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A Guide to Finding the Best Credit Card Offer for You
The credit cards in your wallet are some of the most important financial tools in your life. You might be on the hunt for the perfect balance transfer offer to help you pay off your holiday spending. Or you could have your eye out for the right travel card offer in preparation for that ski trip in the Wasatch Mountains.
Remarkably, we found in our August 2019 survey that 55% of U.S. consumers either don’t know the last time they shopped for a new credit card or that it’s been more than 3 years. “You have to know yourself, and if you value simplicity, that’s fine too. Just make sure to re-evaluate your strategy often because the best deals are always changing,” says Ted Rossman, CreditCards.com industry analyst.
With offers frequently changing, it can be tough to wrap your head around all of the available options. Or you may be new to credit cards. Well, we’re all over it for you. At CreditCards.com, we’ve compiled thousands of hours of research to help you find the best credit cards of 2020 across the most popular categories. Check this page regularly for the latest information on the best credit cards and how they compare to the field – we update it almost every day!
What are credit cards?
A credit card is a lending product that allows you to borrow and then pay the debt back over time. Called revolving credit, credit cards don’t have to be paid by a certain time, but they are best for short-term debt, because the interest rates are typically considerably higher than those of installment loans such as mortgages and car loans.
5 primary reasons why you’d want to consider getting a credit card
- Earn rewards
- Consolidate debt
- Avoid interest for a promotional period of time
- Build credit
How credit cards work
Here’s how a credit card works: The card issuer (typically a bank) either partners with a network (Visa and Mastercard) or doubles as the issuer and network (American Express and Discover). You can use your card at any merchant that accepts the card’s network, which is considerable in the U.S. Each month, you receive a bill from the issuer for the charges of the previous month and you have the option of paying a minimum, in full or somewhere in between.
Ideally, you want to pay a credit card off in full each month because the interest charges accumulate pretty quickly. That means it’s best not to borrow unless you have a firm plan to pay it back. Paying in full each month also benefits your credit score.
Credit cards are not to be confused with debit cards or prepaid cards. While credit cards are an effective way to build credit, the same is not true with debit and prepaid cards. A debit card is attached to a checking or savings account, while a prepaid card has money “loaded” on to it. Therefore, debit and prepaid cards do not lend you money.
Which type of credit card is best for you?
Whether your goal is earning rewards, paying down or consolidating debt, or building credit, credit cards can offer any number of financial solutions. It’s simply a matter of knowing which card would best serve your needs now. Here, we look at the different types of cards and who they best serve.
Our July 2019 poll on rewards cards found that 49% of U.S. consumers have at least one cash back rewards card. Gas, retail, airline, hotel, general travel and business cards were also popular. Not only do you have to decide what type of credit card you want and whether you want to earn cash back or points, you’ll have to think through how much effort you’re willing to put into earning those rewards. See a full list of Best Rewards Credit Cards.
Cash back cards come in a variety of flavors, including rotating categories, tiered categories and flat-rate cards. At the top of the list of categories are groceries, gas, and dining out and transit. (BTW, we found in our analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2019 data that groceries, gas, and dining out and transit top the spending list of Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., in that order.) See a full list of the Best Cash Back Credit Cards.
- The angler: Consider a credit card with rotating categories if you are interested in maximizing your rewards and are willing to think strategically about your spending.
- The consumer on the go: Consider a flat-rate cash back card if you are a shopper who doesn’t want to think about which card to pull out at the counter.
- The mom or dad: Choose a tiered cash back card if you are interested in maximizing your spending on specific categories such as groceries, gas and other everyday spending.
These credit cards reward with points or miles, potentially saving you money in the hundreds of dollars. You can redeem for all sorts of travel, often including cruises and car rentals. See a full list of the Best Travel Credit Cards.
- The flexible traveler: Choose a general travel card if you like the idea of flexibility in making your travel plans.
- The airline loyalist: Choose a co-branded airline credit card if you find yourself turning to a specific airline for your travel needs. See a full list of the Best Airline Credit Cards.
- The hotel brand loyalist: Turn to a co-branded hotel credit card if you favor a particular hotel brand. See a full list of the Best Hotel Credit Cards.
0% intro APR
If you think you’ll have to carry a balance, your card’s APR will be a critical factor to consider. A card with an introductory APR on new purchases can be a perfect fit should you need to finance a large purchase over time.
- The avoider of interest: Opt for a 0% intro APR credit card if you have plans to make a large purchase and want to avoid interest charges. See a full list of the Best 0% APR Credit Cards.
If you’re carrying debt on another credit card and are looking for a way to hit pause on mounting interest charges, see if the card you’re considering offers an introductory APR on balance transfers. This could give you a chance to move your balance to your new card and chip away at your debt while paying little to no interest for a year or more. Just be sure you have a good sense of how intro APRs work before you sign up.
You should also try out our balance transfer calculator to see how much you’ll need to contribute each month to pay off your balance before the introductory period ends.
- The consolidator: Consider a balance transfer card if you want to consolidate debt and avoid paying interest charges for up to 21 months. See a full list of the Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards.
