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CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.

The old saying “Cash is king” might never have been as true as it is right now. While many people like to use their credit card to earn travel points or miles that they can redeem for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, those plans are on hold for many at the moment thanks to the pandemic.

So, instead of sticking with a credit card that earns rewards for a vacation that isn’t happening in the near future, why not consider a credit card that earns you cash back almost instantly? Having money in your pocket today allows you to use that cash on anything you desire — or save it for the future.

Interested? Then check out our list of the best cash back credit cards to decide which one will best fit your needs.

The best cash back credit cards of 2021

Citi® Double Cash Card: Best overall card for cash back
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for US supermarkets
Chase Freedom Flex: Best for restaurants, including takeout and delivery
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: Best for gas purchases
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for flexibility
Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card: Best for small businesses
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card: Best for streaming
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: Best for travel

The information for the Discover it Cash Back, U.S. Bank Cash+ and Bank of America Cash Rewards cards has been collected independently by CNN Underscored. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuers.

Why did we select these cards as our best cash back credit cards for 2021? CNN Underscored’s comprehensive credit card methodology compares every aspect of each cash back credit card to our “benchmark credit card” to determine which cards can potentially earn you the most cash. So let’s dive into the details of each card and see how they stack up.

Citi Double Cash

Best overall card for cash back

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Citi Double Cash Card is extremely simple, since you earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your statement — all for no annual fee.

This card is right for: People looking for an easy and straightforward way to earn cash back without having to worry about category bonuses.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2% cash back on everything — 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off.
  • 18-month 0% introductory rate on balance transfers (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
  • Expert users can convert the cash back to Citi ThankYou travel points at a ratio of 1 cent per point when combined with the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier℠ Card.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: None.

What we like about the Citi Double Cash: When compared to all of the other major no-annual-fee credit cards, the Citi Double Cash offers the highest ongoing flat-rate return on every single purchase. With this card you’ll earn 2% in cash back — 1% when you buy something and another 1% when you pay it off — on every purchase you make. There’s no maximum on the cash back you can earn, and you don’t need to worry about tracking category bonuses.

The Citi Double Cash also offers a relatively long 18-month introductory 0% interest rate period for balance transfers — a great way to pay off your debt (though make sure you pay it off, because the rate jumps to a variable 13.99% to 23.99% after the introductory offer ends). And you have up to four months after you open the account to make your first balance transfer and still have it qualify for the introductory offer.

Related: Read CNN Underscored’s list of the best balance transfer credit cards.

Experts will enjoy pairing this card with one of the premium Citi ThankYou credit cards, such as the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige. That’s because if you also have a premium ThankYou card, you can actually convert your cash back from the Citi Double Cash to Citi ThankYou points and then transfer those points to one of Citi’s airline partners or redeem them for airfare at 1.25 cents per point when going through the Citi travel portal with the Citi Premier (though this rate will drop to 1 cent per point after April 21, 2021).

One thing that could be better: Although the Citi Double Cash card will earn you the most cash back on your everyday purchases, it doesn’t have any category bonuses. This can be a downside if you routinely make a large number of purchases in a particular category.

You’ll also find that the Citi Double Cash doesn’t come with many perks, such as travel or purchase protections. This is also not the card to use for international purchases, as you’ll be charged a 3% foreign transaction fee when you’re overseas, which more than offsets the rewards you’d earn.

Why it’s our benchmark card: The ease of use and straightforward top-of-market cash back earning rate of the Citi Double Cash are why CNN Underscored currently uses the Double Cash as our “benchmark” credit card to compare the features of other credit cards and determine if they’re better or worse overall.

You can read more about our benchmark credit card concept in our credit card methodology guide or dig into our complete review of the Citi Double Cash.

Learn more and apply for the Citi Double Cash Card.

Blue Cash Preferred by American Express

Best for US supermarkets

Earn bonus cash back at US supermarkets with the Blue Cash Preferred credit card.
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Earn bonus cash back at US supermarkets with the Blue Cash Preferred credit card.

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express earns 6% cash back at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), making it one of the best credit cards year after year for buying groceries.

