Are you trying to get the best cash back rewards for your credit card purchases in 2023?
“My favorite reward cards are ones that actually pay you money. I want cash, because nobody can tell you when you can or can’t spend your cash,” Clark says.
And since 2% is generally accepted as the top non-promotional rate of return for cards that don’t charge annual fees or restrict purchase categories, I’ve decided to take a closer look at this segment of the cash back credit card market.
For this article, Team Clark reviewed cash back credit cards — both for the strength of their rewards programs and other perks — in search of the best deal for your wallet.
Table of Contents
- What Is a 2% Cash Back Credit Card?
- Best 2% Cash Back Credit Cards
- 4 Things To Look For When Picking a 2% Cash Back Card
- Clark Howard’s Credit Card Strategy
- Final Thoughts
What Is a 2% Cash Back Credit Card?
Since this whole article is about the merits of a 2% cash back card in your wallet, it would make sense that I first define that kind of card.
2% back credit cards reward your purchases made with the card by giving you $0.02 back as a reward for every $1 that you spend. Many times these cards come with no annual fee and include some non-rewards-related perks.
Think of 2% back cards as a subcategory within the cash back credit card category. Those, of course, are a subcategory of their own in the overall scheme of the credit card market.
Maybe it would help to visualize these as a set of subfolders on your computer:
In this article, I’m getting extremely precise to help you pick between the cards that would be stashed in that 2% back credit cards folder at the bottom.
For a more detailed description of our process for analyzing the cards for this review, you can read our methodology.
Best 2% Cash Back Credit Cards
|Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer||Everyday Purchases||Team Clark Review|
|PayPal Cashback Mastercard||Online Shopping||Team Clark Review|
|Wells Fargo Active Cash||Intro APR Offer and Welcome Bonus||Team Clark Review|
|Synchrony Premier World Mastercard®||Straightforward 2% Cash Back||Team Clark Review|
|Fidelity Rewards Visa||Investing Rewards||Team Clark Review|
|SoFi Credit Card||Paying Down Debt||Team Clark Review|
|Fifth Third Preferred||Cell Phone Protection||Team Clark Review|
|TD Bank Double Up||Easy Welcome Bonus||Team Clark Review|
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: Best for Everyday Purchases
The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer credit card offers 0% on balance transfers for 18 months. Afterwards, the (Variable) APR will be 18.24% – 28.24%, based on creditworthiness.
Why We Like It: It’s incredibly simple. There are no limits to the amount of 2% cash back you can earn with this card, so you can spend it anywhere Mastercard is accepted and know exactly what you’ll get in rewards each time. This no-annual-fee card is in Clark’s wallet, so it has his stamp of approval.
PayPal Cashback Mastercard: Best for Online Shopping
Why We Like It: You can maximize your cash back earning potential by getting 3% back on purchases made via PayPal. And there’s no minimum balance required to claim your rewards from PayPal, so this one is really easy to use for those who already use PayPal frequently for online transactions.
Wells Fargo Active Cash: Best for Welcome Bonus and 0% APR Periods
Annual Fee: $0.00
Rewards Program Details:
Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases with no categories to track or quarterly activations.
Bonus Offer: Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus
Bonus Offer Disclaimer: When you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months.
Intro APR Offer: 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. After that your variable APR will be 19.24%, 24.24% or 29.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
Why We Like It: This is another one of the rare 2% cards that offer both a welcome bonus and an introductory 0% APR period. This one has 0% periods on new purchases and balance transfers.
When you throw in the cell phone protection, this is one of the more tempting 2% cards.
Synchrony Premier World Mastercard®: Best for Straightforward 2% Rewards
Why We Like It: The beauty of this card is the simplicity. There may not be as many bells and whistles attached to this card as there are for some of the others on this list, but it delivers the 2% cash back you desire with no hurdles to clear.
Fidelity Rewards Visa: Best for Investing Rewards
Why We Like It: Much like the Citi Double Cash, this card offers a simple and straightforward path to 2% cash back on every dollar you spend. And since we’re big proponents of making sure you stay on top of your retirement savings, having this reward dump straight into your Fidelity investment account is a stress-free way to add to your long-term savings. This card is on our list of best credit cards for savings and investments.
SoFi Credit Card: Best for Paying Down Debt
Annual Fee: $0.00
Rewards Program Details:
Earn cash back rewards on everyday purchases that are valued at 2% cash back if the rewards are applied to select SoFi products.
Bonus Offer: You’ll earn 3% cash back rewards on up to $12K in purchases your first year, with direct deposit through SoFi. After that, get 2% cash back rewards on all eligible purchases.
Why We Like It: If you’re someone who is already plugged into the SoFi product network with a loan or investing, this card is an easy way to get 2% toward something that could be important to your financial life.
SoFi is an increasingly popular student loan and personal loan distributor, so this could be a chance for many to accelerate the elimination of that debt — provided you are spending responsibly with the card and paying the balance in full each month, of course.
Fifth Third Preferred: Best for Cell Phone Protection
Why We Like It: This card is a really strong 2% back option for Fifth Third customers. You must have a qualified banking account with them to qualify for this card.
But when you do, you can get coverage for a lost or damaged cell phone as long as you pay your wireless bill with this credit card each month. You can receive up to $800 per claim, but there is a $50 deductible and a $1,000 yearly limit to the benefit.
