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Citi Double Cash credit card: The best cash back card with no annual fee

Our quick take: The Citi® Double Cash Card has no annual fee and earns a market-leading 2% cash-back on every purchase you make — 1% when you buy and 1% more when you pay it off. It won’t get you free trips to fancy beach resorts or access to exclusive airport lounges, but it’s a top-notch, if not flashy, workhorse credit card and one of our favorite cash-back credit cards.

Pros of the Citi Double Cash credit card:
  • Simple, easy to earn, and redeem cash-back.
  • 18-month 0% introductory APR on balance transfers (rises to a variable 13.99% to 23.99% APR after the intro period).
  • Expert users can convert the cash-back to flexible travel points when they also have a premium Citi credit card.
  • No annual fee.
Cons of the Citi Double Cash credit card:
  • No bonus categories.
  • No travel or luxury perks and minimal purchase protections.
  • No introductory APR on purchases.
  • 3% foreign transaction fee.

Current sign-up bonus: None.

Best for: People who want to automatically earn cash-back on everything they buy without thinking about it.

Digging into the Citi Double Cash credit card

Credit cards are confusing. So many features, so much to think about. Even the words used to describe credit cards sound like gobbledygook: bonus categories, introductory rates, APR, annual fees, flexible points, transfer ratios, secondary auto coverage… Do you have to have a doctorate in economics to understand these things?

We love the Citi Double Cash credit card and why we’ve even chosen it as CNN Underscored’s “benchmark” credit card. In a word, it’s simple. Simple to understand, simple to use, simple to redeem its cash-back.

Yet you won’t be left behind when it comes to rewards because it always earns a market-leading 2% rate on everything you buy — 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off. Plus, it has absolutely no annual fee, which means it’s a card you can stick in your purse or wallet and never have to worry about.

Does that make it the most valuable credit card on the market? Not necessarily. You can get more bang for your buck with other cards, especially if you regularly spend a lot of money in specific categories where other credit cards offer bonus rewards, which would offset getting a lower return on the rest of your everyday spending with that card.

There are also better credit cards if you’re looking for luxurious travel perks like a free trip worldwide in first class. But to pull that off, you’ll either need to do a lot of homework to understand how flexible travel points work, pay a high annual fee for a credit card, or both.

If those options don’t sound appealing to you, and you’d instead start getting cash-back in your pocket every month without overthinking about it, you’ve probably landed on the perfect card. We think the Citi Double Cash is an excellent choice for people who want the “set it and forget it” option of the credit card world.

Advantages of the Citi Double Cash credit card

First, the Citi Double Cash costs nothing to have in your purse or wallet. There’s no annual fee on the card ever, meaning you don’t have to worry about whether you’re getting enough out of the card to warrant what it costs — it costs zero to have it.

On top of having no annual fee, Double Cash has one of the best and most straightforward earning rates across all credit cards. You’ll earn 2% in cash-back — 1% when you buy something and another 1% when you pay it off — on every purchase, with no caps.

For people who don’t spend a lot of money daily in a specific bonus category, such as groceries, food delivery, or travel, earning flat-rate cash back probably makes the most sense. There’s no other major credit card available today that offers as high of an ongoing flat-rate return on every single purchase without an annual fee.

The Citi Double Cash is market-leading for flat-rate cash back on every purchase.

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The cash-back you earn with the Citi Double Cash is also easy to redeem. You can either use it as a statement credit to offset any purchases you make with the card, have it deposited into a bank account, or have Citi send you a check for it. The only requirement is that you need to earn $25 in cash-back as a redemption minimum, though there’s no maximum on the amount you can redeem.

For most people, using Double Cash to earn and redeem cash-back will be as far as they need to go (and if the rest of this paragraph and the next one sound like Portuguese to you, don’t worry about it — use the Double Cash as a cash-back credit card, the way it was originally designed). But if you’re an advanced credit card user, you can convert cash-back earned with the Double Cash into Citi ThankYou Rewards travel points, with $1 in cash-back equal to 100 ThankYou points.

To convert your cash-back to points, you’ll also need to have either a Citi Premier® Card or the now-discontinued Citi Prestige® Card, both of which have annual fees (in the case of the Citi Prestige, a very high one). Citi’s ThankYou Rewards is an excellent flexible point transfer program, though it doesn’t have the easiest-to-use airline partners for transferable points beginners. But if you like to redeem credit card rewards for travel, it may make sense to turn your cash-back into points instead and potentially get even more value.

What else do we like about Double Cash? As many people have unfortunately learned, credit cards can be a way to get stuck owing a lot of money if you aren’t careful about how you use them. For folks who are currently staring down a boatload of debt and wondering how to claw their way back out, the introductory balance transfer feature of the Citi Double Cash can serve as a temporary life raft.

Here’s how to pay no interest on your debt until 2023 with a balance transfer card

New Double Cash cardholders can take advantage of a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 18 months. It’s important to note that after the introductory APR expires, you’ll pay a variable of 13.99% to 23.99% (depending on your creditworthiness) as your regular APR on the remaining balance. So you’ll want to be sure to either pay off your debt in full or transfer it to another card before the 18 months expire.

Also, balance transfers incur a 3% balance transfer fee with a $5 minimum, so the transfer isn’t entirely without cost. Still, if you’re currently paying high interest on another credit card, a small 3% fee could be a huge relief.

Finally, the Citi Double Cash is a Mastercard, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding merchants who will accept it when you want to use a credit card to pay for goods or services.

Disadvantages of the Citi Double Cash credit card

Lots of other credit cards offer what are known as “bonus categories,” meaning you’ll earn a higher rewards rate — either in cash-back or points and miles — for some types of purchases. For instance, another card might offer 3% cash-back on dining, 2% on groceries, and 1% on all other purchases. Or you might find cards with rotating categories, where the bonus categories change every few months or can be selected from a menu of sorts by the cardholder.

You won’t find any bonus categories on the Citi Double Cash, and that’s the downside of simplicity. So if you routinely make a large number of purchases in a particular category, you may find another credit card that offers a bonus for those purchases is a better choice for you.

Or, if you don’t mind carrying multiple credit cards and regularly switching to the best one depending on what you’re buying, you can potentially out-earn the Double Cash overall by maximizing different bonus categories on various cards (though the Double Cash could still be a sound “catch-all” card for purchases that don’t fall into any other card’s bonus categories).

Also, in life, you usually get what you pay for, and since this is a credit card with no annual fee, you won’t find any great perks on the Citi Double Cash. That means no travel benefits, no travel protections like trip delay or car rental coverage, no purchase protections, and no fancy dining or travel credits. This is your primary no-frills rewards credit card.

You also won’t want to use the Double Cash on overseas purchases since the card has a 3% foreign transaction fee. That means the cost of making international purchases is more than the 2% in cash-back you’d earn from them, so you’ll want to restrict this card to domestic use only.

As long as you don’t use the Citi Double Cash overseas, the 2 cents you earn for every dollar you spend will go straight into your pocket.

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And it’s a minor point, but you need to earn cash-back with the Double Cash card at least once every 12 months to prevent your existing cash-back from expiring. That shouldn’t be too difficult — even one small purchase once a year will work — but it’s something to keep in mind if you end up not using the card as often as you originally planned.

The biggest drawback of the Citi Double Cash is its lack of a sign-up bonus. While many other credit cards offer hundreds of dollars in bonus rewards just for signing up and spending a minimum amount on the card in your first few months, you won’t get any bonus for signing up for Double Cash. That’s not a deal-breaker if you’re using this card long-term, but it does sting right at the start.

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