The catch behind the cash-back credit card

Americans love their rewards, don't they? According to TNS Global's Financial Services Research, some 57% of rewards card holders have cash-back credit cards.

And there are lots to choose from. Some have complicated rules about when and how much you'll get back, depending on how much you spend and on what. Others are more straightforward, simply sending you a check based on a percentage of what you charged over the past year. Others let you accumulate points, which you can then turn in for services or travel. I've known more than a few people who used these cards to finance air fare abroad.

But as with everything in the credit card universe, there are hidden snags. Fortunately, it just got a lot easier to navigate the pros and cons of various cards.

Bankrate's first Cash-Back Reward Card Study offers an in-depth analysis of 30 reward cards that offer cash back from nine of the top credit card issuers. The good news? There are credit cards out there with annual rebates of up to $1,000! (Of course, you'd have to charge $100,000 to get that kind of reward with a USSA Federal Savings card, so don't run out and apply for one just yet.)

The bad news? Refer back to my comment about snags. There's always a catch when it comes to wringing money back out of a credit card. The beauty of Bankrate's analysis is that it breaks down each of these deals by a multitude of criteria including reward tiers, frequency of cash back redemption and excluded purchases to help you figure out which card will yield the most cash back for you.

To get an apples-to-apples comparison, Bankrate narrowed its focus to general-purpose cash-back cards that can be used anywhere only. It ruled out points-based cards, except those whose points could convert to a cash or cash equivalent payout.

Click through on each of the nine credit card issuers included in the study to see how they stack up in terms of fees and conditions.
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