"What flat-rate card should I get?" : personalfinance

“What flat-rate card should I get?” : personalfinance

I initially posted this over in r/creditcards, but I figured that it may be able to help some people here as well.

Whether someone only wants to use a single credit card or multiple cards in order to maximize returns on their spending, it’s almost universally a good idea to have a card that receives a flat rate in cash back. Therefore, I’ve put together a list of what’s currently on the market in order to help people make decisions about which one to get. Keep in mind that there are a lot of financial institutions, so it may not be possible for this list to be truly complete.

TOP TIER

If you have good or excellent credit, these cards are for you. That being said, it is sometimes possible for people with lower scores to be approved for these, but it is less likely; YMMV.

CARD CASH BACK % NOTES
Alliant Visa Signature 2.5% (3% first year) $99.00/year fee after first year. No foreign transaction fee. Must join credit union.
Ollo Optimum MasterCard 2.5% Can only apply via invitation. Invitations all seem to offer 0% APR period for fifteen months on purchases and balance transfers. Rewards can only be redeemed as a statement credit.
Alliant Platinum Rewards Visa 2% (as points) 12 month introductory APR period on purchases and balance transfers (percentage varies based on your creditworthiness). $50.00 bonus (as points) after spending $500.00 within three months. Must join credit union. This card appears to be much easier to obtain with lower credit scores than other top-tier cards.
Citi Double Cash MasterCard 2% (1% when purchasing, 1% when paying off) 0% APR on balance transfers for eighteen months.
Fidelity Rewards Visa 2% (as points) Points must be redeemed into a Fidelity account. There is occasionally, but not always, a SUB.
PayPal Cashback MasterCard 2% No foreign transaction fee. Must have a PayPal account to apply. Rewards can be redeemed in any amount.
State Department Federal Credit Union Premium Cash Back + Visa 2% $200.00 bonus after spending $3,000.00 in ninety days. No foreign transaction fee. $250.00 in cell phone protection. Must join credit union.
Bank of America Premium Rewards MasterCard 1.5% (as points) (2% as points on travel and dining purchases) $95.00/year fee. $500.00 (as points) bonus after spending $3,000.00 in ninety days. $100.00 in statement credits per year to cover incidental airline fees. Up to $100.00 in statement credits every four years for Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee. No foreign transaction fee. Points (not counting travel and dining, although they increase by the same proportion) are worth 1.88% with Gold Preferred Rewards status, 2.25% with Platinum Preferred Rewards Status, and 2.63% with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards Status.
Chase Freedom Unlimited Visa 1.5% (as points) (3% first year on up to $20,000.00 in spending) 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for fifteen months. Points are worth 2.25% when transferred to the Chase Sapphire Reserved. No minimum to redeem rewards.
UnionBank Cash Back Rewards Visa 1.5% 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for twelve months. $100.00 bonus after spending $1,000.00 in three months. Worth 2.25% if redeeming towards a UnionBank mortgage. This card is also easier to get than the others, but is not worth it unless redeeming for 2.25%.

Unless you have insanely high spending (at least $19,800.00 on the card per year), I wouldn’t recommend the Alliant Visa Signature after the first year; I would downgrade to the Alliant Platinum Rewards. As noted in the table, the Alliant Platinum Rewards actually seems to be available to people with much lower credit scores than other cards in this section.

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The Ollo Optimum MasterCard is only a few months old, and it requires an invitation, so finding accounts and reviews of it are pretty tough. Ollo is known as a subprime lender, and the card is issued by Bank of Missouri. That being said, on paper at least, it seems pretty decent.

The Fidelity Rewards Visa is issued through Elan, which is generally considered a terrible issuer. However, the card itself is pretty solid, especially if you can get a SUB. Even if you don’t want to use Fidelity for investing, they have a cash management account you could use in order to get the rewards where you want.

The PayPal card is issued by Synchrony, which a lot of people strongly dislike. In my opinion, it’s nowhere as bad as Elan, and as far as issuers like those two, Comenity, etc go, it’s the best.

The Bank of America card is only worth consideration as a flat-rate card if one has Platinum Honors status and enough spending to justify the annual fee over one of the other cards (not factoring in the travel and dining rewards, how you value the various statement credits and travel perks, etc).

The Chase Freedom Unlimited comes out ahead of the 2% cards if transferring points to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you transfer to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, however, the 2% cards come out ahead. If you aren’t going to transfer, this probably isn’t worth it, unless you’re just trying to build a relationship with Chase–hopefully while hoarding the points–before getting the CSR or something.

