A Guide to Finding the Perfect 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 balance transfer card. Or you could have your eye out for the right travel card offer. 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.
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. 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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a comment below.
Compare: Best Credit Cards of 2019
|Credit Card||Category||Annual Fee||Review Score|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up Bonuses||$95||3.9 / 5|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Flat-rate Rewards||$0||3.8 / 5|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Everyday Spending||$0||4.3 / 5|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Travel Rewards||$95 waived first year||4.2 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||Rewards||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Discover it® Balance Transfer||Balance Transfers||$0||4.5 / 5|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||No Annual Fee||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card||0% Intro APR||$0||4.4 / 5|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining||$95 waived first year||4.8 / 5|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Gas||$0||3.5 / 5|
|U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card||Low Interest||$0||4.5 / 5|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||No Foreign Transaction Fee||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express||Airline Miles||$95 waived first year||3.6 / 5|
|Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit Card||Business||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||Fair Credit||$0||3.7 / 5|
|Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card||Bad Credit||$0-$99||2.1 / 5|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||Students||$0||4.2 / 5|
Details on the best credit card offers
Most notable features: The Sapphire Preferred allows you to earn 2X points on worldwide travel and restaurants and 1X point on all other purchases. It also has a 60,000-point sign-up bonus that kicks in once you spend $4,000 within your first 3 months of card membership.
Why we like it: All sign-up bonuses are not created equal – with the Sapphire Preferred, the 60,000-point bonus is actually worth $750 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
How to make the most of it: Don't forget to use the Ultimate Rewards portal to book travel with your points, and explore Chase's transfer partners to see where you can get the most value out of your points.
Top alternative: The Citi PremierSM Card also has a big sign-up bonus that is on par with the CSP's. The Premier is definitely worth considering as its ongoing rewards are arguably better with 3X points per dollar spent on travel.
Most notable features: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a reliable rewards card that earns an extraordinary 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year, on up to $20,000 in purchases. After that, it earns unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which is competitive with other no-annual-fee rewards cards.
Why we like it: The CFU is a perfect choice for your "daily driver" credit card. You can transfer the points you earn with it to your Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve account.
How to make the most of it: If you have a CSP or CSR card, strongly consider transferring points from your CFU to one of those cards, because they enjoy redemption bonuses on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Top alternative: The Capital One Quicksilver is one of many credit cards that are similar to the CFU; they are very similar but the CFU has the edge if you already have another credit card with Chase.
Most notable features: Discover's hallmark feature of matching all cash back earned in the first year remains one of the most valuable offers of any credit card. Activate each quarter to take advantage of its 5% cash back on an eclectic mix of rotating categories up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 in purchases.
Why we like it: The return from its first-year cashback match feature can outshine the sign-up bonuses offered by competing cards, especially for heavy spenders.
How to make the most of it: Make sure to set your e-mail preferences so you get reminders from Discover to activate your earning on the upcoming quarter's bonus categories. That way, you don't have to worry about missing out.
Top alternative: For a cash back card with constant rather than rotating categories, consider the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express.
Most notable features: The Venture Rewards' sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after a $3,000 spend within 3 months competes nicely with similar cards, and its $95 annual fee is waived the first year. There's no foreign transaction fee, miles don't expire while your account is active, and there's no limit to how much you can earn.
Why we like it: With its large sign-up bonus, an excellent rewards rate of 2X miles on all purchases, and 10X miles for hotels paid through hotels.com/venture, this card is hands down one of the best travel credit cards, in our opinion.
How to make the most of it: Note that the redemption value of your miles will vary depending on what you are redeeming them for. You'll usually want to redeem your miles for travel rewards, which have the highest value, instead of other categories such as cash back or gift cards. Note that you can also transfer your points to 15 airline partners, including the most recent addition to their program, JetBlue.
Top alternative: For comparable features with no annual fee, consider the Capital One VentureOne. Heavy spenders will find the Venture more rewarding while cost-conscious consumers will appreciate the VentureOne.
Most notable features: The revamped Propel card is already making a big splash in the rewards scene. It has everything a rewards aficionado looks for: a stalwart sign-up bonus of 30,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, along with generous rewards of 3X points on travel, dining, and popular streaming services. Most impressively, it does all this without charging an annual fee. This easily makes it one of the top offers of any credit card in 2019.
