Consumer Reports: Top-earning reward cards

Consumer Reports: Finding the best cash-back cards

There is a dizzying array of rewards cards to choose from, each with different terms and conditions. Consumer Reports sifted through more than 90 rewards programs and came up with the cards that—if you play them right—can give you the most in cash back and free goods and services.

Consumer Reports says the trick is to use two different cards for different kinds of purchases. Which two cards are best depends on how much you spend each month and what you spend it on.

For example, for a young couple just starting out, Consumer Reports recommends the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Card and Citicard’s Double Cash. The first gives 3 percent cash back on every dollar spent on gas and 2 percent on groceries. Charge $500 in the first 3 months for a $100 bonus. And the Citicard will give you 2 percent cash back on all other purchases. The combo will net a couple who charges $750 per month about $650 over three years.

If you charge a lot, Consumer Reports says that you may be better off with reward cards that carry annual fees but offer more cash back and bigger bonuses.

For a family of four who charges $3,000 a month, Consumer Reports recommends the American ExpressBlue Cash Preferred Card and the Capital One Venture. The first has an annual fee of $75 and gives 6 percent cash back on groceries and 3 percent on gas. Use the Capital One Venture for everything else. It has a $59 annual fee, but you get 2 mileage points for every dollar charged. The total rewards over 3 years will be more than $3,500.

To get the maximum, keep in mind that the credit cards have to be paid in full each month or the interest and fees will eat away at your savings. Because the terms of rewards cards can always change, Consumer Reports advises double-checking online before you sign up.