This card is right for: People who spend a significant amount of money at US supermarkets but who also want to avoid high interest rates on their purchases for their first year as a card member.

Highlights:

  • Earn 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) and on select US streaming subscriptions.
  • Earn 3% cash back at US gas stations and on transit (including taxis/ride-shares, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • Earn 1% cash back on everything else.
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 12 months (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
  • Purchase protection and return protection.
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance.
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first six months after opening the account, plus get a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter).

What we like about the Blue Cash Preferred: For many Americans, a significant portion of the monthly family budget goes to supermarket and gas station expenses. The Blue Cash Preferred card dials up the bonus cash back on those two categories, creating a go-to in your wallet for these routine purchases.

Not only will you earn extra cash back in the grocery and gas departments, but you’ll also earn a significant amount of cash back on all your US streaming subscriptions. This includes over 20 different providers, such as Disney+, HBO, Netflix, Spotify and YouTube TV, among others. And when transit starts to make a comeback, you’ll also get a nice return there as well, with 3% cash back on those transactions.

Related: Earn more rewards on your groceries with these credit cards.

The Blue Cash Preferred also comes with a solid return protection policy, which can come in handy during the upcoming holiday season. Return protection allows you to return an eligible item within 90 days from the day of purchase if the merchant won’t take it back. As long as you used your Blue Cash Preferred to pay for it, American Express will refund the full purchase price (excluding shipping and handling). Claims are capped at $300 per item, up to a maximum of $1,000 per card account per calendar year.

One thing that could be better: Many of the bonus categories on the Blue Cash Preferred are limited to purchases made within the United States. There’s also a 2.7% foreign transaction fee on the card, which doesn’t make this an ideal choice for international travel. And the card has a $95 annual fee, which is significantly higher than many other credit cards offering cash back.

The Blue Cash Preferred currently comes with a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 thereafter. But if you prefer a card that never has an annual fee and also offers a strong return on groceries, you might consider the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express instead.

While the Blue Cash Everyday earns a lower 3% cash back at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%), it has no annual fee. That means if you spend less than $3,166 in grocery purchases annually, it could be a better choice.

Related: Amex Blue Cash Preferred vs. Amex Blue Cash Everyday.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Welcome bonus, an introductory interest rate on purchases, return protection and car rental damage coverage.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has an introductory interest rate on balance transfers, and its cash back can be converted to Citi ThankYou travel points when combined with the Citi Prestige Card or Citi Premier Card.

Learn more and apply for the Blue Cash Preferred Card.

Chase Freedom Flex

Best for restaurants, including takeout and delivery

The Chase Freedom Flex has both fixed and rotating bonus categories.
Chase
The Chase Freedom Flex has both fixed and rotating bonus categories.

Why it’s great in one sentence: The new Chase Freedom Flex credit card offers both fixed category bonuses — including one specifically for dining — and a set of rotating category bonuses, plus cell phone protection as well.

This card is right for: People who are looking for a no-annual-fee card that earns bonus cash back at restaurants, even if they’re just getting delivery or takeout, as well as in several other categories.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Earn 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services.
  • Earn 3% cash back on drugstore purchases.
  • Earn 5% cash back on quarterly bonuses categories (up to $1,500 on combined purchases).
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Cash back can be transferred to airline and hotel travel programs when combined with select Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
  • Cell phone protection.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Chase Freedom Flex: While you might sign up for the Chase Freedom Flex for its sign-up bonus, it’ll likely become one of your long-term go-to cards, thanks to its rotating 5% bonus categories and ongoing 3% category bonuses at restaurants and drugstores.

The Chase Freedom Flex earns 5% on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% at drugstores and 3% at restaurants. And even if you’re not physically eating out at restaurants right now, you’ll still receive the increased cash back on takeout and eligible delivery orders.

But in addition to those three fixed bonus categories, the card offers a set of 5% bonus categories that rotate each quarter. For the current quarter from January through March, the categories are wholesale clubs, internet, cable and phone services, and select streaming services, The rotating categories are capped at $1,500 in purchases per quarter, so you can earn as much as $75 in bonus cash.