Why we like it: The Propel punches way above its weight class with the magnitude of its intro bonus and rewards – these are exceptional for a credit card with no annual fee.
How to make the most of it: Don't forget that it's a great credit card to bring with you on trips abroad, since no foreign transaction fees are charged. This means you can take full advantage of the Propel's rewards on travel and dining at international locations as well.
Top alternative: The Capital One Venture is an alternative worth considering if you don't mind paying the annual fee that comes with its larger sign-up bonus.
Most notable features: The Discover it Balance Transfer offers 18 months of 0% APR on balance transfers; unfortunately, its intro 0% APR only lasts for 6 months on purchases. However, in either case, the interest-free period is followed by a low regular APR of 14.24% - 25.24% variable. It does offer impressive rewards, with 5% cash back in rotating categories after enrollment up to the quarterly maximum and automatic cash back match at the end of your first year.
Why we like it: This card's 18-month 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers is hard to beat, helping you stay interest-free into 2020 and beyond. There is also potential to earn a lot of cash back.
How to make the most of it: As with any balance transfer card, make sure you pay off your balance before the introductory period ends, to avoid paying interest.
Top alternative: The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express† has a shorter intro offer on balance transfers, but no balance transfer fee.
Most notable features: The VentureOne card has great travel features and rewards for no annual fee. Namely, it earns 10X miles per dollar on hotels booked and paid through hotels.com/venture through January 2020. With this card, you'll also earn 1.25x miles per dollar on all other purchases.
Why we like it: This card's strong travel rewards are complemented by a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles for spending $1,000 in your first 3 months.
How to make the most of it: Remember to use this card when you pay for your hotel bookings on hotels.com/venture. Go for travel rewards when you redeem the miles you've earned, as they tend to hold the greatest redemption value.
Top alternative: For another straightforward rewards card that earns miles, consider the Discover it® Miles.
Most notable features: The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card offers 18 months of 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers, after which its regular APR is 13.74% - 27.24% variable. This card has no annual fee and does not earn rewards, but it does have some additional benefits such as free access to your FICO credit score.
Why we like it: The sheer length of its 0% intro period—18 months—places this card firmly on top of our list in the balance transfer category.
How to make the most of it: Make your balance transfers within the first 120 days when the balance transfer fee is 3%, because that fee goes up to 5% after that ($5 minimum). Also make sure to pay off your balance within your 18 month intro APR period, because the regular interest rates after that are quite high.
Top alternative: The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card is another low-interest card that has an even longer introductory offer.
Most notable features: The new and improved Savor card comes with a generous 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% back on all else. Additionally, it has one of the better sign-up bonuses right now: a $300 cash bonus for a required spend of $3,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is waived in the first year, but it will be $95 after that.
Why we like it: It's a no-brainer for foodies, and even if you aren't someone who spends a lot at restaurants, the sign-up bonus could still be worth it.
How to make the most of it: Don't forget that you get 4% cash back not only on dining, but also entertainment, which includes a number of different purchases such as movies, concerts, and sporting events. Take some time to check out the card agreement to see all the types of purchases that are covered under "entertainment."
Top alternative: The similarly named SavorOne card is a no-annual-fee version of the Savor that comes with a lower 3% back on dining and a smaller sign-up bonus.
Most notable features: Cash back on regular purchases is the hallmark of the Blue Cash Everyday, which earns you 3% at U.S. supermarkets and 2% at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. The 3% at U.S. supermarkets applies for your first $6,000 in purchases each year, then it goes to 1%, which is also what you earn on all other purchases. Additionally, you earn a $150 statement credit after making $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months.
Why we like it: This card's helps you get the most out of your purchases at gas stations and supermarkets.
How to make the most of it: Log into your account online regularly to check out special offers from American Express; there are often deals with popular retailers that can net you even more savings on top of your regular cash back.
Top alternative: For an alternative that offers even higher cash back at U.S. gas stations but charges an annual fee, check out the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express.
Notable features: It doesn't come with some of the bells and whistles you'd find on a rewards card, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any credit card that has a more balanced offer between a lengthy intro 0% APR period and a very low regular interest rate. This is doubly true when you look at credit cards with a $0 annual fee.
