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Canada’s 8 Best Cash Back Credit Cards for November 2021

Cash back rewards are great for their simplicity and flexibility, and anyone can appreciate a little extra money in their bank account.

These are our picks for the best cash back credit cards in Canada.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Best Flat Rate Cash Back Credit Card

The SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express earns 2% cash back on all purchases. While most cards have higher category rates, this card is unparalleled for everything else.

Plus, this card has a very reasonable annual fee of just $99. Compared to other premium cards which clock in at $120 or higher, you’ll be hard-pressed to find such a strong base earn rate at a better price.

If you prefer a slim wallet and frequently shop at stores that take Amex, this card is without a doubt your best choice.

Best Lifestyle Cash Back Credit Card

The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card can’t be beat when it comes to earn rates on everyday spending. If you live a fast-paced lifestyle, this is the ideal cash back card for you.

You’ll earn 5% on groceries, restaurants, and entertainment purchases, the highest rate available on any card. The bonus points are capped at $50,000 spent per year in these categories, setting this card far apart from the competition.

As an added bonus, you’ll get a strong 3% earn rate on gas, transit, and streaming services, no foreign exchange fees, and the many benefits of being an American Express cardholder – including Front of the Line ticket access and exclusive Amex Offers.

While the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card is technically a travel card, its Scotia Rewards points can be redeemed for cash-equivalent statement credits very easily. If the card’s earn rates and perks fit your needs, it’s absolutely worth considering.

And with the current record-high welcome bonus of 50,000 Scotia Rewards points, worth $500, now’s the best time to apply.

Best Cash Back Mastercard

The Desjardins Cash Back World Elite Mastercard makes our list as an unsuspecting contender. Even though it has no welcome bonus, it’s a great all-round workhorse if it fits your spending profile.

With elevated earn rates on groceries, restaurants, transit, and entertainment, this card is a great alternative to the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card. While the rewards aren’t quite as high, you’ll benefit from a lower annual fee and no limits to the amount of bonus cashback you can earn.

Also, as the card runs on the Mastercard payment network, you’ll find that it’s accepted more widely. If you frequently shop at grocery stores or restaurants that don’t take Amex, you may often find yourself excluded from the highest cash back rates on the Scotia Gold Amex. If that’s the case, this card is a fantastic solution.

Best Cash Back Visa Card

The CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite Card is another jack of all trades, with 4% cash back on groceries and gas, and 2% back on restaurants and transit. These are some of the most useful categories for bonus rewards because they typically make up the majority of most Canadians’ everyday purchases.

While other cards may offer similar rewards but with lower annual fees or higher spending limits, none have the same overall mix of category bonuses. If you’re looking for high rates on groceries, gas, and restaurants, don’t want to pay annual fees for more than one premium card, and can’t use American Express where you shop, the CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite is the total package.

Plus, since it’s issued by a major Canadian bank, you’ll get seamless integration with your chequing account if you also bank with CIBC. Although Desjardins and Meridian have similar cards with a lower annual fee, they don’t have as big of a national presence in case you need customer support.

If you don’t meet the minimum income requirements for this card, you can apply for the CIBC Dividend Visa Platinum instead. It has all of the same earn rates and fees, just weaker insurance, and only requires an annual personal income of $15,000.

Best Credit Card for Recurring Bills

The Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite Card earns bonus rewards on recurring bills. This includes any utility companies that accept credit cards and are set up as a recurring pre-authorized payment, as well as select streaming services.

Eligible recurring transactions earn 4% cash back. That’s by far the highest available earn rate for your recurring bills. Also, with 4% cash back on groceries, this card is a great choice for families with many mouths to feed and large homes to heat.

Plus, new cardholders can currently get their first-year annual fee waived and 10% cash back in the first three months – a frequently seen welcome bonus on this card.

Best No Fee Cash Back Credit Card

If you’re looking for a simple solution, the Rogers World Elite Mastercard is the card for you. While other cards offer better category earn rates, there’s no better choice for a budget-conscious spender.

The card earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases. This rate is the de facto benchmark for other World Elite Mastercards, but the Rogers World Elite has the advantage of having no annual fee. If you’re primarily concerned about keeping costs down, you won’t find another card with a better all-round cash back rate.

