Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.
A Guide to Finding the Best Credit Card for You
The credit cards in your wallet are some of the most important financial tools in your life. You might be on the hunt for the perfect 0% offer to tide you over during back-to-school shopping. Or you could have your eye out for the right travel card offer in preparation for that fall trip hiking in the Wasatch Mountains. Whatever the reason, the best card for you awaits. At CreditCards.com, we've compiled thousands of hours of research to help you find the best credit cards of 2019 across the most popular categories.
With new credit cards constantly entering the market and offers frequently changing, it can be tough to wrap your head around all of the available options. We're all over it for you. Check this page regularly for the latest information on the best credit cards and how they compare to the field – we update it almost every day!
Best Credit Cards of November 2019
There are myriad cards for all sorts of purposes, from rewards to credit building. Here, we look at 17 of the top card categories that could serve you well, depending on your goals, credit score and what features interest you most.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why this is the best credit card for 0% interest: If you are looking for a well-rounded card for paying down balances, you've come to the right place. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better card of its type, with its 0% intro APR offer lasting 18 billing cycles on both purchases and balance transfers made in the first 60 days (then 14.74%-24.74% variable).
With a serviceable sign-up bonus and a flat rate for spending, this card competes well in the cash back landscape. Unlike the Freedom cards, this card offers no foreign transaction fee.
If you like the idea of timing your spending to get higher rewards, this is not a good choice for you. Instead, look at the Discover it Cash Back or the Chase Freedom.
Discover it® Cash Back
Why this is the best credit card for rotating cash back: Not only can you enroll quarterly to enjoy 5% back on rotating categories (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1%) with the Discover it Cash Back, you can also earn double back at the end of your first year, a unique feature.
Categories include such items as everyday spending like restaurants and gas stations, as well as big ticket purchases at Amazon.com and home improvement stores. In addition, you can redeem at Amazon.com checkout.
There is no sign-up bonus with the Discover it Cash Back, and the travel and purchases benefits are non-existent. Also, this is a card that requires you to stay mindful of which categories are active, as well as activating them each quarter.
Capital One Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Why this is the best credit card for travel rewards: If you are looking for an all-purpose travel card that doesn't put a lot of limits on your travel redemptions, the Capital One Venture Rewards is a fine choice.
The Venture Rewards' travel features include lucrative partnerships with more than a dozen airlines, as well as hotels.com/venture through January 2020. Also, while most categories only earn 1X point on the Chase Sapphire Preferred (except worldwide restaurants and travel), the Venture rewards all spending with 2X miles.
Although you can earn 2X miles on all spending with the Venture Rewards card, those miles don't get a boost like that of the Sapphire Preferred.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Why this is the best credit card for rewards: Although the Wells Fargo Propel American Express doesn't have a flat rate for all spending, its category choices are numerous enough to make it a keeper for everyday rewards.
This card offers quirky little rewards surprises for such categories as popular streaming services, homestays and rideshares, in addition to all sorts of travel, transportation and dining. Also, the sign-up bonus is crazy high for a no-annual-fee card.
The 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then 15.49% - 27.49% variable) doesn't compare well to other comparable cash rewards cards, unfortunately.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why this is the best credit card for sign-up bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred's 60,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months is actually worth an incredible $750 when you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
This card's ongoing rewards for worldwide travel and dining are tough to match. Also, you can transfer rewards from the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited to redeem more travel rewards through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
The regular APR starts out high at 17.74%-24.74% variable, and the $95 annual fee isn't waived the first year. Also, the Chase Sapphire Preferred doesn't have boosted rewards for spending other than worldwide travel and restaurants (although the 1X point offer on all other spending becomes 1.25X points when booking travel through Ultimate Rewards).
Discover it® Balance Transfer
Why this is the best credit card for low interest: Unlike other 0% intro APR cards, the Discover it Balance Transfer has a regular APR that starts out quite low at 13.49%-24.49% variable.
