With the right cash back credit card in your wallet, you can save hundreds of dollars each year on your most frequent spending and bills. But to gain value from the cash back rewards you earn, you must also redeem them.
Compared to many travel and rewards credit cards with valuable but complex rewards programs, cash back card redemptions are simple. Most commonly, you may redeem cash rewards for a check or statement credit toward your card balance, but some cards offer other options, too. And to get the best value, you’ll also want to make sure you have the best cash back card for the purchases you make most.
Here’s how you can make your cash rewards work best for your spending and financial goals, and what to consider before you open a new cash back card:
How to Redeem Cash Back Rewards
Before you apply for a cash back card, look to the card’s terms and conditions to see all your options for redeeming your rewards. Different cards come with unique redemption options, and some may fit better with your financial goals than others.
Common cash back credit card redemptions include:
- Check in the mail
- Direct deposit to a linked checking or savings account
- Statement credits toward your recent purchases
- Gift cards
- Travel through a travel portal
Some cash back cards refer to cash rewards as “points,” even if you redeem them for cash. In general, these rewards “points” are worth one cent each. So if you have a card with 3% back on dining, you would earn 3 points for every dollar spent at eligible restaurants.
Some cash back credit cards let you use your rewards like travel points, too. For example, you can turn cash back earned with the Chase Freedom Flex℠ into flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points to redeem for travel. And if you also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can combine rewards and redeem them at a boosted rate for travel through the Chase portal or transfer your points to Chase airline and hotel partners.
When you’re ready to redeem the rewards you’ve earned, simply log into your card account online or use the mobile app and choose your redemption method. You’ll also be able to choose the amount you’d like to redeem. Some cards have a minimum redemption amount (often $25) which you must earn before you can redeem, which can limit how often you’re able to cash in rewards.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Intro offer:Earn an Additional 1.5% Cash Back
- Annual fee:$0
- Regular APR:17.24% – 25.99% Variable
- Recommended credit:670-850 (Good to Excellent)
- Apply Now At Chase’s secure site
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
How Do Cash Back Cards Work?
Cash back cards work best with your most frequent spending, so you’ll get the best redemption value from a cash back card that earns rewards where you spend most.
Rewards vary from card to card, but most offer at least 1% on everything, with bonus rewards between 2% to 5% back on certain types of purchases. Many cash back credit cards also come with no annual fee, and some even extend 0% APR on purchases, balance transfers, or both for a limited time.
If you’re looking for cash back savings, look at your budget from the past several months to find out where you spend most — look for categories like dining out, groceries, gas, monthly subscriptions, and more. You’ll want to make sure your rewards rate aligns with your regular spending.
Once you have an idea of your spending habits, you can choose the type of cash back credit card that’ll help you best maximize each dollar you spend:
Flat rate cash back cards
Flat-rate cash back cards offer the most straightforward type of cash rewards: you’ll earn a flat rewards rate (usually 1.5% or 2% back) on everything you buy, with no category restrictions. These cards are usually best for people who want an easy way to earn rewards on every purchase without having to strategize. Examples of flat rate cash back credit cards include the Citi Double Cash Card and the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card.
Tiered bonus category cash back cards
Some cash back credit cards offer a base rewards rate on all purchases (typically 1%) along with higher rewards in fixed bonus categories (usually ranging from 2% to 4%), like dining, travel, or drugstore purchases. If you spend a lot of money in certain categories each month and want to maximize rewards on those purchases, this could be a good option for you. Some tiered cash back credit cards include the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card and Blue Cash Preferred from American Express.
Rotating category cash back cards
Cash back cards with rotating categories offer higher rewards (usually 5%, up to limits) in bonus categories that change every three months. You’ll generally need to track the categories and activate them quarterly. This cash back type can be most valuable if you’re willing to strategize how you earn more rewards over time, as categories evolve. Cash back rewards cards with rotating categories include the Discover it® Cash Back card and the Chase Freedom Flex.
How to Get a Cash Back Card
Most rewards credit cards — including cash back credit cards — are geared to consumers with good credit or better. This typically includes anyone with a credit score of 670 or higher, although you’ll have the best approval odds with a score over 700.
If your credit score needs some work, you may want to spend some time improving it before you apply for a competitive cash back offer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t earn cash rewards in the meantime. There are also several cash back credit card options for people with fair credit or bad credit.
You can qualify for the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit, for example, with “fair” credit (a score typically ranging from 580 to 669), and earn flat 1.5% cash back on every purchase. A $39 annual fee applies.
Once you build your credit over time by paying your balance in full and on time, you may choose to upgrade or apply for another cash back card option that’s even more in line with your spending.
How to Choose the Best Cash Back Card for You
To find the best cash back card with the best redemption value for your spending, first decide which type of cash back card most appeals to you. For instance, would you prefer 2% cash back on all purchases or 4% rewards in select bonus categories, like dining and groceries, where you spend most?
You should also make sure you like the redemption options of the cards you’re considering. Where Chase cards like the Chase Freedom Flex let you redeem rewards for cash back, statement credits, merchandise, travel and more, some cards limit your redemptions to statement credits only.
Other factors to consider include annual fees and cardholder perks like purchase protection, extended warranties or travel insurance. Also check whether a card offers 0% APR on purchases, balance transfers or both. If so, you can position yourself to save on interest as you pay down large purchases or consolidate debt from other cards.