Aside from the bonus categories, this card also comes with many unique benefits that differ from most other Chase cards. One of our favorites is cell phone protection. As long as you use your Chase Freedom Flex to pay your monthly cell phone bill, you’ll be covered against theft or damage to your phone, up to $800 per claim and $1,000 per year, with a $50 deductible per claim and a maximum of two claims in a 12-month period. This is currently the only no-annual-fee Chase credit card that offers this highly sought-after benefit.

One thing that could be better: While there’s no maximum on how much cash back you can earn in the three fixed bonus categories, the rotating 5% cash back categories do have that $1,500 cap in purchases — after that, you’ll only earn 1% cash back in those categories for the rest of the quarter. And you’ll need to remember to activate the rotating categories each quarter in order to earn bonus cash back in them.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, category bonuses and cell phone protection.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Learn more and apply for the Chase Freedom Flex.

Costco Anywhere Visa

Best for gas purchases

Earn bonus cash back on gasoline purchases, both at Costco and other gas stations.
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Earn bonus cash back on gasoline purchases, both at Costco and other gas stations.

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi offers big rewards on many practical purchases, such as 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide (capped at the first $7,000 in purchases per year, then 1% thereafter), 3% cash back at restaurants and on eligible travel purchases and 2% cash back on all Costco and costco.com purchases.

This card is right for: Costco members who want strong rewards when buying at Costco and filling up their gas tank.

Highlights:

  • Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide, including Costco gas (capped at the first $7,000 in purchases per year, then 1% thereafter).
  • Earn 3% cash back at restaurants and on eligible travel purchases.
  • Earn 2% cash back on all Costco and costco.com purchases (other than Costco gas).
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Purchase protection and extended warranty coverage.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: None.

What we like about the Costco Anywhere Visa: For those looking to fill up their vehicle’s gas tank, the Costco Anywhere Visa offers the most cash back when compared to other top-earning credit cards.

Earning 4% cash back on all gas purchases worldwide for the first $7,000 per year (1% thereafter) can add up quickly and save you some serious money over the course of the year. And aside from the earning potential on gas, earning 3% cash back at restaurants and eligible travel purchases is on par — and many times better — than what you’ll see with other cash back credit cards.

The Costco Anywhere Visa also offers purchase protection, which is a great benefit for all purchases, especially during the holiday season. You’ll be covered if your item is damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase (90 days for New York residents). The coverage is good for up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 annually.

The purchase protection applies to items you buy anywhere, not just at Costco. But even while Costco has a favorable return policy for most of its products, electronics and major appliances only have a 90-day return window, which makes the benefits of this credit card extra useful.

Also, with the card’s extended warranty coverage, you’ll receive an additional two years of warranty on top of the normal manufacturer’s warranty for any products you purchase with the card. Again, this extended warranty benefit applies not only to purchases made at Costco, but also to any other retailer as long as you use your Costco Anywhere Visa as your payment method.

One thing that could be better: One big disadvantage of the Costco Anywhere Visa is that you have to wait a full year to receive your rewards, which are sent in the form of an annual certificate after your February billing statement closes each year. The certificate can be redeemed for Costco purchases or exchanged for cash at your local Costco store, and will expire if it’s not redeemed by December 31 of that calendar year.

Also, although this card doesn’t carry an annual fee, to be a card member, you must have a Costco membership, which starts at $60 per year.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Extended warranty, purchase protection and no foreign transaction fees. Also, the Costco card is a Visa credit card, which is accepted at Costco in-store and at costco.com — Mastercards like the Citi Double Cash are not accepted in-store.

Where our benchmark card is better: With the Citi Double Cash, you receive your cash back on a monthly basis instead of once a year, and you don’t have to physically go into a store to exchange your rewards for cash.

Read our complete Costco Anywhere Visa credit card review.
Learn more and apply for the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Best for flexibility

Cash back earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited can also be used as points for travel, and at a greater value, when combined with a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards card.
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Cash back earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited can also be used as points for travel, and at a greater value, when combined with a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards card.

