How much cash back can I get with a credit card?
Cash back credit cards give people cash rewards for spending, by paying us back for a small proportion of our spending, tax free. The best rates for most cash back cards tend to hover between 1% and 2%; while more generous offers are available, they are often available for a limited time, or require us to spend a minimum amount within a set period.
The amount we can expect to earn from a cash back credit card also varies depending on where we use them: some card issuers pay the same rate of cashback for all types of spending, while others pay different rates for different types of spending. They may reserve their best rates for purchases at particular shops, or offer a higher rate for spending on certain goods or services. Read our full guide here for more on getting the right cash back card for you.
What should I look for in a cash back credit card?
The easiest way to compare cash back credit cards is to look for at the rate of return, expressed as a percentage. A card advertised as offering 2% cash back means we'll get £2 back when we make a £100 purchase. Bear in mind that some providers keep their best cash back rates, or lower rates of interest on purchases, for their existing customers. This and other basic eligibility criteria can be checked by hovering over the “Will you get this card?” text in the table above.
Check whether a card pays out monthly or yearly. Cards that pay cash back on a monthly basis are less likely to have minimum spend requirements, while card issuers who pay annually are more likely to say we must earn a certain amount before they pay out. Finally, it sounds obvious, but it's important to pick a card we can actually use. There's no point applying for a cash back card that doesn't reward the kind of spending we do, or isn't accepted by enough of our favourite retailers to make it pay.
Is a cash back credit card better than a rewards card?
Cash back credit cards and rewards cards both work best when they reward us with things that we find useful; there's no point in earning points to get cheaper flights if we never travel by plane, for example, but everyone uses cash. Cash back credit cards also tend to be much easier to compare with each other than rewards cards.
Where a credit card reward scheme can beat a cash back credit card is when the reward is for something the cardholder does anyway. Take again the example of earning points towards flights. For many of us this might not be all that rewarding, but frequent flyers could earn themselves an upgrade, free ticket, or other treat simply by using the right card to book and pay for all their flights. It depends on how and where we spend as to what kind of reward is better, but for most of us cash back is hard to beat.
How can I make a cash back credit card work for me?
The best way to earn cash back with a credit card is to use it for everyday spending rather than one-off purchases. Some card issuers who offer tiered cash back schemes make this easier by offering their best rates for spending in supermarkets or petrol stations. But it's important to pay off that everyday spending in full each month, or the interest we owe could wipe out any money we make back.
The best cash back deals also depend on how much we routinely spend. It would be easy to think that the more we spend the more we can earn, but some cash back credit cards only reward spending up to a certain amount each month. Anyone who knows they'll spend more than that may want to consider whether they can earn more with a different card.
When is a cash back credit card not such a good deal?
Some of the best cash back deals are offered by providers who charge an annual or monthly fee for having the card. It's important to weigh up whether we can realistically and sensibly spend enough to cover that fee with the cash back we earn. They're also not such a good deal for people who know they can't repay the balance in full every month, or who want to spread the cost of a big purchase over time.
That's because the interest we'll end up paying on what we haven't yet paid off will usually outweigh any cash back we earn. Play with the sliders for monthly expenditure and repayments above to see how they can affect not only how much we can earn in cash back, but how much we might have to pay for it.
That's not to say a good cash back card can't work in these situations. Many come with an introductory interest free purchase period, ranging from a few months to more than a year. These give us more time to spread the cost of those bigger purchases or more expensive months, without losing out on the rewards.
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