Best 2% cash back cards: Which is a fit for you?
Not everything in life has to be complicated, especially when it comes to finance. While…
Not everything in life has to be complicated, especially when it comes to finance. While rewards credit cards that earn points or miles and offer rewards in different bonus categories can be lucrative, many people prefer the simplicity and consistency of flat-rate cash back cards.
Whether most of your purchases fall outside the typical credit card bonus categories or you’re tired of trying to remember which card rewards what, flat-rate credit cards are great for those who like to keep earning and redeeming rewards streamlined.
There are a multitude of flat-rate cards available for at various credit levels, but the best cards offer 2 percent cash back instead of the typical 1.5 percent back. These cards also have their own advantages outside of their rewards rate, including travel perks and shopping protections.
Here are some of the best 2 percent cash back credit cards on the market:
A deeper look at the best 2 percent cash back cards
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card: Best overall
- Rewards rate: Unlimited 2 percent cash rewards on purchases
- Welcome offer: Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first three months
- Annual fee: $0
One of the best overall flat-rate credit cards on the market, the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card has nearly all the key features you’d hope for on a no-annual-fee cash back card.
You’ll not only earn unlimited 2 percent cash rewards on all purchases, but also a generous welcome offer of a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1000 within the first three months. Sign-up bonuses can be hard to find on flat-rate cash back cards, so this latter feature is especially impressive.
You can also take advantage of a 0 percent intro APR for 15 months from account opening on both purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then ongoing 18.74 percent, 23.74 percent, or 28.74 percent, variable). Many cash back cards — especially cards that offer 2 percent back — only come with an intro APR offer on new purchases or balance transfers, not both. This further solidifies the Active Cash card’s position as the best overall flat-rate card.
That said, if you’re looking for perks beyond cellphone insurance and Visa benefits, this card may disappoint. For example, you can’t transfer rewards to airline or hotel partners to get more value out of them.
Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for pairing
- Rewards rate: Up to 2 percent cash back on all purchases (1 percent when you buy, plus 1 percent when you pay off purchases)
- Welcome offer: None
- Annual fee: $0
While it can seem a bit complicated at first glance, the Citi Double Cash Card helps you earn rewards in the most responsible way. You only receive the full 2 percent cash back when you pay off your purchases, which encourages you to keep a low or no balance. This does wonders for not only your overall debt but your credit score.
The card also stands out for its terrific pairing potential as part of the Citi Trifecta, which includes the Citi Double Cash, Citi Custom Cash℠ Card and the Citi Premier® Card. With these three cards, you can earn rewards in nearly every major everyday spending category and pool points to use for travel or transfer to popular airlines and hotels, potentially at a higher-than-1-cent value.
PayPal Cashback Mastercard®*: Best for online shopping
- Rewards rate: 3 percent cash back on PayPal purchases or when you send money to other PayPal users, 2 percent cash back on all other purchases
- Welcome offer: N/A
- Annual fee: $0
If you regularly use PayPal for purchases, there’s no beating the PayPal Cashback Mastercard. You not only earn 3 percent on PayPal purchases with this card, but also 2 percent cash back on all other purchases. Considering how many online retailers allow you to pay via PayPal, this makes the PayPal Cashback Mastercard one of the most versatile and potentially lucrative 2 percent cash back cards out there.
The main drawback of this card is that it carries no welcome offer and requires a couple of extra steps if you want to move your cash back out of PayPal. However, this card’s elevated cash back rate can make it worth it to ensure you earn rewards on all your general purchases and many of your online purchases.
Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa®: Best for long-term financing
- Rewards rate: 2.2 percent cash back on purchases after making monthly payment
- Welcome offer: $200 after opening a Rewards Checking account and making 3 debit card transactions within 60 days
- Annual fee: $0
The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa combines features of a cash back credit card and a personal loan, allowing you to earn rewards on purchases as you pay them off in equal monthly installments. You can pay off purchases over installment periods as long as 60 months, making this card a good choice if you need a lot of time to chip away at expenses, but still want to earn rewards.
This card also comes with one of the highest rewards rates available on a flat-rate cash back card, offering 2.2 percent back on all purchases.These rewards won’t be available until your balance is paid, but, like the Citi Double Cash, the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa gives you a great incentive to keep up with your payments.
The card’s bonus is also generous (again, a rare feature on 2 percent cash back cards) and easy to earn — you simply need to open an Upgrade Rewards Checking account and make three debit card purchases within 60 days. Most competing cards require you to spend at least $500 in your first three months to get a $200 bonus. .