Do not get the UnionBank card unless you have a UnionBank mortgage and want to redeem your rewards towards it.

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All of this being said, the PayPal CashBack MasterCard and the SDFCU are probably the best options as far as the 2% cards go, especially since the Citi Double Cash had a lot of its benefits removed. If you have a decent credit score, don’t have and don’t want the CSR, and you can’t get or it doesn’t make sense to get one of the 2.5% cards, these and maybe the Fidelity are likely the best.

SECOND TIER

Not everyone can get the cards in the top tier. However, there are still options for those who fall a bit short in the credit score department.

CARD CASH BACK % NOTES
American Express Cash Magnet 1.5% 0% APR period on purchases and balance transfers for fifteen months. $150.00 bonus after spending $1,000.00 in three months.
BBVA Rewards Visa 1.5% (2% with $1,000.00+/month in deposits to a BBVA checking, savings, or money market account) 0% APR period on balance transfers for thirteen months. $100.00 bonus after spending $1,500.00 in ninety days
Capital One Quicksilver MasterCard 1.5% 0% APR period on purchases and balance transfers for fifteen months. $150.00 bonus after spending $500.00 in three months. No foreign transaction fee.
HSBC Cash Rewards MasterCard 1.5% (3% first year on up to $10,000.00 in spending) 10% anniversary bonus on all points earned each year. 0% APR period for twelve months on purchases and balance transfers. No foreign transaction fee.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa 1.5% (1.8% on certain mobile wallets for the first year) 0% APR period on purchases and balance transfers for fifteen months. $150.00 bonus after spending $500.00 in three months. $600.00 in cell phone insurance. Rewards can be redeemed at Wells Fargo ATMs.

The BBVA Rewards Visa is only worthwhile if you’re able to meet the qualifications to get the 2%.

The average score for approval on the Quicksilver appears to skew a little bit higher than other cards in this section. That being said, Capital One seemingly is more likely to approve you if you’re carrying a balance, so if you have a 0% APR period on another card that you could use for that purpose, it may help.

The HSBC card is pretty interesting, although HSBC has been known to be a difficult lender to deal with. In addition, the scores that people get approved with for this card appear to be right on the bubble for the point at which one could get something better.

If you want the $600.00 in cell phone insurance and don’t have or want the Uber Visa or the Wells Fargo Propel American Express or something like that, the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa may be worth getting even if you don’t want it as your flat-rate card.

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Overall, these aren’t bad cards, but the cards on the previous list are generally preferable in most scenarios. That being said, a lot of these have pretty easy SUBs, so they may be worth considering if you’re looking for one.

THE REST

I won’t even bother with a table for these, since there are very few situations in which these would be your best option for a card.

The first of these are cards that could be considered for the second tier, but, with the credit scores, hoops to jump through, etc required to get them (or to get a higher rate), they’re just not worth it in most situations. This includes the Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus World MasterCard (1.8%), the M&T Visa Signature (1.5%), the KeyBank Key Cashback MasterCard (1.5%, 2% with $1,000.00+/month in deposits into a KeyBank checking account and a minimum of $1,000.00 in a KeyBank savings or investment account), the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature (1%, 2% for PenFed Honors Advantage members), and the Schwab Investor American Express (1.5%).

Beyond these, there are tons of other 1.5% cards out there. Overall, these aren’t as good as the other 1.5% cards listed, due to smaller or no SUBs, short or no 0% APR periods, etc. These should only really be considered if one has no better options and either wants or needs a flat-rate card: Cadence Maximum Rewards Visa, Capital One QuicksilverOne MasterCard (has a $39.00/year fee, which is the main difference between it and the Quicksilver), NASA Federal Credit Union Platinum Cash Rewards Visa, and U.S. Bank Cash 365 American Express.

Beyond these, Elan has a white label credit card suite that includes a 1.5% cash back Visa card that several smaller financial institutions use. Off the top of my head, Ameris Bank, Bryant Bank, Flagstar, Incredible Bank, Renasant, and Valley National all use them. They are labeled as Financial Institution Real Rewards Visa. These should also only really be considered if one has no better options and either wants or needs a flat-rate card.

Truthfully, the Discover It Miles functions essentially like a 1.5% cash back card (3% in the first year), and is probably a better choice than anything in this section.

CONCLUSIONS

As you can see, there are a lot of options out there, which can be extremely confusing to many people. Hopefully, this makes things a bit more clear for at least a handful of people.

If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to chime in.