U.S. Bank Cash Plus (tie)
APR: 14% to 24%
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards: 5% on two categories of your choice from a list of 12 on up to $2,000 in purchases per quarter; 2% on your choice of gas, drugstores, or groceries; 1% on everything else. Plus, once a year you receive a $25 bonus when you redeem $100 or more cash back
Why It’s a Winner: The hefty 5% take is made more valuable by the fact that you can choose categories where you spend the most. Options include your cell plan, gym, and restaurant tabs. Spend $300 a month in the categories, and you’ll get a payout of $180 a year.
Caveats: You can apply only at U.S. Bank branches. Also, you need to pick the categories every quarter. On groceries and gas you’ll do better with the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred.
Chase Freedom (tie)
APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 14% to 23% after
Annual Fee: $0
Sign-Up Bonus: $100 after spending $500 in the first three months
Rewards: 5% in categories that rotate quarterly, on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter; 1% on everything else; a $25 bonus after you add an authorized user who makes a purchase within three months
Why It’s a Winner: While you can’t choose the 5% categories, they tend to be common expenses, like gas for half of this year and, for fall and winter, online retailers including Amazon and select department stores. A big signing bonus ices the cake.
Caveats: Your take in 5% categories maxes out at $300 a year. Since other spending gets 1%, use this only for 5% categories.