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The Best Credit Cards of December 2021: Rewards, Top Offers & Reviews

Written by: Jeanine Skowronski | Edited by: Tracy Stewart | Reviewed by: Ted Rossman
|

December 1, 2021

Best Credit Cards of December 2021

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  • All Categories
  • Cash Back Match
  • Everyday Cash Rewards
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  • Automatically Maximizing Cash Back
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BEST FOR EVERYDAY CASH REWARDS

Unlimited 2% Cash Rewards

Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card
Our rating:3.7 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

2%
Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

At A Glance

Intro bonus
$200 cash rewards New! Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% variable
Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
BEST FOR BALANCE TRANSFERS + HIGH-VALUE REWARDS CATEGORIES

No Annual Fee

Discover it® Balance Transfer
Our rating:4.5 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
1%
Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% variable
Best for flat-rate and bonus cash back
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Our rating:4.7 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5%
5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
5%
5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3%
3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
1.5%
Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
$200 $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.74% variable
BEST FOR LONG 0% INTRO APR
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
Our rating:4.2 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

At A Glance

Intro bonus
No current offer
Annual fee
$0*
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.49% variable
Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
BEST SIGN-UP BONUS
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Our rating:4.3 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5X
Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3X
Earn 3X points on dining.
2X
Earn 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
60,000 points Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
BEST FOR PROMOTIONAL INTEREST

Up to 21 months of low intro APR

Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

At A Glance

Intro bonus
No current offer
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 24.99% variable
Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
Best automatically maximizing cash back card
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter.
1%
Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
$200 Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable
Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
Best rewards credit card
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Our rating:4.0 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

6%
6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
6%
6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
3%
3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more.
3%
3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations
1%
1% Cash Back on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro bonus
$300 Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.
Annual fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable
Best for frugal families
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Our rating:3.4 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

3%
3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
2%
2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.
1%
1% Cash Back on other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
$200 Earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable
Best first-time rewards credit card
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:3.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% variable
Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
Best credit card for foodies
American Express® Gold Card
Our rating:4.5 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

4X
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
4X
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3X
Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
60,000 points Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
Annual fee
$250
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
BEST TRAVEL CREDIT CARD
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

5X
Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
2X
Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
60,000 miles Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% variable
Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
BEST BUSINESS CREDIT CARD
American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card
Our rating:3.8 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

2%
Earn 2% cash back on all eligible purchases on up to $50,000 per calendar year, then 1%.
1%
1% cash back on all eligible purchases after spending $50,000 per calendar year.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
$250 Earn a $250 statement credit after you make $3,000 in purchases on your Card in your first 3 months.
Annual fee
No annual fee
Regular APR
13.24% - 19.24% variable
BEST SECURED CREDIT CARD
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
Our rating:3.7 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

(No Credit History) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
26.99% variable
Your approval oddsWhen you click “See my approval odds” we’ll run a soft credit check to determine if you have Excellent, Good, Low, or Poor odds of being approved for cards on our site. Approval Odds serves as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
BEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

(No Credit History) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
1%
Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 21.99% variable

Our methodology and research

3,476Credit Cards Analyzed
600Banks Analyzed

Criteria Used

Rates and fees, rewards rates, sign-up bonuses, redemption options, credit needed, miscellaneous benefits, customer service, security, ease of application.

All information about the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


A guide to the best credit cards

The best credit cards on the market help you achieve important financial goals or bolster your financial well-being. A good rewards credit card, for instance, can help you earn points, miles or cash back on your purchases, while standout balance transfer credit cards can save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in interest. The best credit card for you, of course, depends on your specific aim and spending habits. Here, we highlight our favorite credit cards across all popular categories, including business, low-interest and travel credit cards, and provide more guidance on how to choose the right one for you.


Comparing the best credit cards

Credit cardBest forAnnual feeCreditCards.com Rating
Discover it® Cash BackCash back match$04.5 / 5
Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ CardEveryday cash rewards$03.7 / 5
Discover it® Balance TransferBalance transfers + high-value rewards categories$04.5 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Attainable bonus + high-value spend categories$04.7 / 5
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum CardLong 0% intro APR$04.2 / 5
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardGenerous sign-up bonus$954.3 / 5
Wells Fargo Reflect℠ CardBest for promotional interest offers$04.1 / 5
Citi Custom Cash℠ CardAutomatically maximizing rewards$04.1 / 5
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressRewards$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $954.0 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressFrugal families$03.4 / 5
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit CardFlexible rewards for first-timers$03.1 / 5
American Express® Gold CardFoodies$2504.5 / 5
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardTravel$954.1 / 5
American Express Blue Business Cash™ CardBusiness$03.8 / 5
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit CardSecured$03.7 / 5
Discover it® Student Cash BackStudents$04.1 / 5

best credit cards 2021

Editor’s picks: Best credit card details

Discover it® Cash Back: Best for cash back match

Why we picked it: At the end of your first year of card membership, Discover will match the cash back you’ve earned. That can be incredibly valuable even for those who tend to spend conservatively. Reward rates are high on bonus categories and the intro APR on balance transfers is ideal for tackling existing card debt.