Why it’s great in one sentence: If you want to earn bonus rewards on all your purchases but aren’t sure whether you’d prefer cash back or travel rewards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited allows you to do both when paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

This card is right for: People who want maximum flexibility in a no-annual-fee credit card.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Earn 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services.
  • Earn 3% cash back on drugstore purchases.
  • Earn 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Expert users can convert the cash back to flexible travel points when pairing the Freedom Unlimited with a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card.
  • 15-month 0% introductory rate on purchases (14.99% to 23.74% variable afterward).
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Chase Freedom Unlimited: If you prefer cash back now but think that a dose of adventure is in your future once travel returns to normal, the Chase Freedom Unlimited can give you the best of both worlds.

When you pair the Freedom Unlimited with a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your cash back to travel points at a rate of 1 cent per point. Then, you’re able to redeem those points for travel at an increased value of 1.25 to 1.5 cents apiece via the Chase travel portal.

Even better, once you’ve converted the cash back to points, you can transfer them to any of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel loyalty partners. This amazing flexibility is why frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece. At that rate, since you’re earning 1.5% cash back in all non-bonus categories with the Freedom Unlimited, you could effectively end up with a 3% return on your everyday purchases.

One thing that could be better: The Citi Double Cash comes with a higher cash back earning rate on everyday purchases, and you can also convert its cash back to travel points in conjunction with a premium Citi card.

But Citi’s travel partners aren’t as impressive as Chase’s, and while the Double Cash doesn’t have any bonus categories, the Freedom Unlimited has the same trio of bonus categories as the Chase Freedom Flex (though you won’t receive cell phone protection with the Chase Freedom Unlimited).

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, bonus categories, purchase protection, extended warranty protection and an introductory rate on purchases for 15 months.

Where our benchmark card is better: If you’re solely looking to earn flat-rate cash back on every purchase you make, the Citi Double Cash will earn you more on your everyday purchases.

Learn more and apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Ink Business Unlimited

Best for small businesses

Small businesses can earn $750 in bonus cash back when opening a new Ink Business Unlimited credit card.
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Small businesses can earn $750 in bonus cash back when opening a new Ink Business Unlimited credit card.

Why it’s great in one sentence: Small business owners can earn 1.5% cash back on all their purchases with the Ink Business Unlimited for no annual fee, and also have the option to convert their cash back to travel rewards down the line.

This card is right for: Businesses who want flexible cash back rewards from a no-annual-fee credit card.

Highlights:

  • Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • Expert business users can convert the cash back to flexible travel points when pairing the Ink Business Unlimited with an Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, or a personal Sapphire card.
  • 12-month 0% introductory rate on purchases (13.24% to 19.24% variable afterward).
  • Primary rental car insurance.
  • Purchase protection and extended warranty coverage.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Ink Business Unlimited: If your business is looking for a simple easy-to-understand cash back card, the Ink Business Unlimited is a great, straightforward option. It earns 1.5% cash back on everything your business buys with it, 365 days a year.

And if you decide down the line that you’d prefer travel rewards to cash back, you can pair the Ink Business Unlimited with the premium Ink Business Preferred (or alternately, the personal Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve) and convert your cash back to travel points, then redeem the points for travel or transfer them to any of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel loyalty partners.

Plus, right now is a fantastic time to get the Ink Business Unlimited. That’s because the card currently comes with the highest sign-up bonus we’ve ever seen on this card. New card holders can earn $750 in bonus cash back after spending $7,500 in purchases in the first three months after opening the account. That’s an unbelievable sign-up bonus for a card that has no annual fee.

One thing that could be better: You won’t want to use the Ink Business Unlimited on overseas purchases, as it charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. And the $7,500 minimum spend requirement to earn the $750 sign-up bonus isn’t small, but it should be feasible for any small business that has regular expenses that can be charged to a credit card.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, primary rental car insurance, purchase protection, extended warranty protection and an introductory rate on purchases for 12 months.

Where our benchmark card is better: If you’re solely looking to earn flat-rate cash back on every purchase you make, the Citi Double Cash will earn you more on your everyday purchases. <