8/20/2012 2:15 PM ET|
The best rewards cards now
Once again, the experts had unanimous praise for the Fidelity-branded cards from American Express. The Wells Fargo Home Rebate Card and two flavors of a General Motors rewards card also drew praise from two of the experts.
Two percent of your purchases on the Fidelity cards will be deposited into the brokerage firm's accounts, with no limits and no annual fees. There are three versions: Fidelity Investment Rewards (rebates are deposited into Fidelity cash or brokerage accounts), Fidelity Retirement Rewards (deposits are made to Fidelity individual retirement accounts) and Fidelity Investments 529 College Rewards (deposits into a Fidelity-run 529 account). Plus, family members can link their Fidelity 529 cards to your Fidelity-managed 529 account, which is "great for grandparents," noted CreditCard.com's Woolsey.
The Wells Fargo Home Rebate Card has no annual fee and applies your 1% rebate on all purchases toward paying off the principal on eligible Wells Fargo mortgages. There's no limit to the rewards you can earn. "Granted, you have to have your mortgage with Wells Fargo for this to be useful, but it's the only card I know of that offers this benefit," said NerdWallet's Chen.
Chen and Woolsey also liked GM rebate cards, which have no annual fees, but picked different versions. Woolsey liked the GM MasterCard, which offers a 5% rebate on all purchases good toward the purchase of a new GM car. Chen's pick, the GM Flexible Earnings Card from HSBC, pays 1% cash back on all purchases, but those rewards are worth 3% if redeemed toward the purchase of a new GM car.
"There are limits on how much you can redeem for specific cars," Chen said, "but you may be able to save anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 if you're in the market for a new Corvette or a minivan."
Honorable mention: The UPromise World MasterCard with Dining & Grocery Rewards.
No card won universal acclaim, but three experts singled out Chase Freedom Visa, while the PenFed Visa Platinum CashBack Rewards card, two new American Express Blue Cash cards and the Costco TrueEarnings American Express card each received two nominations.
Chase Freedom Visa has no annual fee and pays 1% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back on categories that change every three months (the current categories are home improvement, furniture, and lawn and garden), with a $1,500 cap. Chase is currently promoting the card with bonuses up to $150 after $500 in purchases in the first three months.
"Though we find the rewards program to be a bit overly complicated, savvy rewards card users can use it for substantial cash-back rewards," Chen said.
PenFed Visa Platinum Cashback Rewards Card is offered by a credit union that serves Pentagon employees, but "it is fairly easy for anyone to join this credit union by joining one of the associations llisted that is open to civilians," Arnold said. The card earns 5% cash back from gas purchases and 1% back from all other purchases, up to a $50,000 limit.
"I don't know of any other card that offers a full 5% cash back on gas all year long," Arnold said. "That's a great deal for those that spend a lot of time on the road -- especially with the high gas prices we are seeing now. There are also no caps or spending thresholds."
AmEx said it has simplified the rewards programs for the cards, which no longer require you to spend $6,500 before you get full rewards. (The old Blue Cash card limited you to 1% of grocery, gas and drugstore purchases and 0.5% on everything else until you exceeded that spending level.)
The Blue Cash Everyday version has no annual fee and offers:
- 3% cash back at supermarkets
- 2% at gas stations and department stores
- 1% on everything else
The Blue Cash Preferred card has a $75 annual fee but a richer reward structure, including:
- 6% back at supermarkets
- 3% at gas stations and department stores
- 1% on everything else
- A $100 cash-back bonus if you spend $500 in the first 60 days.
"I wouldn't normally recommend a cash-back card with an annual fee," Arnold said, "but if you use your card for groceries on regular basis, it is well worth the fee."
The Costco TrueEarnings American Express card has no annual fee for Costco members and pays 3% back on gas purchases of up to $3,000 a year. "The best part about this card is that you can use it to buy gas at Costco and get the 3% back on already-discounted gas," Chen said. "No other rewards cards pay bonuses on warehouse store purchases."
Honorable mentions: The Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard (currently offering a $100 cash-back bonus), the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card ($100 bonus), Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards Credit Card, the Discover Open Road Card ($50 bonus), the Discover More $100 cash-back card and Chase's BP Credit Card.
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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