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The Citi Custom Cash® Card is a popular no-annual-fee credit card with an uncomplicated but valuable rewards program. It’s a great option for people looking for a simple way to earn cash back consistently without dealing with rotating bonus categories.

But if you’re looking for the one perfect credit card that helps you earn as much cash back as possible on all of your everyday spending, the Custom Cash Card may not get the job done.

Here’s when the Citi Custom Cash Card may be the best cash back credit card for you and when you should consider other cards.

When is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it?

For most, the best part about the Citi Custom Cash Card will be its lucrative and flexible rewards structure.

Depending on your spending habits and the card features that matter most to you, there are a few more perks that will increase the card’s value. Here’s a look at when it makes sense to carry the Citi Custom Cash Card:

When you want to keep things simple

The Custom Cash Card’s rewards program is easy to use. You automatically earn 5 percent in the eligible category you spend the most in each billing cycle (up to $500 spent per billing cycle, then 1 percent).

The eligible categories include plenty of everyday spending categories, including:

  • Grocery stores
  • Gas stations
  • Restaurants
  • Fitness clubs
  • Select streaming services
  • Home improvement stores
  • Drugstores
  • Live entertainment

And if you want to plan a vacation, your top spend category can also be related to travel and select transit purchases. The best part is that you don’t have to enroll in any categories — and if the Custom Cash Card is your only credit card, you won’t have to spend energy remembering which credit card to use for every purchase.

This will be especially appealing to anyone who wants to avoid credit cards with rotating bonus categories. These bonus spending categories are picked by the card issuer and typically are only offered on a quarterly basis. Most of these cards also require enrollment in the bonus categories each quarter, which can be a hassle for people who want to earn rewards without jumping through so many hoops.

Compared to the best flat-rate credit cards, the Custom Cash Card packs more value if you don’t spend a lot of money. People who can max out the $500 spending limit in the 5 percent category will earn $25 each billing cycle. If you used a 2 percent cash back flat-rate card, you would need to spend $1,250 to earn the same $25 amount. For this reason, people on a budget looking for a set-it-and-forget-it card can squeeze more value out of the Custom Cash Card.

When you want a credit card with good short-term value

Eligible new cardholders can take advantage of two short-term perks: a welcome bonus and a long introductory annual percentage rate (APR) offer on purchases and balance transfers. Here are the details for both:

  • Welcome bonus: Get 20,000 ThankYou points, worth $200 in cash back, after spending $1,500 in the first six months. It’s a fast way to earn cash back that won’t break most budgets, since you only need to spend $250 a month to hit the target goal.
  • Introductory APR offer: Take advantage of a 0 percent intro APR for 15 months on both purchases and balance transfers, followed by a variable APR of 19.24 percent to 29.24 percent once the introductory period ends. This isn’t the longest introductory offer out there, but cards with longer offers typically don’t earn high rewards like 5 percent cash back.

Without the welcome bonus, it would take eight months and $4,000 in purchases to earn $200 if you only used the credit card for purchases that normally qualify for the 5 percent cash back category. That’s why a welcome bonus is a nice incentive for responsible users who want to maximize their credit card rewards.

A credit card with a 0 percent intro APR period is also a valuable addition to your wallet. You can use it to pay down card debt faster, as well as to make large purchases and pay them down over time without accruing interest.

When you plan to pair it with other credit cards

People who tend to carry multiple credit cards and don’t mind strategizing ways to get as much value as possible out of every card will enjoy the Custom Cash Card. Since you only earn 5 percent cash back in one bonus category (on up to $500 per billing cycle, then 1 percent) and 1 percent on all other purchases, you should use the Custom Cash Card for purchases that fall into one of the card’s eligible spend categories. Any other purchases should be put on another rewards card.

In fact, since the Citi Custom Cash technically earns ThankYou points, redeemable for cash back, it’s a good pair with the Citi Strata Premier℠ Card, which also earns ThankYou points and allows you to transfer them to the Citi’s transfer partners.

When is the Citi Custom Cash Card not worth it?

The Citi Custom Cash Card has a lot to offer, but it does have some drawbacks. Here are some times you may want to look for a different cash back credit card:

When you want a standalone credit card that earns the most rewards

Since you’re limited to only one bonus category with a $500 spending cap each billing cycle (then 1 percent), the Custom Cash Card isn’t usually the best choice for a one-card wallet, especially if your priority is earning rewards.

Rewards-seekers looking for the best value may want to try a cash back card with multiple bonus categories that match their spending habits. One of the best alternatives to the Citi Custom Cash Card is the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card*. Instead of just one bonus category, the U.S. Bank Cash+ card earns:

  • 5 percent cash back in your two eligible chosen categories on up to $2,000 in combined purchases per quarter, then 1 percent
  • 5 percent cash back on prepaid air, hotel and car reservations through the U.S. Bank Rewards Center
  • 2 percent cash back on all purchases in one eligible everyday spending category of your choice
  • 1 percent cash back on all other purchases

With the U.S. Bank Cash+ Card, however, you have to enroll in the custom categories each quarter. If you don’t, you’ll earn only 1 percent on those purchases. It’ll take a little more work to use compared to the Citi Custom Cash, but it could be worth it since it offers more chances to earn high rewards.

When you want to save money with a balance transfer

The Citi Custom Cash Card can be used for paying down debts with a balance transfer — but it might not be your cheapest option.

The Custom Cash Card charges 5 percent or $5 (whichever is higher) for each balance transfer you perform. If you’re trying to transfer over a lot of debt, you might save money by looking elsewhere for either a smaller balance transfer fee or a longer introductory APR period. Some of the best balance transfer credit cards only charge a 3 percent balance transfer fee — or even no fee at all.

Should you get the Citi Custom Cash?

For many people, the Custom Cash Card will be a clear winner. There aren’t a lot of credit cards that let you determine the category that earns 5 percent back, so people who spend a lot in bonus areas not typically covered by rewards cards will love the freedom to automatically have their category to earn high rewards determined by their spending.

Just remember that the Citi Custom Cash automatically picks your top spend category based on your purchases (with no enrollment), so try to be conscious of what you use the card for. If you’re aiming for live entertainment to be your top category, for example, make sure you use the Citi Custom Cash for all of those purchases (at least until you hit the $500 spending cap).

But the Custom Cash Card doesn’t usually make a good standalone credit card, especially for people who spend more in a wide variety of categories and would have trouble spending $500 a month in a single category. If you want to earn as much cash back as possible, you’ll need to pair the Custom Cash Card with other rewards cards or look for a better standalone card.

The bottom line

The Citi Custom Cash suits most moderate spenders who can keep their expenses at around $500 each month. However, if you can easily spend more than $500 in a month, consider pairing this card with another rewards card or shopping around for a different high-earning cash back card.

For more information on the card, consider reading our Citi Custom Cash benefits guide — including our piece on how to maximize the card for travel.

*Information about the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card has been collected independently by Bankrate. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.  

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