All information about Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the American Express Cash Magnet® Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The American Express Cash Magnet Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card are no longer available through CreditCards.com.
A Guide to Finding the Best Credit Card Offer for You
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.
The Best Credit Cards of May 2021
Cardholders earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%); 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions; 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit; and 1% cash back on general purchases. For those who aren’t sure whether they spend enough at supermarkets to justify this card’s $95 annual fee (waived the first year), the Blue Cash Preferred has a little sister, the Blue Cash Everyday.
Ideal for: the frugal parent
If you’re new to the world of credit, you’ll probably want a card that’s both lucrative and easy to manage. The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card fits that bill, and it offers a nice sign-up bonus for new cardmembers ($200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months). However, if you’re looking for a flat-rate cash back card, you can find rates higher than 1.5%.
Ideal for: the new cardholder
While there are plenty of no annual fee cards on the market, this one also offers high rewards rates on everyday purchases. You’ll earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases each year, then 1%) and 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. However, its ongoing rewards don’t match that of the Blue Cash Preferred.
Ideal for: occasional shoppers
Best rotating category cash back credit card: Discover it® Cash Back
The flagship of the Discover it cards, the Discover it Cash Back rewards you with 5% cash back on rotating categories such as restaurants and gas stations up to $1,500 a quarter (quarterly activation required; 1% after maximum spend). That’s $75 earned a quarter if you hit the maximum spend, or $300 for the year. With this no annual fee card, Discover will match your cash back at the end of your first year, making that $300 into $600 back for the first year. Also, cardholders can get a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. Then it’s 11.99% to 22.99% variable, which is a super low starting rate if you qualify.
Ideal for: the shopping optimizer
The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card has a low regular APR of 13.99 percent to 23.99 percent (variable), but it also offers zero-percent intro APR for 15 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 60 days. The cash rewards are quite good, with a competitive sign-up bonus of $200 online cash rewards after a $1,000 spend within the first 90 days, as well as tiered rewards of 3% cash back on your choice of category and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter. It’s 1% after that.
Ideal for: the spender who wants it all
There’s a reason this card is a staple in the cash back market. Great rewards rates, an achievable sign-up bonus and its lack of an annual fee make it a solid pick for anyone, from credit card first-timers to rewards maximizers. Cardholders earn cash back on every purchase: 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022); 3% on drugstores and dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery); and 1.5% on everything else. Plus, if you spend $500 within the first 3 months of opening an account, you’ll receive a $200 bonus.
Ideal for: the everyday cash back seeker
This card possesses one of the best flat-rate cash back offers. Earn 1% back when you purchase, then earn another 1% back as you pay for the item. That’s a better rate than many other cash back cards with no annual fee. The Citi Double Cash offers a generous 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months (then it’s 13.99% to 23.99% variable). There’s no 0% intro APR on purchases, however.
Ideal for: the shopper who wants options
Get a 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers completed within the first 4 months, which is one of the longest offers in the industry (it’s 14.74% to 24.74% variable after that). In addition, get a 0% intro APR on new purchases for 18 months (it’s 14.74% to 24.74% variable after that). Sadly, the Citi Diamond Preferred doesn’t offer cash back, points or miles, including no sign-up bonus. That limits your options once the 0% intro APR offers end.
Ideal for: the consumer paying down debt
The Capital One Venture Rewards has a competitive base rewards program: Cardholders earn 2X miles on every purchase. It also features a unique tiered sign-up bonus: Cardholders can earn 100,000 bonus miles when they spend $20,000 in the first 12 months or they can earn 50,000 bonus miles after a $3,000 spend in the first 3 months. Cardholders also receive up to $100 credit on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. The annual fee of $95 is not waived the first year.
Ideal for: the traveler looking for options
With no blackout dates and no expiration on points, the American Express Gold Card is a card with tremendous flexibility. It also offers excellent base rewards and a number of annual credits. The annual fee of $250 may not be what you were hoping for, but you’ll want to weigh the advantages, such as a $100 activity credit on vacation packages over $3,000 booked through American Express Travel, up to $120 dining credit at GrubHub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations (up to $10 monthly statement credits, enrollment required) and up to a $100 Hotel Collection credit for on-site charges.
