The Best Cash Back Credit Cards in Canada 2021

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Figuring out what the best cash back credit cards in Canada should be an easy process, but it can be complicated. Every credit card has different earn rates for specific categories, so you need to go through each of them to narrow down your choices. To further complicate things, many of the best of lists out there are a bit bias have too much information, so it leaves you more confused than when you started.

After much feedback from my readers, I’ve come up with an updated list of the best cash back credit cards in Canada. Instead of focusing on specific spending categories, I’ve broadened the list so it’ll quickly help you decide which card is best for you. Admittedly, I also have some bias, but I feel these selections are the best for average Canadians.

Best cash back card forCredit card
Overall spendingBMO CashBack® World Elite®* Mastercard®*
FlexibilityTangerine Money-Back Card
Travel and rewardsAmerican Express Cobalt Card
No annual feeAmerican Express SimplyCash Card
No foreign transaction feesHome Trust Preferred Visa Card
PrepaidKOHO
InsuranceScotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite Card

What is a cash back credit card?

As the name implies, a cash back gives you cash back on all of your purchases. How much you’ll get depends on the earn rate. All cash back credit cards have a base earn rate, but most of them also give you an increased earn rate on select categories. For example, you might earn 5% cash back on grocery purchases, but 1% on everything else.

Generally speaking, you want to choose a cash back credit card that lines up with your spending. For example, if you do the majority of your spending on gas and transit, then pick a card that gives you a high return on those categories.

Some cash back credit cards will limit how much cash back you can earn on bonus categories. Once you’ve reached that cap, you’ll earn the base earn rate. There are also many cash back credit cards that come with a generous welcome bonus. Finally, cash back credit cards also come with additional benefits that can be quite lucrative.

Best cashback card for overall spending

As mentioned, you want to pick a credit card that gives you the highest earn rates where you do the majority of your spending. Who cares about streaming services, pharmacy, and recurring payments when you mostly charge groceries, gas and transit to your card. Overall, there’s one card that stands out.

BMO CashBack® World Elite®* Mastercard®*

  • $120 annual fee – First year free*
  • 10% cash back in your first 3 months up to $260 (up to $500 qualified spend in grocery, up to $300 qualified spend in transit, up to $300 qualified spend in gas and electric vehicle charging, up to $500 qualified spend in recurring bill payments, and up to $1000 qualified spend on all other purchases)
  • Earn 5% cash back on groceries
  • Earn 4% on transportation including rideshares and public transportation
  • Earn 3% on gas and electric vehicle charging
  • Earn 2% on recurring bills
  • Earn 1% on all other purchases
  • Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey
  • Complimentary roadside assistance program
  • Concierge service
  • Travel insurance
  • Free global WiFi
  • Price protection
  • Extended warranty

The BMO CashBack® World Elite®* Mastercard®* often gets overlooked as one of the best cash back credit cards in Canada but it recently had some major changes for the better. The earn rate is now 5% on groceries, 4% on transportation, 3% on gas, 2% on recurring bills, and 1% on all other purchases.

There is a catch. The 5% cash back on groceries only applies to the first $500 in purchases for each statement. For transportation, your 4% cash back is capped on the first $400. Once you reach the caps, you earn the base earn rate of 1%. If you typically spend more than that, the American Express Cobalt Card or Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite card would likely be a better choices.

You do get some great additional benefits with this card including lounge access, roadside assistance, concierge service, travel insurance, and extended warranty.

Best cashback card for flexibility

The most annoying thing about the best cash back credit cards in Canada is that they all have different earn rates. Rarely do you find a card that perfectly lines up with your spending so you can maximize your return. That said, there’s actually a card that lets you chose your bonus categories.

Tangerine Money-Back Card

  • No annual fee
  • 2% money-back on up to 3 categories
  • 0.5% cash-back on all other purchases
  • Automatic monthly redemption with no minimum balance required
  • Instantly pause your card
  • Adjust your credit limit online
  • Automatic pay my balance feature
  • Purchase assurance and extended warranty

The Tangerine Money-Back Card allows you to select up to three categories where you can earn 2% cash back. You get two categories to begin with, and you earn a third category if you set your cash back to automatically deposit into your Tangerine Bank account. All other purchases earn you 0.5% cash back. No other credit card in Canada allows you to pick your categories, so this card is extremely valuable depending on the categories you choose.

