How do credit card rewards work?

Rewards credit cards operate on a simple yet enticing principle: When you use your credit card for purchases, you earn various “rewards,” such as cashback, travel points, or loyalty program benefits.

Often, it works like this: the card issuer allocates a certain percentage of the transaction value as rewards. For example, a cashback reward might entail earning back a portion of the total purchase amount. This could range from 1% to 5% or even higher, depending on the specific credit card and the type of transaction.

Regarding travel rewards, your credit card may offer points or miles for each dollar spent. These points can then be redeemed for travel-related expenses, such as flights, hotels, rental cars, or other travel perks.

Loyalty programs tied to credit card rewards often provide additional benefits, such as discounts, exclusive access to events, or special promotions with partner retailers.

In essence, credit card rewards incentivize you to use your card for everyday spending, offering tangible benefits ranging from extra cash in your pocket to memorable travel experiences.

What are the disadvantages of rewards credit cards?

Some key drawbacks associated with rewards credit cards can include:

  • High Annual Fees
  • High-Interest Rates
  • Complex Terms and Conditions
  • Temptation to Overspend
  • Limited Redemption Options
  • Changing Spending Categories
  • Annual Caps or Expiry
  • Impact on Credit Score
  • Minimum Redemption Requirements
  • Confusing Point Valuation and Redemption

It’s wise to weigh the benefits of a rewards card against the potential downsides. Careful consideration of your spending habits, the card’s terms, and your financial goals is essential to determine whether a rewards credit card fits you.

It’s also crucial to practice responsible credit card usage to avoid falling into debt or paying more in fees and interest than the value of the rewards you receive.

Does the IRS tax credit card rewards?

Generally, any taxpayer’s income can be subject to taxation, including credit card rewards. However, the IRS is uncharacteristically ambiguous on this subject, having published very little material on the subject…so things can get confusing quickly.

For example, in some cases, credit card rewards count as post-purchase rebates or discounts, not income, and are therefore not taxable. Likewise, the IRS may not consider a cashback bonus you earn using the card as taxable income.

On the other hand, a sign-up bonus may be subject to taxation.


Because it was offered as an incentive, without you having had to spend any money, it counts as income.

It all depends on the kind of rewards you receive and how you receive them.

To make a long story short, the answer to whether or not the IRS taxes credit card rewards is “Maybe.”

Some types of rewards that are generally not considered taxable income can include:

  • Travel miles
  • Accumulated points toward future purchases
  • Reward discounts automatically applied as balance credits

These types of common credit card rewards are generally nontaxable since they do not involve an exchange of cash or direct receipt of funds.

Will I get a 1099 for credit card rewards?

Again, it all depends.

The IRS only requires filing a Form 1099 when you receive taxable income over $600.

That means if you receive credit card rewards that do count as taxable and exceed $600, you need to report them as income using a 1099-MISC with your tax return.

If your taxable rewards are less than $600, you will not receive a 1099 — but remember, you still need to report all qualifying income on your tax return. If you need help determining whether your rewards qualify, it’s best to consult with tax professionals (like us!)

Credit card cashback accounting

With so much potential confusion around the taxability of credit card rewards, one thing is clear: You should be keeping meticulous track of your rewards and accounting for them properly in your financial records.

That way, if you make an error or encounter some issue, you’ll be best equipped to correct or resolve it efficiently and on time.

Here’s an overview of some credit card rewards accounting best practices to get you started:

  • Identify Transactions: Review your credit card statements to identify transactions that have earned you rewards. Most credit card issuers provide a breakdown of cashback earnings on each statement.
  • Categorize Rewards: Categorize the rewards earned based on the credit card’s reward structure. For example, if your credit card offers higher cashback rates for specific spending categories (e.g., groceries, gas, dining), make sure to allocate the cashback amounts to the appropriate categories.
  • Record Transactions: Depending on your accounting method (cash basis or accrual), record the rewards earned either when the rewards are received (cash method) or when they are earned (accrual method). Cashback is often credited to your account as a reduction in your outstanding balance.
  • Consider Keeping a Separate Account or Ledger: Some individuals and businesses prefer to track rewards separately to maintain clarity and transparency in their financial records. This can help you easily monitor and reconcile cashback earnings.
  • Perform an End-of-Year Review: An annual review of your credit card rewards earnings can help you assess their impact on your overall financial picture, helping you make more informed decisions about your credit card usage and rewards strategy.

Are credit card rewards taxable for a business?

The simple answer is: Not usually.

However, when it comes to rewards from business credit cards, the rules are slightly different — and you must maintain good accounting practices.

For a business card, rewards like travel miles or points still count as discounts. However, they are discounts on a business expense, so you must subtract the reward amount from your reported business expenses.

Put another way; you cannot deduct those same expenses if you use rewards points or miles to pay for business expenses. After all, you didn’t pay for them!

While the IRS does address certain questions and concerns related to business credit cards, such as the valuation and timing of income and distinguishing between benefits derived from business-related expenses as opposed to those from personal expenses, they have not established official guidelines for this differentiation.

Consequently, the IRS has chosen to refrain from actively enforcing taxation on promotional perks like frequent flyer miles.

In accounting for business, as in personal credit card rewards, accuracy and thoroughness are essential not only to ensuring compliance but also to maximizing your tax strategy to take advantage of every possible benefit.

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