Why we like it: This card is hands down our best balance transfer card thanks to its extraordinary 0% intro APR of 20 billing cycles on both purchases and balance transfers, followed by a low regular APR of 14.74% - 25.74% variable.
How to make the most of it: A lesser-known feature of this card is its cell phone protection (subject to a $25 deductible); you could be covered up to $600 if you pay your monthly cell phone bill with it.
Top alternative: The Discover it Balance Transfer offers better rewards, but the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card has a better introductory APR offer.
Most notable features: The BofA Travel Rewards credit card is a straightforward card that comes with handsome rewards. It earns a consistent and unlimited 1.5X points per dollar on every purchase, and provides a 25,000 point sign-up bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days.
Why we like it: With no foreign transaction fee and no annual fee, it's easy to use this card to earn rewards on international trips.
How to make the most of it: Be mindful of how you redeem your points. Generally, you'll get the best value from redeeming points for travel purchases or as statement credits on travel purchases.
Top alternative: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is also a strong option for more frequent travelers.
Most notable features: You can earn 60,000 bonus miles after a $2,000 spend within the first 3 months with this top airline card. Additionally, you get 2X miles on every eligible purchase made directly with Delta and 1 mile on all other eligible purchases. There's also a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase within your first 3 months.
Why we like it: Not only does this card allow you to earn miles for Delta purchases, it also features superb travel benefits. Along with priority boarding, the free first checked bag benefit on Delta flights is among the most generous of any airline card.
How to make the most of it: Take advantage of the free first checked bag perk, and note that it applies to the cardholder and up to eight companions.
Top alternative: The Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express is a worthwhile alternative with no annual fee and a smaller, more attainable introductory bonus.
Most notable features: With 1.5% cash back on all purchases, this offer is among the best credit cards out there and can translate into huge savings for businesses that make substantial purchases. With no annual fee, the Ink Business Unlimited offers a compelling value for any business, but especially small businesses. That's not to mention the $500 sign-up bonus after only $3,000 in purchases made in the first 3 months.
Why we like it: The 1.5% unlimited cash back and large sign-up bonus means business owners can quickly rack up rewards dollars from using this card.
How to make the most of it: To maximize your cash back, take advantage of the fact that you can add employee cards to your account at no additional charge and have them use their employee cards on business expenses. Note that you can easily monitor and set spending limits for each employee.
Top alternative: The Capital One Spark Cash for Business offers even higher cash back of 2% on all purchases, but charges a $95 annual fee after the first year.
Most notable features: The Capital One Platinum accepts you even if your credit that's not the best, as low as a 580 credit score, making it ideal for credit building. If you pay it off in full and on time each month, you have a good shot at getting a higher credit line after your first 5 months of on-time payments.
Why we like it: This card doesn't have the hidden fees that you'll sometimes find with a card that accepts fair or limited credit. And with no annual fee, the Capital One Platinum is our favorite among the fair credit cards.
How to make the most of it: Set your own monthly due date and use the payment method that is most convenient for you (by check, online, or at a local branch).
Top alternative: For better rewards and a small annual fee, take a look at the Capital One QuicksilverOne.
Most notable features: Earn 1% back on select everyday purchases such as gas, groceries, and services such as cellphone, internet, cable and satellite TV. This card is perfect for you if your score is under 670 on a scale of 300-850, and Credit One automatically monitors you to see if you qualify for a higher credit line.
Why we like it: This card is great training if your credit isn't the best but you want to practice good credit card habits while earning rewards.
How to make the most of it: It cannot be emphasized enough, pay your full balance on time every month. Only use it for purchases that you know you can pay off at the end of the month.
Top alternative: For a secured card alternative, consider the Capital One Secured Mastercard.
Most notable features: Students can benefit from this card's 5% back on quarterly rotating categories after you activate, up to the quarterly maximum. Backed by one of the leading credit card networks, this is a great option for students looking to build credit without having to worry about an annual fee. The fact that Discover automatically matches all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year is a huge bonus.
Why we like it: This card is truly tailored for students. In addition to its generous cash back, it also gives students a $20 statement credit for each 3.0+ GPA school year for up to 5 years.
How to make the most of it: Remain disciplined in your spending habits and do not be tempted into making extra purchases now that you have a credit card. That said, do use it on things you would ordinarily buy with cash, so that you earn cash back on fixed expenses and build up your credit history.