Pros: Considering all that this card has to offer (lucrative cash back match at the end of your first year, high rewards rate, and excellent intro APR), it does not charge an annual fee.

Cons: Enrollment is required for bonus categories. If you’re not up for planning in advance, you may miss out on the potential value of the card.

Who should apply? This card’s high rewards rate is sure to please anyone willing to plot out rotating categories in advance, though big spenders will certainly get the most out of this card’s opportunity to have all your earnings matched at the end of your first year.

Who should skip? Yes, the rewards are great, but not everyone likes keeping track of rotating categories. If that sounds like you, a straightforward flat-rate card may be a better choice.

Read our full Discover it® Cash Back review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card: Best for everyday cash rewards

Why we picked it: The unlimited 2% cash rewards on eligible everyday spending can add up quite quickly. Members also enjoy a long 0% introductory APR period for 15-months from account opening (14.99% – 24.99% variable APR thereafter), which applies to both qualifying balance transfers made in the first 120 days as well as purchases. The sign-up bonus is attainable, offering $200 in cash rewards when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. An additional benefit is up to $600 in cellphone protection against damaged or stolen equipment (subject to a $25 deductible) when you use this card to pay your cell phone bill.

Pros: Rewards are widespread and never expire so long as your account remains in good standing. The card also charges no annual fee. Card perks also include Visa Signature Concierge benefits at select hotel properties around the world and $600 in cellphone protection for damaged or stolen equipment.

Cons: In order to maximize rewards, cardholders may be better served if they pair it with a card that features bonus categories. Timeliness is a factor as well, as the 0% intro APR on qualifying balance transfers must be made within the first 120 days from account opening to receive the special intro rate. There’s also a balance transfer fee of 3% if you transfer the balance within 120 days; 5% if you don’t (with a $5 minimum).

Who should apply? This card can be quite beneficial to those looking to be rewarded for everyday purchases.

Who should skip? Individuals who focus their spending on specific categories may be better served with a card that features bonus categories in order to maximize rewards earning potential. Also, if you’re looking to manage existing debt, this card’s balance transfer fee could be costly.

Read our Wells Fargo Active Cash Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Discover it® Balance Transfer: Best for balance transfers + high-value rewards categories

Why we picked it: The long 0% intro APR offer of 18 months on balance transfers (11.99% to 22.99% variable APR thereafter), combined with the generous credit card rewards make this a great choice for anyone who wants to pay off debt faster while earning cash back rewards on everyday purchases.

Pros: This no-annual-fee credit card gives you the chance to earn 5% cash back on purchases in different categories each quarter, up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter (then 1% back, activation required). New cardmembers will also enjoy Unlimited Cashback Match: Discover matches all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year.

Cons: If you want to finance a large purchase, new cardmembers only have six months of the 0% intro APR on purchases (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable APR).

Who should apply? If you have high-interest debt, this credit card could give you 18 months of interest-free payments (then 11.99% to 22.99%, variable). For those who need more time and have excellent credit, the low-interest payments will still help you come out ahead.

Who should skip? If you don’t like the hassle of enrolling in quarterly categories to earn the card’s maximum value, you’ll be better off with a flat-rate cash back credit card or an option that doesn’t require you to keep track of bonus categories.

Read our Discover it® Balance Transfer review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for attainable bonus + high-value spend categories

Why we picked it: Chase recently revamped its popular no annual fee Freedom Unlimited card to include lucrative bonus categories. In addition to a flat 1.5% cash back on general purchases, cardholders now earn 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022), 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 3% cash back on dining and 3% cash back on drug store purchases.

Pros: The Freedom Unlimited also features a sign-up bonus with one of the lowest spend thresholds on the market: Cardholders earn $200 cash back after spending $500 in their first three months. It also touts a 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (then 14.99% to 24.74% variable).

Cons: Depending on your spending habits and your level of commitment, you could conceivably earn more with a rotating bonus category cash back card, like the Chase Freedom Flex. (Learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited vs. the Chase Freedom Flex.) You also could potentially earn more, at least in the long term, with the Citi Double Cash Card, which, as we previously mentioned, offers a full 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you spend; 1% as you pay that spend down).

Who should apply? Anyone seeking a general purpose cash back card with a sign-up bonus will be well-served by the Chase Freedom Unlimited. It’s also a good companion card to people who have other Chase credit cards, given the issuer lets you transfer points between accounts.

