Earning rewards is one of the biggest advantages of using a credit card instead of cash, and cash back is one of the smartest reward types. Cash back literally means that you receive a certain percentage of the amount you spend back as a rebate, either in actual cash as a check or bank deposit, or as a statement credit.

But the results of the latest Capital One Rewards Barometer show that changing categories are not for everyone.

In fact, 54% of survey participants just want to be able to earn a fixed amount of cash back, no matter what they buy. 15 percent of card users surveyed even went as far as citing changing cash back rates as a complaint.

That makes sense because knowing exactly how much cash back you will earn on your monthly spending makes it easier to calculate savings and work them into your budget.

Another 30% of consumers say that they want to earn unlimited rewards. Many cash back credit cards limit the amount of spending for which you earn cash back. Being required to collect a minimum amount of cash back "points" before they can redeem was an issue for 27% of respondents, and hidden charges also got cardholders' goat, with 17% citing hidden fees as a complaint.

So is a flat-rate card that offers unlimited rewards really the best? We at GET.com felt this was a question worth answering.

  1. Flat-Rate Cash Back Credit Cards

    Flat-rate cash back cards let you earn anywhere from 0.5% cash back at the bottom end, to the impressive Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, a partner card, which lets you earn 2% cash back on purchases (1% cash back when you buy and 1% as you make payments for those purchases).

    Like other good flat-rate credit cards, Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer has no caps on the total amount of cash back you earn.

    That means, no matter what purchases you make with your card, be it paying your rent, buying a car or picking up groceries, you will earn that amount of cash back.

    Let's say you run on a budget of $3,000 monthly, and you are able to pay for all of your expenses using your credit card which has a 1.5% flat-rate cash back rate. You can count on receiving $45 cash back every month.

    In short, a flat rate makes for simple, easily countable cash back savings.

  2. Changing Category Cash Back Credit Cards

    When you use a credit card with changing categories, you earn a high amount of cash back on some types of purchases. Most good category cash back cards also give you a flat-rate of cash back on other purchases, though this may be quite low.

    Chase Freedom® is one of the most popular cards with changing categories, and is a good example of a prime cash back credit card. It lets you earn 5% cash back in combined purchases in bonus categories you activate. The catch is that you only earn this cash back on up to $1,500 of purchases in the 5% categories each quarter, and you need to activate the 5% cash back by phone or online every quarter.

    You enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months. The quarterly categories are usually similar every year, which means you can get an idea of what you can save, but there is some variation.

    But you do also earn a flat-rate of 1% cash back on all other purchases, so you can always count on 1% cash back on any purchase. In other words, you get a flat rate, plus the added perk of 5% cash back for some purchases.

  3. Fixed Category Cash Back Credit Cards

    A third kind of cash back credit card that is becoming popular gives you a fixed rate of cash back for purchases in fixed categories.

    For example, Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, a GET.com advertiser, lets you earn 6% cash back on up to $6,000 per year in purchases from U.S. supermarkets (then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. Earn 3% at U.S. gas stations and on transit, and 1% cash back for other purchases. Terms apply. Categories do not change, and you don't need to activate cash back each quarter.

    A fixed category cash back credit card may work well for you if the categories match your spending. For example, if you spend $6,000 annually ($500 monthly) at U.S. supermarkets, you could earn around $360 cash back every year just on that spending by using Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Terms apply.

    If you spend an average of $200 monthly at U.S. gas stations, the 3% cash back could add up to around $72 cash back per year. The 1% you could earn on the remaining $2,300 of your budget (if your budget were $3,000 monthly) would add up to approximately $276 annually.

    So looking at this scenario, you could earn up to $708 cash back per year. Of course, if you spend more on gas, that could be even higher. So as you can see, a fixed category cash back credit card can be very rewarding if your spending matches the categories you get with the card. Some credit cards even let you pick the category you want to earn high cash back on from a list.

  4. Which Gives You More?

    It really comes down to how you spend, what you spend on, and how flexible you are. For example, being able to earn 5% cash back on gas, restaurant dining or Amazon.com is fantastic if you own a car, eat out regularly and do a lot of shopping on Amazon.com. If your budget includes enough spending in the 5% categories to max out the spending cap each quarter, you will probably come off better with a credit card like Chase Freedom®.