This card's 18-month 0% intro APR balance transfer offer takes you into 2021 (after that it's 13.49%-24.49% variable), and carries the same great rewards as the Discover it Cash Back, making it a low interest card with longevity.
Unfortunately, the 0% intro APR offer on purchases is the shortest available on the market at just 6 months, making it not a good choice when you plan to carry a balance on new purchases over a long period of time.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Why this is the best credit card for no annual fee: The ability to earn 10x miles on hotel stays purchased through hotels.com/venture without paying an annual fee makes the Capital One VentureOne Rewards a standout.
This little brother of the Venture Rewards offers the same great rewards through January 2020 with hotels.com/venture, as well as a nice little sign-up bonus and ongoing rewards.
If you are looking to maximize your travel spending and earnings, there are better cards out there, provided you have the patience to work a little for your dinner.
Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever
Why this is the best credit card for balance transfer: Nobody comes close to the Citi Simplicity in the balance transfer offer – 0% intro APR for 21 months, long enough to take you well into 2021. It's 16.24% - 26.24% variable after that.
This card has many great "no's" – no late fees, no penalty rate and no annual fee. Also, there's a moderate 0% intro APR offer on purchases for 12 months (then 16.24% - 26.24% variable) if you have a bigger purchase to make.
This card is thin on rewards, including no sign-up bonus, which can impact whether this is a good card for you in the long run. Also, the balance transfer fee is on the high end, at 5% or $5, whichever is greater.
Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card
Why this is the best credit card for small business: The Ink Business Unlimited's 1.5% cash back on all spending makes it convenient and lucrative for the small-business owner.
The Ink Business Unlimited's sign-up bonus is more than generous, at $500 after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months. Also, there's no annual fee and you can get employee cards at no additional cost.
If you are looking for a card that has a 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers, you might want to look at consumer cards, because business cards typically don't have BT offers. That said, this card does offer a modest purchase offer.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Why this is the best credit card for gas rewards: The Blue Cash Preferred is not only strong in the category of U.S. supermarkets and transportation, but also at U.S. gas stations. If you do a fair amount of shuttling your family around or driving a daily commute, this is a good card for you.
A top cash back product for tiered categories, this card offers a new opportunity with 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services, one of the first cards to offer this reward. Also, it has a 0% intro APR offer for 12 months on both purchases and balance transfers (it's 14.49% - 25.49% variable after that), ideal for moderately sizeable purchases or balances.
The introductory bonus isn't as robust as that of the Capital One Savor, although its required spend is lower. Also, the $95 annual fee isn't waived the first year.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Why this is the best credit card for students: The Discover it Student Cash Back is one of the few cards with a feature especially for students – earn $20 each year for up to the next 5 years by earning at least a 3.0 GPA.
This is a great first card for the beginning consumer because no credit is required. Add to that, this card has the same great ongoing rewards as the signature Discover it Cash Back.
Unfortunately, you may have trouble getting this card if you don't have independent income, because of federal rules in place to protect consumers under 21 years old.
Wells Fargo Platinum card
Why this is the best credit card for 0% interest: The Wells Fargo Platinum is a fine option as a well-balanced 0% intro APR card for both purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 18 months (then 16.99% - 26.49% variable).
This card offers up to $600 protection on your cellphone (with a $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your card. Also, you can get your free FICO score with this card.
Like the Citi Simplicity, the Wells Fargo Platinum has no sign-up bonus and no ongoing rewards, which might impact your decision-making, if you are looking for a card that offers rewards in the long run.
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why this is the best credit card for dining rewards: The Savor Cash Rewards is unbeatable in this category. You'll earn unlimited 4% back on dining as well as entertainment.
With this card, you can earn boosted rewards at grocery stores and the sign-up bonus is superior for a cash back card. Another feature: Receive a monthly statement credit for a Postmates Unlimited monthly membership through December 2019.
The downside is that there is an annual fee of $95 (waived the first year), although there are no foreign transaction fees.
Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
Why this is the best credit card for fair credit: The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is the rare card that both accepts fair credit and has no annual fee, allowing you to focus on building your credit.
