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When it comes to cash back credit cards, there are plenty of options to consider, and the way cash back cards dole out rewards can vary widely from card to card. Some offer bonus rewards in specific categories — and even categories that rotate — while others earn at a flat rate for every dollar you spend.
The Citi® Double Cash Card has been around for a while, and it’s easily one of the most popular cash back cards out there — CNN Underscored even uses it as our “benchmark” credit card as a comparison for all our credit card reviews, mostly due to its straightforward but still market-leading rewards scheme, its introductory balance transfer offer and its lack of an annual fee.
Yet, the recent launch of the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card has made many cash back enthusiasts wonder if they should skip the Citi Double Cash and try something new. So let’s take a look at exactly how these two cash back credit cards stack up against each other.
Citi Double Cash vs. Citi Custom Cash comparison
First, let’s take a look at all the key details of these two cards side by side.
As you can see, these are two very similar credit cards. The primary differences are in the sign-up bonuses, how they each earn cash back rewards and their introductory interest rate offers. Almost all of the other perks and benefits are identical.
Sign-up bonuses on the Double Cash vs. Custom Cash
While you’ll generally want to choose a credit card that will serve you well over the long haul, a sign-up bonus is still a way to earn a nice chunk of rewards right off the bat when you first get a new credit card. And there’s a stark difference between the Citi Double Cash and the Citi Custom Cash on this front.
The Citi Custom Cash Card currently offers $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account. That’s a relatively low minimum spending requirement and a fairly typical sign-up bonus for a credit card with no annual fee.
However, the Citi Double Cash Card has no sign-up bonus at all. None. And we typically haven’t seen a sign-up bonus on the Double Cash since it was originally introduced, so it’s a card that traditionally comes without one.
Again, while the Custom Cash is clearly superior to the Double Cash in this regard, you’ll also want to consider which card is right for you when it comes to using it over the following months and years. Because even though you’ll start out $200 ahead with the Citi Custom Cash at the start, depending on how you spend your money, you could end up better off with the Citi Double Cash over time.
Earning cash back on the Double Cash vs. Custom Cash
The Citi Double Cash Card earns a flat rate of 2% cash back on all your purchases — 1% when a purchase is made, and another 1% when you pay it back. This flat rate means you never have to worry about bonus categories or earning caps, and it’s double the typical 1% return that most cash back cards offer on spending outside their bonus categories.
On the flip side, the Citi Custom Cash Card offers a unique rewards proposition. You’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $500 spent in your top eligible category each billing cycle (then 1% back). And then you also earn 1% cash back on all your other spending on the card.
What are the “eligible” categories? Fortunately, the list is broad enough that there should be at least one category — and probably more — that works for everyone.
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Select travel
- Select transit
- Select streaming services
- Home improvement
- Fitness clubs
- Live entertainment
The Citi Custom Cash Card is also different from other 5% back credit cards in that you don’t have to “enroll” your card every few months to earn bonus rewards. The 5% cash back on the Custom Cash is awarded automatically in the eligible category you spend the most in each billing cycle, and it can change to a different category every month as your spending habits fluctuate.
So which card would leave you better off? That really depends on how you spend your money and whether you can maximize the 5% back categories every month.
Consider this example: Imagine you spend $2,000 per month on a credit card, and out of that $2,000, your biggest monthly expense is spending $750 at your local supermarket. The Citi Double Cash Card would earn $40 in cash back on that $2,000 in spending, provided you paid your bill off in full, which you should be doing anyway.
Interestingly, in this situation, the Citi Custom Cash Card would also earn a total of $40 back on that $2,000 in spending — 5% cash back on the first $500 in grocery purchases for the billing cycle (which is $25), plus another $15 in rewards for the remaining $1,500 in monthly spending. So in this example, the two Citi cards earn identical amounts.
But what if you spend less than that each month? Let’s say you only spend $1,500 per month on your credit card, and that includes just $500 at the grocery store.
In this revised scenario, you’d earn $30 in rewards with the Citi Double Cash Card (again, provided you paid your bill in full at the end of the month), while with the Citi Custom Cash Card, you’d earn a total of $35 — $25 in cash back on $500 in grocery purchases, plus $10 in rewards for all your other spending.
The Citi Custom Cash Card leaves you ahead in the second example because you’re spending less on your card overall. But now let’s consider what happens if you typically spend $5,000 per month on your credit card, including $500 at the grocery store.
On the Citi Double Cash Card, you’d earn $100 in cash back for the month on $5,000 in spending after paying your bill in full. But the Citi Custom Cash Card would only earn a total of $70 back — $25 in rewards on $500 in grocery store purchases, plus $45 in rewards for all the other spending. The results are flipped upside down because your spending habits are different.
That’s why it’s vital to consider how you’re likely to use your credit card before choosing one of these two cards over the other. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because everyone will have a different spending pattern that makes one card a better choice than the other for them personally.
Citi Double Cash and Custom Cash introductory APR offers
Beyond earning rewards, you may also want to take a closer look at the introductory APR offers on each of these credit cards. This is another area where one card may work better for your needs than the other, but it all depends on how you plan to use your card, as well as your financial goals.
The Citi Double Cash Card offers new card holders an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months, followed by a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%. This makes it a really good option if you want to forgo rewards for a while and just use this card to consolidate your existing debt. There’s a 3% balance transfer fee (with a minimum of $5), but that’s fairly typical when it comes to balance transfers.
On the other hand, the Citi Custom Cash Card offers a 0% introductory APR on both purchases and balance transfers, but only for 15 months (it also rises to a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99% when the offers expire). This means you can use it both for new purchases and to consolidate debt from other cards at the same time without racking up interest for more than a year.
But there’s a catch. While this introductory offer on the Citi Custom Cash Card is great for financing large purchases over time, it’s inferior to the Citi Double Cash Card when it comes to balance transfers. That’s because not only is the introductory APR only offered for 15 months versus 18 months, but the Custom Cash has a higher 5% balance transfer fee (also with a minimum of $5). This means transferring a balance is a lot more expensive and you’ll have a shorter timeline to repay your debts.
Citi Double Cash vs. Citi Custom Cash: Final verdict
At the end of the day, both of these credit cards can be an excellent choice if you want to earn rewards without paying an annual fee. However, there are definitely situations where one card will leave you better off than the other.
Consider getting the Citi Double Cash Card if you:
- Typically spend more than $2,000 on your credit card each month.
- Prefer flat-rate cash back without having to worry about bonus categories or earning caps.
- Plan to use your card to consolidate high-interest debt from other credit cards.
Consider getting the Citi Custom Cash Card if you:
- Want to maximize your rewards in the category you spend the most in each month.
- Have spending habits that fluctuate from month to month and need to change up your bonus category each billing cycle.
- Will utilize the introductory APR offer on purchases but don’t plan to use your card for a balance transfer.
Still can’t decide? Well, there actually is a best-of-both-worlds option to consider. You can get both of these cards and then use them in tandem to maximize your rewards.
How does this work? You’d use the Citi Custom Cash Card for the first $500 you spend in an eligible category of your choosing each billing cycle to earn 5% cash back on those purchases, and then you’d use the Citi Double Cash Card for everything else to earn its higher cash back rate on the rest of your spending.
Since both of these cards come with no annual fee, it doesn’t cost you anything extra to have them both in your purse or wallet, and frankly, they make for a pretty great one-two punch. Just keep in mind that you can’t be approved for two Citi credit cards on the same day, so if you want them both, apply for one now and then apply for the other about two weeks down the road.
Looking for the best overall credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards of 2021.