What is a Cashback Credit Card?

By Alyssa Schwartz · April 09, 2021 · 5 minute read

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What is a Cashback Credit Card?

Some things in life sound too good to be true, and getting cash back for purchases may seem like one of those deals. But an increasing number of credit cards, called cashback cards, offer clients money back when they charge what they buy.

Many people are familiar with the concept of credit card rewards, when lenders give clients a little something back—points, airline miles—as an incentive for using their card.

In the case of cashback cards, that reward is, well, cash.

How Does a Cash Back Credit Card Program Work?

Cashback credit cards reward clients based on their spending, providing a credit that is a small percentage of the total purchase.

If a cashback card provides 1% back, for instance, the cardholder would generally earn 1 cent on every dollar spent, or $1 for every $100 they charge to their card. If, over the course of the year, a person charges $10,000 in purchases to their cashback credit card, they’d earn $100 in cash back for that time period.

Unlike sale items, when an item is discounted at the time of purchase—meaning, of course, the shopper pays a cheaper price—cashback cards work more like a rebate. The customer buys something at the posted rate and gets money back at a later date.

The average American had a credit card balance of $5,315 in 2020, according to Experian. Assuming that full balance is eligible for cash back, it would earn $53.15 with a credit card providing 1% cash back and $106.30 for one giving 2% cash back.

Cash in on up to $300–and 3% cash back for 365 days.¹

Apply and get approved for the SoFi Credit Card. Then open a bank account with qualifying direct deposits. Some things are just better together.

Do All Cashback Credit Cards Work the Same Way?

Yes and no. While all cashback cards typically use the same model—money back based on a percentage of total purchases—the differences are typically in the details.

Things like the rate of cashback earnings, interest rate, the process for redeeming cash back, and so on vary by card and lender. Some lenders may even offer several cashback credit card products with different rates and benefits.

As such, before signing up for a cashback credit card, it’s smart to spend some time researching and comparing cashback cards to find the one that best suits your needs.

What to Look for in a Cashback Card

There are a number of considerations when choosing a cashback credit card that will determine just how profitable the card will be for a specific person.

Because people have different spending habits and financial preferences, the best type of credit card will ultimately depend on the individual. Here are some things to consider.

Rate of Cash Back

Not all cashback credit cards offer the same rate of return, so it’s best to comparison-shop. Though differences in percentages may sound negligible, getting 2% instead of 1% means double the cash back—and those small amounts can add up over time.

Some credit cards also provide different rates of cash back depending on the spending category or how much money the cardholder charges in a year. For example, some credit cards may provide a higher percentage on expenditures such as gas, travel, or groceries and a different rate for other types of purchases.

Tiered cashback cards may provide a higher (or even lower) rate when annual purchases exceed various thresholds.

Some credit cards also offer higher introductory cashback rates.

How a person chooses to redeem cash back may also determine the final payout. A travel rewards card, for example, may provide a higher rate of return for cardholders who redeem the money they earn on flights, and a lesser amount for those who redeem their rewards on statement credits or other purchases.

It can be difficult to tell at a glance how much the cashback percentage rate may actually net an individual, especially when considering categorized and tiered rewards. But when comparison-shopping for a cashback credit card, it is worth crunching some numbers to get an idea.

One way to estimate how much in cashback rewards a card will actually end up earning is to apply the posted cashback rates to previous credit card statements or to the spending allocations within an individual’s annual budget.

Annual Fees

Though some cashback credit cards have no annual fee, others do. It’s a good idea to factor in any annual fee when estimating the cashback rewards based on your spending habits. Calculating the returns on fee vs. no-fee cards can help to assess whether it’s worth shelling out extra.

If a bank charges $99 for a cashback card earning 2%, the bank fees would essentially cancel out the $100 in cash back earned on the first $5,000 in annual spending.

Someone who charged $7,500 annually would net $51 with the 2% cashback card, and $75 with a no-fee 1% cashback card. But if they charged $20,000 annually, the $99/2% cashback credit card would net $301, while the no-fee card would only earn $200 in cash back.