Who should skip? This no annual fee rewards credit card requires good credit (scores of 670 or higher), so people with no, fair or bad credit should consider other options. If you’re a student, you can potentially qualify for the Chase Freedom Student credit card, which offers 1% cash back on all purchases, a $50 sign-up bonus if you make the first purchase within three months of account opening and a $20 good standing reward on your account anniversary every year for the first five years.

Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: Best for long 0% intro APR

Why we picked it: The lengthy APR promotion that comes with this card makes it a top choice for anyone who needs time to pay off a large expense or previous debt.

Pros: In addition to being a no-annual-fee credit card, there’s an intro 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles (then 14.49% to 24.49%, variable).

Cons: Beyond the impressive intro APR period, this card doesn’t come with many other perks to help give it long-term value.

Who should apply? When life throws unexpected expenses or high-interest debt at you, the 0% intro APR that comes with the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card gives you the much-needed time to get your finances in order.

Who should skip? This card isn’t for you if you want a credit card with a sign-up bonus or long-term benefits like cash back rewards.

Read our U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for generous sign-up bonus

Why we picked it: Cardholders earn a generous 60,000 points if they spend $4,000 in their first three months, an offer worth $750 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Pros: Cardholders always enjoy a 25% boost on Chase Ultimate Rewards travel. As base rewards, they earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3X points on dining, 2X points on other travel purchases, and 1X points on general purchases. The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. It also touts a number of ancillary travel benefits, including trip cancellation/interruption insurance, which reimburses you up to $10,000 per person ($20,000 per trip) for prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses if you need to cut a trip short or cancel because of an illness or severe weather.

Cons: There’s a $95 annual fee, not waived the first year, that frugal travelers might want to avoid. Conversely, big-time spenders might want to opt for the premium Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers more base rewards in exchange for a steep $550 annual fee. (Here’s how to decide between the Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. the Chase Sapphire Reserve.)

Who should apply? Frequent travelers who don’t patronize the same airline or stay at the same hotels during their trips will be hard-pressed to find a more lucrative general-purpose travel rewards credit card.

Who should skip? Small spenders might want to skip the card’s $95 annual fee (not waived the first year) and the $4,000 required spend in the first three months required to bank the sign-up bonus.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card: Best for promotional interest offers

Why we picked it: Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card cardholders can secure up to 21 months of a 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers from account opening (then 12.99% to 24.99% variable APR), one of the longest promotional APR offers on the market.

Pros: The promotional APR applies to purchases and qualifying balance transfers. There are some ancillary benefits associated with the card, including access to My Wells Fargo Deals and standout cell phone protection if you pay your monthly phone bill with the card (up to $600 with a $25 deductible).

Cons: Be aware of the caveats associated with the promotional interest offers: You get 18 months of a 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers from account opening (then 12.99% to 24.99% variable APR), but can qualify for up to a three-month extension if you make on-time minimum payments. Plus, you need to transfer a balance within 120 days of account opening to secure the intro rate and a 3% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum). Otherwise, you’ll pay 5% of the transferred balance (or $5, whichever is greater).

Who should apply? Caveats aside, this is a great option for people who need a long amount of time to pay off existing credit card debt or a large purchase. It’s one of the longest offers on the market for both purchases and qualifying balance transfers, and you should aim to make more than your monthly payments on-time anyway.

Who should skip? If you don’t need as much time to pay off a purchase or qualifying balance and want a card with more long-term value, consider one that offers a promotional APR and a base rewards program, like the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card.

Read our Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: Best for automatically maximizing rewards

Why we picked it: This card from Citi makes maximizing rewards a bit easier: Cardholders earn 5% cash back on purchases in their top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent (after that, 1% cash back), along with 1% cash back on all other purchases. You don’t have to worry about enrolling or guessing your top spending category; earnings automatically adjust each billing cycle. Eligible categories include restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.

Pros: There’s no annual fee, but you can earn a sign-up bonus: $200 if you spend $750 in the first three months of account opening, paid out in ThankYou points, which can be redeemed for cash back. You’ll also enjoy a lengthy 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers (after that, 13.99% to 23.99% variable).

Cons: The cap on cash back makes this a competitive, though not entirely best-in-class cash back card. (Earnings are comparable to popular rotating bonus category cash back cards, like the Discover it Cash Back or the Chase Freedom Flex, which cap at 5% back on $1,500 in purchases in select categories each quarter, then 1%, activation required.) The balance transfer fee is steep: 5% of the transferred balance or $5, whichever is greater.

