%.

Benefits may only apply to certain locations. If you want to reap credit benefits, you can't just spend anywhere. Many programs only reward purchases from certain locations, such as gas stations, supermarkets, or online retailers. Many companies rotate which areas reap those benefits every quarter, so you'll need to check online to see where to spend to get the best rewards.

Unlimited cards will always have a lower percentage. Unfortunately, the high percentage cards have limits, while the cards that are unlimited usually only offer less than 2 percent of your money back. Still, such deals are better than nothing. You're always getting a discount on purchases you make, however small.

You'll need a good-to-excellent credit score. Companies are more likely to make money from benefit plans with higher limits, something typically associated with high credit scores. The most beneficial reward programs require their users to have a good to excellent score. If yours is average, expect limited options. With a bad score, you may not find a reward program at all, which is another incentive to work on that credit score!

It's always important to read the fine print before you sign up, paying particular attention to annual fees and the rate applied for transfers, withdrawals, late payments and carried balances.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2018
These are the best deals we could find, including selections with high percentage, unlimited cash back, cards for those with bad credit, and those for necessities.

High Percentage Cash Back
If you're looking for a high percentage program, the Chase Freedom® sets you up for 5% cash back on purchases in bonus categories up to $1,500 every quarter, with an additional 1% on purchases outside the bonus categories. If you spend that $1,500 every quarter, that's $75 a quarter or $300 a year back in your pocket! You get a 0% Annual Percentage Rate for 15 months and a variable 15.99% - 24.74% APR after that. There's a $150 bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months and a $25 bonus if you add an authorized user in the same three-month period, along with security and protection bonuses.

The Catch: You'll need a solid credit rating to qualify, and there's a 5% fee for balance transfers. As with all category-based programs, you'll need to keep track of which category is active in any given quarter.

Discover it® is another top contender in the high percentage category. This card also pays 5% back in categories that rotate each quarter, with 1% in all other categories. They'll match your reward total, dollar for dollar, after your first year. You can redeem your rewards for cash in any amount at any time, or use them instantly at checkout, a useful feature if you shop online often. There's no annual fee. APR is 0% for the first 14 months, with 11.99% to 23.99% variable APR after that. The balance transfer fee is 3%. This card is loaded with features, making it a smart option for those who want multiple ways to get money back. The ability to use your rewards automatically at Amazon's checkout is unique. You can also get your money back at any time and in any amount. Discover also offers cash back matching at the end of the first year, which doubles all of the rewards you've earned during the year.

The Catch: The rotating categories may make this product less useful to some people at given times, and the $1,500 quarterly limit lowers the total available benefit.

Unlimited Cash Back
The Citi Double Cash® provides one of the best rewards programs for customers who want straight money back benefits. Higher percentage cash back programs have quarterly or yearly limits, but this one doesn't. It also rewards responsible use by doubling the reward for on-time payments. If your annual spending is high enough above the spending caps on most limited cards, this will be a top choice for you. The terms are simple: you get 1% back on everything, plus another 1% for on-time payment. There's no spending limit for rewards, no annual fee, and a 14.74% - 24.74% variable APR. If you're a big spender and fancy a 2% return on everything you buy, this deal is for you.

The Catch: There's no benefit if you are not paying off the amount at the end of each billing period. Some competitors offer higher percentages, making them more valuable to those who carry a balance. There are no other benefits beyond the double cash back, and you can only redeem your reward after you earn $25 in rewards (requiring a minimum of $2,500 in spending.)

Another top contender in the unlimited category is the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. This one offers generous rewards to those who spend a lot and simply want the money back on their purchases. The flat 1.5% means high-spending users will reap solid discounts in the long run. Chase also offers a $150 bonus for spending $500 in your first three months and a $25 bonus for signing up an additional authorized user. There's no minimum to redeem your reward. You get a 0% APR for the first 15 months and a variable 15.99% to 24.74% after that.

The Catch: You get no rewards for on-time payments. To maximize rewards, you will also need to acquire a Chase Sapphire Card, without which your rewards will be less than advertised.

If You Have Bad Credit
The Discover it Secured® is the top entry in this category, featuring 1% back on general purchases and 2% at restaurants and gas stations, with a $1,000 quarterly limit. You get the unique feature of a dollar-for-dollar match on all the rewards you've earned at the end of the first year, and you can even earn double rewards at specific locations. This is a secured card: you will make a refundable deposit, and your spending limit will be the same as your deposit. if you deposit $500, your spending limit will be $500. There's also no annual fee.

The Catch: You can only pay the deposit amount from a bank, so you will need a bank account to sign up. The benefits seem minimal compared to those available to users with high credit scores, but that's the reality of the industry: better credit, better benefits. Variable APR is 23.99% right off the bat, too.

Best For Necessities
The BankAmericard Cash Rewards® card comes out ahead here. The reward program applies to areas most people use on a daily basis, so it's perfect for everyday purchases. There's a bonus 10% reward when you return reward value to a Bank of America checking or savings account (25-75% for Preferred Rewards members), which is a very nice benefit. You get 3% back on gas, 2% on groceries, and 1% on everything else up to $2,500 per quarter. There's no annual fee and an additional $150 reward bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days. The APR is 0% for the first 12 months, 13.99% - 23.99% after that.

The Catch: The 10% bonus reward requires a Bank of America savings account. Still, for users of that bank, this is hardly a catch at all!

Cash back rewards have real advantages, though you should be careful. It's easy to get seduced into spending more just to see the money coming back, but if you're buying things you don't need, that's not exactly a good value. If cash back rewards are a key factor in your card choice, place these on your shopping list!

See them here:

Chase Freedom®

Discover it®

Citi Double Cash®

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Discover it Secured®

BankAmericard Cash Rewards®