Credit Card Recommendations

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Below is my list of Cashback Credit Card recommendations. I'll update it periodically as new cards come out and the terms on existing cards change.

Notes before you begin

You must pay off your cards every month

  • This list is only for cards that provide rewards that can be turned into cash (in the form of a check or statement credit). I prefer this system to rewards points that can only be used for, say, hotel stays or flights, because cash is king and more flexible. If you need to pull out your rewards to pay for an emergency you can. If you need to pull it out for Christmas presents or a down payment on a car or to fund the new TV you've been saving up for, you can.
  • This list is intended for those who will pay off their balance EVERY MONTH. If you carry a balance and get hit with an interest payment you will negate a lot of cashback. If you do it repeatedly you will lose more than you gain.
  • I treat my credit cards like debit cards and I use my checking account to determine how much "spending power" I have. If I don't have cash in the bank, I don't buy things with my credit cards (except for emergencies). In order to avoid interest payments you can adopt one of two strategies:
    1. Pay off your full statement balance every month. You can even setup AutoPay to ensure you never miss a payment.
    2. (This is what I do.) You can set yourself a calendar reminder to pay off all of your credit cards every 1-2 weeks (or some other interval that is less than the typical monthly period). This ensures that you don't carry a balance. It also helps keep your checking account "accurate". When you're funneling charges through credit cards, but looking at your checking account to know how much "spending power" you have you can get tricked by the balance on the credit cards not being reflected in balance of your checking account. By paying them off more frequently you keep your checking account more up to date.

How to use your rewards

  • There are two strategies on how to use your rewards/points/cashback
    1. Let the points sit in their respective pots at each credit card's site until you're ready to use them. This has 2 advantages:
      1. You forget about the points until you need them and then are pleasantly surprised at the amount of money you've saved up. Similarly you aren't tempted to use the points frivolously because you don't often look at the balance.
      2. Many cards give you points that you can redeem for cash or a gift card or spend directly on purchases. Gift cards and direct purchases can often be redeemed for more value than the cash equivalent. By leaving the points in the care of the credit cards for longer you give yourself the option of an alternate redemption method if it works out for you.
    2. Frequently take the points out, in the form of a check or transfer to your checking account, or as a statement credit. This has a couple advantages:
      1. If you do this you can put the cash in something like a High Yield Savings account (I use Marcus by Goldman Sachs which currently provides High Yield Savings accounts with a 2.05% APY. This means you earn a little bit of interest on the money in the account. Now you are earning interest on the cashback that is sitting around waiting to be used.
      2. Some of these cards only offer cashback as a statement credit. If you save up the rewards and can only redeem for a statement credit, you can't really "use" the money immediately unless you charge your new expense to that card. If take the statement credit and then move the equivalent amount from your checking to your High Yield Savings it essentially gives you access to those funds.

Beginner: Citi Double Cash Card

If you want a single, do it all, card with minimum hassle go with the Citi Double Cash Card. This card gives you:

  • 2% on all purchases
  • No annual fee
  • No maximum cashback
  • Nothing to sign up for

Use this card for everything you possibly can (food, travel, utilities, etc) and start earning 2% on all of the money you spend. Make sure you pay it off every month; getting hit with an interest payment negates a lot of cashback.

Intermediate

If you are comfortable managing a few cards and want to earn more cashback consider the cards below.

Citi Double Cash Card

You're going to need a baseline card for all of your expenses that don't fall into other categories. For this, the best available right now is the Citi Double Cash Card which provides:

  • 2% on all purchases
  • No annual fee
  • No maximum cashback

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card

This is your grocery store (and possibly gas) card. It provides:

  • 6% back on groceries on up to $6000 spent per year
  • 6% back on streaming services
  • 3% back on gas unlimited
  • 1% on all else unlimited

It costs $95/year.

There is also a variant (the American Express Blue Cash) with no annual fee. However it only gives 3% on groceries (still up to $6000 per year), 2% at gas stations, & 1% everywhere else.

Assuming you only use this on groceries the 6% break even for the yearly fee (when compared to a free 3% card) @ $3167 spent. If you use this for gas too the break even point is lower. So, for most people, paying the yearly fee is worth it (if you spend more than $3167 per year on groceries).

In a year, if you spend $6000 on groceries with this card, you'll get $360 cashback - $95 fee = $265 (as compared to $180 with the free 3% card). If you use this for gas & streaming services too you'll do better, but there is a 4% gas card from PNC listed below.

It also gives you access to some AMEX cashback offers that are something like "spend $30 at a Shell station using the card and get a $5 statement credit". Once you sign up for the deal you just use the card at the specified retailer and a credit is automatically issued to your account. I've been able to use a few of these for hotel stays, REI, gas stations, etc.

