Money·3 min read

Yes, You Can Rack Up Rewards Just for Shopping

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Design: theSkimm | Photo: Getty Images
May 18, 2022

Want rewards for shopping? Cash back credit cards have you covered. If you’re making the right purchases, that is. Here’s how to start earning while spending.

I’m listening. How do cash-back credit cards work exactly?

You earn a few cents for every qualifying purchase you make using your credit card. And if you love shopping, those pennies can add up to (a lot of) dollars. As long as you meet the criteria.

Okay, and what are the criteria?

Your account status matters. To receive rewards, you have to keep your account active and in good standing. Hint: Automation can help, so you don’t miss those payments.

Your credit card comes with a list of qualifying purchases that can be used to get rewards. But there are a few things that likely won’t earn rewards. Think: balance transfers, cash advances, crypto purchases (unless you go with a crypto credit card like Gemini), and gambling (including lottery tickets).

Tell me more. What rewards can I earn?

Rewards vary, depending on the cash-back credit card you have. But you probably won’t get miles or points like you would with a travel card. You might earn credits that you can cash out, apply to your statement balance, or use to make online purchases. And how much you earn can vary, too.

Flat-rate rewards

Some cards come with the comfort of the same rewards for all of your purchases. Others might offer one rate for certain basic purchases like for gas or groceries. All you have to do is swipe to earn.

Rotating rewards

Some cards offer rotating rewards, on top of their regular rewards. And these usually have bigger perks (hi, 5% cash back). But only on purchases from specific categories. And for a limited time. You may have to keep track of when they’re offered so you can take full advantage.

Oh, and some cash-back credit cards might come with a dollar limit on how much you can earn each statement period. Read that fine print.

And…what’s the catch?

Cash-back credit cards can come with a few downsides. Like…

Higher APRs

Credit cards offering cash back usually come with higher interest rates than other credit cards. So be sure to shop around to find one that works best for you. Reminder: If you pay off the balance in full and on time, you can avoid interest charges completely (no matter how high the rate is).

Waiting periods

Usually, cash-back rewards aren’t issued instantly. So don’t expect to be able to use them right away, you’ll usually have to wait until the end of your statement cycle.

How do I know which cash-back card is right for me?

Start by reviewing your budget. What do you spend the most money on? Go with a card that will reward you for the items you purchase the most. Or go with a flat-rate card if you’d prefer not to dig through your spending habits.

PS: Don’t forget that rewards cards are still credit cards. Read: You have to manage them wisely to make sure debt doesn’t derail your overall financial plan. No rewards are worth that.


Cash-back credit cards are a great way to get rewarded for shopping. But before you start shopping around, take a look at your budget.

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