Admittedly, 2% isn’t as high as some other cards on this list, but it’s also higher than the base earn rate of every other card. Some people will use this card as a complement to another cash back card. That would allow them to earn at least 2% cash back on multiple categories. Alternatively, you can keep things simple and use this as your primary credit card.

Best cash back card for travel and rewards

It may seem odd to feature a cash back card that earns you points, but hear me out. American Express recently changed its membership rewards program. It no takes 1,000 points for $10 in statement credits or travel rewards. What that means is that all American Express cards are just as good for cash back, but there’s one that stands out.

American Express Cobalt Card

  • $12.99 Monthly fee ($155.88 yearly) 
  • 2,500 monthly Membership Rewards points after charging $500 in purchases each month for a year (30,000 points total)
  • 20,000 additional Membership Rewards points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months of cardmembership
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks (Groceries, restaurants, bars, cafés, and food delivery)
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on streaming services
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel (flights, hotels, trains, public transportation, taxis/Uber)
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Comprehensive travel insurance package included
  • Mobile device insurance
  • American Express Invites access
  • Free supplementary cards

The American Express Cobalt Card gives you ultimate flexibility. It doesn’t matter if you’re redeeming your points for travel or a statement credit, your points are worth the same. Since you get 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks, that effectively gives you a 5% cash back return. Best of all, you can redeem your points for a statement credit pretty much whenever you want through your online account.

If you decided to use your points you have a lot of flexibility. You can use the American Express travel portal or you can redeem points on any travel purchase you make. Additionally, you can transfer your points to Aeroplan, Marriott Bonvoy, and other travel partners.

Best cash back card with no annual fee

There are a lot of credit cards with no annual fee which is great for people who don’t tend to charge a lot to their cards or don’t like paying to have a credit card. Although there are some cards that offer a higher earn rate, I recommend

SimplyCash Card from American Express

  • No annual fee
  • 4% cash back on purchases for the first 6 months (up to $200 cash back)
  • 1.25% cash back on purchases after the first 6 months (no limit)
  • Buyer’s assurance
  • Purchase protection plan

The American Express SimplyCash Card consistently ranks as one the best cash back credit cards in Canada since you’ll earn a straight 1.25% cash back on all purchases. While that may not sound like a lot, it’s pretty good for a no fee card. I like how you earn the same cash back rate no matter what. There’s no need to worry about having multiple cards to maximize your return. There is a welcome bonus of 4% cash back on all purchases for the first 6 months (capped at $200 in cash back). Additionally, you get purchase protection and extended warranty.

There is one downside. As an American Express Card, it’s not accepted at every merchant. If you want a no fee card that’s accepted at most retailers, consider the Tangerine Money-Back Card instead.

Best cash back card without foreign transaction fees

A lot of people don’t realize that when you make a purchase in any currency that’s not Canadian dollars, you’re charged a fee of 2.5%. Fortunately, you can get that fee waived if you have one of the best no foreign transaction fee credit cards in Canada. My top pick is a bit controversial, but let me explain why I like it.

Home Trust Preferred Visa

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1% cash back with no limits
  • Visa Auto Rental Collision/Loss Damage Insurance
  • Purchase protection

I personally think the Home Trust Preferred Visa card is ideal for people who want to earn cash back and don’t want to pay foreign transaction fees. The reason why this is a controversial pick is that you don’t earn any cash back on purchases in foreign currencies. You only get the cash back on purchases made in Canadian dollars. The way I see it, you’re not paying any transaction fees, and there’s no annual fee, so it’s a win-win for you. Admittedly, there are better credit cards out there that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, but nothing is as simple as the Home Trust Preferred Visa.

Best prepaid cash back card

Prepaid credit cards have evolved over the years. Traditionally, people would only get them if they didn’t qualify for a traditional credit card. However, these days they come packed with benefits and are tied to an app that gives you insights into your spending. If you want to be better with your money while earning cash back, a prepaid card might make sense.