Also, the card gives higher rewards on US-dollar purchases to offset the foreign exchange fee. This gives you peace of mind not to fret about extra costs if you’re doing any online shopping on US sites or going for a jaunt over the border.

Whether you like the simplicity of only using one card, or a high earn rate on uncategorized spending at no extra cost, there’s a place for the Rogers World Elite Mastercard in every wallet. There’s one caveat, though: you do need to spend $15,000 per year on the card to maintain your World Elite tier, so it’s much better as your primary card than as a backup that only sees occasional use.

Best Cash Back Credit Card for Foreign Transactions

Brim is a small credit card issuer with no foreign transaction fees on any of their cards. Their entry-level card with no annual fee, the Brim Mastercard, makes a great keeper or backup card for avoiding foreign transaction fees.

This card earns equal rewards on all foreign purchases, a unique feature among cards with no annual fee. Also, as a Mastercard, you’ll find it’s very widely accepted around the world on all your foreign purchases.

With a 1% cash back rate on all purchases, this actually exceeds the base rate on many other no-fee cards once you factor in their FX fees.

Even for use at home, you’ve got a decent all-round entry-level credit card in the Brim Mastercard.

Best Cash Back Credit Card for Travel Insurance

If you’re a frequent traveller but prefer to earn cash back rewards, luckily you can still benefit from premium travel perks like insurance. If that sounds like you, the Meridian Visa Infinite Cash Back Card is your best option.

The card offers many types of travel insurance that are standard on premium credit cards, like emergency medical assistance, common carrier accident benefits, trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, subsidies for lost or stolen baggage, and rental car insurance. Many of the maximum payouts are among the highest you’ll see, at levels common among travel cards but rarely seen on cash back cards.

In fact, the coverage for seniors is better than what you’ll get on most travel cards. This card offers up to 15 days of medical coverage for cardholders up to age 75, and it extends coverage to grandchildren when travelling together.

You’ll also earn 4% cash back on groceries and gas, two categories that are typically high-spend areas for most Canadians.

Throw in a uniquely high 2% cash back rate on drugstore purchases and a manageable annual fee of $99, and you’ve got a surprisingly strong all-round cash back card.

Cash Back Credit Cards: What You Need to Know

When choosing a cash back credit card, you should familiarize yourself with what benefits a cash back credit card can offer, what features to look out for, and how cash back credit cards can fit into an optimized overall credit card strategy.

Why earn cash back rewards?

Cash back cards are great for one simple reason: cash is king. You’re not locked into using your rewards at one particular store or brand, and you can get immediate value for your rewards rather than waiting several months to take a trip you just booked on points.

Plus, cash is easy to understand, and the value of your rewards is plain as day. You may prefer to use cash back credit cards if you’d rather not spend time learning the rules of a complicated loyalty program just to reap the benefits of your credit card.

Even for frequent travellers, cash gives you unparalleled flexibility as you book your travel arrangements. You can use it for airlines that aren’t part of an alliance, offbeat accommodations, or car rentals. In fact, you can subsidize your trips however you like, using cash rewards for anything like public transportation, excursions and experiences, dining, or souvenirs.

What should you look for in a cash back credit card?

One major advantage of premium cash back cards is that they tend to have significant bonus rewards for spending in specific categories. For example, many Visa Infinite cards offer 1% cash back on most purchases, but 4% cash back at grocery stores.

Other cards instead offer the same cash back rate on all purchases. These cards are simple, and it’s easier to stay organized with them. They’re good for miscellaneous purchases, as they usually have a higher flat rate than non-bonused spending on cards with bonus rates.

It’s rare to find a one-size-fits-all cash back card. If you care about maximizing your rewards on everyday spending, you’ll likely want at least two or three of these cards, where each one covers the others’ weaknesses. That way, you’ll get high cash back rates on as many categories as you can.

On the other hand, if you’d prefer the simplicity of only managing one card at a time, the best cash back card will depend on your spending habits.