TD Bank Double Up Card: Best for Easy Welcome Bonus
Annual Fee: $0.00
Rewards Program Details:
Earn up to up to 2% cash back: Earn 1% cash back on purchases. Plus, earn 1% cash back when you redeem into an eligible TD Bank Deposit Account. Earn unlimited cash back: no rotating categories, no caps or limits as long as your credit card account is open and in good standing.
Bonus Offer: Earn $100 Cash Back in the form of a statement credit
Bonus Offer Disclaimer: When you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days after account opening
Introductory Offers: 0% APR on balance transfer for the first 18 cycles of the account opening. Afterwards the variable APR will be 18.74%, 23.74% or 28.74% based on creditworthiness.
Why We Like It: This is one of the rare 2% cards that offers both a welcome bonus and an introductory 0% APR period.
Those are temporary benefits, but if you already have a TD Bank account, the cash back returns on this card match many on the list.
Things To Look For When Picking a 2% Cash Back Credit Card
Still not sure which 2% card is best for you?
You may find that using the comparison chart above to answer some of the following questions is helpful in finding the right fit for your wallet.
1. Are There Category or Spending Limits?
We tried to weed out all the cards that require you spend your money a certain way in order to receive the 2% benefits.
But if you look outside this review, you may come across some cards that apply one or both of these restrictions to your rewards.
A couple of cards you may find that require spending a certain way to receive 2% rewards are the Apple Card (must use Apple Pay to get 2%) and the Spark 2% Cash Plus from Capital One (must be a small business owner).
2. What Are the Cash Back Redemption Methods?
Clark likes the Double Cash card because the redemption policy makes it easy for him to convert his rewards into cash.
As you can see on the comparison chart, that’s not always the case. Some cards require you to invest your rewards with their company or spend it on their products in order to receive the full 2%.
If you’re funding a retirement account or paying off a student loan with your rewards, that’s no issue. But if you need flexibility with your rewards, it may be a deal breaker.
3. What Do the Fees Look Like?
You won’t find any cards with annual fees on this list because it was important to Clark that we offer options for 2% back without worrying about an annual fee cutting into your returns.
But just because we avoided annual fees doesn’t mean you can forgo analyzing fees altogether.
Each card has fees for things like balance transfers, cash advances, late payments or returned payments. If you’re paying your bills on time and not using the card for anything but new purchases, this should go pretty low on your list of priorities.
4. Are There Other Perks That Make This Card Worthwhile?
Do you need a 0% APR period on balance transfers to bring an existing balance over and pay off debt? There are a couple of cards on this list that you could use for that purpose first and then keep as an everyday spending card.
That’s just one example of a perk that could make one of these cards more valuable to you than the others.
Welcome bonuses and issuer-specific perks, such as cell phone protection or fraud protection, could be benefits that sway your decision.
Clark Howard’s Credit Card Strategy
Money expert Clark Howard believes it is important to have a credit card for the purposes of building and maintaining a solid credit history so you’ll have it when big life events, like a home purchase or job application, require a credit check.
He also believes that focusing on a rewards credit card — like a good cash back credit card — should be something you consider only if you plan to pay your balance in full each month. If that’s not your plan, Clark would point you to the credit card with the lowest possible interest rate or advise you to avoid a credit card altogether.
Assuming you’re here because you are in search of the maximum benefits from your cash back credit card decision, Clark strongly suggests that you start with an unlimited 2% cash back card to assure that you get a solid rewards return on every purchase you make.
There are cards that offer higher rates of return, but they’re usually restricted to categorical spending and may have rewards caps.
“Really think through your charge patterns and whether or not those rewards really give you a bang for your buck.”
But he does so knowing he also has the Citi Double Cash card to get him 2% back on all of his non-Costco purchases.
For the purposes of determining which cards are “best” in this category, we took input from Clark and sought to find cards that best fit his credit card strategy.
Team Clark spent many hours reviewing the available cash back credit cards on the market, assessing them for:
- Annual fees
- Welcome bonuses
- Introductory APR periods
- Spending categories for maximum cash back earnings
- Additional fees (transaction or otherwise)
- Perks offered to cardholders
We did not factor in non-introductory APR as a part of the evaluation, because interest rates will vary based on your individual financial circumstance. Clark recommends not carrying a balance on these cards, so that should curb any concern over the interest rate.
We also did not include offerings from local or regional banks and credit unions, because they’re not available to everyone. Often, local institutions will have desirable cards, so I do recommend that you compare your local bank or credit union’s cash back credit cards to the ones that made this list.
Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons for Getting a 2% Cash Back Card
Have I talked you into adding a 2% card to your wallet yet?
If you’re still on the fence, here are some pros and cons to consider:
|Certain, steady rewards||Welcome bonuses are rare|
|No spending caps or category limits||APR on the cards may be high|
|Usually come with no annual fee||No high-return rewards like rotating 5% cards or category bonus cards|
Whether you’re looking for your first credit card or are an experienced spender, there’s a spot in almost everyone’s wallet for a 2% cash back card.
New credit card users can take advantage of the steady rewards plans to make sure they’re getting a solid reward for all of their spending.
More experienced credit card users can use the 2% card as a safety net to ensure that their rewards never dip below the 2% threshold.