5 best cash-back credit cards

by Farnoosh Torabi for CBS MoneyWatch.com

It looks like the rumors of cash-back cards' demise were somewhat exaggerated. Despite tough CARD Act regulations that have put pressure on the industry's bottom line, these cards - some of the sweetest deals around, in my opinion - are operating as usual, according to Bankrate.com's 2011 Credit Card Rewards Survey. Researchers from the site examined features from the same cash-back cards included in the 2010 study; they found no major changes to annual fees, introductory bonuses, reward rates or expiration periods.

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Based on those criteria, here are the top cards I found on Bankrate's list. Remember: Rewards cards lose their luster if you carry a monthly balance, since the interest payments may fast outweigh any cash back, points or miles you accrue. And if there's an annual fee - you've got to definitely make sure the benefits are worth it.

If you pay your balance off in full each month, however, consider these cash-back rewards cards:

AmEx True Earning Card from Costco

  • No annual fee with a paid Costco membership.
  • Users get 3% cash back on up to the first $3,000 in gas purchases. After that it averages about 1%.
  • You also get 2% back on travel and 3% back on dining. Everything else: 1% cash-back.
  • Cash reward coupon is mailed each February and expires Aug. 31 of the same year. You can redeem the coupon at any U.S. Costco warehouse for merchandise or cash.

Accelerated Cash Rewards American Express Card from Bank of America

  • No annual fee
  • Get $50 statement credit as a bonus after qualifying purchases.
  • Cash-back ratio: 1.25%
  • Cash reward check is valid for 90 days after issued.

BankAmericard Cash Rewards Visa Signature

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 3% cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore purchases for the first six months. Cash-back ratio after that is 1%.
  • Get a $50 statement credit after qualifying transactions.
  • Cash-back credits expire 90 days after date of issue.

Discover More Card

  • No annual fee
  • 5% cash-back bonus in categories that tend to vary - such as travel, gas, groceries, restaurants and more.
  • Up to 1% unlimited cash-back bonus on other purchases after $3,000 in purchases. Up to $3,000 in purchases earns 0.25%.
  • Redeem your cash-back bonus for partner gift cards, merchandise, Discover gift cards or charitable donations starting at $20. You can also get cash, in the form of a direct deposit to your bank account or a credit to your Discover card account, in $50 increments.
  • Rewards never expire.

Navy FCU cashRewards

  • No annual fee
  • Cash-back ratio is 1% up to first $10,000 spent in a year. After that it's 1.5%.
  • Rewards credits never expire.

©2011 CBS Interactive Inc., a CBS Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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