Not all cash back credit cards are created equal. On the high end, a cash back card could have you enjoying 2% return on all your spending ‒ and on the low end, some cards only offer 0.4% back.
Simple enough, right? But here’s where things get complicated...
If perks and insurance are something you enjoy or if you’re looking for a card that won’t hold your cash hostage for an entire year ‒ then there are more factors to take into account more than just the return on spending.
Not only that, some cards are riddled with hoops and frustrating tiers that take away the ease and simplicity of cash back cards.
The point? It pays to look at the details.
2018 Cash Back Credit Card Rankings
70 cash back credit cards in Canada were considered for this comparison ‒ you can find the top 10 in the table below ranked from best to worst.
Cards that allow you to convert your points to cash, statement credits, or money to invest ‒ even if they aren't marketed as cash back cards ‒ are included to give you more options.
The table scrolls horizontally by using the slider at the bottom.
|Apply||MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard|
|Apply||SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express|
|Apply||TD Cash Back Visa Infinite|
|Apply||Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite|
|Apply||Desjardins Odyssey World Elite Mastercard|
|Apply||Scotiabank Gold American Express|
|Apply||CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite|
|Apply||BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard|
|Apply||Desjardins Odyssey Visa Infinite Privilege|
|Apply||American Express Cobalt Card|
|Overall Score||Net Cash $25,000 Spend1||Net Cash $100K Spend2||Annual Fee||First Year Free||Sign Up Bonus Value3||Insurance Score||Perks Score|
|3.93||$255||$1,380||$120||Yes||up to $250||3.8||3.5|
* Limited time promotion ending soon.
1. $25,000 in annual spending works out to $2,083 in monthly spending which is achievable for a typical Canadian family funneling most of their spending through their credit card. The cash back shown is calculated by splitting spending sensibly across spending categories like groceries, gas, drugstore, travel, bills, and everyday spending. All spending bonuses, tiers, limits, and caps are taken into account in these calculations. Sign up bonuses are NOT included in these numbers, so that will be an extra perk for you. Finally, the annual fee is deducted from the cash back earned giving you the true cash back earned for the year.
2. $100,000 in annual spending works out to $8,333 in monthly spending which is too high for most families. I have included these numbers to better evaluate cards and give an advantage to cards who don't have spending caps or limits. It also allows cards that have a good tier system to shine at higher spending levels. The cash back shown is calculated by splitting spending sensibly across spending categories like groceries, gas, drugstore, travel, bills, and everyday spending. All spending bonuses, tiers, limits, and caps are taken into account in these calculations. Sign up bonuses are NOT included in these numbers, so that will be an extra perk for you. Finally, the annual fee is deducted from the cash back earned giving you the true cash back earned for the year.
3. The sign up bonus value is the maximum possible dollar value you can get from the bonus if you take full advantage of it. So, with a 5% gas and grocery bonus for 6 months with a $250 cap - $250 would be the value.
The Top 3 In Detail
1) MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard
Although this card rewards cardholders with points and not the typical cash percentage ‒ the MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard is still widely accepted as the best cash back credit card in Canada.
This card will give you a straight 2% cash back on all purchases. And while there are cards on the market that will give you up to 4% in some spending categories, none of them will give you 2% back on ALL your purchases, with no limits and no tiers. Plus with this card, you can get paid whenever and however you want – it doesn’t get much simpler than that.
In short, you’ll be able to earn high cash back, have decent insurance package and get incredible flexibility – a combination that not many other cards can offer.
The downside? As a World Elite Mastercard there is a pretty high minimum income requirement attached. However, if you are able to meet the 80K personal or 150K household income, it’s a no brainer.
Why You Want It:
- Best flat cash back rate of 2%, the highest of any card.
- 10,000 bonus points as a sign up bonus = $100!
- No limits, tiers, or restrictions on how much cash you can earn.
- Incredible flexibility: choose how and when you get your reward (cheque, bank deposit, statement credit, travel, gifts, gift cards and more).
- Rare price protection coverage that gives you a refund if you ever spot something you bought at a cheaper price.
- No charge for extra cardholders.
- Widely accepted.
2) SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express
The SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express is another card that gives you a flat 2% cash back on all purchases with no caps or limits.
On top of that, it has one of the best sign up bonuses of any cash back credit card – 5% cash back on all purchases for the first 6 months (up to $300 earned). Assuming you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months, you will earn the full $300, subtract the 2% you would normally earn, and you have a bonus of $180:
$6,000 * 2% = $120
$300 - $120 = $180 bonus
That’s an extra $180 just for signing up and using your card. Or $300 if you don’t have a cash back card that already earns you 2% now!
And if insurance is important to you, here’s a list of insurance coverages that comes with the card:
Where this card doesn’t quite measure up to to MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard is that your rewards will be paid out only once a year as a statement credit on your September statement. So, you will have to wait until fall to enjoy those rewards.
Why You Want It:
- Matches the 2% cash back rate of the #1 card.
- 5% cash back on all purchases for the first 6 months (capped at $300).
- No limits, tiers, or restrictions on how much money you can earn outside of the first 6 months $300 cap.
