It seems like the wealthy wouldn’t have a need for credit cards since they can pay for everything with cash, right? Well, the wealthy didn’t get that way by leaving money on the table. They know that by using credit cards they can get big cash back for every purchase they make, up to 6%. But this strategy is not limited to the wealthy. All you have to do is use the right card for purchases that you’re going to make anyway. If you pay off your balance every month, you won’t be charged interest rates or late/penalty fees.
Those who want to maximize their earnings know to have a few “specialty” credit cards that give them the most cash back in different categories and to use those cards specifically in those categories, then have a general purpose card with a high base cash back rate they can use for everything else. For example, you can use a credit card that gives 6% cash back from supermarkets to do your grocery shopping, one that gives you 3% back on gas every time you fill your tank and one that gives you 2% on all purchases for everything else.
To maximize your earnings at the grocery store, get the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. With this card, you’ll earn 6% cash back at supermarkets (for up to $6,000 in purchases annually), as well as 3% cash back for gas, 3% back at select department stores and 1% cash back on everything else. You’ll also get a $150 bonus when you spend $1,000 within the first three months, as well as a generous 0% intro APR for the first 15 months of card membership. This card does have a $75 annual fee, but it’s more than worth it for most cardholders. It placed first in our Cash Back Card Analysis.
If you commute every day or spend a lot of time in the car, you should get a card that gives you the most rewards on gas. The aforementioned Blue Cash Preferred card is a great choice for gas as well, since it gives 3% back for unlimited gas purchases. But for those that want to avoid that card’s $75 annual fee, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you 3% cash back on gas, 2% cash back on groceries (for the first $1,500 combined gas and grocery purchases each quarter) and 1% cash back on everything else with no annual fee. In addition, you get a 0% intro APR for the first 12 billing cycles, as well as a $100 bonus when you spend $500 within the first three months. Another way to make some extra money is to link your card to your Bank of America account so you’ll get an additional 10% cash back when you redeem your rewards directly into this account.
For those who want the convenience of one high cash back rate for all their purchases, or who just want to maximize cash back for purchases that fall outside of specific categories, there is the Citi Double Cash Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus. Citi Double Cash gives you an effective 2% cash back on everything you buy with no annual fee. We say “effective” because it gives you 1% back when you make the purchase and the other 1% when you pay for it (and for the math nerds, if you redeem for a statement credit instead of a check, you actually get 1.99% back). Still, for most people, especially the wealthy who are sure to pay their full balance every month, this is 2% cash back, the highest base cash back rate we’ve ever seen for a consumer card.
For those who want to spend their rewards on travel purchases, you can’t beat Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. This card gives you effectively 2.2% cash back to spend on travel, which is the most overall rewards from any travel rewards card that we reviewed. It also offers 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 within the first three months, which basically equals $440 in travel expenses. Redemption is simple, you can simply apply your reward points as a statement credit against any travel purchase (hotel, air, rental car, etc.) so it really is like cash back to spend on travel. We should note that it does have an $89 annual fee but it’s waived the first year.
The cards we’ve mentioned so far require excellent credit (usually considered having a credit scorearound 750 or higher). But you can still get the benefits of a top-end card if your credit is merely “good” (usually around a 700 credit score) or average (around 650). If your credit score is “good,” theCapital One Venture card will give you almost exactly the same benefits as Barclaycard Arrival Plus mentioned above. You can get the equivalent of a $400 intro bonus to spend on travel if you spend $3,000 on your card within the first three months. You’ll also get 2% cash back to spend on travel for every purchase with no limits. If you’re not sure you want to redeem your rewards for travel, Capital One Quicksilver will give you a straight 1.5% cash back on everything plus a $100 intro bonus when you spend just $500 within the first three months.
For those with merely “average” (a credit score of around 650 or higher) credit, the Barclaycard Rewards Mastercard can make you feel wealthy, giving you 2 points per $1 spent (effectively 2% cash back) on gas, grocery and utility purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent (effectively 1% cash back) on everything else. Considering this card also has no annual fee, it’s our top pick for those with average credit.