KOHO

  • No annual fee
  • $20 for free when signing up with a referral link.
  • 0.5% cash back on all purchases
  • 1.2% interest on your spending and savings accounts with direct deposit set up
  • Automated savings goals
  • Round up each purchase to the nearest $1, $5, or $10
  • Real-time spending insights
  • Free financial coaching with direct deposit set up

KOHO is a prepaid credit card that has no annual fees and gives you 0.5% cash back on all your purchases. Additionally, if you have a direct deposit set up, you’ll earn interest on all funds deposited into your account. Many people love this card because it teaches you to be smarter with your money. For example, you can set rounds up for all your purchases. That allows you to automatically save. Additionally, you get real-time spending insights which can be helpful if you’re trying to balance your budget.

Best cash back card for insurance

Insurance is often overlooked, but there are quite a few users who swear by it. The idea with insurance is that you’ll be glad you have it if you ever need to make a claim. Although most cash back credit cards don’t come with much insurance, there’s one card that’s a winner.

Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card

  • $120 annual fee – Waived for the first year
  • 10% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months (up to $2,000 in total purchases)
  • 4% cash back on groceries and recurring payments
  • 2% cash back on gas and daily transit
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Mobile device insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Purchase security
  • Extended warranty

The Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card is extremely popular since it’s one of the best Scotiabank credit cards in Canada. The included travel medical insurance covers you for 15 days if you’re under the age of 65. You also get a trip protection plan that covers things such as trip cancellation/interruption, flight delay, delayed and lost baggage, and rental car collision loss/damage insurance. In addition, you get mobile device insurance, purchase security, and extended warranty. The annual fee is typically waived for the first year, and this card often has a nice welcome bonus.

When is cash back paid out?

Every cash back credit card in Canada has different rules when it comes to payouts. Some payout in the form of a statement credit while others payout based on a date. This date could be monthly or once a year. Some of these credit cards also have a minimum requirement before they’ll cash you out. Before you sign up for a card, make sure you find out when you get paid as it may not work for your timeline. Here are the best cash back credit cards in Canada. Here’s a quick look at when the best cash back credit cards in Canada pay out.

  • BMO You can choose once you meet a certain amount ($50 minimum, $10 increments)
  • Tangerine Every month
  • Home Trust – Every january as a statement credit
  • KOHO – Immediately
  • American Express – Once per calendar year or as needed for statement credits
  • Scotiabank Once per calendar year in November

Cash back or travel rewards?

The two most popular types of credit card rewards are travel and cash back. Travel rewards can be very lucrative as the value of your points can be quite valuable depending on what you’re redeeming for. Cash back may not give you as big of a return, but it’s easy to understand. With cash back, there’s no need to worry about blackout dates, seat availability or taxes since you get paid out in cash. Which one you choose is a personal decision.

How to pick a cash back credit card

The best cash back credit cards in Canada can vary quite a bit so you need to establish some standards to help you narrow down your choices. Here are the things you should look out for.

  • Annual fee – Many of the best cash back credit cards come with an annual fee, but they’ll also come with a higher earn rate. This is fine if you do a lot of spending on your credit cards, but if you make limited purchases, go for a no fee credit card.
  • Welcome offer – If you have some major purchases coming up, choose a card that has a good welcome offer such as 10% cash back for the first three months can benefit you quite a bit.
  • Bonus categories – You’ll notice that just about every one of the best cash back credit cards in Canada give you extra cash back for certain categories. E.g. groceries, gas, etc. You should look for a card that lines up with your spending. If you do the most spending at grocery stores, then you want a cash back card that will earn you more cash back there
  • Base earn rate – The base earn rate is what you get for any purchases not in a a bonus category. This isn’t a big deal if most of your spending is on bonus categories, but if you do a lot of random spending, the base rate may benefit you.
  • Benefits – Finally, you’ll want to see what additional benefits come with each card to see if they’re of any interest to you. Things such as travel insurance, mobile device insurance, no foreign transaction fees and roadside assistance can be quite valuable.

