How Does Cash Back Work?

How Does Cash Back Work?

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Credit card companies typically offer a plethora of rewards options for their cardholders to take advantage of. But cash back has long been a favorite of many, as it gives you the chance to earn cold, hard money for making everyday purchases. If you’re confused about how cash back works, read on for a full explanation.

How Cash Back Works

At its core, cash back refers to a predetermined percentage of a purchase you make being returned to you as cash rewards. Cash back rates typically range between 1% and 5%, though there are some outliers to be mindful of. Credit card issuers will usually clearly label what types of purchases earn what level of cash back. But like anything in the credit card industry, you must read the fine print.

This is mainly because all purchases and cash back rewards are governed by merchant category codes, or MCCs. Credit card companies ultimately determine these designations, with Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover calling the shots. Some common codes are “restaurant,” “department store,” “airline” and “entertainment,” among others. So if you earn 5% bonus cash back at restaurants and you go to Burger King — which has a restaurant MCC — you’ll get that 5% back.

But what these limiting MCCs sometimes don’t take into account are businesses that could fit into more than one category. Included in this group are hotels, superstores like Walmart, tourist attractions like museums and other multi-faceted establishments. In turn, you could lose out on cash back if you’re confused about which category a purchase you made falls into.

As an example, let’s say your family orders room service while on vacation in The Bahamas. You pay with your credit card thinking you’ll get the advertised 3% cash back on dining. When your credit card statement comes in the mail, however, you’ve only received the base 1% earnings. This is because the MCC of your hotel is just that, a hotel, which leaves your credit card issuer blind to what you really bought.

Unfortunately situations like these often offer very little recourse, as your card’s issuer has no ability to change these codes. In fact, only the major credit companies can change their own code selections.

New cardholders will often receive cash back promotions and bonuses. These offers can either be recurring — monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. — or simply for just one period of time, usually at the beginning of your account’s life. Hypothetically, a recurring bonus might look like this: “Earn 3% cash back at supermarkets and wholesale clubs, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter.” On the other hand, a one-time promotion might allow for 5% cash back on airfare purchases made during the first three months you’re a cardholder.

Depending on your card, cash back may be capped or it could expire after a period of time. While some cards feature both an earnings limit and expiration dates, others may have no restrictions. All cash back cards have their own, unique system surrounding them. So it’s important to refer to your documentation whenever you have a particular question.

Using Your Cash Back Earnings

How Does Cash Back Work?

The vast majority of cash back credit cards offer variations of the same choices for redeeming rewards. Most often, you’ll see statement credits, checks, bank account deposits, gift cards and charitable donations available to you.

  • Statement credit – Instead of receiving your cash back in-hand, you can apply it to your upcoming monthly bill, saving you money in the process.
  • Check – As one of the more direct ways of redeeming cash back, checks allow you to basically do whatever you want with its value.
  • Bank deposits – Eligible accounts usually include checking accounts, savings accounts or investment accounts.
  • Gift cards – With this option, you can convert cash back into retail credit at a store or website at which you want to shop.
  • Donations – Many card issuers have open relations with charities. These partnerships open the door for you to aid your favorite causes with real money.

It’s by far the easiest to redeem cash back through your card issuer’s website that it provides. Here you’ll not only see your rewards status, you will also know every possible redemption you could make. If you’d rather talk to a real person, most companies still have rewards phone lines you can call, as well.

Those who’d rather not have to worry about where their rewards currently stand will find that a redemption threshold might be helpful. Not all cards offer this feature. But if yours does, set a threshold at which your cash back is automatically redeemed in any manner you desire. Additionally, some cards require you to attain a certain amount of cash back before redeeming is possible.

Cash Back With Each Major Credit Card Company

what is cash back

There are tons of different cash back cards, depending on your credit score you may be eligible for some but not others. While it’s impossible to give universal specifics for each credit card company, below we’ve provided overviews of some of the most popular cash back cards.