In addition to accepting fair credit, this card allows you access to a higher credit limit after 5 months of on-time payments, making it a strong first card.
This card offers a crazy high regular APR of 26.99% variable, so you don't even want to think about carrying a balance, and there is no sign-up bonus or ongoing rewards.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
Why this is the best credit card for no foreign transaction fee: Planning overseas travel at some point soon? The Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa credit card works hard for you as a well-rounded travel card with no foreign transaction fees.
This card offers variety and flexibility in how you can redeem your points, including statement credits for flights, hotel stays, rental cars, cruises, vacation packages or baggage fees.
For a travel card with no annual fee, this card's sign-up bonus is competitive, but among all travel cards, not so much. The same is true of the ongoing rewards.
Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card
Why this is the best credit card for bad credit: The Credit One Bank Visa is a fun little first card that gives you a number of design options and custom email and text alerts that can keep you on track with your credit goals.
The Credit One Bank Visa is one of the rare cards that accepts bad credit and offers ongoing rewards at the same time. This makes it a good card in the long term if you are looking for something in your wallet beyond credit-building.
There's no sign-up bonus with the Credit One Bank Visa, and you can expect an annual fee of up to $99, which can eat into your budget. Always check the fees before choosing a credit-builder card.
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Why this is the best credit card for airline miles: The Gold Delta SkyMiles Card rewards mightily for purchases made directly through Delta Airlines, making it a first stop among airline cards if you are a Delta loyalist.
Enjoy free first checked bag for you and up to eight companions with this card. You can also get priority boarding. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
As a general-purpose rewards card, this product doesn't perform so well. If your spending leans more toward everyday spending, you might consider a general-purpose travel card or even a cash back card.
Compare Creditcards.com's Best Credit Card offers
Here is a summary of our top picks in an easy-to-read table, with our choice for the best credit card in each major category. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at email@example.com or leave us a comment below.
|Credit Card||Category||Annual Fee||Review Score|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Flat-rate Cash Back||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Rotating Cash Back||$0||4.3 / 5|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Travel||$95 waived first year||4.2 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Rewards||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up Bonus||$95||3.9 / 5|
|Discover it® Balance Transfer||Low Interest||$0||4.5 / 5|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||No Annual Fee||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever||Balance Transfer||$0||3.7 / 5|
|Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit Card||Small Business||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||Gas Rewards||$95||4.3 / 5|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||Students||$0||4.2 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Platinum card||0% Intro APR||$0||4.4 / 5|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining Rewards||$95 waived first year||4.8 / 5|
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||Fair Credit||$0||3.7 / 5|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card||No Foreign Transaction Fee||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card||Bad Credit||$0-$99||2.2 / 5|
|Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express||Airline Miles||$95 waived first year||3.6 / 5|
What are credit cards and how do they work?
A credit card is a lending product that allows you to borrow and then pay the debt back over time. Called revolving credit, credit cards don't have to be paid by a certain time, but they are best for short-term debt, because the interest rates are typically considerably higher than those of installment loans such as mortgages and car loans.
How credit cards work
- Get your card. You receive your credit card from the card issuer (typically a bank), which either partners with a network (Visa and Mastercard) or doubles as the issuer and network (American Express and Discover).
- Use your card. You can use your card at any merchant that accepts the card's network, which is considerable in the U.S. and extensive internationally in the case of Visa and Mastercard.
- Receive the bill. Each month, you receive a bill from the issuer for the charges the previous month and you have the option of paying a minimum, in full or somewhere in between.
- Pay the bill. Ideally, you want to pay a credit card off in full each month because the interest charges accumulate pretty quickly. That means it's best not to borrow unless you have a firm plan to pay it back.
The difference between credit, prepaid, debit cards
Credit cards are not to be confused with debit cards or prepaid cards. While credit cards are an effective way to build credit, the same is not true with debit and prepaid cards. A debit card is attached to a checking or savings account, while a prepaid card has money "loaded" on to it. Therefore, debit and prepaid cards do not lend you money.
