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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. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

The old saying “cash is king” has certainly proven itself to be more apt than ever during the pandemic. While many people still like to use their credit cards to earn travel points or miles that they can redeem for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, credit cards that earn cash back have become a more popular option while there’s still reduced demand for travel and international borders remain restricted.

So, if you’ve been using a credit card that earns rewards for a vacation that maybe isn’t happening for a little while longer, why not consider a card that earns cash back almost instantly? Having money in your pocket today means you can use that cash on anything you desire — or save it for the future.

Sound interesting? Then check out our list of the best cash back credit cards to decide which one best fits 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 U.S. supermarkets
Chase Freedom Flex: Best for restaurants, including takeout and delivery
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: Best for 5% categories
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for flexibility
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: Best for gas
Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card: Best for small businesses
Discover it® Cash Back: Best sign-up bonus
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card: Best for streaming

The information for the Discover it Cash Back and U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature 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 APR 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 Premier℠ Card or Citi Prestige® 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. 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 cap on the amount of cash back you can earn, and you don’t need to worry about tracking bonus categories.

The Citi Double Cash also offers a relatively long 18-month introductory 0% APR for balance transfers — a great way to pay off your debt (though make sure you pay it off, because the APR 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. 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 16 airline partners.

One thing that could be better: Although the Citi Double Cash card earns most cash back on your everyday purchases, it doesn’t have any bonus categories. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • Earn 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/ride-shares, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • Earn 1% cash back on everything else.
  • 0% APR on all purchases for the first 12 months, then 13.99% to 23.99% variable (see rates and fees).
  • Purchase protection and return protection.
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 thereafter (see rates and fees).
  • 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.

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 U.S. streaming subscriptions. This includes over 20 different providers, such as Disney+, HBO, Netflix, Spotify and YouTube TV, among others. And as transit starts to come back, you’ll also receive 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. 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 (see rates and fees), which doesn’t make it an ideal choice for international travel. And the card has a $95 annual fee after the first year, which is significantly higher than many other cards offering cash back.

If you’d prefer a card that has no annual fee at all and also offers a strong return at U.S. supermarkets, you might consider the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express instead (see rates and fees). While the Blue Cash Everyday earns a lower 3% at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%), if you spend less than $3,166 in grocery purchases annually, it could be a better choice.

Related: What’s the difference between the two American Express Blue Cash credit cards?

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 about 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 Chase Freedom Flex credit card offers both fixed bonus categories — including one specifically for dining — and a set of rotating bonus categories, 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, plus 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

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% bonus cash back 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 you’ll earn that increased cash back on takeout and eligible delivery orders, as well as when you’re physically dining in a restaurant.

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 July through September, the categories are grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart) 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.

Related: Protect your cell phone from theft or damage with these credit cards.

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, bonus categories 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.

Citi Custom Cash Card

Best for 5% categories

Earn 5% cash back in the eligible category you spend the most in each month with the Citi Custom Cash Card.
Citi
Earn 5% cash back in the eligible category you spend the most in each month with the Citi Custom Cash Card.

Why it’s great in one sentence: You don’t have to worry about chasing bonus categories with the Citi Custom Cash Card, since it automatically earns 5% cash back in the one eligible category you spend the most in each month, up to $500 in purchases.

This card is right for: People who spend a significant amount of money in one or more of the eligible categories on a regular basis and who want to earn bonus cash back in that category.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spending category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, then 1% cash back thereafter.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
  • 15-month 0% introductory APR 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 Premier Card or Citi Prestige.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Citi Custom Cash Card: The Citi Custom Cash Card is a relatively new credit card that’s intended to make life easy for those who don’t like to spend time focusing on bonus categories. The card automatically earns 5% cash back in the one eligible category you spend the most in each month, up to $500 in purchases, and then 1% cash back after that.

The great thing about this feature is that if your top spending category changes each month, the Citi Custom Cash will change along with it. And with a broad list of eligible 5% back categories, you should have no problem getting 5% cash back on at least some purchases each month. The eligible categories are:

  • Gas stations
  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Select travel
  • Select transit
  • Select streaming services
  • Drugstores
  • Home improvement
  • Fitness clubs
  • Live entertainment

Also, like the Citi Double Cash, if you have either a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card, you can use the cash back earned on the Citi Custom Cash Card as ThankYou points instead, and transfer them to any of Citi’s airline partners, potentially getting even more value for them than just 1 cent per point.

Plus, new Citi Custom Cash Card holders get a 0% introductory APR on both purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months, which can be very helpful if you need to temporarily carry some debt. Just make sure you pay it off in full by the end of the 15 months, because the rate rises to a variable APR of 13.99%-23.99% once the introductory offer expires.

One thing that could be better: The 5% cash back bonus is restricted to only the eligible categories on the Citi Custom Cash Card, so not everything you buy can potentially earn bonus cash. Also, there’s a 5% balance transfer fee on the card, which is higher than the typical 3% fee on many other cards, including our benchmark Citi Double Cash. However, the 15-month introductory period on purchases has no fee, so it may make sense to use that feature of the card and avoid the balance transfer part.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, 5% bonus category 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 more on your everyday purchases.

Learn more and apply for the Citi Custom Cash Card.

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 APR on purchases (14.99% to 23.74% variable afterward).
  • No annual fee.

Welcome bonus: Earn $200 bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account, plus 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

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, 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 14 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 more on your everyday purchases.

Learn more and apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Costco Anywhere Visa

Best for gas

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 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