Citi Double Cash Card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 1% at the time of purchase, 1% when you pay them off

Limit or Expiration: No limit; Expires if no eligible purchases are made for 12 months

Redemption Options: As a check, statement credit or gift card

The “double cash” nature of the Citi Double Cash Card means you effectively earn cash back twice: first when you make the initial purchase and again when you pay your credit card bill. The 12-month expiration is fairly standard and the lack of limits on how much cash back you can earn is generous. Statement credits, checks and gift cards are three of the most common redemption choices, so it’s no surprise to see them offered here.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 3% in the category of your choice, 2% on purchases at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: Cash back on choice category, grocery stores and wholesale club purchases is limited on up to $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Once you have $25 or more, you can redeem as a statement credit, a check or a deposit to an eligible Bank of America® or Merrill Lynch® account

Take note of the combined $2,500 quarterly limit on 3% and 2% cash back in category of choice and at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, respectively. The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card also requires cardholders to have a minimum of $25 in earned cash back before they can redeem.

Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card
(American Express)

Cash Back Rate: 3% on U.S. supermarket purchases, 2% on U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department store purchases, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: 3% rate at U.S. supermarkets is limited to $6,000 a year in purchases then drops to 1%; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: After earning at least $25, redeem as a statement credit in $25 increments; Gift cards and merchandise redemptions from time to time

Amex offers some of the strongest rewards cards around, and the Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card is no exception. It does come with some limits; namely the 3% cash back rate on U.S. grocery store purchases is capped at $6,000 in purchases a year. At that time, cardholders earn 1% in cash back on groceries.

Discover it® Card
(Discover)

Cash Back Rate: 5% in rotating categories like gas station, supermarket, restaurant, Amazon.com and wholesale club purchases, 1% on other purchases; Full cash back match at the end of your first year

Limit or Expiration: $1,500 cap on purchases that earn the 5% rate each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Statement credits, deposits to a bank account, gift cards and eCertificates, pay with cash back at select merchants and charitable donations

Discover cards offer great first-year cash back matches and distinctive cash back categories. These traits are on full display with the Discover it® Card. This includes 5% cash back on purchases ranging from dining to Amazon.com. However, there are limits for this rate and you have to opt in to categories each quarter to qualify. This card also offers five redemption options — the most on this list.

Tips to Maximize Cash Back Potential and Minimize Credit Risk

  • Cash back is one of the most prolific perks that the modern credit card market has to offer. But it’s important that you don’t overspend outside of your means just for the sake of rewards. Because many cash back cards come with higher annual percentage rates (APRs), this could force you into large, unsustainable interest payments.
  • Whenever possible, swipe your card for purchases in bonus categories. Not all cards have these to offer, but most do. So make sure you know which cards in your wallet offer bonuses at places like gas stations and supermarkets.
  • Know what types of redemptions — statement credits, bank account deposits, gift cards etc. — work best for you. This will drastically narrow down your card options, making the decision process much simpler.

Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/4×6, Â©iStock.com/Pgiam, Â©iStock.com/Ridofranz

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

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Should you get an MBA if you want to start your own business?

The path to owning my own business started around 10 years ago. I graduated from high school and went on to college for business. I graduated, got a job as a financial analyst, and then around five years ago, completed my MBA with an emphasis in Finance.

Should you get an MBA if you want to start your own business? Is it a need? Or, can a person start a business without a college degree?It seemed like a logical path – graduate from high school, go to college, get a job in that field, and then get my MBA to further my career opportunities.

It was the path I fell into, and I never really gave it a second thought. For my MBA, I figured I needed it in order to be successful in the corporate finance world.

However, I’m now a full-time blogger.

One of the questions I’m often asked is if I regret going to school for so many college degrees (3). After all, it took a lot of time and led to a significant amount of debt.

I definitely did not learn a thing about blogging back in college, and an MBA isn’t 100% focused on the topic of starting your own specific business, especially a niche one. Plus, I did not get my MBA thinking that I would be starting my own business. I went for it to better my career opportunities.

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According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 28.8 million small businesses in the United States, which make up 99.7% of all U.S. businesses. And, a huge number of the population are starting their own business and working for themselves.

But, does that mean they all need or have an MBA?

Remember, an MBA is not required when starting your own business. But, does that mean that those without an MBA do better or worse?

I researched to see what the value of an MBA is, and I was able to find a great chart from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics about unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment for 2016.

This data shows earnings for full-time wage and salary workers, but it doesn’t specify those who have started their own business. However, it does show that there is some value in a Master’s degree.

According to this chart, the unemployment rate is much lower for those with one or multiple college degrees. The median usual weekly earnings tends to increase as well.

