The Best Rewards Credit Cards, 2019

Choosing a rewards credit card may not seem so rewarding--at first. The market is crowded with contenders vying for space in your wallet, and comparing the card terms and features can easily eat hours of your time.

But the effort is worth it. On a travel rewards card, for example, a 50,000-point sign-up bonus is worth an average of 1.6 round-trip flights, according to personal-finance site NerdWallet. And by our estimate, the first-year rewards on everyday spending are worth about $500 or more for some cards.

To ease the pain of making a selection, we pored over dozens of the top rewards cards. Then we broke them into 16 categories to help you maximize your payback given your spending habits and desire for simplicity. Each category has a winner--and at least one honorable mention.

Flat-Rate Cash Back Winner: Citi Double Cash Mastercard

If you prefer a healthy payback on everything you buy without worrying about categories or caps, Citi Double Cash Mastercard is for you. You'll earn 1% cash back each time you make a purchase and another 1% back when you pay the bill, for a total of 2%. Once you've accrued at least $25 in cash back, you can redeem it as a check, statement credit, or deposit into a Citi savings or checking account--or any checking account from which you've paid a Citi credit card bill at least twice. Rewards expire if you haven't earned cash back in the past 12 months.

Flat-Rate Cash Back Honorable Mention: Alliant Cashback Visa Signature

The Alliant Cashback Visa Signature card offers an impressive payback--especially during the first year, when you'll earn 3% back on all purchases with no annual fee. After that, the cash-back rate falls to 2.5% and a $99 annual fee kicks in. That's a considerable increase from the $59 fee the card carried a year ago, but big spenders will still reap big rewards. Even the year-two rebate is a bit higher than that of Citi Double Cash, but in this basic category, we like that the no-fee Citi card is friendly to spenders at all levels.

Redeem cash back as a statement credit or deposit into an Alliant Credit Union checking or savings account. Cash back expires about four to five years after you earn it. You must join Alliant Credit Union to use the card; Alliant will donate $5 to charity Foster Care to Success on your behalf and make a complimentary $5 deposit into an Alliant savings account.

Cash Back in Rotating Categories Winner: U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature provides considerable flexibility to earn high rebates in the categories in which you spend the most. You select two categories that earn 5% on up to $2,000 in combined spending per quarter. TV, internet and streaming services is an attractive new category for 5% rewards, and department stores, cell-phone bills, home utilities, fast food, movie theaters and ground transportation were recently among the other options. You also get 2% back in one category of your choice (including gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores) and 1% on everything else.

Make sure you choose and activate your 5% and 2% categories each quarter--otherwise, you'll earn only 1%. Redeem cash back as a deposit into a U.S. Bank checking or savings account, a statement

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