Final thoughts

Picking the best cash back credit cards in Canada can be difficult since everything is subjective. Take a look at what every card is offering and see if there’s one that benefits you the most. If you already have one of the best travel credit cards in Canada, it might make sense for you to get a no fee credit card that offers cash back as a compliment.

The Best Cash Back Credit Cards in Canada 2021

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

17 Comments

  1. […] Overall the difference between all three cards are pretty minor so you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Once you’ve cleared your debt and have your spending under control, you can maximize your return by applying for one of the best travel credit cards or one of the best cash back credit cards. […]

  2. […] dollars. That’s pretty impressive for a no fee card which is why it’s also one of the best cash back cards in Canada. Read my review of the Rogers World Elite Mastercard for my full thoughts on the […]

  3. Nitish on April 24, 2019 at 1:30 PM

    How come the MBNA world Elite isn’t on there? Is it because they decreased the benefits recently?

    • Barry Choi on April 24, 2019 at 2:15 PM

      You got it!

      • Nitish on April 24, 2019 at 2:18 PM

        Makes sense. Thanks for the article! I’m leaning towards the Tangerine but tempted by momentum. If Costco accepted visa, momentum would be a no brainer for me.

        • Barry Choi on April 24, 2019 at 2:25 PM

          The Tangerine card is great as a no fee card. Both the Meridian and Momentum cards have great promos right now as well some good travel insurance.

  4. […] that it’s great for people who use Amazon Prime and shop at Whole Foods a lot, but compared to the best cash back credit cards in Canada and the best travel credit cards in Canada, you may be a little disappointed. Read my Amazon.ca […]

  5. Alex on July 10, 2019 at 10:48 PM

    Just signed up love this concept for getting foreign cash at a good rate upon arrival. Realistically though, there aren’t any ATM’s that won’t charge a fee on their end to withdraw cash from a prepaid MasterCard, right? Is that the only way to get money off this card?

    • Barry Choi on July 11, 2019 at 7:42 AM

      Alex,

      There are a few ATM providers that don’t charge fees. In the past, I used HSBC in Asia and Europe without fees.

  6. Tim on July 31, 2019 at 10:33 AM

    So the Meridian one has this disclosure:

    Earn 4% on gas and grocery purchases. (Applies to first $25,000 in purchases then 1% for all other purchases.)
    Earn 2% on pharmacy purchases and utility bill payments. (Applies to first $25,000 in purchases then 1% for all other purchases.)

    Does that mean after spending a total of $25K in each category above, it goes back to 1% cashback for a lifetime?

    • Barry Choi on July 31, 2019 at 3:08 PM

      Tim

      I haven’t looked at the fine print but the $25K cap applies for each category so 4% $25K on gas, $25K on grocery etc. If you spend over that amount, the cash back goes down to 1%. This usually lasts per calendar year so you would get the increased cash back on Jan. 1st.

      Again, I haven’t looked at the fine print, but that’s what it usually means.

      • Timothy Trisnadhama on July 31, 2019 at 4:31 PM

        Gotcha. Thanks

  7. Jared Riley on April 27, 2020 at 11:35 AM

    As of June 2, 2020, Rogers is reducing the rewards on the World Elite to 1.5% across the board. Foreign transactions are dropping to 3%.

    It still might be among the best if you shop a lot at Costco and you don’t want to bother with categories. Otherwise it doesn’t stand out as much as it used to.

    • Barry Choi on April 27, 2020 at 11:43 AM

      Jared,

      Yes the new changes are annoying. It’s just an okay card moving forward.

      I personally prefer to use the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard at Costco. It also has a 1.5% return rate.

  8. Rick on November 3, 2020 at 8:50 AM

    Any reason you dont have the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite?

    • Barry Choi on November 3, 2020 at 9:24 AM

      No real reason. I just think the other cards on my list are better for specific instances. That said, the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite card does come with free roadside assistance and that alone makes it worthwhile.

      • Rick on November 3, 2020 at 9:26 AM

        Sounds good, thanks. And yes, I agree RSA is a nice perk to have for sure 😉

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