Will My Credit Card Earn Cash Back on This Purchase?Updated: Jan. 17, 2019

If you have a cash back credit card, you’ll want to maximize all of your purchases. That’s why whenever possible, you want to make sure you’re taking advantage of your credit card’s high cash back categories, or the purchases that will earn you higher cash back rates when you use your card at certain kinds of businesses or establishments. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear what sorts of purchases a category covers. For instance, if your card gives you 4% cash back for spending on “entertainment,” will a streaming service subscription qualify for that bonus? Does your local golf course count as entertainment? If you’re trying to optimize your spending, these are details you need to know, and they’re out there if you know where to look. Whether you have a card like Discover it Cash Back that earns more cash back on rotating categories, or a card like Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card that earns more cash back on fixed categories and one category of your choice, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to find out how you can nail down exactly which purchases will qualify for your card’s high cash back categories.

Check the card issuer’s website

The first place you should look for clarification on a cash back category is the card issuer’s website, which will usually have a list of what kinds of merchants the card categories cover. It may be under a section labeled “rewards” or “FAQ,” or you may have to dig into the card’s terms and conditions agreement. As an example, if you go to the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card’s website, you can see that the card’s 4% cash back rate on dining covers restaurants, cafes, bars, lounges, fast-food chains and bakeries. Even if your card’s category bonuses sound pretty clear-cut, you should still check what the card issuer’s website says just in case, because it may have some surprising additions or exclusions. For instance, many credit cards with a cash back category for grocery stores specifically do not include superstores, such as Target or Walmart, in that category. As such, any purchases made at Target or Walmart will earn the standard 1% cash back instead of the higher cash back percentage.

If you’re unable to find the information you need on your credit card’s website, you can also try giving customer service a call, but be aware that they may not be able to answer your question, as most customer service representatives are not trained to provide such information.

Look up the merchant’s MCC

So, you know what classifications of businesses your category bonuses include. Now how do you tell which specific merchants fall under those classifications?

The four major credit card networks, Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser), have a set of four-digit codes called Merchant Category Codes, or MCCs. When a merchant starts accepting cards on a card network, that network assigns the merchant one MCC based on what kinds of goods or services the merchant primarily sells. For example, MCC 5942 is the code for bookstores and MCC 7933 is the code for bowling alleys. Some MCCs can get very specific, like how there are three MCCs for different kinds of laundry services. Although the four card networks share most of the same MCCs, there can be slight differences in the codes from network to network.

It’s a business’ MCC that determines whether or not purchases from it will qualify for cash back, as well as some other things like what fees the businesses have to pay to the card networks and special rules that apply to its sales. When a merchant makes a credit card transaction, it sends data to the card network, which includes the MCC. You can find a general list of MCCs on the IRS’ website, but it’s better to check the MCCs for the network your credit card belongs to. Visa has a list as part of its online Supplier Locator tool, while Mastercard and American Express both put out big books of MCCs. Frustratingly, Discover does not provide an easy way to access its MCC list — at least one that we could find.

To double-check, you can also try calling businesses and asking for their MCCs. Be aware that MCCs are not common knowledge for cashiers and phone operators, so you may need to get a manager or even the owner on the phone to answer your question. Similarly, to verify which specific MCCs a cash back category covers, you should be able to contact your credit card issuer through phone or online chat and ask for a list.

Once you know what your purchases earn you more cash back, you can make sure you’re using the right credit card to maximize your cash back rewards. To learn more about how to the most value out of your cards, follow our credit cards blog.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.