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Find out the best cash-back credit cards

March 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Not all credit cards are created equal. It really pays to shop around for the best card these days.In this tough economy, you might think the last thing you should get is another credit card. But Consumer Reports says if you pay off your balance every month, a credit card with cash rewards can actually end up saving you a lot of money if you use the right one.

Susan Hodara buys groceries and just about everything else with her credit card. That's because American Express gives her cash back on all her purchases.

"That's a real incentive for me to use this card and not another card," says Hodara.

Susan gets 5 percent cash back on purchases of groceries, gas, and drugstore items, and it really paid off last year.

"I open my bill and I see this credit for $681," said Hodara. "It really made a dent in that bill. So I was very impressed."

Consumer Reports' Mandy Walker says reward cards can be good, but not for people who carry a balance.

"If you don't pay off your bill in full each month, your interest payments and late fees can wipe out your rewards," says Walker.

Consumer Reports looked at dozens of cash-back cards and says it is crucial to read the fine print.

"Some cards limit how much cash back you can earn," says Walker. "Some cards limit where you can shop to get the most back. And in some cases you'll have to contact the company to get your rewards."

The best cards set no limit on the cash back you can earn. Also, look for a card with rewards that don't expire and no annual fee.

Consumer Reports has found several cards to recommend, including the one Susan uses, Blue Cash from American Express. But to get the top amount - 5 percent back - she has to charge at least $6,500 a year.

A good alternative that has no minimum spending requirement is the Capitol One No Hassle Rewards card. It gives 2 percent cash back on gas and groceries.

Consumer Reports says to get the biggest benefit from your cash-back card, use it for most of your shopping. But be careful, people tend to spend more with the cash-back incentive, so it's important to stay within your budget.

View Consumer Reports' list of the best cash-back credit cards


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