CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.
Our quick take: The Citi® Double Cash Card is one of our favorite cash back credit cards. It 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.
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 17.74% to 27.74% APR after the intro period).
- Expert users can convert the cash back to flexible travel points when you 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?
That’s what we love about 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 the Citi Double Cash 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, ever, which means it’s basically a card you can stick in your purse or wallet and never have to worry about.
Does that make the Citi Double Cash 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 certain 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 around the world 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 rather just start getting cash back in your pocket every month without thinking too much about it, you’ve probably landed on the perfect card. And you’ve also landed on the perfect time to get it, because for a limited time, you can get it with a sign-up bonus for the first time ever. Let’s take a look at why we think the Citi Double Cash is a great 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 just to have it.
On top of having no annual fee, the 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 single purchase you make, with no caps of any kind.
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, and there are very few other major credit cards available today that offers as high of an ongoing flat-rate return on every single purchase without an annual fee.
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 if you request a check, but there’s no minimum for direct deposits or statement credits, and there’s also no maximum on the amount you can redeem. Additionally, to earn cash back, you must pay the minimum due on time.
For most people, using the Citi 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 — just 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, the cash back you earn with the Double Cash comes in the form of Citi ThankYou Rewards travel points, with $1 in cash back equal to 100 ThankYou points.
To really take advantage of this feature, you’ll need to also 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). Having either of these cards opens access to Citi’s airline and hotel transfer partners, which can get you potentially even more value for your points, even though they aren’t the easiest-to-use partners for transferable points beginners. But if you like to redeem credit card rewards for travel, it may make sense to use your cash back as points instead.
What else do we like about the Double Cash? Well, 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.
New Citi Double Cash card holders 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 17.74% to 27.74% (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 every few months the bonus categories change or can be selected from a menu of categories by the card holder.
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 good “catch-all” card for purchases that don’t fall into any other card’s bonus categories).
The Citi Double Cash isn’t currently offering a sign-up bonus, which is many times a great way to earn a bulk of points or cash back right off the bat.
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 basic 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.
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.
Stacking up the Citi Double Cash credit card as our benchmark
CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi Double Cash Card as our “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better and where they’re worse.
When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on all the criteria we take into account when ranking credit cards.
Other credit cards similar to the Citi Double Cash
There aren’t any other major credit cards on the market that offer an ongoing 2% cash back on all purchases with no annual fee, but once you factor in other aspects of the cards, some other options are worth considering.
For instance, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a comparable flat-rate cash back credit card that earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases, but also currently comes with an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy in the first year after opening the account, up to $20,000 in purchases.
That means if you’re able to spend that much, you’d be earning the same $600 in total cash back as you would if you spent $20,000 on the Double Cash, once you include the current limited-time sign-up bonus on the Double Cash. Plus, if you’re looking to travel, the Chase Freedom Unlimited allows you to convert your cash back into Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be more valuable than Citi ThankYou points. But if you’re only interested in cash back, once you’re beyond the initial sign-up bonus, the Citi Double Cash will earn more on an ongoing basis than the Freedom Unlimited.
Another comparison card is the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which offers a similar 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. Since you can redeem Capital One miles against any travel expense and get 1 cent in value for each mile, the Venture effectively earns at the same rate as the Double Cash.
The Capital One Venture also comes with a sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles, which is far superior than what you’ll find with the Citi Double Cash, even when they offered a bonus offer. But to earn all those extra miles, you’ll have to spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months after you open the account. You’ll also pay a $95 annual fee on the Venture each year, and if you’re not interested in travel, then a card that earns miles to redeem for travel purchases might not be the best fit for your needs.
Should you get the Citi Double Cash credit card?
If you spend a ton of money on travel or dining, there’s likely another credit card that offers enough extra bonus rewards in those categories to make it worth getting. You’ll also want a different credit card if your goal is to earn luxurious travel rewards or perks — for that, you’ll need to pay an annual fee on a midtier or premium travel rewards card.
But if you aren’t looking for travel luxury and don’t want to deal with the complexity of bonus categories, you likely can’t go wrong with the no-annual-fee Citi Double Cash card. It’s a perfect choice for people who just want a single, simple credit card that earns basic cash back with a 2% return on everything, regardless of their personal spending habits.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as the best credit cards available right now.