- Decent insurance package for a cash back card.
- Great perks like Amex Invites and Front of the Line.
- No charge for extra cardholders.
3) TD Cash Back Visa Infinite
The TD Cash Back Visa Infinite card allows cardholders to earn up to 3% back in popular spending categories. That means 3% back on groceries, gas and recurring payments, plus 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Better, it comes with a solid sign up bonus of 9% cash back on groceries, gas, and recurring payments for the first 3 months (up to $315 earned). If you subtract the $105 (3% * $3,500) worth of cash back that you would have earned anyway on gas, groceries and recurring payments at the normal rate, then you’re left with $210 in maximum bonus cash that you can earn in the first 3 months.
While this card may have the highest annual fee ($120) in our top 3, it also has the highest earn rate on recurring bills, allows you to redeem your cash back as a statement credit at any time, and comes with complimentary roadside assistance – so it’s not a complete surprise it wound up at #3.
Why You Want It:
- 9% cash back on groceries, gas and recurring bill payments for 3 months (up to $3,500 spent).
- 3% cash back on groceries, gas, and recurring bill payments.
- 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Complimentary emergency roadside assistance.
- 6 types of travel and purchase insurance included.
- 24/7 Visa Infinite Concierge service and other Visa Infinite benefits.
What Matters To You?
I've broken down the top cards by popular features to help make the right choice based on your needs.
The Most Money In Your Wallet
If you're looking for a cash back credit card, then getting top dollar is probably pretty important. Flexibility, fees, income requirements, perks, and insurance may be a little lower on your priority list.
If that sounds like you, then you really need the MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard. A typical family spending $25,000 annually (about $2,083/mth) will net $411 in cash after the annual fee is paid for. That's a very high 1.64% return on spending thanks to the 2% cash back and the slightly lower annual fee. Plus, the first year you’ll pocket $100 more, thanks to the sign up bonus.
The Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite is also a solid second choice. The 1% on regular purchases isn’t really something to brag about but it turns out a massive 4% bonus on gas and groceries really does lift the overall payout. A typical family spending $25,000 annually will earn net $407 in rewards annually.
Rewards Matched With Your Spending Habits
Many cards will give you bonus cash back in different popular spending categories like: gas, groceries, drugstore, bills, restaurants and travel. So, if you spend most of your money in one or two of these categories, then it could make a lot of sense to choose a card with a matching spending bonus.
For instance, the most popular high spending bonus card is the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite. It gives you 4% cash back on gas and grocery purchases and 2% cash back on recurring monthly bills – a very rare bonus. If the majority of your spending is in these three categories, then this card will have you earning rewards quickly.
Notable mention: Although it didn’t make the top ten list, the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card (ranked #18) is worth mentioning here as well. This card not only allows cardholders to earn extra rewards in up to 3 different categories, but it also allows you to choose which categories you want to earn 2% cash back in – then gives you the option to change those categories as your spending habits change. The kicker is that it doesn’t have an annual fee.
Low or No Annual Fees
Not sure if an annual fee is worth it? Simply take your annual rewards earned and subtract the annual fee to give you your net annual rewards. If your net annual rewards are higher with a fee-based card than a no-fee card, then the choice should be easy. (Please note: all the dollar values in my rankings already have the annual fee deducted.)
Annual fees aren't necessarily a bad thing, but there are some who are dead set against ever paying a fee. Fortunately, there are still some good no-fee options.
Check out my complete no fee cash back credit card rankings here.
Lower Minimum Income Needed
While most high ranking cards require anywhere from $35,000 to $80,000 in personal income to qualify, the SimplyCash Preferred from American Express (the #2 ranked card on our list), actually doesn’t have any minimum income requirement. So, it’s a pretty great option for anyone who doesn’t qualify for the other cards.
Another interesting choice is the Rogers Platinum Mastercard that has no set minimum – but that card only really shines if you have a Rogers or Fido service to pair with it.
Something to keep in mind: Minimum income requirements aren’t always set in stone. Sometimes you can still be approved for a card even if the minimum is higher than what you are currently earning. As long as you have good credit and a good payment history, they will often assess your application on a case by case basis. Your chances vary by bank – but if there's a card you really want – you can always cross your fingers and try.
Premium Perks And Insurance
The Desjardins Odyssey Visa Infinite Privilege card has the best in class insurance package on the market. Coming out on top in 9 of the 11 insurances it includes plus all the Visa Infinite Privilege perks, it’s not hard to see why this card comes out as the clear winner.
The BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard is another great choice when it comes to insurance. It offers 13 out of 16 different types of insurance – the most of any cash back card. Add on complimentary roadside assistance and concierge service and you've got a real winner.
Which One Will You Choose?
What are some of the main things you look for in a cash back credit card? Are there any features you just can’t live without?
Or perhaps you have a favorite cash back credit card in your wallet or maybe there is one that you tried, but didn’t like? Let me know in the comments.
Finally, always remember that letting credit cards with rewards entice you into much higher spending and debt is NEVER worth it. Please only apply for these cards if you plan to pay them off in full every month.