Top alternative: Take a look at the Discover it Student chrome and decide which rewards structure suits you better.
How do credit cards work?
Some 60.5% of Americans carry at least one credit card – in fact, consumers on average hold 4 cards – and for good reason. They are the easiest way to build credit, and they are super convenient.
Credit cards provide you with a line of credit that can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted. Credit is essentially borrowed money from the card issuer, usually capped at a dollar amount (known as your credit limit). All credit cards carry an Annual Percentage Rate (APR), also known as the card’s interest rate. You’re not obligated to pay your entire credit card bill in full every month, but if you carry a balance, you’ll accumulate interest based on your APR.
Credit cards offer significant advantages over other payment methods. Ted Rossman, CreditCards.com industry analyst, points out that "the main reason to use a credit card instead of a debit card or cash is because credit cards offer lucrative rewards. Credit cardholders can easily get 1.5% or even 2% cash back on everything they buy. As long as you can pay your statement balance in full, it’s a no-brainer, because it’s free money."
"Credit cards are also faster when it comes to checking out," says Randall Yates of The Lenders Network. "Debit cards require a PIN, adding precious seconds to a transaction."
Consumers love credit cards, and usage is becoming increasingly common. In fact, Experian has found that over 59% of Americans hold a credit card. As of last year, Americans have 2.5 credit cards on average.
How to choose the best credit card for you
There are basically 4 questions to ask yourself before beginning research on which card is the right one for your lifestyle, and the first one may surprise you a bit.
1. What is your credit score?
You may think that what you want is the most important part of choosing a credit card. Actually, it's what you need – in this case a good enough credit score to reach your financial goals. In most cases, a good FICO score (670 and up) will get you the card you have your eye on.
2. What are your spending habits?
How – and where – you spend is critical to your choice in card, because there's no point to getting a Hilton Honors card if you don't frequent Hilton-brand hotels, and why get a rewards card that favors spending at restaurants if you don't eat out often? Think about how you currently spend, and calculate where most of your money goes.
3. What do you want out of your card?
Do you see yourself putting everything on your card, then paying it off each month? A rewards card may be a good choice. Want to earn rewards without thinking about which card you use? A cash back card is an option. Or maybe you have a big purchase coming up. Then, a 0% card might be the best card for you right now. And it could be that you simply want the flexibility of a credit card or to build credit, in which case a no annual fee card may be right for you.
4. Is now the right time?
But before taking out a new card, look at whether you have recently taken out a loan or if you plan to apply for a loan in the next 3-6 months. That's because lenders are wary of borrowers who have made sudden changes in their credit recently. In the same way, avoid applying for multiple cards in rapid succession, in this case because it can temporarily impact your credit score.
How do you qualify for the best credit cards?
Your creditworthiness in large part dictates which credit cards you qualify for, and your creditworthiness is assessed with your credit score, a number that ranges from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the more credit card options are available to you.
Think of your credit score as your financial report card. Lenders use it to decide what lending products to grant you and the terms of those products. For example, if you have a FICO score of at least 740, you have a greater chance of being approved for the best credit cards.
Here's how it works:
- Your credit habits are reported to the 3 major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, by your lenders.
- Those credit habits are used by credit score models FICO and VantageScore to assign you a score.
- When you apply, credit card companies look at that credit score to assess your creditworthiness.
- You are granted or denied credit cards (and other lending products) based in part on your assigned credit score.
How to get a credit score
There are two major types of credit score: FICO and VantageScore. As the dominant scoring model, FICO sells its scores for about $20 each. There are three scores available, one for each of the major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. (There is no need to check all three simultaneously.) Many credit card issuers offer free access to your credit score as a benefit of holding one of their cards.
How a credit score is determined
Your credit score is influenced by the following major factors. In order to increase your chances of being approved for top tier credit cards, make sure your credit is healthy in each of these regards:
On-time payments, or payment history, figure heavily into the dominant scoring model, FICO, making up 35% of the score's criteria pie. Payment history is extremely influential in the VantageScore model. When it comes to using credit cards, a good rule of thumb is to only buy what you can pay for in cash within the next month.
How much you owe compared to how much credit you have available makes up 30% of the FICO pie. It's highly influential in the VantageScore, while available credit is less influential. Total balances or debt are considered moderately influential.
