PenFed's cash-back card could be a better option than heavyweights like the Citi Double Cash — with one important caveat

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  • The PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card card isn't as well known as the Citi® Double Cash Card, but it's a strong alternative.
  • Both cards earn up to 2% cash back on every purchase, but the PenFed card offers a welcome bonus, while Citi's card does not.
  • The important caveat: To earn 2% back with the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card, you need an eligible checking account.
  • You may also be able to qualify for the 2% back rate if you've served in the military.
  • See Business Insider's list of the best cash-back cards »

Safety concerns due to the coronavirus have led to less travel, and as a result many rewards credit card users have pivoted to earning cash back instead of points or miles. And while there are nearly as many cash-back cards as there are travel rewards cards, very few of them offer 1.5% to 2% cash back on all purchases with no limits.

Among those rare cards is the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card. It's not as well known as the Citi® Double Cash Card and other cards that earn a flat rate of cash back on every purchase, but it has some advantages — if you have an eligible checking account with PenFed or meet the military-service requirements, that is.

We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

PenFed is the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which was originally created to provide financial services to current and former members of the military and other government and defence industry employees. Now, it's the nation's second-largest federal credit union, and there's no military service requirement to join.

Reasons to consider the PenFed Power Cash Rewards card

It offers up to 2% cash back 

By default this card offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases, but you can earn 2% when you become a PenFed Honors Advantage member. To qualify, you must also have an eligible checking account with PenFed (some of which have no fees), or be either an active duty military service member, a member of the Reserves or National Guard, or an honorably discharged US military veteran.

New cardholders get an intro APR offer and a sign-up bonus

PenFed also offers new applicants two special incentives. First, you receive 0% APR promotional financing on balance transfers for the first 12 months of your account, with a 3% fee added to the amount transferred. And you can also earn a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,500 within the first 90 days of account opening.

The fees are below-average

Otherwise, this card upholds PenFed's reputation of offering its members low interest rates and few fees. Its current standard interest rate is 14.99% to 17.99%, depending on your creditworthiness when you apply. This is a very competitive interest rate for a rewards credit card, and very close to the national average for all credit cards. That said, rewards credit cards are best used by those who avoid interest charges by paying off their monthly statement balances in full. Those who plan to carry a balance should focus on finding a card with the lowest-possible interest rates, which isn't likely to be a rewards card.

The APR for cash advances and the penalty APR is 17.99%, which is far below the rates of most other cards. There's no foreign transaction fee for this card, and surprisingly, there's not even a cash advance fee.

Competing cards

The other cards that offer 2% cash rewards typically have some caveats. For example, the Citi® Double Cash Card offers 1% cash back at the time of purchase, and another 1% cash back when you pay for your charges, for a total of up to 2% cash back. It offers 18 months of 0% APR on balance transfers, then 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable), but unlike the PenFed Power Cash Rewards, it has no welcome bonus offer.

The Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card offers unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, but the rewards must be deposited into a qualifying Fidelity Investments account. And it has no welcome bonus or introductory financing offer.

The Alliant credit union offers the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card which features 2.5% cash back on all purchases. However, you only earn this rate on your first $10,000 spent each billing cycle, and it has a $99 annual fee that's waived the first year. Finally, the PayPal Cashback Mastercard® offers 2% cash back on all purchases with no annual fee, but features no welcome bonus or promotional financing offer. 

The PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card isn't the only credit card that can offer you 2% cash back on all purchases. But of the cards that do, it's the only one that does so with no limits and no annual fee while offering you both a welcome bonus and a promotional financing offer. If there's a catch, it's that to earn the full 2% cash back, you may also have to open a no-annual-fee checking account. If that works for you, this could be the right card for earning the most cash back on all purchases while paying the fewest fees.

Chase Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardCiti Citi® Double Cash CardChase Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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