The 6% on grocery stores is only good for stores categorized as "supermarkets." This does not include big box stores liked Target & Walmart or warehouse clubs like Sam's and Costco.

Purchases of streaming services do not count toward your $6,000 grocery store cap. The eligible streaming services include:

  • Amazon Music
  • Apple Music
  • Audible
  • CBS All Access
  • Direct TV Now
  • ESPN+
  • Fubo TV
  • HBO Now
  • Hulu
  • iHeartRadio
  • Kindle Unlimited
  • MLB.TV
  • NBA League Pass
  • Netflix
  • NHL.TV
  • Pandora
  • Prime Video Unlimited
  • Showtime
  • Sling TV
  • SiriusXM Streaming and Satellite
  • Spotify
  • Stitcher
  • YouTube Music Premium
  • YouTube Premium
  • YouTube TV

Uber Visa Card Wells Fargo Propel Amex

Uber just changed their card entirely and it's basically garbage now. I'll most likely be replacing this with the Wells Fargo Propel Amex. This card is, essentially a dining and travel card. It provides:

  • 4% cashback on dining
  • 3% cashback on hotels and airfare (including vacation home rentals) but NOT rental cars (duh, Uber)
  • 2% cashback on online purchases
  • 1% cashback on all other purchases
  • Yearly $50 Subscription Fee reimbursement after $5,000 spent in a year.
    • Applies to Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Music, Audible, Sirius XM, Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, DirecTV NOW, the membership fee for Amazon Prime, and Shoprunner
    • If you think you'll spend $5,000 on a calendar year (not that hard if you travel your work and can put your flights and hotels on this card) then make sure you spend $50 of Subscription Fees on this card.
    • Since this card is 2% on online purchases and your probably not going to do better than 2% on Subscription Fees you could put all eligible subscription services on this card.
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee

PNC Cash Rewards Visa

This card is a gas (and possibly dining) card. It provides:

  • 4% cashback on gas station purchases
  • 3% cashback on dining
  • 2% cashback on grocery stores
  • 1% cashback on all other purchases
  • No annual fee

Note that the rewards are only on the first $8000 spent annually.

Specialty Cards

If you're ready to move beyond the Intermediate stage you might consider specialty, store specific, cards for places you frequent.

Amazon Cards

Bottom Line

  • If you spend over $5,950/year at Amazon you'll make more money with a 5% card and a Prime membership plus you'll get Prime benefits. You should pay for the $119 Prime membership and use a 5% card (Amazon Prime Rewards Card or Amazon Prime Store Card).
  • If you spend less than $5,950/year at Amazon and you kinda like the Prime membership benefits, then you have to decide if the "discounted" Prime membership is worth it (see below).
    • I considered myself someone who wasn't in a rush to receive shipments and didn't value the Prime benefits too much. After cancelling my Prime membership and experiencing a couple orders that took 10 days to arrive I changed my tune a bit. It turns out that 2-day ship can be really beneficial when you're buying things for babies or active projects. As a result I reevaluated the value of 2-day shipping and reinstated my Prime membership.
  • If you don't value the Prime membership benefits and you spend less than $5,950/year at Amazon then you should go with the 3% Amazon Rewards Card and skip the Prime membership.
  • Don't be afraid to try out a Prime-less lifestyle. It is easy to cancel, easy to restart AND Amazon gave me $5 after I placed my first Prime eligible order after turning my account back on.

Overview

Amazon Prime currently costs $119/year. It comes with a host of benefits including free & fast shipping, a video streaming service, and a music streaming service. However you can also get free shipping at Amazon by ensuring your total order value is more than $35 (although the shipping speed will not be as fast). Therefore, whether or not Prime is of value to you depends on how important fast shipping is, whether or not you'll use their streaming services, and how much you spend per year at Amazon. If your goal is to maximize the amount of money in your pocket then you have 3 basic choices:

Calculating Cashback

3vs5.png
To help you make this decision I've calculated a few values including the "break even point" to go from the 3% card to a 5% card. Lets assume for a moment that you don't value the shipping and streaming benefits of Prime but are interested in maximizing cash in your pocket. Since the Prime membership costs $119/year you start out at a $119 deficit in cashback when using the 5% card. To get more cashback with the 5% card than with the 3% card you'll have to spend $5,950 per year at Amazon. If you spend less than this, the 3% card gives you more cash in your pocket. Now if you spend a lot at Amazon, but not quite $5,950, you can consider the delta to be a "discounted" Prime membership. For example, if you spent $4,000 at Amazon in a year you'd make $120 cashback with the 3% card or $200 cashback - $119 Prime = $81 with the 5% card. So at this point the Prime membership is "costing" you $120 - $81 = $39. Perhaps $39 is worth it for Prime membership benefits. See the graph to the right for a visual representation of the cash benefits of the 3% card vs the 5% card for various yearly spend totals.