How to choose the best credit card for you
Credit cards offer a convenient way to pay for purchases while building credit and earning rewards. There are hundreds of credit cards available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. You might find a card with a strong balance transfer offer but no rewards or a great travel card that has an annual fee. The trick is to understand your individual needs and what you can qualify for due to your credit score.
Here we've broken down the most popular card categories for you to consider:
Our September 2018 survey by YouGov of 1,218 American adults on rewards cards found that 57% of U.S. consumers have at least one rewards card, whether travel, cash back or co-branded, so it's no surprise that new credit cards are entering the market every day. They might reward you for dining out, shopping at department stores, even making purchases at office supply stores. Used correctly, you can earn hundreds of dollars a year with them. Rewards cards range from cash back to travel, and can include luxury cards as well as credit-builder products. Typically, the higher your credit score, the more generous the rewards. See a full list of the Best Rewards Credit Cards.
Many of the best credit cards come with a sign-up bonus, which are typically awarded after a minimum spend is met within the first 3 months of card membership. Often, a sign-up bonus can be a deciding factor when comparing two credit cards – provided you meet the minimum and it's a reward you'll use. See a full list of the Best Sign-up Bonus Credit Cards.
General Travel Rewards
General-purpose travel cards are valuable for the consumer who likes flexibility. This is a good card for the family who prefers convenience in maxing out on redemptions, such as when traveling this winter to New York to see the shows. See a full list of the Best Travel Credit Cards.
Increasingly, credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees, which can save you a sizeable chunk of change. Most travel cards offer this feature. No foreign transaction fees, typically about 3%, can be charged when a purchase is transacted through a foreign bank, such as overseas travel or some online purchases. See a full list of the Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Cards.
If you find yourself turning to a specific airline for your travel needs, an airline credit card might be a good option for you. These cards reward your loyalty through both purchases and redemptions, as well as benefits such as free checked bags. (In some cases, you can save hundreds on checked bags for you and up to 8 travel companions, ideal for that Caribbean beach trip this winter.) See a full list of the Best Airline Credit Cards.
Cards that offer gas as a category can put a little extra cash in your pocket for something you are going to buy anyway. Gas cards can offer rewards for brand loyalty or they can be general-purpose cards that offer gas as just one type of category. See a full list of the Best Gas Credit Cards.
0% APR Cards
A 0% intro APR offer can refer to purchases or balance transfers. Some cards, such as most business cards, only offer purchase offers, while some cards lean into their balance transfer offers, sometimes up to 21 months. Zero intro APR cards can be used to pay off a balance incurred for holiday decorations or entertaining, for example. See a full list of the Best 0% APR Credit Cards.
Balance Transfer Cards
Sometimes life takes us for a loop and we end up with card debt that seems to be never-ending with the monthly interest charges. That's when a balance transfer card comes in, with its 0% intro APR offer for a minimum of 6 months and up to 21 months. If you've overspent on home renovations this autumn, for example, a BT card can ease the pain. See a full list of the Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards.
Low Interest Cards
After a 0% interest period expires, the ongoing interest rate is your next consideration. Interest charges can be prohibitive if you carry a balance over a long period of time, and for that reason, you should stay mindful of your card's rates. The average rate on low interest credit cards is currently hovering around 14.50%, so you'll want to shoot for that or below if possible if you think you might carry a balance without the option of a 0% intro APR. See a full list of the Best Low Interest Credit Cards.
Cash Back Cards
Cash back cards come in a variety of flavors, including rotating categories, tiered categories, flat-rate cards and a mix. See a full list of the Best Cash Back Credit Cards.
Rotating Cash Back
Rotating category credit cards offer a higher than normal cash back rate, usually 5%, on specific categories that change quarterly. Chase and Discover are two prominent issuers that offer this type of card. Having a card that offers such a large cash back percentage allows cardholders to maximize their rewards strategy – as long as you stay aware of what the bonus category is and sign up for the category when necessary.
