PNC Cash Rewards card review – 4 percent cash back on gas

Our rating

3 stars 3/5

See explanation of our ratings system

See breakdown of this card’s rating

With so many cards offering various configurations of cash back in multiple categories, it can be tough to figure out which fits your life best. PNC (as of June 19,2017) is throwing another option into the mix with its Cash Rewards Visa card. The card has no annual fee.

Our review will help you determine whether the card’s bonus categories check all your rewards boxes.

Earning rewards

With this card, you’ll earn:

  • 4 percent cash back on gas station purchases
  • 3 percent cash back on dining purchases (includes fast food)
  • 2 percent cash back at grocery stores
  • 1 percent cash back on all other purchases

That’s quite the line-up, with most everyday purchases represented. However, there are limits to what you can earn in the categories – only the first $8,000 in combined purchases in the 4, 3 and 2 percent categories is eligible for bonus earnings. Once you hit that cap, all those category purchases will earn 1 percent cash back.

Keep in mind, however, that the $8,000 per-year limit is comparable to the limits placed on other cards in the industry. The Discover it and Chase Freedom, for example, limit your bonus-category earnings to the first $1,500 in spending per quarter ($6,000 per year). The BankAmericard Cash Rewards card puts a $2,500 quarterly spending limit on its bonus categories ($10,000 per year). And the Discover it chrome card sets its quarterly limit at $1,000 in spending ($4,000 per year).

Redeeming rewards

According to the card’s terms (which Dr. of Credit has posted ahead of the card’s release), you can redeem your rewards for cash back – either as a statement credit on your card or as a deposit to an eligible PNC Bank or PNC Investment account. You must redeem a minimum of $25 at a time.

Card benefits

Based on images of the card, it seems this will not be a Visa Signature product. Rather, this card will likely be offered at the Visa Platinum level, which would mean the most basic Visa suite of benefits; those generally include secondary rental car insurance, extended warranty and a few others. You’ll need to check your card terms for specifics.

A good choice?

In a way, the PNC Cash Rewards card is a trend-setter. No other major no-annual-fee credit card offers 4 percent back on gas as a permanent, non-rotating rewards category. The Citi Costco Anywhere card also offers 4 percent back on gas, but you need to pay for a Costco membership to get the card.

How exciting 4 percent back on gas is for you depends on how much you spend on gas. The average American fills up 656 gallons per year. The national average cost per gallon is $2.36. So, a card that earns 4 percent back on gas would net the average American about $62 a year. Not bad, but perhaps not so exciting.

The real appeal of this card is the breadth of its bonus categories. Most other no-annual-fee cash-back cards will offer bonus categories of gas and groceries. Or just dining. It’s rare to find a card that offers all three as bonus categories. That said, you’re limited to earning bonus cash back on $8,000 per year. If you dine out a lot and have a family that consumes a lot of groceries, you’ll hit that ceiling pretty quickly. In fact, the average U.S. family spends roughly $6,000 on groceries, $4,500 on dining.

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So, if you want to maximize your cash back, you might be better served by using the PNC Cash Rewards card for gas and using other cards that don’t impose spending ceilings for groceries and dining. The Capital One Premier Dining Rewards card, for example, gives an uncapped 3 percent back on dining, while the Blue Cash Everyday card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) rewards 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets.

A final thing to consider is how you want to redeem your points. If you like redeeming for statement credits, the PNC Cash Rewards card allows you to do just that – but not much more. If you’re new to the rewards game, you might consider a card that offers a solid rate of cash back plus the ability to build up to more-complex and lucrative redemptions when you’re ready. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited (no annual fee) lets you redeem for cash back – but also earns points in the Ultimate Rewards Program, which you can redeem for travel and online shopping. If you later add one of Chase’s Sapphire cards to the mix, you can unlock even more of the UR program’s features.

Why we gave it 3 out of 5 stars

We rated this card based on our standards for cash-back credit cards.

Rewards-earning rate: To earn this star, a card must offer at least 3 percent in at least one bonus category. This card accomplishes that with its bonus categories of gas (4%) and dining (3%).
Cash back redemption value: This card’s cash-back redemption value is face value, meaning it meets our standards of offering at least 1 cent per “point.”
Rewards simplicity and transparency: Overall, we liked this card’s simple rewards structure. We docked half a star for the limit placed on bonus earnings.
Additional bonus opportunities: This card doesn’t offer an advertised sign-up bonus, redemption bonuses or a deals program.
Unique perks: A permanent 4 percent cash back on gas is, in and of itself a unique perk, compared to other cards in the industry. However, it has no other stand-out consumer-friendly benefits or perks.

Written June 8, 2017

 
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