If you can’t qualify for a balance transfer or card with an intro APR, or if you want to avoid opening up a new credit card, be sure to use a debt payoff calculator to see just how much paying credit card interest could cost you over time and figure out a monthly payment plan to tackle your debt.
Whether you’re totally new to credit and looking to build up a solid credit history or are trying to recover from past mistakes, credit cards can be a big help. Luckily, nearly all credit cards report to the three major credit bureaus and can help you build or improve your credit if you use them responsibly.
Your first stop when choosing a credit card is checking your score, because there’s no point in hankering for a travel card when your credit is in the fair category or below. Here are what the fair, bad, no credit and secured card categories mean for you.
- The toe-dipper: Consider a card that accepts fair credit if you are looking to experiment with rewards but you don’t have the best of credit. See a full list of the Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit.
- The beginner: Look into a card that accepts bad or no credit if you have poor or weak credit and are looking to improve your score so that you can get a rewards card or take out a mortgage. See a full list of the Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit and Best Credit Cards for No Credit.
- The planner: A secured credit card is a good choice if you need to build credit and you don’t have other options. See a full list of the Best Secured Credit Cards.
Student cards are similar to other credit cards. In fact, any qualifying consumer can get one.
- The smart student: If you are looking to build credit or like the special features that student credit cards sometimes offer, student credit cards are a possibility. See a full list of the Best Student Credit Cards.
While business credit cards don’t have the protections of consumer credit cards, they are similar in how they work.
- The savvy business owner: Look into a business credit card if you are looking to build your business credit, you have business expenditures that you’d like to track, or you need help with cash flow. See a full list of the Best Business Credit Cards.
How to choose the best credit card offer
Yes, it’s tough to pick the right card for your needs, but we’ve made it easier with this checklist of action items.
- Choose your card type – At some point, you need to make a call on what you want from your new card. Are you looking for rewards, 0% intro APR, building credit?
- Check the credit requirements – Typically the best credit cards require good or excellent credit (for FICO, that’s 670 points or better). While applying for a card only temporarily impacts your credit score by only 5-10 points, applying for multiple cards at once can cause you to take a temporary hit, so only apply for one card at a time.
- Evaluate the fees – Many card types have late payment fees and cash advance fees, and cards that allow poor credit often have hidden fees such as charges for getting a new card or documentation fees. We looked at 100 sample cards recently to understand what these fees can look like. In 2018 we found that, 47 cards have such fees as “overdraft protection/overdraft protection cash advance” (20 cards) and “returned check” (14 cards). Then there are the weird ones, like “account re-opening” (9 cards) and documentation fee (2 cards). There are also a few standard fees to be aware of:
- Annual fee? An annual fee is not necessarily a bad thing, but you should be mindful of them. For example travel cards often have them, while cash back cards and 0% intro APR cards typically don’t. Set against getting a card with an annual fee? Check out our no annual fee cards.
- Foreign transaction fee? Most travel cards waive this fee, but you’ll need to check at our no foreign transaction fee page. Other card types are more likely to include this fee, including cash back, 0% intro APR and credit builder cards.
- Balance transfer fee? Most balance transfer cards have a balance transfer fee, but there are a few cards with no balance transfer fee. Also, we have found that it is possible to negotiate a reduction in your balance transfer fee.
- Know the interest rates – While in theory you want to avoid interest charges by paying in full and on time each month, sometimes that just isn’t possible. So make sure you are clear about your interest rate, and take a look at our cards that offer low interest.
- Check the sign-up bonus – Most rewards cards offer a sign-up bonus, which is a great way to start your card membership, provided you don’t spend more than you can afford to meet the required spend. Also, you’ll want to make sure you’ll be earning enough rewards that second year to justify any annual fee.
How to compare two credit card offers
Here is we put it all together by comparing 2 cards in the first year of card membership, one with an annual fee and one without:
||Capital One Venture Rewards
||Capital One VentureOne Rewards
||Good to excellent
||Good to excellent
|0% intro APR:
||12 months on purchases
||17.24% – 24.49% Variable
||14.49% – 24.49% Variable
|Foreign transaction fee:
||Spend $3,000 in 3 mths,
|Spend $1,000 in 3 mths,
||2X miles X $1,000/mth =
|1.25X miles x $1,000/mth =
|First Year Net Value
||$500 + $240 – $95 =
|$200 + $150 =
As you can see, Venture Rewards leads the way the first year. However, in the second year, that can change. If you are spending $1,000 a month on the Venture Rewards, you will earn $145 after paying the annual fee (24,000 becomes $240, then minus $95 makes it $145). With the VentureOne, $1,000 a month spent becomes 15,000 miles, which is worth $150. You’ll notice that if you aren’t a heavy spender, the VentureOne is a better choice.
Benefits of using credit cards
Along with the chance to build credit, score sign-up bonuses and earn ongoing rewards, credit cards can offer a number of useful benefits for frequent travelers and shoppers, including perks like travel insurance, retail protections and even early access to exclusive concert tickets.
