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The Best Credit Cards of May 2022: Rewards, Top Offers & Reviews

Written by: Jeanine Skowronski | Edited by: Tracy Stewart | Reviewed by: Jason Steele
|

May 19, 2022

Best Credit Cards of May 2022

Filter Cards by Category

  • All Categories
  • Rewards
  • Cash Back Match
  • Travel
  • Cash Back
  • No Annual Fee
  • Unlimited cash back
  • More
  • Unlimited miles
  • Everyday Cash Rewards
  • Automatically Maximizing Cash Back
  • Starter Credit Card
  • Dining Rewards
  • Zero Interest
  • Sign-Up Bonus
  • Balance Transfer
  • No Credit
  • Student
  • Business
BEST FOR CASH BACK MATCH
Discover it® 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

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%
Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

At A Glance

Intro offer
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
12.24% - 23.24% variable
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 Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
2X
Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro offer
75,000 miles New Venture cardholders can earn 75,000 miles once they spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
16.24% - 24.24% 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 flat-rate and bonus cash back
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Our rating:4.8 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.

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%
Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more;
3%
3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
1.5%
1.5% on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro offer
Earn an Additional 1.5% Cash Back Intro Offer: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.24% - 23.99% variable
Best for frugal families
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Our rating:3.3 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.
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.
1%
1% Cash Back on other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro offer
$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
14.74% - 24.74% variable
BEST FOR UNLIMITED + EVERYDAY REWARDS IN POPULAR CATEGORIES
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:4.4 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.

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

8%
Earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and tickets at Vivid Seats
5%
Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
3%
Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).
1%
Earn 1% on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro offer
$200 Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.24% - 25.24% 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 UNLIMITED MILES ON PURCHASES
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:4.4 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.

Recommended credit

740-850 (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

10X
Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X
5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X
Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro offer
75,000 miles Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
Annual fee
$395
Regular APR
17.24% - 24.24% 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 EVERYDAY CASH REWARDS
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Our rating:3.6 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 offer
$200 cash rewards Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.74%, 20.74%, or 25.74% Variable APR
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:4.0 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.

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 offer
$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
14.74% - 24.74% 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 first-time rewards credit card
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:3.2 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

5%
Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
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
15.24% - 25.24% 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:4.3 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.
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, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
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 offer
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 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 offer
No current offer
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.24% - 25.24% 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:4.6 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
5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
3x
3x on dining.
2x
2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.

At A Glance

Intro offer
80,000 points Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% variable
BEST FOR BALANCE TRANSFERS + HIGH-VALUE REWARDS CATEGORIES
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 offer
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
12.24% - 23.24% variable
BEST SECURED CREDIT CARD

Editor's Pick

Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
Our rating:3.5 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

(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 offer
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
13.24% - 22.24% variable
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 offer
$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
13.99% - 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.

Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.


Comparing the best credit cards

Credit cardBest forAnnual feeCreditCards.com Rating
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressRewards$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $954.0 / 5
Discover it® Cash BackCash back match$04.1 / 5
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardTravel$954.1 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Attainable bonus + high-value spend categories$04.8 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressFrugal families$03.3 / 5
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit CardUnlimited + everyday rewards in popular categories$04.4 / 5
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit CardUnlimited miles on purchases$3954.4 / 5
Wells Fargo Active Cash® CardEveryday cash rewards$03.6 / 5
Citi Custom Cash℠ CardAutomatically maximizing rewards$04.0 / 5
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit CardFlexible rewards for first-timers$03.1 / 5
American Express® Gold CardFoodies$2504.3 / 5
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum CardLong 0% intro APR$04.2 / 5
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardGenerous sign-up bonus$954.6 / 5
Discover it® Balance TransferBalance transfers + high-value rewards categories$04.5 / 5
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit CardSecured$04.2 / 5
Discover it® Student Cash BackStudents$04.1 / 5
American Express Blue Business Cash™ CardBusiness$04.3 / 5

best credit cards 2022

Editor’s picks: A closer look at top-rated credit cards

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

  • Best features: In addition to its solid base rewards, the Blue Cash Preferred touts a long(ish) 12-month 0% introductory APR on new purchases (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR), 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).
  • Biggest drawbacks: There are a few caveats attached to the bonus rewards – namely the $6,000 cap on U.S. supermarket purchases (then 1%) 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.
  • Alternatives: Families who spend less than $3,200 at U.S. supermarkets annually 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.
  • Bottom line: Families who spend $3,200 or more at U.S. supermarkets yearly will recoup the $95 annual fee, plus some – and likely come out ahead in the long term, given the card’s additional rewards categories.