Who should apply? This card is a good option for anyone looking for a well-rounded no annual fee rewards card, given it also includes a sign-up bonus and promotional APR on balance transfers and purchases. Would-be maximizers who don’t want to think too long or hard about bonus categories might also appreciate the automatic earning adjustments.

Who should skip? Big spenders who pay their balance off in full each month might want to opt for a rewards credit card without a cap (or at least a higher one) on bonus category earnings.

Read our Citi Custom Cash Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best rewards credit card

Why we picked it: This top American Express credit card is our favorite card for families, offering a lucrative 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%) and best-in-class 6% cash back on select streaming services. You’ll also get 3% cash back on U.S. gas stations and transit and 1% cash back on general purchases.

Pros: In addition to the solid base rewards, the Blue Cash Preferred touts a long(ish) 12-month 0% introductory APR on new purchases (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable), and a generous welcome offer (earn a $300 statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first six months of card membership), making it a great option for families about to make a big purchase. Lesser known perks include a free ShopRunner membership (enrollment required), access to AmexOffers (enrollment required) and a number of shopping protections, like an extended warranty (on eligible warranties of five years or less, you can add two years to the original manufacturer’s warranty).

Cons: There are a few caveats attached to the bonus rewards – namely the $6,000 cap on U.S. supermarket purchases and the fact that the 3% and 6% rewards are only available stateside. The $95 annual fee (intro $0 for the first year) might turn off some applicants.

Who should apply? Families who spend $3,200 or more at U.S. supermarkets will recoup the $95 annual fee, plus some – and likely come out ahead in the long term, given the card’s additional rewards categories.

Who should skip? Families who spend less than $3,200 at U.S. supermarkets might be better served by the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express, which offers lower rewards on similar bonus categories for no annual fee. Plus, you’ll need good credit (a score of 670 or higher) to qualify.

Read our full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for frugal families

Why we picked it: One of the best fixed bonus category credit cards, this Blue Cash Preferred alternative lets you earn generous rewards on common everyday expenses while skipping an annual fee. Cardholders earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, and 1% cash back on general purchases.

Pros: The card touts a decent welcome offer (earn a $200 statement credit when you spend $2,000 in purchases in your first six months of card membership), and a competitive 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable).

Cons: The bonus rewards are less generous than the Blue Cash Preferred’s, though subject to similar caveats: The 3% cash back caps at $6,000 per year (then 1%) and the bonus categories only kick in stateside. You’ll need to accrue at least $25 in cash back to redeem your rewards. (Learn more about the American Express Membership Rewards program.)

Who should apply? Families who spend less than $3,200 a year at U.S. supermarkets can enjoy the Blue Cash Everyday’s rewards without having to worry about recouping an annual fee.

Who should skip? Conversely, families who spend more than $3,200 a year are probably better off springing for the Blue Cash Preferred.

Read our full Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best flexible rewards credit card for first-timers

Why we picked it: This popular Capital One credit card has all the features you should look for in a first rewards credit card: no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, a straightforward but competitive rewards program, a generous cash back sign-up bonus with a low spending threshold ($200 when you spend $500 in your first three months) and CreditWise, a free credit monitoring service.

Pros: You earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. More notably, those rewards are quite easy to redeem: Capital One doesn’t impose redemption minimums and you have a bevy of options to choose from, including gift cards, checks and statement credits.

Cons: That 1.5% cash back on all purchases is good, but not exactly best-in-class for flat-rate cash back credit cards. You can earn more with the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers a full 2% cash back on purchases (1% as you spend; 1% as you pay those charges back).

Who should apply? The straightforward rewards program, minimal fees and free credit monitoring make the Quicksilver an excellent choice if you’re in the market for your very first rewards credit card.

Who should skip? As we intimated, rewards card maximizers can certainly earn more cash back with other cards. If you have fair credit, you will likely have a hard time qualifying for the Quicksilver. You can, however, consider the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, which touts similar features, albeit for a $39 annual fee and likely a lower credit limit.

Read our full Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

American Express® Gold Card: Best credit card for foodies

Why we picked it: If you’re looking for the credit card that offers the most rewards for food purchases, well, look no further: The Amex Gold Card offers 4X points at restaurants and on Uber Eats purchases and 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1X points). Cardholders also receive 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and 1X points on general purchases.

Pros: The card currently carries its highest welcome offer to date: Cardholders receive 60,000 Membership Rewards points if they spend $4,000 in their first six months. We estimate the welcome offer is worth around $600 when you book through Amextravel.com. There are also a number of generous credits that can help you recoup the card’s steep $250 annual fee, including up to $10 per month in statement credits at participating restaurant partners, including Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory and participating Shake Shack locations.