However, according to a report released by the Harvard Business Review, most of the top business leaders in the world actually do NOT have MBAs. In fact, only 29 of the 100 best companies had executives with MBAs, and less than half of those received their MBA from an elite business school (think Harvard, Stanford, etc.).

Here’s a short list from Business Insider’s Top 100 Entrepreneurs Who Made Millions Without A College Degree:

  • Walt Disney, founder of the Walt Disney Company, dropped out of high school at 16.
  • Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Mobile, and more. He also dropped out of high school at 16.
  • Rachael Ray, Food Network cooking show star, food industry entrepreneur, with no formal culinary arts training. She never attended college.
  • Michael Dell, billionaire founder of Dell Computers, started his business out of his college dorm room, but he later dropped out of college.
  • Larry Ellison, billionaire co-founder of Oracle software company. Ellison actually dropped out of two different colleges.

However, there are also many successful people who do have MBAs, such as Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Dr. Oz.

So, should you get an MBA if you want to start your own business?

 

MBAs can be expensive.

An MBA can cost anywhere from $5,000 to well over $100,000 depending on what college you attend.

And, according to Poetsandquants.com, the cost of obtaining your MBA continues to rise.

New York University’s Stern School of Business costs over $200,000, Harvard Business School has a total two-year cost to $204,640, and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business costs $210,838.

That is a TON of money in order to get your MBA.

I went to a moderately priced state university and received my MBA, and I think that it was a great value. However, if I had to pay over $200,000 to receive my MBA, I don’t know if it would be worthwhile. That’s a lot of money for not much real world experience that can be applied to a specific business idea.

And, let’s not forget about the amount of time it can take to receive your MBA.

For some students, they focus on their MBA full-time, which means that they aren’t bringing in an income, or they are bringing in significantly less than needed to sustain most living expenses. Some MBA students do work full-time, but they usually take a smaller course load.

I worked on my MBA full-time and worked full-time, which meant that I didn’t have time for pretty much anything else in life.

Plus, if you know that you want to start a business, the time it takes to get an MBA can make that goal that much farther away.

 

An MBA surrounds you with other determined people.

By earning your MBA, you’ll most likely be surrounded by a network full of people who are wanting to succeed in the business world.

This can help you build your future business idea, gain contacts that may help you and your business later on, and more.

I always say that networking is extremely important, and an MBA can definitely help you in that area.

 

An MBA won’t specifically teach you about the business you want to start.

An MBA will give you a pretty well rounded background on business in general. However, it won’t teach you everything you need to know about starting and sustaining your specific business plan.

This means that you will probably have to learn how to start your specific business elsewhere, such as researching your ideas and business plans outside of your MBA program.

For example, if you want to start a blogging business, you most likely won’t learn anything about a blogging while earning your MBA. The same goes for many other business ideas as most MBAs aren’t really focused on specific markets.

What they do offer is a good background on the actual “business” side of starting your own business, as discussed below.

 

You do learn about business, though.

While earning an MBA is more about business theory, it still offers you a lot of background information that can help you create your own business.

Through my MBA and the career I had as an analyst, I learned about business accounting, business law, managing a business, economics, business finances, marketing, advertising, and more. These are all things you should know about when running your own business. Sure, you can outsource a lot of these tasks, but for most start-ups, you may personally have to take on many of these tasks, especially in the beginning.

My analyst position also taught me a lot about running a profitable business, since I dealt with successful business owners every day.

There are a lot of times that my education and work experience have helped me run my own business. And, I am extremely grateful because it has helped me run my business extremely well.

According to Investopedia, around 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years, and 66% during the first 10 years.

Some of the reasons for failure that are cited in the above article include:

  • Business owners not investigating the market.
  • Business owners have problems with their business plan.
  • A bad location, bad internet presence, and bad marketing for the business.

These are all things that are taught, in general, when working on your MBA, which can be great background knowledge for someone wanting to start their own business.

 

What about real experience?

I believe that real experience is the best. However, with an MBA, you can receive a well rounded education that can help you to launch a successful business.

You can learn how to manage a team, understand business specific finances, research the best business plan, and more.

When put together with real experience, I think that an MBA can be a great learning tool.

Does that mean that everyone should get their MBA?

No. Everyone is different, but I do believe that my MBA has helped me manage my own business.

What do you think? Should a person who wants to start a business get their MBA? If you’re already a business owner, do you have one? Why or why not?

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