Related: What credit score is needed for the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card?

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

Best for cash back match: Discover it® Cash Back

  • Best features: At the end of your first year of card membership, Discover will match the cash back you’ve earned, which can be incredibly valuable even for those who tend to spend conservatively. Rewards rates are high on bonus categories and the intro APR on balance transfers is ideal for tackling existing card debt.
  • Biggest drawbacks: 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.
  • Alternatives: If bonus categories aren’t your bag, the Citi Double Cash card is an excellent flat rate cash back card that charges no annual fee.
  • Bottom line: This card’s high rewards rate is sure to please anyone willing to plot out rotating categories in advance, and 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.

Related: Discover it Cash Back rewards and benefits guide

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

Best travel credit card: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Best features: The Venture Rewards credit card currently touts a sweet sign-up bonus. Cardholders can earn 75,000 bonus miles if they spend $4,000 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.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The biggest drawback is Capital One’s relatively thin list of transfer partners, which, most notably, doesn’t include a major U.S. airline.
  • Alternatives: Luxury travelers may be better served by a premium travel card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card® from American Express.
  • Bottom line: 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.

Related: Is the Capital One Venture Rewards card worth it?

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

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

  • Best features: The Freedom Unlimited also features a unique yet generous sign-up bonus: cardholders earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). It also touts a 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers (then 15.24% to 23.99% variable).
  • Biggest drawbacks: Frequent travelers may not be thrilled about the 3% foreign transaction fee.
  • Alternatives: 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. You also could potentially earn more, at least in the long term, with the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers a full 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you spend; 1% as you pay that spend down).
  • Bottom line: 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 certain accounts.

Related: Is the Chase Freedom Unlimited worth it?

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

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

  • Best features: 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. 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 14.74% to 24.74% variable).
  • Biggest drawbacks: The bonus rewards are less generous than the Blue Cash Preferred, 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.)
  • Alternatives: If your family spends more than $3,200 a year, you’re probably better off springing for the Blue Cash Preferred.
  • Bottom line: 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.

Related: Is the American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card worth it?

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

Best for unlimited + everyday rewards in popular categories: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Best features: On top of its excellent rewards earning potential, the SavorOne comes with a $200 sign-up bonus after spending $500 in the first three months of account opening. People who have high-interest credit card debt or want time to pay off upcoming purchases will enjoy the 15-month 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers and purchases (15.24% to 25.24% variable rate applies afterwards).
  • Biggest drawbacks: There’s not a whole lot to complain about with the SavorOne card, though cardmembers should take note of the 3% fee that applies to balance transfers.
  • Alternatives: If your monthly spending doesn’t align with the SavorOne’s spending categories, a flat rate card like the Citi Double Cash Card may be a better option. You’ll earn 1 percent cash back on every purchase, plus another 1 percent cash back as you pay for those purchases.
  • Bottom line: From the on-the-go millennial to families on a budget, you’ll all enjoy the value this no annual fee card brings with its unlimited 3% rewards in popular spending categories. And if you have a card that gives you higher rewards but comes with spending caps, you’ll be glad you have the SavorOne and its unlimited earnings as backup in your wallet.

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

Best for unlimited miles on purchases: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

  • Best features: The newest edition to the Venture family features plenty of perks, including unlimited miles on purchases. When you book through Capital One Travel, you’ll earn 10X miles on hotels and rental cars as well as 5X miles on flights. All other purchases earn an impressive 2X miles. Capital One tops this off with a welcome offer of 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
  • Biggest drawbacks: On top of its $395 annual fee, you’ll have to spend $4,000 within six months of account opening to earn the 75,000 bonus miles. This could be a big ask for anyone who doesn’t have any big trips planned or people who don’t use their credit card regularly.
  • Alternatives: Lounge lovers may prefer The Platinum Card® from American Express which offers broader airport lounge access as well as a larger network of transfer partners.
  • Bottom line: The Venture X is a great option for anyone looking to experience the perks of premier travel rewards cards. Frequent travelers who use their credit card often will be able to take advantage of the Venture X’s generous and unlimited earning potential, which will help offset the annual fee.

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

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

  • Best features: Rewards are widespread and never expire so long as your account remains in good standing. The card also charges a $0 annual fee. Card perks also include Visa Signature Concierge benefits at select hotel properties worldwide and up to $600 in cellphone protection for covered damaged or stolen equipment (deductible applies).
  • Biggest drawbacks: 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 for 15 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers must be made within the first 120 days from account opening to receive the special intro rate (15.74%, 20.74% or 25.74% variable APR thereafter). There’s also an intro balance transfer fee of 3% if you transfer the balance within 120 days; up to 5% if you don’t (with a $5 minimum).
  • Alternatives: The Citi Custom Cash Card provides a little more flexibility for those who focus most of their spending on categories like gas stations, grocery stores, and dining.
  • Bottom line: This card can be quite beneficial to those looking to be rewarded for everyday purchases. However, individuals who mainly spend 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.