Flat-rate Cash Back
Flat-rate cash back cards reward the same for all spending, typically 1.5%, but it can go to 2%. This is a good card for the shopper who doesn't want to have to think about which card to pull out at the counter.
Tiered Cash Back
A few cards offer year-round elevated cash back amounts, as much as 6%, sometimes with an annual spending limit on one or more of those categories. Some allow you to choose the category from a selection for the elevated cash back amount.
No Annual Fee Cards
While annual fees aren't necessarily something to avoid, it's definitely worth your while to stay mindful of them when shopping for a card. Many cards with annual fees waive them the first year, and some have a sister card that offers no annual fee, albeit with lesser rewards. See a full list of the Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards.
Small Business Cards
Business cards – which we found in our July 2019 survey to have more than doubled in popularity among consumers compared to last year – can reward the business owner (or even solopreneur) for such categories as office supply stores, advertising and travel. Heads up that they may not have the protections of consumer cards under the Credit CARD Act of 2009. See a full list of the Best Business Credit Cards.
Your first stop when choosing a credit card is checking your score, because there's no point in hankering for a travel card when your credit is in the fair category or below. And if you have good credit or better, your choices in cash back cards will be excellent. Here are what the different credit score categories mean for you.
A few credit cards only accept excellent credit, and these are typically cards that offer superior benefits or rewards. See a full list of the Best Credit Cards for Excellent Credit.
Most rewards and 0% credit cards require at least good credit. Having a score in this range opens up your options considerably, including balance transfer and 0% cards, as well as travel and cash back products. See a full list of the Best Credit Cards for Good Credit.
The cards you qualify for tighten considerably when your FICO credit score goes below 670, but there's hope. Cards that require fair credit are a good choice when you are trying to build your credit, and some have no annual fee. See a full list of the Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit.
Cards that accept bad credit can be a good way to build credit, but make sure the card issuer sends your credit habits to the 3 credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, or your credit score won't benefit. See a full list of the Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit.
Secured credit cards are a great way to build your credit when there are no other options. Simply, you will put down a refundable deposit in exchange for your credit limit. While many secured cards may have a variety of fees, some have almost none, including no annual fee. See a full list of the Best Secured Credit Cards.
Student cards often offer the same features as their brethren, although they can have special opportunities for the young consumer, such as an annual reward for good grades. See a full list of the Best Student Credit Cards.
When is it time to get a new credit card?
You may be tempted to hang on to the same card year after year, and there may be something said for that. For example, holding a card for a long time can help your credit. But with new products hitting the market every year, it's a good idea to look for the best credit card you can find for your purposes.
We also recognize that there is not one single best card for all occasions; different people have different needs at different times, and the card you use at the grocery store is not necessarily the card you should use to book airline tickets. Here, we look at when a new credit card may be a good choice for you:
You want a card for convenience
One of the biggest advantages to holding a credit card is that you can pay and go – no dealing with cash or change. And now, with mobile payments, you can pay through your phone; there are also some contactless cards on the market that make shopping even faster.
A great credit card for convenience: If you treasure the idea of making that quick purchase and shaving off a few seconds from the transaction, there are a number of Capital One and American Express cards that are contactless. For example, you'll find the contactless symbol (similar to a sideways wifi symbol) on the front of your new Blue Cash Preferred.
You want to build credit
The easiest way to build credit is with a credit card. That's because the scoring models reward heavily for elements of responsibly holding a card. When you use your card at least once a month, pay in full and on time each month, as well as build longevity with an account, you are hitting key aspects of building credit.
A great credit card for building credit: With a card for credit-building, you can enjoy access to free credit scores and setting up a payment date that suits you, as in the case of the Credit One Bank Visa.
The card offers new rewards
One of the best reasons for keeping your eye on what's on the market is that new rewards cards are released frequently. A new product might offer a boost in rewards or a new category altogether, so it behooves you to check them out periodically.