    For example, if your were to spend $1,500 on purchases in the 5% cash back categories you get with Chase Freedom® every quarter of the year, plus use your card to pay for $2,500 of additional spending for a total of $3,000 in purchases, you would earn up to $600 cash back per year (4 x $75 for 5% category spending plus 1% of $2,500 x 12 = $300 cash back).

    But if you don't drive, don't eat out much and hardly ever use Amazon.com, then all you will get is the low, general cash back rate. In that case, you would probably be better off with a card that offers a higher flat-rate on all spending.

    If you were to cover your entire budget of $3,000 per month, or $36,000 per year, with Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, for example, and make your payments in full, you could earn up to $360 cash back (1% cash back on $36,000 of purchases) plus another $360 cash back (1% cash back as you pay off your purchases). That would make a total of $720 cash back.

We at GET.com have flipped our way through a huge stack of credit cards and fine print and we've listed what, in our opinion, are the best cash back credit cards of each type:

Flat-Rate Cash Back

Credit CardFeaturesIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeWhy we like itWe least likeCredit RequiredRelated links
Citi<sup>®</sup> Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

APPLY NOWAt Citi's secure website
  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 15.74% - 25.74% based on your creditworthiness.
  • Click "Apply Now" to see the applicable balance transfer fee and how making a balance transfer impacts interest on purchases.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.74% - 25.74% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
APPLY NOWAt Citi's secure website

0% intro APR for 18 months on Balance Transfers

15.74% - 25.74% (Variable)

$0

Why we like it
  • Earn cash back TWICE. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • Introductory APR offer.
Excellent, Good
Chase Freedom Unlimited<sup>®</sup>

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

APPLY NOWAt Chase's secure website
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit JourneySM
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
APPLY NOWAt Chase's secure website

0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

16.74% - 25.49% Variable

$0

Why we like it
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Excellent/Good
Capital One<sup>®</sup> Quicksilver<sup>®</sup> Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.74%-25.74% variable APR after that
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months; 15.74%-25.74% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees

0% intro on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months

15.74% - 25.74% (Variable)

$0

Why we like it
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
  • One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
Excellent, Good
Capital One<sup>®</sup> QuicksilverOne<sup>®</sup> Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use
  • Get customized alerts and manage your account with the Capital One mobile app

N/A

26.46% (Variable)

$39

Why we like it
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
We least like
  • $39 Annual fee.
Average, Fair, Limited

Changing Category Cash Back

Credit CardFeaturesIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeWhy we like itWe least likeCredit RequiredRelated links
Chase Freedom<sup>®</sup>

Chase Freedom®

APPLY NOWAt Chase's secure website
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
APPLY NOWAt Chase's secure website

0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

16.74% - 25.49% Variable

$0

Why we like it
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic.
Excellent/Good

Fixed Category Cash Back

Credit CardFeaturesIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeWhy we like itWe least likeCredit RequiredRelated links
Blue Cash Preferred<sup>®</sup> Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

APPLY NOWAt American Express' secure website
  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • New 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • New 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more.
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations. 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Over 3 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017 and 2018.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 14.74% to 25.74%
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
APPLY NOWAt American Express' secure website

0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months

14.74%-25.74% Variable

$95

Excellent, Good
Bank of America<sup>®</sup> Cash Rewards credit card - $200 Cash Rewards Offer

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card - $200 Cash Rewards Offer

APPLY NOWAt Bank of America's secure website
  • $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • No annual fee
  • $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases) and unlimited 1% on all other purchases
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee (min $10) applies to all balance transfers
  • No expiration on rewards
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% - 75% more cash back on every purchase
APPLY NOWAt Bank of America's secure website

0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days

15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

$0

Why we like it
  • $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
We least like
  • 3% foreign transaction fee.
Excellent/Good

It's interesting to note that studies have shown that wealthy Americans prefer cash back rewards over any other kind of credit card rewards.

Although the Capital One survey shows that 39% of respondents prefer to use just 1 credit card for all their cash back earning, the GET.com team agrees that using 2 credit cards is the best way to max out your savings.

If you are in a position to manage 2 cards without hurting your credit, then combining a card with changing categories or high cash back in fixed categories with a credit card that gives you a high flat rate of cash back (for all your other purchases) is a rewarding way to work, in our opinion.

Look for the best credit card in the US by using a credit card site like GET.com which helps you compare in seconds.