The nearly half of Americans who carry a balance on their credit cards each month will want to pay close attention to a credit card’s annual percentage rate. This is the amount of interest cardholders will have to pay if they do not pay off their credit card balance in full each month.

The average credit card APR was 14.65% in late 2020, according to the Federal Reserve—a rate that can quickly cancel out any cashback benefits.

Recommended: What is a Good APR?

Redemption Terms

A good question to ask a lender before signing up for a cashback credit card is “Where can I get cash back?” The terms of redemption can vary across credit card products.

In some cases, cardholders may see an annual one-time credit for the full amount earned. Other cards allow cardholders to redeem their cash back at any time.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Cashback Card

While signing up for—and using—a cashback credit card is the first step to getting money back on everyday purchases, there are some ways to optimize the returns.

Pay Off Your (Whole) Credit Card Bill on Time

With few exceptions, credit card charges are not subject to interest until after the statement payment due date. But after that payment becomes due, extra interest and fees can quickly add up—erasing any cashback benefits.

Optimize Redemptions

When it comes to redeeming cash back, it’s worth seeking the biggest bang for your buck.

If a card offers different rates of cash back depending on how rewards are redeemed, being strategic when cashing out can result in a greater windfall.

Consider Extra Fees

Though a cashback credit card can make it tempting to charge everything you buy, that’s not always the most cost-effective strategy.

Though it’s generally an exception, some merchants impose surcharges for using a credit card or may provide discounts for paying in cash. In such cases, it’s a good idea to crunch the numbers to ensure the extra fees don’t actually cost more than the cashback reward.

The Takeaway

Free money may be hard to come by—but not if you use a cashback credit card. When choosing a card, It’s best to look at the rate of cash back, any annual fee a card may charge, and the APR if you carry a balance.

SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back when redeemed for a statement credit.1

Look into the cashback rewards of a SoFi credit card* today.

You will need to maintain a qualifying Direct Deposit every month with SoFi Checking and Savings in order to continue to receive this promotional cash back rate. Qualifying Direct Deposits are defined as deposits from enrolled member’s employer, payroll, or benefits provider via ACH deposit. Deposits that are not from an employer (such as check deposits; P2P transfers such as from PayPal or Venmo, etc.; merchant transactions such as from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.; and bank ACH transfers not from employers) do not qualify for this promotion. A maximum of 36,000 rewards points can be earned from this limited-time offer. After the promotional period ends or once you have earned the maximum points offered by this promotion, your cash back earning rate will revert back to 2%. 36,000 rewards points are worth $360 when redeemed into SoFi Checking and Savings, SoFi Money, SoFi Invest, Crypto, SoFi Personal Loan, SoFi Private Student Loan or Student Loan Refinance and are worth $180 when redeemed as a SoFi Credit Card statement credit.

Promotion Period: 4/18/2022-6/30/2022

Eligible Participants: All new members who apply and get approved for the SoFi Credit Card, open a SoFi Checking and Savings account, and set up Direct Deposit transactions ("Direct Deposit") into their SoFi Checking and Savings account during the promotion period are eligible. All existing SoFi Credit Card members who set up Direct Deposit into a SoFi Checking & Savings account during the promotion period are eligible. All existing SoFi members who have already enrolled in Direct Deposit into a SoFi Checking & Savings account prior to the promotion period, and who apply and get approved for a SoFi Credit Card during the promotion period are eligible. Existing SoFi members who already have the SoFi Credit Card and previously set up Direct Deposit through SoFi Money or SoFi Checking & Savings are not eligible for this promotion.

New SoFi Checking and Savings customers and existing Checking and Savings customers without direct deposit are eligible to earn a cash bonus when they set up direct deposits of at least $1,000 over a consecutive 30-day period. Cash bonus will be based on the total amount of direct deposit. Entry into the Program will be available 4/5/22 to 5/31/22. Full terms at sofi.com/banking. SoFi Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 1.25% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on all account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify. Members without direct deposit will earn 0.70% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. Rate of 1.25% APY is current as of 04/05/22. Additional information at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.

1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back when redeemed for a statement credit.1
*See Pricing, Terms & Conditions at SoFi.com/card/terms
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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