Why you should have a 2% cash back card
Most Americans want to keep their credit card strategy very simple. Nearly three in four cardholders (72%) prefer to use the same or two same cards as widely as possible, according to an August 2019 survey commissioned by our partner site, CreditCards.com. So even though, according to Experian, the average American has about four credit cards, most people tend to use only a few frequently.
What’s the best credit card to have?
This is the question I am asked the most. And my answer has changed. I’m here today to tell you that for most people the best option is a very simple card with no annual fee that gives you 2% cash back on every purchase. Examples include the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ card, PayPal Cashback Mastercard®, and Citi® Double Cash card (technically, Citi Double Cash gives you 1% when you buy something and an extra 1% when you pay it back).
I was afraid to give this answer. It’s a bit boring, isn’t it? I used to name flashier cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Platinum Card® from American Express. People always nodded when I mentioned perks like airport lounge access and first class upgrades. And these are great cards, for some people. But even with all of their various credits and perks, the point is, they’re expensive. Most people can’t or don’t want to spend that much ($ 550 or $ 695 per year, respectively) on a credit card.
Honestly, most of us don’t travel enough to maximize the benefits anyway (especially since the COVID-19 hit, but even before that, if we’re realistic). A April 2019 Survey on CreditCards.com found that only half of Americans had flown or stayed in a hotel for pleasure in the past 12 months. And only half of them (or a quarter of all Americans aged 18 and over) had done so more than once.
Cash back has universal appeal
Last year, 55% of rewards credit card holders exchanged for cash, compared with just 10% who got free hotel stay and 8% who booked free flight, Bankrate survey found .
A July 2019 Survey on CreditCards.com found that 49 percent of American adults had at least one cash back credit card. Only 20 percent had a co-branded airline or hotel card and just 19 percent had a general travel card.
In April 2019, when CreditCards.com asked people what their preferred credit card feature would be, the first response was 3% cash back on every purchase. This exceeded other assumptions such as signup bonuses worth $ 1,200 on travel or $ 500 in cash, no interest on new purchases for 18 months, and no interest on balance transfers for 21 months.
Most people don’t like annual fees
Only 44% of cardholders paid annual fees in 2020, according to a report from Bankrate. For a limited time, it is possible to earn 3% cash back on every purchase without paying an annual fee. The USALLIANCE Visa® Signature card offers this offer at least until the end of 2021. And the Discover it® Miles card gives 1.5 miles on every purchase and doubles any rewards earned in a cardholder’s first year. card (for an effective cash back of 3% in those first 12 months).
The data clearly shows that most people want a no annual fee cash back card that they can use widely. If you only use one, I would vote for a card like Wells Fargo Active Cash, Citi Double Cash, or PayPal Cashback Mastercard. If you are willing to accept certain restrictions, such as redeeming in a separate account held with a specific financial institution, then the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® credit card, the TD Double UpSM credit card and the SoFi credit suit invoices too.
The multi-card strategy
If you’re a maximizer who’s willing to juggle different cards for different types of purchases, you can earn over 2% cash back (or travel points / miles) on some purchases, but I’d say you should still have 2% cash back card as a foundation.
For example, I am a huge fan of the Blue Cash Preferred® card from American Express. It gives 6% cash back in US supermarkets (up to $ 6,000 in annual spending, then 1% thereafter). Cardholders also get 6% cash back on select streaming subscriptions in the United States and 3% on purchases at gas stations and transit in the United States. But other purchases only earn 1% cash back, that’s where your 2% card comes in.
There are so many examples of this. Figure out where you spend the most money and lean into those categories, be it groceries, meals, travel, gas, or something more specific. Either way, maximize it. But since most cards with lucrative bonus categories only give 1% cash back on “everything else,” your 2% cash back card is a great add-on.
The bottom line
Whether it’s the card you pull out with each purchase or a referral that you shuffle and match with other cards that emphasize specific bonus categories, there is a good place for a card. 2% cash back with no annual fee in every credit card strategy.
A question about credit cards? Email me at [email protected] and I would be happy to help.