4 Cash Back Credit Cards for Frugal Spenders

Tragedy and identity theft is never a good thing, but in this case, it positively impacted a woman's credit.

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are reviewed below.]

You don’t have to be a big spender to earn big cash back rewards. Even if you rarely spring for any unnecessary extravagances, the right credit card can put money back in your pocket. The key is finding a card that rewards your responsible spending and helps you avoid unnecessary costs.

Here are our four favorite cash back credit cards for frugal spenders.

1. Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

Rewards: 3% cash back on up to $6,000 in annual US supermarket purchases; 2% cash back at US gas stations and participating department stores; and 1% cash back on other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus:
$100 bonus cash back if you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
Annual Fee:
$0
Annual Percentage Rate (APR):
0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers and purchases, then variable 13.99% to 24.99% APR.
Why We Picked It: Thrifty spenders can use this card to earn cash back on necessities.
For Frugal Spenders: This card earns great cash back rates on staples like gas, food, and clothes, so you can earn back a lot of cash even if you buy only the necessities. Plus, you can avoid interest for 12 months.
Drawbacks: If you don’t spend a lot at gas stations, supermarkets, or department stores, you may want to keep looking.

2. Citi Double Cash Card

Rewards: 1% cash back on purchases and an additional 1% upon payment.
Sign-Up Bonus:
None
Annual Fee:
$0
APR:
0% APR for 18 months on purchases, as well as balance transfers completed within the first four months, then variable 14.49% to 24.49% APR.
Why We Picked It: This card rewards those who habitually pay off their balance in full.
For Frugal Spenders: Cardholders earn 2% cash back on purchases once they’re paid off, so this card is valuable to those who religiously pay down their balance. You can also get 0% APR on purchases avoid interest for 18 months.
Drawbacks: If you tend to carry a balance, you won’t see as much value in this card.

3. Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card 

Rewards: 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus:
$150 bonus cash back if you spend $500 in the first three months.
Annual Fee:
$0
APR:
0% APR for nine months, then variable 13.99% to 23.99% APR.
Why We Picked It: This card earns a solid cash back rate on all purchases, and the spending requirement for the sign-up bonus is reasonable.
For Frugal Spenders: All purchases earn 1.5% cash back, with no special requirements or restrictions. Plus, the $150 cash back bonus has a low spending threshold of $500 in the first three months. Purchases are interest-free for nine months.
Drawbacks: You have to jump through a few more hoops to access higher cash rates. 

4. Discover it – Cashback Match

Rewards: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 of purchases in rotating quarterly bonus categories; 1% cash back on other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus:
Match of all cash back earned in the first year.
Annual Fee:
$0
APR:
0% APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, then variable 11.99% to 23.99% APR.
Why We Picked It: The first-year cash back match is impressive, and savvy deal hunters can earn cash in a variety of categories.
For Frugal Spenders: This card earns 5% cash back on bonus categories that rotate every quarter, so if you tend to shop around for great deals, you can use this card to earn more cash back. Discover will match all cash back earned in the first year, which boosts the initial value of the card. Purchases and balance transfers get 0% APR for 14 months.
Drawbacks: If you don’t want to track bonus categories, you might be better off with a more straightforward card.

How to Choose a Cash Back Card for Frugal Spending

To get the best cash back value for your thrifty spending, choose a card that rewards how you spend. For example, if gas is your largest monthly expense, try to find a card with the best cash back rates at gas stations. If you tend to spend at a variety of merchants, a card with a flat cash back rate on all purchases might be best.

Interest rates and fees can quickly diminish the value of your cash back, so look for cards with competitive interest rates and low fees. Reject cards with annual fees altogether, as there are plenty of cards without them.

Remember that a cash back card is most valuable when you pay off your balance in full each month to avoid interest.

What Credit Is Required for a Cash Back Card?

Cash back cards usually require good to excellent credit. Before you apply, check your credit score to make sure you have a good shot at approval. You can check your credit report absolutely free at Credit.com.