Ideal for: the flexible traveler
Cardholders earn 2% cash back on all eligible purchases up to $50,000 each calendar year, then it’s 1% cash back. The cash back you earn is automatically credited to your statement. You also have the opportunity to spend beyond your credit limit with Expanded Buying Power. The American Express Blue Business Cash Card offers a 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases, then it’s 13.24% to 19.24% variable, which is quite low for a regular APR rate. Also, this card has no annual fee. Like most other business credit cards, this card doesn’t have a 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers.
Ideal for: the solopreneur
In addition to unusually strong rewards, the Discover it Student Cash Back offers a $20 statement credit for up to the next 5 years when you get at least a 3.0 GPA. This card is also light on fees, including no annual fee. Like the Discover it® Cash Back, this card gives you 5% cash back on rotating categories for up to $1,500 spend each quarter (quarterly activation required; 1% after maximum spend). In addition, Discover will match your cash back at the end of your first year.
Ideal for: the consumer looking for college-related perks
The problem with many starter credit cards is a combination of high fees and low credit limits. That’s why the Secured Mastercard from Capital One is a great choice – there’s no annual fee and the credit limit can be anywhere between $200 and $1,000, depending on how much you provide as a security deposit.
Ideal for: the credit builder
Cardholders earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening an account. The plethora of perks, credits and rewards that come with the Chase Sapphire Reserve are sure to please the luxury traveler. A $300 annual travel credit, access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit are just a few of the added perks cardholders can enjoy. The $550 annual fee is steep, although those who often travel and like to do so in style will get that value and more.
Ideal for: the big spender – and rewards seeker
Cardholders earn 2X miles on Delta purchases, but you don’t have to be a frequent traveler to rack up airline miles. You can also earn 2X miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, as well as at U.S. supermarkets. Plus, Delta Skymiles are more valuable than the average airline mile – we estimate Delta Skymiles are worth 1.2 cents per mile. Complementing the far-reaching rewards structure is a long list of perks and benefits including priority boarding, purchase protection and your first checked bag for free on Delta flights. The introductory bonus is strong for the required spend – earn 40,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months and earn up to $50 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first 3 months of membership. There’s a $99 annual fee, although it’s waived the first year.
Ideal for: the globetrotter
The process of rebuilding credit can be daunting. However, this card’s features include the ability to choose your own payment date and set custom credit limit alerts, making it a bit easier to stick to your goals. You’ll also have free online access to your Experian credit score, making it easier to track your progress. Eligible essentials like gas, groceries, and phone and cable bills earn 1% cash back. There is an annual fee, however; cardholders will pay $0 to $95 in the first year and $0 to $99 after that, depending on their creditworthiness.
Ideal for: the consumer looking to rebuild credit
The current introductory bonus is double what it previously was: Earn a whopping 70,000 Membership Rewards after you spend $10,000 in eligible purchases with your card in the first three months of card membership. You can redeem those points in a variety of ways, including booking travel on the American Express website or transferring your points to one of American Express’s many airline transfer partners. On the other hand, the $295 annual fee is more expensive than most. Be sure that the card’s bonus categories match your expenses well enough to make up that cost each year.
Ideal for: the business traveler
How 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. Continue reading for expert information on credit cards so that you can be prepared to make the best decision for your financial goals.
The Most Popular Credit Cards
The reasons why you choose a credit card can vary widely. But whether you want a cash back card or travel perks, we all want a quality product. Well, J.D. Power comes through every year with its J.D. Power U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Survey, designed to tell us where each of the national credit card issuers stand with customers.
In 2020, American Express led the national credit card issuers, with Discover as a close second. At the bottom were U.S. Bank and Credit One Bank, with scores of 786 and 739 respectively. Here are the top 7:
|Credit Card Issuer||Satisfaction Score|
|Bank of America||812|
Source: J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Survey
The Best Time to Apply for a Credit Card
If you go strictly by the calendar, more people prefer to apply for new credit cards late in the year when holiday shopping gears up and juicy sign-up bonuses appear. In fact, new data from Equifax show new credit card account originations spiking during the holiday shopping season. For instance, nearly 966,000 private credit card accounts originated during the week ending on Nov. 29. 2020 (the Black Friday shopping weekend), compared to just 202,000 during the week ending on March 14, 2021.
But what if your circumstances aren’t tied to the calendar and you have other reasons for getting a new card? Figuring out when to apply for a credit card depends on several factors, some that are within your control and others that are entirely external.
Questions to consider before applying for a credit card
What’s your current credit status?