Length of credit history
How long you have been building credit is a consideration to a lesser degree, making up 15% of the FICO scoring model. Age of accounts is highly influential with VantageScore.
This metric makes up 10% of your FICO score, which means you'll want to avoid opening new accounts unnecessarily. VantageScore ranks this as less influential.
Ten percent of your FICO score, you are encouraged to have a mix of credit types such as revolving (typically credit cards) and installment (such as mortgages and car loans). Credit mix is highly influential in VantageScore.
How credit card rewards work
Our most recent survey 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.
There are basically 2 ways to earn rewards – with a sign-up bonus and with ongoing rewards. There can be other ways, such as signing up your first authorized user, but those are the most common ways to earn rewards.
With a sign-up bonus, you usually are required to spend a minimum in order to get the bonus, and it will have a deadline – usually 3 months, but sometimes longer. So you might be able to earn $150 back after a $500 spend within 3 months, as in the case of the Chase Freedom card.
The ongoing rewards are trickier. You can be rewarded for loyalty to hotel and airline brands; certain types of shopping; and loyalty to the card. Credit cards can be cash back cards or travel cards, and there are different types of both, including rotating categories, tiered categories and flat rates.
Ways to redeem the rewards vary from issuing checks and statement credits to redemptions for travel and using loyalty miles for flights. Top credit cards tend to offer higher rewards and be more flexible in how you can redeem them.
Benefits you can get with your credit cards
Credit cards offer a host of benefits, ranging from lost luggage reimbursement to access to the card issuer's travel portal. Here are some of the most common—and most compelling—benefits you can get with a top-tier credit card.
Whether you are on the road or traveling by plane, travel cards can provide unexpected benefits worthy of your attention. The result? Hassle-free travel and even saved dollars with such benefits as Chase Sapphire Reserve's $300 annual travel credit. Here are 8 top travel benefits:
- Free checked bags
- Access to airport lounges
- Lost luggage reimbursement
- Roadside dispatch
- Auto rental collision damage waiver
- Trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance
- Airline fee credit
- Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- Special benefits at member hotels, including early check-in and late check-out, as well as free breakfast
Products such as travel cards, general-purpose rewards cards and cashback cards can provide superior savings with outstanding sign-up bonuses on most rewards cards, free breakfast at select hotel brands such as Hilton Honors, and even access to special events through such programs as Mastercard's World Elite program.
- Signup bonus
- Purchase rewards in miles, points or cash back
- Points for travel, gift cards, merchandise or entertainment
- Percentage boost for use of issuer's travel portal
- Access to special sporting, theater and dining events, as well as other experiences
Cards on the market today have a multitude of features and advantages, from no foreign transaction fee to U.S.-based customer service. Look carefully at what the cards you are eyeing have to offer, because the possibilities may surprise you.
- Zero liability protection
- 24/7 concierge
- 24/7 customer service
- U.S.-based customer service
- Shopping portal
- No foreign transaction fee
- No annual fee
- EMV chip technology
- Cellphone insurance
Is an annual fee ever worth it?
Some fees, such as late fees, should be avoided at all costs. But other fees may be worth your while, depending on the situation. One of the most common decisions you'll come across is whether to go for a card with an annual fee. A card with an annual fee will often have more robust rewards, and the annual fee may be waived the first year. Depending on your goals and spending habits, a card with an annual fee can definitely be worth your while, even compared to cards without one. For example, if you regularly spend $1,000 a month with a credit card, the Capital One Venture Rewards card would yield a higher net value than its no-annual-fee counterpart:
|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|
Remember to keep an open mind and carefully consider how much you could get out of an annual-fee card compared to no-annual-fee alternatives. The above example can be used as a guideline for conducting a basic cost-benefit analysis.
Credit cards we considered in our research
Out of the 3,476 cards we analyzed to get to the top 17, here's how it broke down by category (certain credit cards overlap across several categories).
|Type||Number of Credit Cards|
|No annual fee||2,744|
|0% introductory APR||1,002|
|No foreign transaction fee||938|
|No credit history||264|
More of our top picks
Want to do more research? Check out our best credit card picks in popular categories like travel, cash back, and balance transfer.
† All information about The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is no longer available through CreditCards.com.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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