Still, this card won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, especially if you only need a few months to pay off your purchases. Many flat-rate cash back cards offer a 0 percent intro APR on new purchases for 12 to 18 months. During that period, you could chip away at your balance while completely avoiding interest. The Upgrade Cash Reward Elite Visa, in contrast, would require you to pay at least some interest over 24 months or more.
Synchrony Premier Mastercard®*: Best for easy redemption
- Rewards rate: 2 percent cash back on every purchase
- Welcome offer: N/A
- Annual fee: $0
While it brings in more rewards than the common 1.5 percent flat-rate cash back card, the Synchrony Premier Mastercard is pretty bare when it comes to perks and benefits. However, it could still be a good fit if you place a high priority on simplicity and ease of redemption. This card automatically credits cash back to your account each month, so you won’t have to worry about how much your rewards are worth or how best to redeem them and can instead earn and save with almost zero effort.
Since this card is a World Mastercard, you’ll also enjoy benefits like complimentary travel advisors, Mastercard airport concierge, ShopRunner Membership and cellphone protection. This makes a worthwhile option for pairing with a travel card or tiered rewards card.
Alliant Cashback Visa® Platinum Credit Card*: Best for low interest
- Rewards rate: 2X points for every dollar spent
- Welcome offer: 5,000 bonus points after you spend $500 or more in qualifying purchases during the first 90 days of account opening
- Annual fee: $0
Though the Alliant Cashback Visa Platinum is slim in terms of perks beyond its rewards rate, it could be a great fit if you need to pay off debt or tend to carry a balance.
To start, the card comes with a decent ongoing variable APR of 13.24 to 25.24 percent (the low end of which is far lower than the current average interest rate, which hovers around 19 percent). You can also take advantage of a 0 percent introductory APR for the first 12 months after account opening on both purchases and balance transfers (after which the standard APR applies).
While that’s not the longest intro APR period out there, the card carries an exceptionally-low balance transfer fee of just 2 percent (or $5, whichever is greater). Nearly all competing cash back cards that carry a balance transfer offer charges a fee of at least 3 percent and often 5 percent. This could save you a good amount as you work to pay off debt, especially if you’re transferring a large balance. In fact, if you crunch the numbers using a balance transfer calculator, you may find a low balance transfer fee is more valuable than a few extra months’ worth of 0 percent intro APR.
Ally Unlimited Cash Back Mastercard*: Best for Ally Bank customers
- Rewards rate: Unlimited 2 percent cash back on every purchase
- Welcome offer: N/A
- Annual fee: $0
Ally Bank has been ranked the best bank by Bankrate, and if you’re already an Ally Bank customer and want to stick with them, Ally Bank credit cards are worth a look.
The invitation-only Ally Unlimited Cash Back Mastercard is a straightforward 2 percent cash back card with no surprise fees, including no returned payment or over-limit fees. It also makes earning and redeeming rewards as simple as possible, with no limits on how much you earn, no expiration dates and no redemption minimum.
According to Ally Bank, the card may also be available with only fair credit, so if you’ve received a prescreened offer in the mail, it’s worth applying. You can also check if you’re a good fit for the card based on your credit history through CardMatch. If you’re able to get approved for this card, it could easily be the best cash back card available with an average credit score.
The best 2 percent cash back cards at a glance
|Wells Fargo Active Cash Card||Overall||Unlimited 2 percent cash rewards back on purchases||$200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first three months|
|Citi Double Cash Card||Pairing||Unlimited 1 percent on purchases, then 1 percent when you pay off purchases||$200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening (limited time offer).|
|Paypal Cashback Mastercard||Online shopping||3 percent cash back on Paypal purchases or when you send money to other PayPal users, 2 percent cash back on all other purchases||N/A|
|Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa||Long-term financing||2.2 percent cash back after making monthly payment||$200 after opening a Rewards Checking account and making 3 debit card transactions within 60 days|
|Synchrony Premier World Mastercard||Easy redemption||2 percent cash back on every purchase||N/A|
|Alliant Cashback Visa Platinum Credit Card||Low interest||2 points per dollar||5,000 bonus points after you spend $500 or more in qualifying purchases during the first 90 days of account opening|
|Ally Unlimited Cash Back Mastercard||Ally Bank customers||Unlimited 2 percent cash back on purchases||N/A|
Pros and cons of 2 percent cash back cards
Since they allow you to earn more than the standard 1 percent back on all purchases — including those that fall outside of typical credit card bonus categories — flat-rate cash back cards are a key part of maximizing your rewards.
However, these cards aren’t necessarily the best standalone option and often work best when paired with other cards. Plus, the best flat-rate cash back cards — especially those that earn 2 percent back — tend to be inaccessible without at least a good credit score.