A great credit card for rewards: Sometimes, an old card is updated, such as the Bank of America Cash Rewards, and offers a change in how ongoing rewards are offered.
The card offers a 0% intro offer
If you already hold a credit card and it has a balance, a balance transfer card may be a good option. Also, with a major purchase coming up, a 0% intro offer on purchases might be a good choice.
A great credit card for 0% intro APR: Some cards offer both options, as in the case of the Wells Fargo Platinum, which offers 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 18 months (then a regular APR of 16.99% - 26.49% variable will apply)
CreditCards.com Poll: Americans adore card simplicity - is that the best choice?
Our August 2019 Best Cards Survey uncovered a troubling fact – American cardholders overwhelmingly seek simplicity with cards and they often avoid actively hunting for the best cards. That means they may not be taking full advantage of the best cards out there, according to our industry expert.
Some 72% of American cardholders prefer simplicity, saying they want to use the same card or two as often as possible. And 55% either say it's been more than 3 years since they've shopped for a new credit card or they don't remember when they did. Here's a breakdown:
The last time you shopped for a new credit card...
- Within the past year
- 1-3 years
- More than 3 years
- Don't know when/can't recall
"You’re going to get the best results if you’re willing to mix and match different cards," says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. "For example, you might get one that maximizes grocery spending, another for dining out and a third for travel.”
We found that younger consumers and wealthier cardholders are more savvy when it comes to maximizing card use:
- Millennials (35%) and Gen Xers (32%) are more interested in juggling multiple cards than Boomers (24%).
- As income increases, people are more interested in using multiple cards (34% of those with annual household income of $80,000+, 28% of those between $40,000 and $80,000 and 24% of those who earn less than $40,000).
- Rewards cardholders are doing the best job maximizing gas rewards (50% are earning extra rewards beyond their card’s baseline), followed by groceries (48%), travel (45%), restaurants (44%) and other online shopping (34%).
"You have to know yourself, and if you value simplicity, that’s fine too. Just make sure to re-evaluate your strategy often because the best deals are always changing," says Rossman.
When should I not get a credit card?
You want to keep it simple
If the idea of chasing points or miles just doesn't appeal to you, whether you don't have time or it's too confusing for you, an airline or hotel card may not be the best bet. Also, you might want to stay away from cash back cards with rotating categories. Instead, consider a cash back card with a flat-rate offer, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
You don't have a budget
Not sure what you are spending your money on, but you seem to always be down to the wire at the end of each month? It's time to draw up a budget. Remember to include setting aside money for fun and emergencies, and forget nothing when you are making your initial budget. Once you know where your money is going, you can be confident in getting a new card. Watch out for tempting cards with purchase offers, because that can only get you into debt.
You keep getting in debt
Already have a card and keep ending up with a balance you can't pay off? You may be mindlessly spending because you aren't seeing the money leave your hands. Remember that budget you just made? Now, make a budget just for your credit card. Check each week to make sure you are staying on budget so there aren't any surprises. One more thing: Don't take out a balance transfer card until you've got a handle on spending. That means you are only spending what you already have the money for.
What to know before applying for a credit card
While in theory you shouldn't be paying interest charges for a balance each month (right?), sometimes we get ourselves into an unfortunate situation. That's why you need to pay attention to your cards' interest rates, either to avoid with a 0% intro APR offer or by making a big purchase on your card with the lowest rate.
Your credit score
As you know, your credit score helps inform which card you can get. Travel cards, for example, typically require at least good credit, while you might be able to find a cash back card that accepts fair and even no credit. Don't apply for multiple cards at once because it can look to card issuers like you are desperate and because each time you apply, it can temporarily impact your score by about 5 points.
There are a number of common fees you could face, which are typically in a chart called the Schumer Box that will be at the top of the rates and fees document of the card. They include:
- Balance transfer fee: When you make a balance transfer, most cards will charge this fee, typically $5-$10 or 3%-5%, whichever is greater. A few cards don't charge this fee.