Cons: While you can recoup the $250 through the card’s ancillary benefits, many of the credits come with a number of caveats that can make them a bit tricky to keep track of. For instance, you can get a $100 hotel credit to spend on qualifying dining, spa and resort activities when you book a two-night stay through The Hotel Collection.

Who should apply? People looking for a best-in-class card for food purchases will find themselves richly rewarded by the Amex Gold.

Who should skip? In addition to determining whether or not your spending justifies the high annual fee, you’ll need good to excellent credit to qualify for this card.

Read our full American Express Gold Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best travel credit card

Why we picked it: Offering 2X miles on all purchases for a $95 annual fee, this Capital One card offers a ton of value to average spenders looking for a travel rewards credit card.

Pros: The Venture Rewards credit card currently touts a sweet sign-up bonus. Cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus miles if they spend $3,000 in their first three months of account opening. The card also touts a number of ancillary travel benefits, including no foreign transaction fees, up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, travel accident insurance and car rental insurance.

Cons: The biggest drawback is Capital One’s relatively thin list of transfer partners, which, most notably, doesn’t include a major U.S. airline.

Who should apply? Frequent travelers looking to avoid the pricey $150 to $550 annual fees associated with other standout cards in the travel category can consider the Venture Rewards a great match.

Who should skip? Strategic spenders and luxury travelers are likely better served by a premium travel card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card® from American Express. If your credit is fair, your Venture approval odds are low, but you can consider the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, which offers lower rewards (1.25X miles per purchase) but has a lower barrier to entry.

Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card: Best business credit card

Why we picked it: The Amex Blue Business Cash Card is arguably the best business credit card on the market: It offers a generous 2% cash back on your first $50,000 in eligible purchases each calendar year (1% cash back thereafter) and you can earn a $250 statement credit after you make $3,000 in purchases in your first three months – for no annual fee.

Pros: The card also offers a number of cash-flow solutions. Cardholders enjoy a 0% introductory APR on new purchases for their first 12 months of card membership (then 13.24% to 19.24% variable). They also get access to Expanded Buying Power, an Amex feature that lets you spend beyond your credit limit based on certain factors (and earn rewards on that spending), along with Working Capital Terms, which helps with vendor payment management, after six months of card membership (terms apply).

Cons: As we mentioned, there’s that $50,000-in-purchases cap on the 2% cash back rate (then 1%). As such, you can conceivably earn more, at least in the short term, with the Capital One Spark Cash for Business (no longer available), which offers 2% cash back on all purchases (with no cap) and a generous sign-up bonus ($500 after spending $4,500 in your first three months), albeit for a $95 annual fee, waived the first year.

Who should apply? Business owners looking for cash flow solutions, along with business owners who spend less than $50,000 each year, should consider this card a top option.

Who should skip? If you routinely spend over $50,000 a year, you could come out ahead with a different business credit card, like the aforementioned Capital One Spark Cash for Business or the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, which offers 1.5% on every purchase for no annual fee, along with a $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases within three months of account opening.

Read our full American Express Blue Business Cash Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card: Best secured credit card

Why we picked it: The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card is one of the best secured credit cards on the market, given its low security deposit requirements ($49 to $200), reasonable fees and a feature that lets cardholders be considered for a higher credit limit with responsible use by making their first six monthly payments on time.

Pros: This card is decidedly low fee, even for non-secured credit cards. Cardholders pay no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no balance transfer fee and no returned payment fee. Plus, Capital One doesn’t impose a penalty APR if you don’t pay a bill on-time.

Cons: The card’s 26.99% APR is one the higher side for this category, though you can avoid it by paying your balances off in full. There are no rewards, though you may consider that a boon if you want to focus solely on improving your credit or you feel rewards might encourage overspending. There are secured credit cards out there that offer higher maximum credit limits to qualified applicants at the onset.

Who should apply? Secured credit cards are designed specifically to help people with bad, fair or no credit to build or rebuild a credit history. This card is a top option for people with bad credit who aren’t likely to qualify for a non-secured credit card.

Who should skip? If your credit score is already in good shape, you can likely qualify for an unsecured (no security deposit required) credit card with better terms and conditions. Credit newbies, students or even people with fair credit can also conceivably qualify for a non-secured credit card. The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, for instance, is marketed to people with fair credit. It requires no security deposit, offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and charges a $39 annual fee.

Read our full Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best student credit card

Why we picked it: Students will be hard-pressed to find a starter credit card that offers more rewards than the Discover it Student Cash Back. They’ll enjoy 5% cash back on rotating quarterly bonus categories, up to $1,500 per quarter, then 1% (enrollment required), along with a cash back match at the end of their first year.

Pros: The card touts a number of student-friendly benefits, including a skipped late fee the first time you miss a payment (up to $40 late payment fee thereafter), and a free FICO score so you can track your progress building credit. There’s also a 6-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (then 12.99% to 21.99% variable).