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At publishing time, the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express, Citi Double Cash Card, Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, and Discover it – Cashback Match are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees, and terms with credit card issuers, banks, or other financial institutions directly.

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Are Universal Credit Cards Really More Secure?

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They go by many names: universal cards, smartcards, supercards, all-in-one cards. Whatever you call them, the concept is the same: a single credit-card-sized and styled device that allows you to virtually carry your credit cards — and even gift, rewards and club cards — in one convenient place.

But from a security standpoint, is it safer than just carrying all of those cards around in your wallet? It could all depend on what security measures the all-in-one-provider put in place, experts say.

“Some may argue that … cards behind the universal card are typically stored in the cloud, and any hacker from around the world could possibly access those cards,” Troy Bernard, Director of EMV & emerging payments with CPI Card Group, a Colorado-based provider in payment card production and related services. “Our response is that the all-in-one card provider must protect the stored information by both encrypting it and tokenizing it, rendering that data useless.”

The process of tokenization replaces card numbers with a set of meaningless numbers that couldn’t be used elsewhere.

In addition to protecting the stored data, when a universal card is used to make purchases, the tokenized card information can also be restricted by the environment that it is used in, Bernard explained in an email.

“This is called domain restriction,” Bernard said. For example, a merchant card can be tokenized and domain restricted to only work at their specific stores; anywhere else, the purchase is not authorized.

“Finally, many of these products leverage the mobile phone as a companion to the all-in-one card. The phone can be used to deactivate the universal card if it is lost or stolen, and the geo-location features in the phone can be used to ensure that the proper owner of the card is with the card at time of purchase.”

So the potential safety features are pretty impressive, right? Well, yes and no.

“From the perspective of an issuer, this appears to be risky in that existing compromised cards available on the black market can be uploaded into this device,” Seth Ruden, a senior fraud consultant with Florida-based ACI Worldwide, explained in an email. “With the potential for data from stolen cards uploaded into this device, the potential for abuse is high, so it requires the provider of a universal card to ‘know their customer’ and validate their identities.”

The big concern, he said, is for security professionals, however, because many all-in-one cards are still relying on magnetic stripes, which are becoming obsolete at the point of sale because they are more susceptible to in-store fraud. Known as card skimming, a criminal electronically copies card data and PIN codes entered by consumers, then copies the data on to a counterfeit card.

“Issuers do not want their cards to be used at point of sale with a magnetic stripe anymore, as the stripe is highly susceptible to compromise, where chip-based transactions are not,” Ruden said.

Losing your all-in-one card may be no more painful than losing a traditional credit card if many of the aforementioned security measures are in place.

“If you lose your all-in-one card, you likely still have the physical cards it consolidates in your possession,” Bernard said. “In addition, one only needs to ‘cancel’ the [universal] card and not the many cards that are linked to it.”

Are Universal Cards the Way of the Future?

Many small, and even not-so-small companies have entered the universal card business in the last few years. While companies might be keen to offer the cards, the reality is that consumers have yet to start using them widely, due in part to how quickly mobile payment solutions are spreading.

“I do see universal [cards] to be a way of the future, but not on the magnetic stripe form factor,” Ruden said. “Chip-based transactions are the ‘future present’ so any universal solution will need to integrate this point-of-sale mode, and that’s the specific element that is designed into the chip, to be resistant to being duplicated or counterfeited. Tokenization of the card will be a solution that will have legs … Apple, Android and Samsung are growing payment modes and do provide greater security, offering dynamic tokens that feature security parameters well beyond what exists on the static element of the magnetic stripe.”

Regardless of the payment options you choose — mobile, all-in-one, or good old-fashioned credit cards, you should check your statements regularly for unauthorized charges. If you find any, call your issuer immediately to dispute the fraud and have the card replaced. And, if you ever have reason to believe your personal information was compromised alongside your payment information, keep an eye on your credit. A sudden drop in credit scores, for instance, can be a sign your identity has been stolen. You can monitor your credit by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

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