Pay for your everyday purchases with a plain vanilla debit or credit card, and you could be leaving as much as 6 percent of your household budget in the cashier's till each month. Our survey of the market's best cash-back credit cards reminds us that you can earn some significant rebates, just by focusing your spending through the right account.
Best cash back card for busy families: Blue Cash Preferred from American Express
Your high credit score can earn you an invitation to one of the most consistently generous cash back credit cards ever offered. "Preferred" cardmembers enjoy 6 percent cash back at supermarkets, 3 percent cash back at gas stations and department stores, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. There's a $75 annual fee, but new cardmembers get a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 during the first three months with the card.
Don't lose hope if you've got one or two dings on your credit report. You may still qualify for the Blue Cash Everyday card. This no annual fee card features a cash back structure that still rivals the best credit cards on the market. Card members get 3 percent cash back at supermarkets, 2 percent cash back at gas stations and department stores, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
Best "hands-off" cash back cards: Capital One Cash Rewards
While many cash-back credit cards require you to opt-in for the biggest rebates, Capital One Cash Rewards caters to consumers who like to "set it and forget it." Build your reward's base with a consistent, 1 percent rebate on all of your purchases, all year long. Make your payments on time each month for a year, and Capital One will kick in a bonus reward equal to half your accrued rewards.
That's an annual maximum of 1.5 percent, a great reward if you don't follow any specific purchasing pattern. Best of all, Capital One's website makes it easy for you to cash in your rewards for statement credits, anytime. With no annual fee, this card makes a great companion to Blue Cash for those times when your merchant doesn't accept American Express.
Best cash back card with flexible rewards: Chase Freedom Visa
Chase has spared no expense over the past few years, educating consumers about the benefits of its flagship cash back credit card. In building Freedom's rewards structure, it swiped the best elements of the Discover Card (rotating bonus categories) and eliminated the required spending thresholds. As a result, you get a no annual fee card with a consistent 1 percent rebate and up to 5 percent cash back on featured spending categories.
But that's only part of the picture. Chase's Ultimate Rewards program powers Freedom's cash rebates. You can exchange your cash rewards for gift cards or merchandise that may almost double your earnings. If you're a really savvy shopper, you can even earn up to 20 percent cash back with merchants at Chase's online mall. A $100 signup bonus for spending $500 on the Chase Freedom Visa sweetens the deal.
Best cash back card for focused shoppers: U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature
This year's hottest rookie cash-back card has already made a play to swipe market share from Discover and Chase. Every three months, U.S. Bank sends its Cash+ Visa Signature cardholders a text message reminder to choose two spending categories for 5 percent cash back and another for a 2 percent rebate. Although you have to pick gas, groceries or drug stores for your 2 percent quarterly bonus, U.S. Bank gives you a wide selection of merchant categories for your 5 percent deal.
Time your purchase of airline tickets, appliances or computers to enjoy some of the biggest possible rebates. If you can stand to let your cash back rebate grow, U.S. Bank will even bump your maximum reward to 6.25 percent. Just wait to request a statement credit until you've accrued $100 in rebates. Ask for your reward after that, and the bank will kick in a bonus $25 gift card. With no annual fee and no earning restrictions, this card could end up paying out some of the biggest rebates on the market.
Best cash back card for back-to-school shopping: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa Card
Citi's cash back credit card uses a reward structure similar to Chase's and Discover's, but ups the ante for families with high school and college students. Through the end of September, Citi's adding 5 percent cash back rewards for all purchases at Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic locations, including their outlet stores. Airline tickets and car rental fees get the 5 percent bonus, too, rewarding parents who have to drive or fly their kids back to campus.
After that deal expires, Citi keeps the 5 percent cash back rebate rolling with quarterly promotions on featured spending categories. In addition, everyday purchases earn 1 percent cash back. Citi sweetens the deal for new cardholders, adding a $150 cash back bonus after you spend $500 with the card. That's one of the lowest sign-up bonus thresholds in the business. Combined with a strong balance transfer deal and no interest for a year, the Dividend Platinum Select Visa proves that Citi's hungry to welcome back customers that defected to their competitors.
Cash-back credit cards come with their own set of ground rules. Especially when you're not paying an annual fee, banks will usually notch your APR toward the high end of the spectrum. You'll really only get the most from these cards when you pay your bill in full at the end of each statement cycle. Otherwise, finance charges will eat most of your rebate. Pay your bills on time, too. Missing a payment could mean losing your accrued rebates. Just treat your new cash back credit card like it's the debit card connected to your checking account. That way, you'll enjoy bonus cash throughout the year.
This article originally appeared on CardRatings.com: 5 Credit Cards to Turn Your Wallet into a Workhorse