Cons: You’ll have to keep track and enroll in quarterly rotating bonus categories, which might be more maintenance than a first-time rewards cardholder is looking for.

Who should apply? Students who want to earn rewards and enjoy beginner-friendly benefits are a great match for this well-rounded cash back credit card.

Who should skip? Rewards credit cards aren’t for everyone. If you suspect you’ll overspend in an attempt to earn cash back, you might want to opt for a non-rewards entry-level credit card, like the Capital One Platinum Credit Card.

Read our full Discover it Student Cash Back review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

How do credit cards work?

In simple terms, credit cards are financial products that allow you to borrow money (usually) without collateral. Here’s how credit cards work:

You present your card or account number to a merchant when you want to make a purchase. You get a bill each month, by email or online, for all of your purchase charges and any interest charges. If you don’t carry a balance month to month, then you don’t pay interest. Carry a balance, and the interest starts accumulating. There are ways to mitigate those charges, which we’ll get into in a bit.

Credit cards are designed for short-term borrowing. If you plan on borrowing long term with a credit card, you are destined to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars in interest charges, particularly if you only pay the minimum each month. What you pay in interest depends on the amount you borrow, how long you borrow and the interest rate you are assigned. (Learn how credit card APRs work.) There are ways to avoid paying any interest, however, and ways to make credit cards benefit your whole financial picture.

How do credit card rewards work?

Credit card rewards and their programs come in many forms but generally fall into one of three categories: cash back, points and miles. Cash back is oftentimes the most straightforward to use and allows you to earn and redeem cash, frequently in the form of statement credits, gift cards, checks or direct deposits into your bank account.

The amount of points you’ll earn is based on your spending habits and whether your credit card offers a boosted rewards rate on your preferred spending categories. When you’re ready to redeem, your issuer may offer gift cards, cash, travel or other discounts in exchange. Travel rewards cards offer miles to be used towards discounted travel purchases and offer other helpful perks like free checked baggage and lounge access. The amount of miles you’ll earn are determined by your credit card and while programs may allow for miles to be converted, you may lose some in the process.

How do credit scores work?

When being considered for a credit card, the issuer will review your credit score to determine your creditworthiness and assess risk based on your previous credit history or lack thereof. Your credit score is shaped by a wide range of factors such as your on-time payment history, credit utilization ratio, the age of your oldest line of credit, and number of open accounts.

The most commonly used credit score is the FICO score. This three-digit number is based on your credit history and ranges from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the less risky you are in the eyes of a lender.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can request your credit score for free once every year.

How does credit card interest work?

Your issuer charges interest on the money you borrow. There are a number of factors that determine the amount of interest you owe. Interest rates are based on the going prime rate which is tied to the federal funds rate determined by the Federal Reserve. This amount fluctuates, meaning your APR can increase or decrease with time. Creditworthiness can be another factor that shapes the amount of interest you pay. Someone with a spotless credit history will generally receive a lower APR and be charged less interest than someone who has limited or poor credit.

You can avoid interest charges by paying your monthly credit card balance in full and on time. This is because credit card purchases generally have a grace period of around 21 days from the end of your statement cycle and your payment due date. Another way to avoid interest charges, at least temporarily, is to try and take advantage of 0% introductory APR deals offered by many credit cards. With these, you have a set period (usually 15 to 18 months) of 0% interest on purchases and/or balance transfers, though there is often a balance transfer fee of around 3%.

Types of credit cards

How to choose a credit card

You now understand how credit cards work and why they are important, but how do you choose one? We recommend asking these questions as you narrow your search.

  • What’s your credit score? Card issuers primarily look at your credit score and income to determine approvals, so a big first step in choosing a credit card involves checking your credit. Typically, the higher the score, the better the benefits and rewards.
  • Do you tend to carry a balance? If so, a low interest or non-rewards zero interest credit card is a better choice than a rewards credit card, given you’re likely to lose any points, miles or cash back you earn to interest.
  • Are you currently carrying high-interest credit card debt? If so, opt for a balance transfer credit card with a long 0% introductory APR window or a waived balance transfer fee.
  • Are you a transactor? That means you charge most purchases to a credit card, but pay them off in full each month. If so, a rewards credit card is the best way to get a return on your spending.
  • Can you recoup an annual fee? If you charge a lot (and pay your balances in full each month), don’t necessarily forego a card with an annual fee. They tend to carry the most lucrative benefits and big transactors are likely to recoup the charge. (Learn when a credit card annual fee is worth it.)
  • Are you looking to earn cash back or miles? Travel credit cards offering points or miles can be quite lucrative, but cash back cards are generally very easy to leverage, particularly when it comes time to redeem.
  • Do you favor a certain airline, hotel or retailer? Co-branded cards tend to carry a good return on those specific purchases, plus extra perks that make them a worthwhile addition to your wallet.
  • Are you looking for a sign-up bonus? These offers let you earn bonus rewards in your first year if you spend a certain amount of money in a set time frame (usually within your first 90 days). See the best credit card sign-up bonuses.
  • Do you already have a credit card? It’s common to carry more than one credit card, given your financial profile and goals change over time. And, in fact, rewards maximizers tend to pair flat-rate cards with bonus category or travel-specific credit cards to get even more bang from their buck. If you’re a disciplined spender, consider this strategy. Here are some other tips for how to maximize credit card rewards.