Best for automatically maximizing rewards: Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

  • Best features: 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, 14.74% to 24.74% variable).
  • Biggest drawbacks: 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 rotating categories each quarter, then 1%, activation required.) The balance transfer fee is steep: 5% of the transferred balance or $5, whichever is greater.
  • Alternatives: The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express lets you earn hefty rewards in multiple categories simultaneously, which could give you more in the long term, depending on your spending habits.
  • Bottom line: 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.

Related: Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it?

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

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

  • Best features: 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, 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.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The card offers a decent 1.5% cash back on all purchases, but that’s still not exactly best-in-class for flat-rate cash back credit cards.
  • Alternatives: 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). You might also 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.
  • Bottom line: 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.

Related: Guide to Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards benefits

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

Best credit card for foodies: American Express® Gold Card

  • Best features: 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 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. Plus it 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.
  • Biggest drawbacks: While you can recoup the $250 annual fee 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.
  • Alternatives: At $95, the Citi Premier® Card offers a much lower annual fee plus three ThankYou points for every dollar spent at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, as well as on air travel and hotels.
  • Bottom line: People with good to excellent credit who are looking for a best-in-class card for food purchases will find themselves richly rewarded by the Amex Gold.

Related: What credit score is needed for the American Express Gold card?

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

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

  • Best features: 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. In addition to being a no-annual-fee credit card, there’s also an intro 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles (then 15.24% to 25.24%, variable).
  • Biggest drawbacks: Beyond the impressive intro APR period, this card doesn’t come with many other perks to help give it long-term value.
  • Alternatives: 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. For that, the Discover it Cash Back may be more your speed.
  • Bottom line: When life throws unexpected expenses or high-interest debt at you, the intro APR that comes with the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card gives you the much-needed time to get your finances in order.

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

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

  • Best features: Cardholders earn a generous 80,000 points if they spend $4,000 in their first three months, an offer worth $1,000 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Additionally, 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. Plus it charges no foreign transaction fees.
  • Biggest drawbacks: 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.)
  • Alternatives: Fancy flyers may prefer the Chase Sapphire Reserve which comes with high-end perks as well as a $300 annual travel credit.
  • Bottom line: 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.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits guide

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

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

  • Best features: 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.
  • Biggest drawbacks: If you want to finance a large purchase, new cardmembers only have six months of the 0% intro APR on purchases (then 12.24% to 23.24% variable APR).
  • Alternatives: If you don’t like the hassle of enrolling in quarterly categories to earn the card’s maximum rewards value, you’ll be better off with a flat-rate cash back credit card like the Citi Double Cash Card.
  • Bottom line: If you have high-interest debt, this credit card could give you an introductory 18 months of interest-free payments on balance transfers (then 12.24% to 23.24%, variable). For those who need more time and have excellent credit, the low-interest payments will still help you come out ahead.

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

Best secured credit card: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

  • Best features: 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.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The card’s 26.99% variable 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.
  • Alternatives: Credit newbies, students or even people with fair credit can also conceivably qualify for a non-secured credit card like the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It requires no security deposit, offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and charges a $39 annual fee.
  • Bottom line: 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.

Related: Capital One Platinum Secured credit card benefits guide

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

Best student credit card: Discover it® Student Cash Back

  • Best features: 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.
  • Biggest drawbacks: 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.
  • Alternatives: 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.
  • Bottom line: Students who want to earn rewards and enjoy beginner-friendly benefits are a great match for this well-rounded cash back credit card.

Related: Is the Discover it Student Cash Back card worth it?

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

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

  • Best features: 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. 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 13.99% to 21.99% variable).
  • Biggest drawbacks: As we mentioned, there’s that $50,000-in-purchases cap on the 2% cash back rate (then 1%).
  • Alternatives: If you routinely spend over $50,000 a year, you could come out ahead with a different business credit card, like 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.
  • Bottom line: 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.

Read our full American Express Blue Business Cash Card 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. Essentially, this is how credit cards work:

  • When you want to make a purchase, you present your credit card or account number to the merchant who will then run the transaction.
  • You’ll receive 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 often 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. More recently, some credit scores even take into account your apartment rental payment history, which can be a huge boon to your overall credit profile.