Here are some common credit card benefits:
- Auto rental insurance could cover the cost of damage or theft of your rental car, as well as related towing expenses and other fees. Even if your card only offers secondary coverage, you may be reimbursed for your personal auto insurance deductible and other costs not covered by your policy.
- Extended warranty protection can extend a manufacturer’s warranty by 1-2 years on products you buy with your credit card. According to Consumer Reports, retailers charge an average of $126 for an extended warranty on a large appliance, so this is no small bonus.
- Travel accident insurance is essentially a form of life insurance that can provide a large payout should you be seriously injured or killed during a trip you paid for with your card. There are also trip cancellation and interruption insurance, which, as you can guess, cover you should your trip be cancelled or interrupted due to things like illness, injury and severe weather. While travel insurance is a perk you’ll hopefully never have to use, it can give frequent travelers and their families some peace of mind.
- Purchase protection covers you should an item you purchased with your card be damaged, lost or stolen. You typically have around 90 days to make a claim in order to get reimbursed for the item or get a replacement or repair. Some cards also include special cellphone protection that covers you should your phone be stolen or damaged.
- Price protection lets you claim partial refunds for items you purchase with your card that drop in price soon after. This can be especially useful if your favorite store doesn’t offer a price match or price adjustment guarantee.
- Lost luggage reimbursement is exactly what it sounds like: If your checked or carry-on luggage is lost or otherwise goes missing due to a mistake by your travel carrier, you’ll be reimbursed for the cost of your lost items. Some cards also offer baggage delay insurance, which covers emergency purchases made as a result of your luggage being delayed.
- Concierge service is available with many luxury travel credit cards and can help you locate hard-to-find gifts and tickets, make dinner reservations or even plan a vacation. Though this perk is often overlooked, concierge service could be a big help if you’re pressed for time or looking for some guidance as you plan your next trip.
- Roadside assistance can be a lifesaver if you get stuck with a flat tire, empty tank or dead battery, especially if you don’t have access to AAA or a similar service. Credit card roadside assistance benefits typically require you to cover the cost of the service requested or pay a flat fee for service, but some premium cards get you free assistance a few times per year.
- Free credit scores are an invaluable perk not only for credit-builders and first-timers looking for a starter card, but also for anyone curious about where their credit stands. The free credit score offered via your card will typically use either the FICO or VantageScore credit scoring model.
How many credit cards should you 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 issuer and each offering a different type of rewards (cash back, travel rewards, etc.). This should make it easier to tailor your earning to your spending patterns and enjoy greater variety and flexibility in how you redeem rewards.
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 UnlimitedSM 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 2 points per dollar on travel and restaurant purchases). This would allow you to could convert the cash back from your Ink Business UnlimitedSM 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 using them, and 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.
Details on the best credit card issuers
Some of the top card issuers include Discover, American Express, Capital One and Chase. They make the call on whether you are a low enough credit risk to qualify for the card you want.
While issuers are pretty much the same in terms of your relationship with them, they can vary widely according to what they offer the cardholder. Here are special offerings from some of the top card issuers:
Discover: This issuer has among the best security features, including Social Security number alerts, which tell you if your SSN is found on a Dark Web site. Also, Discover can alert you if a new lending product has shown up on your Experian credit report.
American Express: Increasingly card issuers are eschewing travel and purchase benefits for financial reasons and lack of popularity. Not so with American Express, which continues to offer such benefits for eligible cards as price protection, extended warranty, baggage insurance and travel accident insurance.
Capital One: Capital One has led the pack in offering no foreign transaction fees for all of their cards, something that may only be available through certain cards offered by other issuers, such as travel cards.
Chase: Chase cut back on various benefits a little over a year ago, although the ones that remain are among the best out there, such as primary auto insurance on select cards, which means it’s the first collision insurance used, even above your personal auto insurance.
Bank of America: BofA offers a unique feature for some of their cards in that you can earn a boost of 25%-75% more rewards on every purchase when you have a qualifying Bank of America Preferred Rewards account.
The issuers vary widely in their benefits and quality, so it’s always prudent to research your choices. One factor should be what other consumers say about the company. Here is what J.D. Power says about consumers’ feedback on issuers:
America’s favorite credit card issuers…
- 842 out of 1,000
- American Express
- 838 out of 1,000
- Capital One
- 807 out of 1,000
- 807 out of 1,000
J.D. Power 2019 credit card satisfaction survey
Compare the best credit card offers
|Discover it® Cash Back
||Rotating Cash Back
||4.3 / 5
|Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
||3.9 / 5
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
||3.9 / 5
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
||No Annual Fee
||3.5 / 5
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
||3.5 / 5
|American Express Cash Magnet® Card
||4 / 5
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
||4.2 / 5
|Wells Fargo Platinum card
||0% Intro APR
||4.4 / 5
|Citi® Double Cash Card
||Flat-rate Cash Back
||3.8 / 5
|American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card
||3.9 / 5
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
||4.3 / 5
|Discover it® Student Cash Back
||4.2 / 5
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
||3.7 / 5
|Chase Sapphire Reserve card
||No Foreign Transaction Fee
||4.6 / 5
|Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card
||2.2 / 5
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
||$99 waived first year
||3.6 / 5
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