• Wed. Sep 22nd, 2021

Citi Custom Cash vs. Double Cash Credit Card Comparison

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When your credit card bill arrives every month, do you find yourself spending significantly more in certain categories or spending evenly across all categories? Depending on your spending habits, you might opt for a credit card that offers a flat cash-back rate or one with rotating spending categories that change every billing cycle or quarter.

Citi offers consumers two options that don’t require you to understand a complicated rewards program or activate and keep track of new bonus categories every quarter: the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card and the Citi® Double Cash Card

Welcome bonus

The Citi Custom Cash Card wins in terms of offering a welcome bonus because the Double Cash Card has no welcome bonus.

With the Custom Cash Card, you will get $200 cash-back if you spend $750 on purchases within three months of opening the card. While the Citi Double Cash Card has been popular since its launch in 2014 because of its simple reward system and flat cash-back rate, Wells Fargo plans on launching a competing card with a welcome bonus. The ActiveCash Card will offer 2% cash back on purchases, no annual fee and a $200 welcome bonus (if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months from the date your account is opened).

Rewards

The Citi Custom Cash Card is different than most 5% cash-back cards because it doesn’t require you to activate bonus categories each quarter. Cardholders will automatically get 5% cash-back, up to $500, on their top spending category each billing cycle.

This means you don’t have to worry about maximizing your spending according to rotating categories every quarter or billing cycle 一 Citi does the work for you by determining which category your spending is highest in each billing cycle. There are numerous spending categories where you can earn 5% cash back, including but not limited to: grocery stores, restaurants, drugstores, select transit and select streaming services.

After spending $500 in your top category, you’ll get 1% cash back on all other purchases in that category. You’ll also only earn 1% cashback on all other purchases that are not in your top spending category. Cash back is earned as ThankYou points, which can then be redeemed for cash back in the form as a direct deposit, check or statement credit. Each ThankYou point is worth one cent. You can also redeem points as gift cards, travel, and purchases on Amazon.com. 

The Double Cash Card gives cardholders 2% cash back on all eligible purchases (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay). While neither card requires you to go through the hassle of activating categories each quarter, the Custom Cash Card’s spending cap limits your cash back to $25 a month in your highest spending category in addition to 1% cash back per billing cycle. For the Double Cash Card, there are no spending limits for 2% cash back.

CNBC Select calculated how many rewards the average American can earn if they optimize the way they use their Citi Double Cash Card and their Citi Custom Cash Card. We worked with the location intelligence firm Esri, who provided us with a sample annual spending budget of $22,126. We found that, in the first year of card membership, the Citi Custom Cash Card earned more cash back than the Citi Double Cash Card. The Double Cash Card earned $443 and the Custom Cash Card earned $628, including the welcome bonus. When subtracting the welcome bonus, the two cards earn nearly equal rewards based on the sample budget from Esri.

Annual fees, APR and foreign transaction fees

Both the Citi Custom Cash Card and the Citi Double Cash Card have no annual fees and offer 0% APR introductory periods. The Citi Double Cash Card is the better card for balances transfers because it has a longer introductory period. The Double Cash Card has an 18-month 0% introductory period on balance transfers (after, variable APR 13.99% to 23.99%). The Citi Custom Cash Card has a 15 month 0% APR introductory period on purchases and balance transfers (after, variable APR 13.99% to 23.99%).

If you’re a frequent foreign traveler, neither card is a great option because both have 3% foreign transaction fees. If you’re looking for a card with no foreign transaction fees, you may want to look at Select’s list of best credit cards for international travel.

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

  • Rewards

    5% cash back on purchases in top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent (then 1%); unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn $200 cash back after spending $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. The bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for first 15 months

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 5% cash back in eligible spend categories like restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment
  • $200 cash back welcome bonus if meet spending threshold
  • Introductory 0% APR offer for first 15 months

Cons

  • 5% cash back is limited to top spend category, up to the first $500 spent
  • 3% foreign transaction fee when traveling outside the U.S.

Citi® Double Cash Card

  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% – 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Bottom line

The Citi Double Cash Card and Custom Cash Card vary in the amount of cash back they offer on purchases, the length of their 0% APR introductory periods (and what they offer 0% APR on), and in whether they give a welcome bonus. If you’re more interested in getting a welcome bonus, receiving 5% cash back on your top spending category (up to $500 a month) and having no annual fee, than the Custom Cash Card is the right choice for you. However, if you’re ok with a card that earns a flat rate of 2% cash back everywhere, has no annual fee and no welcome bonus, than the Double Cash Card is for you.

You might also consider getting both Citi Cards to maximize your cash back, using the Citi Custom Cash Card on all purchases in your top spending category and then using the Double Cash Card for all your other purchases to get 2% cash back (which is one percent higher than what the Custom Cash card offers). Regardless of whether you chose one card or both, these two products offer different benefits and drawbacks depending on your spending habits.

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, Select analyzed popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company’s data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri’s data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

While the five-year estimates we’ve included are derived from a budget similar to the average American’s spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.