Have you applied for any other lines of credit recently (mortgage, car loan, etc.) and do you expect to seek them out in the near future? Credit applications that trigger hard inquiries on your credit report will temporarily lower your credit score. A credit card that offers pre-qualification without a hard inquiry can help you gauge your chances of approval, but the actual application would still affect your credit in the short term. The best time to apply for a credit card might be when you have no immediate plans for taking out other credit lines.
What kinds of offers are available?
A generous sign-up bonus offering travel miles, loyalty points or cash back can provide a strong incentive to apply for a credit card. So can special promotions that become available as issuers respond to consumer preferences and economic trends. Just make sure the card fits your spending habits and makes sense as a long-term financial commitment. A big sign-up bonus coupled with a big annual fee could mean diminishing returns over the long haul.
How to Choose a Credit Card
You now understand how credit cards work and why they are important, but how do you choose one? Card issuers primarily look at your credit score and income to decide whether you should be granted the card you want, so a big first step in choosing a credit card involves checking your credit. That way, you know what cards you’re likely to qualify for.
Typically, the higher the score, the better the benefits and rewards, although good credit will get you access to the bulk of cards. If you are new to cards or are trying to improve your credit, there are also cards for you. (Our CardMatch tool can help you determine which cards you prequalify for without impacting your credit score.)
Types of cards to help with credit building
- No credit: These cards are a good choice if you have no credit history. Some of these cards offer rewards, but watch out for fees and high purchase APRs. Suggested card: Discover it® Secured Credit Card
- Bad credit: You can find a card that accepts bad credit with no annual fee, but many of these cards have one-off fees that you need to watch out for. The regular APR will almost certainly be high, although some offer rewards. Suggested card: Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
- Fair credit: If you are trying to improve your credit into the good or excellent category, a card that accepts fair or average credit is a good choice. There may be an annual fee, the purchase APR may be higher, and a 0% intro APR is unlikely. Suggested card: Credit One Bank® Platinum Rewards Visa
When you’re trying to select a credit card, there are a number of other moving parts, including rewards, fees, zero-percent intro APR offers, and more. Below, we look at the popular categories of credit cards to help you determine which one might be best for you.
How rewards credit cards work
A rewards credit card is one of the few payment methods that net you a return, usually in the form of points, miles or cash back, on your spending. The best rewards credit cards also offer ancillary benefits, like price protection, extended warranties, airport lounge access or certain travel insurance. Many rewards credit cards tout lucrative sign-up bonuses, which allow new cardholders to earn extra points, miles or cash back for spending a certain amount in a set time period, usually the first three months. Some of these benefits come at the expense of an annual fee, though there are quite a few rewards credit cards that don’t charge one.
Whether you’re looking to travel in 2021 or you would like to earn some cash back for your spending, there are myriad types of cards to choose from.
Types of cards for earning rewards
- Travel: General purpose travel cards are great for the traveler who craves flexibility. A few come with no annual fee, although the sign-up bonus on those can be lower. Benefits can include trip cancellation insurance and other features. Suggested card: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Co-branded: Co-branded cards can include joint ventures between card issuers and airlines, hotel brands, stores and even Amazon.com. You often earn boosted rewards when you shop with the brand. Suggested card: United℠ Explorer Card
- Cash back: There is a broad range of cash back cards, including flat-rate cards, rotating category cards and tiered category cash back cards, each with their own advantages. For example, the consumer who wants to earn rewards without thinking about which card to use would enjoy a flat-rate card, while the cardholder who is looking to maximize rewards might consider a tiered or rotating category card. Suggested card: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Bottom line: Do the math and make sure your choice of card will be used to its fullest potential. For example, if you aren’t loyal to a specific airline, why are you choosing an airline card?
How credit card fees work
When choosing a credit card, be mindful of common costs, such as annual fees, which are charged yearly for card membership, and foreign transaction fees, which are imposed when a card is used overseas. There can also be penalty APRs and late fees, too. These charges are generally incurred if you don’t make your monthly payments on time.
There are certain categories of credit cards that skip fees as a means to sweeten an offer.
Cards without certain fees
- No annual fee: If you are an occasional card user or just don’t like the idea of paying a fee each year for the honor of holding the card, take a look at cards with no annual fee. Keep in mind that some annual fee cards waive the fee the first year. Suggested card: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- No foreign transaction fee: Increasingly, travel cards waive these fees, and Discover and Capital One have long offered all of their products without a foreign transaction fee. These cards are ideal for overseas travel and making purchases that run through a foreign bank. Suggested card: Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Other fees: Some cards offer no late fee the first time and no penalty APR, such as the Discover cards, so check the card’s Schumer Box for these goodies. Suggested card: Discover it® chrome (Discover waives the first late fee, but it’s up to $40 after that.)
