The Citi Double Cash is CNN Underscored
The Citi Double Cash is CNN Underscored's benchmark credit card.
PHOTO: iStock

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through The Points Guy 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 credit 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 solid, if not flashy, workhorse credit card.

Pros:

  • Simple, easy to earn and redeem cash back.
  • No annual fee.
  • Expert users can convert the cash back to flexible travel points.
  • 18-month 0% introductory rate on balance transfers (rises to a variable 13.99%-23.99% after the intro period).

Cons:

  • No bonus categories.
  • 3% foreign transaction fee.
  • No travel or luxury perks and minimal purchase protections.
  • No introductory rate on purchases.

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 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 current “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 all your purchases. 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 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 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.

Related: Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best travel credit cards of 2020.

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. 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

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 just 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 dining, groceries or travel, earning flat-rate cash back probably makes the most sense, and there’s really 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 when it comes to flat-rate cash back on every purchase.
The Citi Double Cash is market-leading when it comes to flat-rate cash back on every purchase.
PHOTO: iStock

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, or have it deposited into a bank account, or have Citi send you a check for it. The only requirement is that you need a minimum of $25 in cash back to make a redemption, though there’s no maximum on the amount you can redeem.

For most people, using the 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 card, the way it was originally designed). But for advanced credit card users, Citi recently added the ability to 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 need to also have either a Citi Prestige® Card or a Citi Premier℠ Card, both of which have annual fees (in the case of the Citi Prestige, a very high one). ThankYou Rewards is a good 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 for them.

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 Double Cash cardholders can take advantage of a 0% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for 18 months. It’s important to note that after the introductory rate expires, you’ll pay a variable 13.99%-23.99% (depending on your creditworthiness) 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

Lots of other credit cards offer what are known as “bonus categories,” meaning you’ll earn more rewards — either 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 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 good “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 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.

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 the Double Cash. That’s not a deal-breaker if you’re using this card long-term, but it does sting right at the start.

Stacking up the Citi Double Cash 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.

Here’s how the Double Cash scores as our benchmark card (see our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value):

KEY DETAILS
Card type Mastercard
Issuing bank Citibank
Sign-up bonus None
REWARDS
Earning rate 2% on all purchases(1% when you buy, 1% when you pay it off)
Redemption value 1 cent (cash back)
Ease of basic redemptions Easy
Advanced redemption options Can convert cash back to ThankYou pointsthat transfer to 16 airline partners if you alsohave the Citi Premier℠or Citi Prestige®
Quality of advanced redemptions Good
FEES
Annual fee $0
Foreign transaction fee 3%
BENEFITS AND PROTECTIONS
Travel perks None
Purchase protections None
Travel protections None
Other perks None
INTEREST RATES ON PURCHASES AND BALANCE TRANSFERS
Introductory purchase interest rate None
Introductory purchase interest length N/A
Standard purchase interest rate 13.99%-23.99% variable
Introductory balance transfer rate 0%
Introductory balance transfer length 18 months
Introductory balance transfer fee 3% or $5, whichever is greater

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 what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.

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 sign-up bonuses that are available on cards other than the Citi Double Cash, 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 a $150 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. It’ll take $30,000 in spending at 2% cash back on the Double Cash to make up the 0.5% difference between the Double Cash and Freedom Unlimited, which sounds like a lot — except that’s only 15 months if you usually spend $2,000 a month on your credit card.

If that’s you, then in just a little over a year, you’d be doing better with the Citi Double Cash without a sign-up bonus versus the Freedom Unlimited with one. But if you usually spend less than that each month, it’ll take longer to make up for the sign-up bonus, which might make the Freedom Unlimited a better choice.

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, and the Venture also has an impressive sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening.

Related: New hotel partners improve the already-strong Capital One Venture credit card.

But you’ll pay a $95 annual fee on the Venture each year after the first 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 card?

Whether the Citi Double Cash is the best credit card for you depends on what you spend your money on in a typical day, week or month. 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 also won’t want a Citi Double Cash if your goal is to earn luxurious travel rewards or perks — for that, you’ll need to pay an annual fee on a mid-tier or premium travel rewards credit 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. If that sounds like you, consider grabbing one and popping it into your purse or wallet to start earning 2% cash back on everything today.

Learn more about the Citi Double Cash Card.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best credit cards of 2020.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.