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 on the right travel card for you. 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 across several different 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 airplane tickets. With new credit cards constantly entering the market and offers frequently changing, it can be tough to wrap your head around the available options. We're all over it for you. Check this page regularly for the latest information on the best credit cards – we update it almost every day!
Here is a summary of our top picks in an easy to read table! If you have any questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summary: best credit cards of 2018
|Credit Card||Category||Annual Fee||Review Score|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up Bonus||$95 waived first year||4.2 / 5|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Card||Flat-rate Rewards||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Everyday Spending||$0||4.1 / 5|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Travel Rewards||$95 waived first year||4.4 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||Rewards||$0||3.7 / 5|
|Citi Simplicity® Card||0% Intro APR||$0||4.5 / 5|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||No Annual Fee||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card||Balance Transfers||$0||4.3 / 5|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining||$95 waived first year||4.6 / 5|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Gas||$0||4.1 / 5|
|U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card||Low Interest||$0||4.4 / 5|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||No Foreign Transaction Fee||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®||Airline Miles||$99 waived first year||4.3 / 5|
|Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit Card||Business||$0||3.6 / 5|
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||Fair Credit||$0||4.6 / 5|
|Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card||Bad Credit||$0-$99||4.6 / 5|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||College Students||$0||3.3 / 5|
Editor's notes on the best credit cards
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 50,000-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 50,000-point bonus is actually worth $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Usage tips: 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.
Also consider: For a comparable card with tiered rewards, check out the Citi ThankYou Premier Card.
Most notable features: The Quicksilver offers a $150 bonus after a $500 spend within 3 months of card membership, which is a lower spend than the Blue Cash Everyday. Also, it features a flat rate on all purchases of 1.5% back.
Why we like it: Because it offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and has the bonus feature of no annual fee, this card lands squarely in the category of best cash back card for flat-rate spending. If you want to shop without worrying about where you are or what you're buying, this card is for you.
Usage tips: This is a good card to use for any purchase that doesn't fall into a special category where you earn more with another card. In other words, plan on using this as your "default" credit card.
Also consider: The Citi Double Cash Card is another good card if you prefer its higher cash back rate in exchange for no sign-up bonus.
Most notable features: Discover's hallmark feature of matching all cash back earned in the first year remains one of the most valuable offers in credit cards. 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.
Usage tips: Make sure you 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.
Also consider: 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 a bodacious flat rate of 2X miles on all purchases and the excellent 10X miles for hotels through hotels.com/Venture, this card is hands down the best travel rewards card, in our opinion.
Usage tips: Note that the redemption value of your miles will vary depending on what you are redeeming them for. You'll always want to redeem your miles for travel rewards, which have the highest value, instead of other categories such as cash back or gift cards.
Also consider: For comparable features with no annual fee, consider the Capital One 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 30K 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 this summer.
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.
Usage tips: 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 internationally as well.
Also consider: 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: This card offers a whopping 18 months 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers, as well as no late fees and no penalty rate. After 18 months, its regular APR of 15.74% - 25.74% will take effect; while it's not the lowest interest available, it is serviceable and the long intro period makes up for it. Also, there's no annual fee.
Why we like it: With rising credit card APRs, a 0% offer this generous is something to be cherished.
Usage tips: Take note of the fact that the regular APR is variable depending on your creditworthiness. 18 months is a long time, but it can pass by faster than you think, so make sure you have a concrete plan to pay off your balance before the intro period ends.
Also consider: The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card has even lower interest but requires excellent credit.
Most notable features: The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a competitive 1.5% back on all purchases and $150 after a $500 spend within 3 months of card membership.
Why we like it: For those of us who don't want to get bogged down by an annual fee, this card is the one to choose. Its flat rate cash back is competitive, as is its sign-up bonus, and it has the added feature of allowing you to sync it with a Sapphire card to take advantage of those cards' bonuses on travel redemptions through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Usage tips: This is another excellent card to use as your go-to payment method on purchases that don't fall into any of your other cards' bonus categories. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or plan on getting one in the near future, use the CFU to stock up on points which you can then transfer to the CSP for superior redemption value. The same thing goes for if you have or are planning to get a Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
Also consider: The Discover it Cash Back is potentially more lucrative than the Freedom Unlimited, but requires a little additional legwork.
Most notable features: If there's anything better than an 18-month 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers, it's one for 21 months. After that, a reasonable variable APR of 14.74% - 24.74% will apply. Since its purchase offer is only 12 months, the Citi Simplicity is still the best all-around zero interest card, but the Diamond Preferred excels for balance transfers.
Why we like it: This card's 21-month 0% intro APR offer is hard to beat, even with no sign-up bonus or ongoing rewards.