Bottom line: Not all fees should necessarily be avoided at all costs (and they probably can’t anyway). For example, if you are willing to pay an annual fee, you may get better benefits and rewards and actually come out ahead financially.
How zero interest or low interest credit cards work
Whether you have a large purchase coming up, a balance on an older card or you just have a habit of carrying your balance over to the next month, zero percent intro APR cards and low interest products can be good options. The zero percent intro APR cards typically offer that rate for 6 months to 18 months, while the low interest offers are usually ongoing.
- Purchases: These are excellent cards for when you face a large, upcoming purchase and you want to avoid paying interest for a period of time. Suggested card: American Express Cash Magnet® Card
- Balance transfers: These are ideal when you have debt on older cards and you want to pay them down while not paying interest for a period of time. Suggested card: Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
- Low interest: Low interest cards usually offer a range that is variable, but if you are a low risk, rock-bottom rates can be yours. For example, the Discover it cards’ rates are typically among the lowest of national brands. Suggested card: Discover it® Cash Back
Bottom line: Most cards’ regular interest rates are variable, and even if the card’s rate starts on the low end, you may be granted a higher rate for a number of reasons, including if you show yourself to be a credit risk.
How specialty credit cards work
There are other types of cards to choose from, such as cards that offer special features for the college student and cards that offer rewards specific to the consumer in business.
Business and student cards
- Student cards: These often offer competitive rewards, although a sign-up bonus is rare. Annual fees are a rarity, but credit limits are typically low, depending on your income. Suggested card: Discover it® Student Cash Back
- Business credit cards: These aren’t just for the owner of a business – the solopreneur or gig worker can also benefit. These cards are good for sorting out your personal expenses from your business expenses, and there’s a strong likelihood of rewards offered. Suggested card: American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card
Bottom line: Business cards aren’t required to offer the legal protections of consumer cards. Student cards are basically the same as their mainstream counterparts, but without the sign-up bonus or credit limit. That said, the features of a business card or student card may outweigh those considerations.
Read more: Comparing the types of credit cards
How Many Credit Cards You Should Have
While there’s no hard-and-fast rule as to how many credit cards you should have, it’s a good idea to hold onto at least two cards – each from a different card network and each offering a different type of rewards (cash back, travel rewards, etc.). This should make it easier to tailor your earnings to your spending patterns and enjoy greater variety and flexibility in how you redeem rewards.
Having two cards with different networks also increases the likelihood that you will have a card that will be accepted by a merchant. In some cases, you can also “stack” cards from a single issuer to get even more value out of your rewards. For example, you could pair the Chase Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card (which earns 1.5% cash back on every purchase) with a premium Chase card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (which gets you 2X points on travel and restaurant purchases). This allows you to convert the cash back from your Ink Business Unlimited card to Ultimate Rewards points and enjoy a 25% boost in point value when you redeem them for travel through the Chase travel portal.
Of course, if you’re still new to credit cards, you should stick to just one or two until you get used to them. If tracking your spending from quarter to quarter or swapping out cards between the gas station and grocery store sounds like more of a headache than it’s worth, a card that offers travel rewards or cash back at a flat rate on every purchase may be a better fit.
What’s Next: Applying for a Credit Card
Now that you have an idea of which card you’d like to pursue, it’s time to apply. Here’s how that works:
- Look for the card’s category at the top navigation bar of our site. (Hint: If you know the card issuer, you can just direct your attention to that page.) Alternatively, you can call the issuer.
- Click the bright blue button on the right of where your card is presented. This will direct you to the issuer’s site.
- Fill out the online application. You may be asked for your Social Security number, your residency status, citizenship and other personal details.
- You may be approved right then and there – yay! Or you may be told that a decision is coming. If you are rejected, you will get an answer to why in the mail in about 7-10 business days.
- Don’t apply for cards in quick succession, because it can harm your credit score for a period of time. Instead, be deliberate about your choice, and if you were rejected, understand why the first issuer made that decision. Then, look at cards that you have a greater chance of getting.
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 did 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. Learn more about picking the best credit card.