What to consider when comparing credit card features

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all credit card. Each cardholder will have their own unique set of wants and needs and it’s unlikely that one credit card will tick off every box. When determining which credit card offers the best set of features to fit your must-haves, compromise is the name of the game. If you’re hoping to land a card that comes loaded with premium frills but doesn’t charge an annual fee, you’ll have to choose one or the other.

When narrowing down the type of card that’s right for you, ask yourself which of the following features you hope to avoid and which you absolutely can’t do without:

  • Fees: While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to avoid paying credit card fees altogether, you can at least keep them to a minimum depending on the type of card you get plus all the extras you’re willing to sacrifice in exchange. Not all credit cards charge an annual fee for cardmembership, but those that do typically offer better perks and consumer protections. These fees can range from $35 to as much as $699. Are annual fees worth it? That all depends on how much use you’ll get out of your card’s specific set of benefits, which is why it’s so important to find a card that matches your lifestyle. There are other fees to watch out for too. Frequent travelers may want to avoid a card that charges foreign transaction fees. Meanwhile, someone hoping to tackle an existing card debt via a balance transfer would want to avoid a card with a high balance transfer fee.
  • Interest rates: Interest rates are one of the most critical aspects of choosing a card but one that credit newbies can easily overlook. This is the rate your card issuer will charge you for borrowing from your line of credit, and that rate can vary quite a bit. Issuers will typically offer a lower introductory interest rate when you first join, lasting anywhere from six to 21months. After this time, the regular interest rate kicks in. This regular rate depends on your credit and other factors. If you tend to carry a balance month-to-month, a high interest rate can be financially risky.
  • Benefits and rewards: Credit cards often come loaded with handy benefits for cardmembers, such as extended purchase warranties, airport lounge access, travel insurance and discounts on services or at retailers. Generally, the higher your annual fees the more premium your benefits will be. Premium cards also offer a better rewards rate on purchases. When looking at a card’s rewards program, you want to consider not only the reward rate per dollar but also the value of those rewards and ease of redemption.
  • Introductory bonus: Credit cards offer hefty introductory bonuses, also known as welcome or sign-up bonuses, to new cardmembers. These bonuses are often given in the form of points or cash after the new cardmember spends a certain dollar amount within a given period of time in order to entice them to spend. Such offers can be extremely lucrative depending on the card, but bigger isn’t always better. In the event of inflated points, a 100,000 point bonus may not get you as much as you think when it comes time to redeem. For some, spending to meet the bonus threshold could leave them with a debt that is difficult to repay, especially when the regular APR period begins.

How to apply for a credit card

  1. Check your credit score: Before you apply for a credit card, you need to know where your credit stands and which credit cards you qualify for. A quick glance over your credit report will also help you spot any errors or potential hurdles and give you an opportunity to correct them before you apply. You can access your credit for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, or visit the FICO® Score website for more info on where to view your score.
  2. Find a credit card that matches your needs: Once you have a sense of the type of cards available to you based on your credit score, it becomes a little easier to narrow down the search. The card you choose should match your spending habits, budget, and financial goals. For example, will you carry a balance month to month? Will you use rewards primarily for travel or would a more flexible rewards card suit you best? Once you’ve determined exactly what it is you’re looking for in a credit card, it’s time to apply.
  3. Apply: There are a number of ways to go about applying for a credit card. You might choose to apply by mail or you can apply online directly through the issuer’s site. Another possibility: if you like its card offerings, you could decide to apply through your financial institution, either online or in-person at a branch. Chances are you’ll receive more favorable terms as an existing client. For applicants with so-so credit, your bank may be willing to approve you for cards you might not qualify for elsewhere, assuming you’ve maintained a relatively unblemished account history. Whichever route you choose to go, the credit card application process is fairly standard. You’ll be asked to provide basic personal information. This usually includes you name, address, telephone number, Social Security number, employment status, annual income, and a list of current financial obligations such as your monthly housing costs or auto loan payments. When calculating your household income, you may include money earned outside of work such as any government benefits or form of passive income received.
  4. Receive a decision: In many cases, your online application is processed right then and there, giving you an answer in a matter of seconds. Once approved, your new card will typically be mailed out to you within a week or two. Other times, the process may take a bit longer and you may receive a later decision by email, snail mail, or telephone.