To help you figure out how much you spend at Amazon in a year you can go to https://www.amazon.com/gp/b2b/reports and download your entire Amazon purchase history as a CSV file (that can be opened in Microsoft Excel or the entirely free LibreOffice Calc).

Example Cases

Here are a couple example cases to help you understand whether or not you want to Amazon Prime.

  • Money Spent: How much you spend at Amazon in a year
  • 5% Card/Prime: How much cashback you earn in a year with a 5% card (after paying for your $119 Prime membership)
  • 3% Card/No Prime: How much cashback you earn in a year with a 3% card (no Prime membership)
  • Effective Cost of Prime: How much your Prime membership is costing you as compared to having a 3% card without the $119 yearly Prime membership fee
Money Spent 5% Card/Prime 3% Card/No Prime Effective Cost of Prime
$1,000 -$69 $30 $99
$2,000 -$19 $60 $79
$3,000 $31 $90 $59
$4,000 $81 $120 $39
$5,000 $131 $150 $19
$6,000 $181 $180 -$1
$7,000 $231 $210 -$21

Card Features

Both the Amazon Rewards Card and the Amazon Prime Rewards Card provide:

  • 3% / 5% cashback on everything you buy at Amazon
  • 3% / 5% cashback on everything you buy at Whole Foods
  • 2% cashback at gas stations, restaurants, and drug stores
  • 1% cashback on all other purchases
  • No yearly fee (except the Prime membership for the 5% version)
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Amazon Prime Store Card provides:

  • 5% cashback on everything you buy at Amazon (with an eligible Prime membership)
  • 6-month 0% financing on any purchase of $149 or more
  • 12-month 0% financing on any purchase of $599 or more
  • 24-month 0% financing on specially designated Amazon-sold products
  • No yearly fee (except the Prime membership fee)

Lowe's Advantage Card

This isn't actually a credit card in that it can only be used at Lowe's. However it's a great card to have if you are a Homeowner.

  • It provides 5% instant savings on all Lowe's purchase (in-store and online) or optional 6 month 0% financing on purchases over $299.
  • Note that this card CANNOT be stacked with the Lowe's 10% Veteran discount. So if you quality for the Veteran discount, skip this card.

Target RED Card

This card provides 5% cashback for purchases made at Target and Target.com. Pretty straight forward.

REI Co-op Mastercard

If you are outdoorsy REI is a great place to shop. The best feature is their 1-year no questions asked return policy. If you do shop at REI you can get an additional 5% on your REI dividend for all purchases (full price, sale, garage sale, etc).

Quarterly Category Cards

These cards are for the most advanced user. They require that you sign up for quarterly categories. To use these cards effectively you'll need to keep track of what the current category is and how much you've spent in that category this quarter as most of these cards have a $1500 spent cap for the quarter.

USBank Cash+ Card

This card is 1% on everything but allows you to choose two 5% categories each quarter (as well as a 2% category but you shouldn't have much use for that). The categories change occasionally but they consistently have Rental Cars, Gyms, and recently Home Utilities as 5% categories. I use this card primarily for the Home Utilities category.

Discover it Cash Back Card

This card is 1% on everything but has rotating 5% categories that change each quarter. Typically you get 5% on up to $1500 spent in said category. These categories can include things like gas, groceries, plane tickets, hotels, etc. You have to actively sign-up (click a link) each quarter to activate the 5% quarter. The categories may, or may not, be the same as the Chase at any given time. If you don't mind having multiple cards you can often take advantage of the Discover & Chase cards being on different categories.

Chase Freedom Card

This card is 1% on everything but has rotating 5% categories that change each quarter. Typically you get 5% on up to $1500 spent in said category. These categories can include things like gas, groceries, plane tickets, hotels, etc. You have to actively sign-up (click a link) each quarter to activate the 5% quarter. The categories may, or may not, be the same as the Discover at any given time. If you don't mind having multiple cards you can often take advantage of the Discover & Chase cards being on different categories.

Other Interesting Cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

This card is interesting for a couple reasons.

  1. At the time of this writing you can get 50,000 rewards points after spending $4000 in the first 3 months. If redeemed for cash that is worth $500.
  2. If you redeem your points at the Chase Travel Rewards Website you'll get an additional 50% value on your points.

The benefits include:

  • 3% points on travel and dining
  • $300 credit on your first $300 spent on travel
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Reimbursement of TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (both good for 5 years) every 4 years
  • Access to Priority Pass Lounges

This card costs $450 annual, but this is offset by the $300 travel credit which makes it, effectively, $150 annually.

If you only get the card for the first year (and are able to spend the $4,000 in the first 3 months with $300+ on travel) then you'll end up with, at least, $350, 5 years of TSA Precheck or Global Entry, and 1 year's access to Priority Pass Lounges "for free".