Here’s a look at some of the key advantages and disadvantages of 2 percent cash back cards.
- Earn rewards on everything: The sky’s the limit when it comes to earning rewards with these cards. No matter where you swipe your card or what you buy, you’ll earn at least 2 percent back.
- No limit to how much you earn: Some cards with high rewards rates come with a spending cap that lowers your rate to 1 percent after you’ve spent a certain amount in a billing cycle, quarter or year. This is rarely the case for 2 percent flat-rate cards, which typically earn unlimited 2 percent cash back.
- Pair well with other cards: 2 percent cash back cards earn rewards at double the rate typically offered on general purchases with bonus category cards. This makes flat-rate cards especially valuable as second or supplementary cards to round out your cash back strategy. Some 2 percent cards even allow you to pool rewards with other travel or rewards cards and potentially boost the value of your rewards (like the Citi Trifecta).
- Lower rewards rate overall than bonus category cards: While these cards offer a great rate on purchases that fall outside of typical credit card bonus categories, they may not be the most lucrative on their own. If you’re looking for a standalone option, you may earn rewards at a higher rate with tiered cash back cards that earn more than 2 percent back in key categories like dining, groceries or gas.
- Not always accessible: It’s difficult to find 2 percent cash back cards available with a FICO credit score under 670. If you have a fair or damaged credit score, you may qualify for a 1 or 1.5 percent flat-rate cash back card, but 2 percent will likely be out of reach.
- High APRs: In general, cash back cards have high APRs, averaging around 19 percent. This can be a drawback if you tend to carry a balance and can quickly cut into any rewards earned.
How to choose the best 2 percent cash back card for you
While their rewards rates may be similar, each of these 2 percent flat-rate cards comes with unique perks, advantages and disadvantages. Here are some questions to keep in mind when comparing cards and planning how to maximize your flat-rate cash back card:
What’s the welcome bonus?
Welcome bonuses can be hard to come by on 2 percent cash back cards, so cards that offer them, like the Wells Fargo Active Cash, are at a distinct advantage. While the presence of a bonus shouldn’t be the only reason you pick one card over another, keep in mind the outsized value of these offers: You can typically earn $200 as part of a sign-up bonus after only a $500 to $1,500 spend, versus the $10,000 in spending that would otherwise be required to earn $200 back on a 2 percent flat-rate card.
That said, while it’s great to earn extra cash back, a sign-up bonus may not be worth it encourages you to spend thousands of dollars you weren’t already planning to spend, especially considering that most welcome bonuses are usually only available for the first two to four months. Make sure the bonus is not only achievable in the given time limit but also that you don’t have to stretch your budget to fulfill it.
What are the perks?
This will probably be the most important part of choosing between flat-rate cards. Along with earning cash back, the best 2 percent cash back cards come with extra benefits and protections, including perks like purchase protection, food delivery subscription credits, cell phone insurance and more. As you’re considering which card is best for you, consider which perks would be most useful to you, whether they focus on travel, shopping, credit building and more
How can I redeem rewards?
While you may earn cash back at the same rate, the potential value of your rewards can vary, especially when factoring in the different redemption methods. While some 2 percent cash back cards only let you opt for cash back redemptions in the form of statement credits or direct deposits, others give you the flexibility to redeem for travel, gift cards, online shopping and more. The key is how much value you get for your rewards with different redemption methods.
For example, your rewards may lose a lot of value if you opt for gift card or online shopping redemptions instead of cash back. On the other hand, you may get more value for your rewards if you pair your cash back card with a higher-tier rewards card and redeem for travel (as in the Chase Trifecta).
You may also face redemption limitations. Some cards only allow you to redeem for cash back after you’ve reached a certain rewards balance or only in certain increments. You’ll have to consider these restrictions to decide whether a card is worth the trouble.
The bottom line
With a flat-rate cash back card, you don’t have to worry about how much you spend or remember which card is going to reward you for what. And with more cards entering the market offering 2 percent cash back on all purchases, 1.5 percent or less back isn’t good enough anymore.
If you’re looking for a simple way to earn a high rewards rate on all your purchases, you have more options than ever, including cards that carry sign-up bonuses, intro APR offers or low fees. Just be sure to consider at all the details to find the right one for you. You can also use Bankrate’s CardMatch tool to find the best 2 percent flat-rate card based on your credit profile.
* All information about the PayPal Cashback Mastercard, Synchrony Premier World Mastercard, Allliant Cashback Visa Platinum Credit Card and Ally Unlimited Cash Back Masercard has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.