Usage tips: As with any balance transfer card, make sure you pay off your balance before the introductory period ends, to avoid paying interest. Do not forger that you must complete all balance transfers in your first 4 months.
Also consider: The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has a shorter intro offer but no balance transfer fee.
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 hottest sign-up bonuses right now: a $500 cash bonus for a required spend of only $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.
Usage tips: 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 . Take some time to check out the card agreement to see all the types of purchases that are covered under "entertainment."
Also consider: 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 everyday purchases is the hallmark of the Bank of America Cash Rewards, which earns you 3% on gas and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs up to $2,500 a quarter combined. It's 1% back on all other purchases. Also, you earn $200 back after a $500 spend within 90 days of card membership.
Why we like it: This card's focus on gas purchases gives it the oomph you'll need for road trips, grocery trips and more. For that reason, we call this our best gas card.
Usage tips: Keep in mind that this card's rewards are even sweeter if you have Preferred Rewards status at Bank of America, in which case you can get a 25% - 75% bonus when redeeming cash back, depending on your status.
Also consider: For an alternative that offers higher cash back but charges an annual fee, check out the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express.
Most 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 low interest card thanks to its extraodinary 0% intro APR of 20 billing cycles on both purchases and balance transfers, followed by a low regular APR of 11.74% - 23.74% variable.
Usage tips: A lesser known but potentially very useful benefit – pay your monthly cell phone bill with this card and you'll get damage and theft protection up to $600 on your phone (subject to a $25 deductible).
Also consider: If you're a rewards fiend who's also looking for a low APR, consider the Discover it® Balance Transfer.
Most notable features: The BofA Travel Rewards 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.
Usage tips: Be mindful of how you redeem your points. Specifically, you'll get the best value from redeeming points for travel purchases or as statement credits on travel purchases.
Also consider: For a premium credit card with flexible redemption options, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Most notable features: Earn 50,000 miles after a $2,500 spend within the first 3 months, as well as 2X miles back at gas stations, restaurants and every eligible American Airlines purchase. There's also a $100 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 in a year and renew your card.
Why we like it: Plenty of airline cards allow you to earn boosted points for airline purchases, but this one also offers increased points for everyday purchases. And the preferred boarding and free first checked bag just pile on superior travel benefits of the Platinum Select, making this our favorite airline card.
Usage tips: This card is great for making purchases abroad since there is no foreign transaction fee.
Also consider: The AAdvantage MileUp Card is a worthwhile alternative with no annual fee and a smaller, more attainable sign-up 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 the dollars from using this card.
Usage tips: 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.
Also consider: 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 bad credit. And with no annual fee, the Capital One Platinum is our favorite among the fair credit cards.
Usage tips: 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).
Also consider: 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 with a rewards card.
Usage tips: 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.
Also consider: For a secured card alternative, consider the Capital One Secured Mastercard.
Most notable features: College students can benefit from this card's 5% back on 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.
Usage tips: 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.
Also consider: Take a look at the Discover it Student chrome and decide which rewards structure suits you best.
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|
How do credit cards work?
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."
Is a credit card right for you?
There is a right time and a wrong time to take out a credit card. We look at how to time it so that you can get the product that best suits your needs — here are some general guidelines to follow.
When your credit score is where it needs to be – This is a big one. Make sure your score is within the range of the card you are looking at. If you have a credit score of 550, there's no point in applying for a high-end travel card that requires a much higher score.
When you don't have any upcoming loans to take out – It's generally a bad idea to apply for a credit card if you are about to take out a loan for, say, a car or home. It can appear to lenders that you are desperate. Instead, time your applications so that you give each one a cushion of several months.
When you haven't applied recently for a loan or card – In the same way, you don't want to apply for a card immediately after you apply for another type of loan. Every time you apply for a lending product your score takes a small hit (although it's temporary, so don't despair).
How do you qualify for the best credit cards?
Which credit cards you can get depends on your creditworthiness; the most common measure of this is called your credit score, a number which ranges from 300 to 850. The higher your credit score, the more options are available to you in terms of which credit cards you qualify for.
Your credit score is basically your financial report card. It's used by lenders to assess your creditworthiness 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.
- Prospective lenders, landlords, insurance agencies and others look at that credit score to assess your creditworthiness.
- You are granted or denied lending products based in part on the score you've been assigned.
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.) You can get your VantageScore for free through CreditCards.com. Many credit card issuers also 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.
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 September 2018 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.
New credit cards are entering the market every day, rewarding 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 Freedom Unlimited.
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. They 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, complete with boosted points. 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
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
- Special benefits at member hotels, including early check-in and late check-out, as well as free breakfast
- 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 others may be worth your while, depending on the type. 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 frequently 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:
|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.
More of our top picks
Want to do more research? Check out our findings for more specific types of credit card rewards like travel, cash back, and sign-up bonuses.
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.