Cash back cards also offer some premium benefits, even though they aren’t travel cards with a full-fledged suite of travel perks. Indeed, cash back cards are often still useful for travellers:

  • Cash Back Visa Infinite cardholders still get all of the same benefits as Visa Infinite travel cards, including Concierge services and the Luxury Hotel Collection.
  • Cash Back World Elite Mastercard members still get all of the same benefits as World Elite travel cards, including a LoungeKey membership and Boingo Wi-Fi.
  • Many cash back cards provide purchase protection insurance, and some even provide various types of travel insurance.
  • Some cash back cards waive foreign transaction fees.
  • Some cash back cards have unique services that aren’t found on travel cards, such as roadside assistance.

What’s the optimal strategy for cash back credit cards?

When it comes to maximizing credit cards as a whole, cash back credit cards typically play a more supplementary role in a savvy credit card user’s wallet compared to travel rewards credit cards.

That’s because the main appeal of a cash back credit card is its simplicity and ease of use: you get a certain percentage of cash back as a reward for your spending.

In exchange, however, the overall upside of your rewards is limited: you’ll be able to get 1.5–2% back on your spend, but the potential outsized return of travel rewards (5%, 10%, or even more!) isn’t accessible to you.

If you’d like to get the best of both worlds, consider a travel credit card that earns “cash equivalent” points rewards. For example, the American Express Cobalt Card and the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card both offer sky-high 5% earning rates on groceries, food, and drinks – you’ll never get these types of rewards on a regular cash back credit card.

Technically, these two credit cards earn points rather than cash back: Amex MR Select points and Scotia Rewards points, respectively. However, both can be redeemed at 1 cent per point against travel purchases – including refundable travel purchases that effectively leave you with a statement credit if they’re refunded.

Since a statement credit is basically as good as cash in your pocket, these two credit cards (and others that can be used the same way) can be thought of as more powerful versions of a traditional cash back credit card.

And who knows, since Amex MR Select points can also be transferred to hotel programs and redeemed for some awesome hotel stays, you may even find yourself swayed by the power of travel rewards once you start dabbling with these cards!

Overall, traditional cash back credit cards are best suited to credit card users who prefer to keep things as simple as possible. If you’d like to “set it and forget it” in terms of your credit card strategy, you might go with a simple cash back card and call it a day.

But for credit card users who are looking to optimize, cash back credit cards alone probably won’t cut it in terms of the welcome bonus or the regular return on spending.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some questions we frequently hear from readers about the best cash back credit cards in Canada.

When can I redeem my cash back rewards?

Many cards let you request cash back to be issued as a statement credit any time you’ve accumulated enough rewards. Depending on the card, you can do this online or over the phone, or rewards may be paid automatically.

Some cards only pay out monthly, quarterly, or yearly. If you have one of those cards, make sure you’re never counting on your cash back urgently, and don’t be alarmed if it isn’t credited immediately after each purchase.

I prefer the earn rates and perks of travel credit cards more than cash back credit cards. Can I redeem travel rewards for cash back?

Some travel cards let you redeem points for statement credit to cover any travel expense, including refundable bookings. Examples include credit cards that earn Scotia Rewards points, HSBC Rewards points, MBNA Rewards points, or American Express Membership Rewards or Membership Rewards Select points.

By making a refundable booking, covering the expense with your points, and then refunding the booking, you can therefore “cash out” your points. If you can use your points this way, they’re effectively as good as cash back.

Other types of travel rewards may let you redeem for cash back, but often at a very poor rate when compared to flights or hotels. In these cases, it’s better to redeem points directly towards your travel plans.

Whichever type of credit card you apply for, make sure you think about the value you expect to redeem the points for, before you submit your application.

How do I know if my purchase counts as a recurring bill payment?

Recurring bill payments are unlike other purchases. To get the bonus rate, they have to be set up as an automatic charge to your credit card, with a pre-authorization on file with the biller.

If you make a manual payment every time you receive your monthly utility bill, you likely won’t receive the recurring bonus rate, even if it’s the same amount every time.

Some banks, like Scotiabank, also have partnerships with specific merchants. If you have any questions about what qualifies as a recurring payment, it’s best to contact the credit card issuer for clarification.

Ricky Zhang

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