- Cash advance fee: This is a charge you'll face when you take out cash up front, and it's usually a nominal fee such as $5-$10, or 3%-5%, whichever is greater and sometimes depending on the manner of the withdrawal (direct deposit vs. ATM).
- Late fee: It is what it is. Some issuers don't charge this the first time as in the case of Discover, or at all as in the case of the Citi Simplicity.
- Returned payment fee: When a payment or check is returned, this charge usually runs up to $39, but it can be waived.
Here is a comparison of 2 cards in the first year of card membership, one with an annual fee and one without:
|Card||Sign-up Bonus||Ongoing Rewards||Annual Fee||End of First Year Net Value|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||50,000 miles / $3,000 spend in 3 mths||2X miles x $1,000/mth = 24,000 miles||$95 waived first yr||$500 + $240 = $740|
|Capital One VentureOne Rewards||20,000 miles / $1,000 spend in 3 mths||1.25X miles x $1,000/mth = 15,000 miles||$0||$200 + $150 = $350|
As you can see, Venture Rewards leads the way the first year. However, in the second year, when the Venture Rewards' annual fee kicks in, you'll notice that if you're an occasional spender, the VentureOne is a better choice.
Other fees can be the payoff for access to a credit-builder card. In addition to the usual charges, such as late fees and balance transfer fees, credit-builder cards might have weird little charges such as for getting a new card or duplication services, so it's important to pay attention.
We looked at 100 sample cards recently to understand what these fees can look like. We found that in 2018, 47 cards have such fees as "overdraft protection/overdraft protection cash advance" (20 cards) and "returned check" (14 cards). Then there are the weird ones, like "account re-opening" (9 cards) and documentation fee (2 cards).
Top unusual fees we found...
|Fee category||Number of cards||Fees|
|Overdraft protection/overdraft protection cash advance||20||$10-$12 or 3%-5%, whichever is greater|
|Returned check||14||Up to $37-$38|
|Expedited gift card or credit card||10||$8-$20|
"The good news is that all credit card fees can be avoided," says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. "Make sure to match your lifestyle with the right cards. For example, sometimes an annual fee is worth it if you take advantage of the extra perks such as airport lounge access and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee waiver. Other fees are more punitive and can be averted with good habits like paying your bills on time and making sure not to overdraw your accounts."
Details on the best credit card issuers
Some of the top card issuers include Discover, American Express, Capital One and Chase. They make the call on whether you are a low enough credit risk to qualify for the card you want.
While issuers are pretty much the same in terms of your relationship with them, they can vary widely according to what they offer the cardholder. Here are special offerings from some of the top card issuers:
Discover: This issuer has among the best security features, including Social Security number alerts, which tell you if your SSN is found on a Dark Web site. Also, Discover can alert you if a new lending product has shown up on your Experian credit report.
American Express: Increasingly card issuers are eschewing travel and purchase benefits for financial reasons and lack of popularity. Not so with American Express, which continues to offer such benefits for eligible cards as price protection, extended warranty, baggage insurance and travel accident insurance.
Capital One: Capital One has led the pack in offering no foreign transaction fees for all of their cards, something that may only be available through certain cards offered by other issuers, such as travel cards.
Chase: Chase cut back on various benefits a little over a year ago, although the ones that remain are among the best out there, such as primary auto insurance on select cards, which means it's the first collision insurance used, even above your personal auto insurance.
Bank of America: BofA offers a unique feature for some of their cards in that you can earn a boost of 25%-75% more rewards on every purchase when you have a qualifying Bank of America Preferred Rewards account.
The issuers vary widely in their benefits and quality, so it's always prudent to research your choices. One factor should be what other consumers say about the company. Here is what J.D. Power says about consumers' feedback on issuers:
America's favorite credit card issuers...
- 842 out of 1,000
- American Express
- 838 out of 1,000
- Capital One
- 807 out of 1,000
- 807 out of 1,000
J.D. Power 2019 credit card satisfaction survey
Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura's work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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