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When it comes down to picking the best credit card, any expert will tell you that it really depends on the consumer and what they’re looking for. Picking the best cash back or rewards credit card can be especially difficult because people spend their money very differently. While there will never be a perfect one-size-fits-all credit card, we’ve used the 2014 Consumer Expenditures Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to take the most empirical approach possible to finding what is truly the best cash back credit card on the market.
In this article, we’ll compare the top cash back credit cards from our partners and break down how much cash back each card would earn per year for the average American based on the latest statics that show exactly how consumers spent their money in the past year.
For the purpose of this assessment, we assumed that consumers put every possible expense on their respective cash back credit card. This would include groceries, dining, clothing, transportation, healthcare, entertainment, and things categorized as “all other expenditures.” That leaves out housing (rent or mortgage), health insurance, personal insurance, and cash contributions. When it’s all totaled up, the average consumer can put $25,315 on their credit card each year to earn cash back.
We analyzed six different cash back cards for this study; one from each of the major credit card providers. Cards assessed include Chase Freedom®, Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, Citi® Double Cash, BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card, Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, and Discover it® Card. None of these cards have an annual fee, and we ignored the APR with the assumption that the consumer would pay off their balance in full and on-time every month.
Total Cash Back: $694.68
Because the Discover it® Card has so many specific bonus categories that allow cardholders to earn 5% cash back, we had to make a few educated guesses on how much consumers spent in some of these categories. For example, the 2014 Consumer Expenditures Report tells us that the average American spends $2,728 per year on entertainment, but we had to estimate what amount of that went towards movies alone.
Taking a look at the chart, it’s easy to see that the real reason the Discover it® Card was able to come out on top with their recent addition of the Double Cash Back your first year bonus.
Since the Discover it® Card doesn’t have a quarter where groceries are included as a 5% bonus, you could easily argue that Chase Freedom® is a better rewards card in the long run. But as long as the Discover it® Card offers new cardholders double cash back for their first year, it will probably beat out any other cash back card that just offers a $100 sign up bonus.
2nd Place: Citi® Double Cash – 18 month BT offer
Total Cash Back: $506.30
2% cash back on everything: $25,315 x .02 = $506.30
This cash back credit card really shook things up when it was released in the fall of 2014. By offering 2% cash back on all purchases indiscriminately, it can easily offer consumers more rewards than other cards that only give 2% or 3% in certain categories. While it’s true that common bonus categories like gas, groceries, and dining take up a large portion of the average consumer’s budget, the reality is that other expenses that don’t fall in the common bonus categories usually add up to much more, and this is what makes the Citi® Double Cash stand out from the rest.
Since the Discover it® Card is only in 1st place because of its incredible sign up bonus, we would consider the Citi® Double Cash the best option for on-going cash back rewards. It’s worth pointing out that by offering unlimited 2% cash back, the Citi® Double Cash was able to score higher than the remaining four competitors even though they all offer a sign up bonus of at least $100.
Total Cash Back: $479.72
1.5% cash back on everything: $25,315 x .015 = $379.73
$100 bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months
The same principles that put Citi® Double Cash into second place hold true with the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card. While it’s nice to earn 2%, 3% or even 5% cash back in certain categories, the reality is that for the average American, they might fare better to simply earn a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
In addition to earning a flat cash back rate on all purchases, this card also comes with a $100 cash bonus after new cardholders spend $500 on their card in the first 3 months, which helped propel it to the 3rd place spot.
Total Cash Back: $457.25
With the classic cash back approach of offering bonus categories (3% and 2% cash back in two popular spending categories), Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express lands 4th place on our list. This credit card does a great job of offering big bonuses in categories where consumers do a lot of spending.
Since Americans spend an average of $3,971 per year on groceries, earning 3% cash back on that spending is a great perk. Nonetheless, the vast majority of a consumers spending will most likely fall in the 1% cash back category, which is why this card only made it to 4th place.
5th & 6th Place:
For 5th and 6th place, Chase Freedom® brings in an annual cash back return of $462.86, and BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card brings back $431.25 annually. These cards come with $150 and $100 sign up bonus respectively after you meet the spending thresholds.
It’s important to note that the sign up bonuses on these credit cards play an enormous role in where they fall in our rankings. For example, if the Discover it® Card didn’t have the incredible double cash back bonus, it would fall from 1st place to last place. Therefore, if you want the best cash back credit card that will keep rewarding you for years to come, the Citi® Double Cash is the clear winner.
The Final Word
When it comes down to choosing a credit card, the best option for you will largely depend on how you spend your money. For example, if you spend more than the average consumer on groceries, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express might be the best option for you from this analysis. If you spend a lot on gas, and do you banking at Bank of America, then BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card would be a great fit since it offers a 10% annual cash back bonus to cardholders who also have a Bank of America Checking account (we didn’t include this in our calculations, but it would add $33.14 per year).
Overall, our best recommendation would be that you use our cash back breakdown as a guide to analyze your own spending and see which card would be best for you. With so many different factors to consider when looking for the best cash back credit card, the ultimate approach is simply to compare your spending habits to the cash back rates on each credit card and see which one comes out on top.
* Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.
*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.