What happens if your credit card application is denied?

As many Americans continue to struggle financially as a result of the pandemic, card issuers have been quick to tighten requirements for approval, resulting in a decline in overall credit card ownership. If your credit card application has been rejected, the issuer must provide you with an explanation for its decision, which is usually sent by email or sometimes snail mail.

There are a number of reasons why an issuer might choose to reject an application. If your credit report includes derogatory marks and shows multiple accounts in collection, excessive debt and insufficient income, an issuer will most likely deny your application. Likewise, if you’ve applied for multiple cards in a short span of time, the issuer will view this as risky behavior.

If the rejection takes you by surprise, you can appeal the decision by calling the issuer’s reconsideration line. There you can make your case to an agent and address any concerns they may have about your credit profile. There’s no guarantee that they’ll reverse the decision but it’s worth a shot for those who feel they are a good candidate for the card. If you do plan to reach out to the issuer, it’s best to call within a few days of the rejection and have a copy of your credit report handy for quick reference.

Applying for a credit card results in what is known as a hard pull on your credit, which temporarily dings your score each time. For that reason, you don’t want to apply for another card immediately after you’ve been denied. Issuers will interpret this as risky behavior.

Is now a good time to get a credit card?

The economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic initially led many credit card issuers to pare back offers and impose more stringent lending requirements. But now as vaccination rates rise and COVID restrictions lift, credit card companies are moving to beef up their rewards programs, balance transfer offers and welcome bonuses. Capital One, for instance, recently enhanced the rewards program associated with its popular Savor cards, while American Express boosted the welcome bonuses on its Blue Cash cards.

Many Americans are well-positioned to take advantage of these offers, given the pandemic has seemingly slimmed credit card balances. According to recent data from the Federal Reserve, card balances dipped below the $1 trillion mark in May 2020, for the first time since September 2017.

So, yes, now is a good time to get a credit card, but whether or not you should get a new credit card depends on your personal goals and overall financial health. For instance, if you don’t have good credit, you likely won’t qualify for the best credit card deals currently on the market. You’d likely be better served by improving your credit before applying for them. Similarly, if you belong to the over half (51%) of U.S. adults who added to their credit card debt during the pandemic, you might not want to risk adding to your credit card balances. Alternatively, you might want to look into a balance transfer credit card to help pay down existing debt.

It’s a good idea to have a sense of your approval odds before you apply. Our CardMatch tool may help direct you to credit card offers that best align with your credit profile without impacting your credit score.

In the news: The best credit cards for large holiday purchases November 2021

The holiday season is fast approaching, which means it’s time once again to think about gift-giving. Because this holiday will bring so many families together again for the first time since the pandemic, some shoppers may be hoping to surprise loved ones with extra-special splurge gifts such as jewelry, watches, or even travel. These items will most likely be purchased using a credit card, which allows the gift-giver to pay down the item over time and, depending on the card, often without accruing interest. The other benefit of using your credit card for large purchases? You can potentially rake in valuable rewards.

If you know you’ll be spending a hefty amount this holiday, now may be the time to reevaluate your current credit card. Creditcards.com’s Siobhan Neile breaks it down with a look at the best credit cards for large purchases.

How we picked the best credit cards

Different types of credit cards are designed to help you achieve different financial goals. As a result, comparing cards across categories can be difficult. The best rewards credit card, for instance, will be characterized by a solid base rewards program, generous sign-up bonus and ancillary benefits, while the best balance transfer credit card would depend on the length of its balance transfer offer, its balance transfer fee and what its APR might be once the balance transfer expires. Having said that, we picked the best credit cards in our database by considering the following criteria.

  • Standout terms in the card’s category: We assessed whether a card’s terms and conditions were competitive when stacked against other cards in its respective category. For instance, for a rewards card, we looked at its rate of return on spending and evaluated whether that return was competitive, compared to other cards in the rewards category.
  • Reasonable costs: We looked at the major costs associated with most credit cards (purchase APR, balance transfer APR, penalty APR, annual fee, foreign transaction fees, etc.) to determine if a card’s offer was competitive in its category.
  • Overall value: If a card does carry certain fees, could those fees be justified by its other benefits? For instance, could you recoup an annual fee via the card’s rewards program? Could you still save on a balance transfer offer paying the balance transfer fee if you paid your balance off in the introductory 0% interest period?

Remember, the right credit card for you will vary, depending on your spending profile and financial goals.

More information on credit cards

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