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. VantageScore, created by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, is another widely used indicator of creditworthiness and uses a similar range to FICO. In both cases, the lender operates under the assumption that those with a higher credit score pose less risk.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can request your credit score for free once every year. It’s a good idea to know your score and review your credit report to look for mistakes, which happen more than you might think. An error on your credit report can drag down your score and prevent you from being approved for credit cards, loans, apartments, and more. If you do find a mistake, you can dispute it and possibly have the error removed from your credit report.

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

It can be hard to find the right credit card among thousands of options, but you can narrow down your selection by knowing which credit card types are available. Credit cards can range from a simple no-frills card to a more sophisticated credit card with a lot of perks, so to choose the right one you’ll have to take into account your spending habits, your credit history, and your desired benefits. To help you choose the best credit card for your needs, we’ll detail a few credit card types and their features.

Benefits of having a credit card

When used responsibly, a credit card has endless advantages, such as the ability to earn rewards, handle emergencies and build credit. The four most useful benefits of using a credit card are:

  • Credit building. Because debit card use doesn’t appear on your credit record, they cannot help you build or improve your credit score. The responsible usage of a credit card can help you build credit since your credit card issuer will report your transaction activity to credit bureaus. This is especially helpful if you have no credit history or wish to improve your credit score. A deposit may be required to obtain a secured credit card, however, this can help you build credit history and qualify for an unsecured card in the future. You can also improve your credit score by maintaining a track record of on-time payments and minimal credit use.
  • Access to card membership perks. Using certain credit cards wisely, you can have the opportunity to choose from a wide array of discounts, cash back or rewards (depending on your purchases), which is one of the key advantages of having a credit card. Furthermore, your credit card may offer benefits that can save you money the next time you travel. If you use rental cars frequently, auto collision damage waiver coverage may come in handy. There are travel credit cards that offer perks like access to airport lounges. Some credit cards even provide travel statement credits to offset unexpected airline surcharges. Additional benefits could include baggage delay insurance, trip cancellation or interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, free checked baggage and other travel perks.
  • Protection against fraud. Credit cards are far more secure than debit cards since they are not tied to your bank account. Many credit cards include some form of fraud protection, which means that if your card is stolen and someone makes large transactions with it, you will not be held liable. Cardholders are covered under the Fair Credit Building Act (FCBA) in the case of fraudulent credit card transactions, so if you fear your card has been lost or stolen, or if you notice strange charges, your credit card issuer will most likely cancel your card and cover the fraudulent charges.
  • The convenience of paying off purchases over time. When shopping online, credit cards are a much more convenient and safe payment choice than debit cards, which are more susceptible to fraud. Credit cards also allow you to make a purchase and repay the balance at a later date. Your credit card provider issues you a statement detailing exactly how much you spent on each transaction made with your card, and most issuers also offer a grace period during which you will not be charged interest. A credit card balance, regardless of how small, is almost always subjected to interest charges, unless you’re taking advantage of an 0% intro APR credit card.

How to choose a credit card

You now understand how credit cards work and why they are important, but how do you choose one? Credit card fees can also greatly impact your selection along with whatever perks are offered, but finding your ideal card is a much more complex process. Your choice of credit card should be one that fits not only your credit score but also your spending habits and financial goals.

As you narrow down your choices, we recommend asking yourself the following questions:

  • 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.

How to compare 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 may have to choose one or the other. For further comparison, check out our compare credit cards tool to see what card is best for you.

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 can avoid paying credit card fees altogether, you could keep them to a minimum with certain cards, but it may mean losing out on extra perks and benefits. For example, if you’re looking to skip annual fees, there are $0 annual fee credit cards to choose from, but cards with annual fees (ranging from $35 to as much as $699) typically offer better perks and consumer protections. Whether annual fees are worth it or not depends on how much use you’ll get out of your card’s benefits, which is why it’s important to find a card that matches your lifestyle.
  • 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’ll 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 cardholders. These bonuses are often given in the form of points or cash after the new cardholder 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 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 apply for a credit card. The application process is fairly standard, as you can apply by mail or online directly through the issuer’s site. You can also apply through your financial institution if you like the card’s offerings. Chances are you’ll receive more favorable terms as an existing client. Assuming your account history has remained relatively unblemished, your bank may be willing to approve you for cards you may not be able to get elsewhere. When applying, you’ll be asked to provide basic personal information such as name, address, SSN and annual income as well as a list of current financial obligations such as your monthly housing costs or auto loan payments. When calculating your income, you may include money earned outside of work such as any government benefits or passive income.
  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.

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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