A Guide to Finding the Perfect Credit Card for You
The credit cards in your wallet are some of the most important financial tools in your life. You might be on the hunt for the perfect balance transfer card. Or you could have your eye out for the right travel card offer. Whatever the reason, the best card for you awaits. At CreditCards.com, we've compiled thousands of hours of research to help you find the best credit cards of 2019 across the most popular categories.
We also recognize that there is not one single best card for all occasions; different people have different needs at different times, and the card you use at the grocery store is not necessarily the card you should use to book airplane tickets. With new credit cards constantly entering the market and offers frequently changing, it can be tough to wrap your head around the available options. We're all over it for you. Check this page regularly for the latest information on the best credit cards and how they compare to the field – we update it almost every day!
Here is a summary of our top picks in an easy to read table! If you have any questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compare: Best Credit Cards 2019
|Credit Card||Category||Annual Fee||Review Score|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Sign-up Bonus||$95 waived first year||4.2 / 5|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Flat-rate Rewards||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Everyday Spending||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Travel Rewards||$95||3.9 / 5|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Rewards||$0||3.0 / 5|
|Discover it® Cash Back||0% Intro APR||$0||3.9 / 5|
|Citi Rewards+SM Card||No Annual Fee||$0||3.0 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card||Balance Transfers||$0||4.4 / 5|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining||$95 waived first year||4.8 / 5|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Gas||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Discover it® Balance Transfer||Low Interest||$0||4.5 / 5|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||No Foreign Transaction Fee||$0||3.4 / 5|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®||Airline Miles||$99 waived first year||3.9 / 5|
|Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit Card||Business||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||Fair Credit||$0||3.7 / 5|
|Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card||Bad Credit||$0-$99||2.1 / 5|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||College Students||$0||4.2 / 5|
Editor's notes on the best credit cards of 2019
Most notable features: The Venture Rewards' sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after a $3,000 spend within 3 months competes nicely with similar cards, and its $95 annual fee is waived the first year. There's no foreign transaction fee, miles don't expire while your account is active, and there's no limit to how much you can earn.
Why we like it: With its large sign-up bonus, an excellent rewards rate of 2X miles on all purchases, and 10X miles for hotels paid through hotels.com/venture, this card is hands down one of the best travel credit cards, in our opinion.
How to make the most of it: Note that the redemption value of your miles will vary depending on what you are redeeming them for. You'll usually want to redeem your miles for travel rewards, which have the highest value, instead of other categories such as cash back or gift cards. Note that you can also transfer your points to 14 airline partners.
Also consider: For comparable features with no annual fee, consider the Capital One VentureOne.
Most notable features: The Quicksilver offers a $150 bonus after a $500 spend within 3 months of card membership, which is a lower spend than the Blue Cash Everyday. Also, it features a flat rate on all purchases of 1.5% back.
Why we like it: Because it offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and has the bonus feature of no annual fee, this card lands squarely in the category of best cash back card for flat-rate spending. If you want to shop without worrying about where you are or what you're buying, this card is for you.
How to make the most of it: This is a good card to use for any purchase that doesn't fall into a special category where you earn more with another card. In other words, plan on using this as your "default" credit card.
Also consider: The Citi Double Cash Card is another good card if you prefer its higher cash back rate in exchange for no sign-up bonus.
Most notable features: The BofA Cash Rewards credit card features 3% cash back on your choice of category from a list of 6: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. In addition to the 3% category, it earns 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs – on up to $2,500 in combined quarterly purchases between these categories – and 1% cash back on everything else.
Why we like it: This nifty card provides a lot of options to earn cash back on a daily basis in addition to its solid sign-up bonus of $150 for spending $500 in your first 90 days. It's always good to see a credit card give flexibility to consumers, especially when it has no annual fee.
How to make the most of it: Note that your Cash Rewards card's 3% category is initially set to gas but you can change it every month; take advantage of this to maximize rewards on different purchases throughout the year.
Also consider: The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card also allows you to choose between different cash back categories, but the Cash+ card's categories are more niche.
Most notable features: The Sapphire Preferred allows you to earn 2X points on worldwide travel and restaurants and 1X point on all other purchases. It also has a 60,000-point sign-up bonus that kicks in once you spend $4,000 within your first 3 months of card membership.
Why we like it: All sign-up bonuses are not created equal – with the Sapphire Preferred, the 60,000-point bonus is actually worth $750 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
How to make the most of it: Don't forget to use the Ultimate Rewards portal to book travel with your points, and explore Chase's transfer partners to see where you can get the most value out of your points.
Also consider: For another card with a large sign-up bonus and tiered rewards, check out the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card.
Most notable features: The VentureOne card has great travel features and rewards for no annual fee. Namely, it earns 10X miles per dollar on hotels booked and paid through hotels.com/venture through January 2020. With this card, you'll also earn 1.25x miles per dollar on all other purchases.
Why we like it: This card's strong travel rewards are complemented by a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles for spending $1,000 in your first 3 months.
How to make the most of it: Remember to use this card when you pay for your hotel bookings on hotels.com/venture. Go for travel rewards when you redeem the miles you've earned, as they tend to hold the greatest redemption value.
Also consider: For another straightforward rewards card that earns miles, consider the Discover it® Miles.
Most notable features: This card offers 14 months 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers, followed by a relatively low regular APR of 14.24% - 25.24% variable. In the long run, you can count on the Discover it Cash Back to provide consistent value due to its 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories, up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter after you activate. Also, there's no annual fee.
Why we like it: With credit card APRs rising to an all-time high this year, a generous 0% interest offer like this is all the more worthwhile.
How to make the most of it: Take note of the fact that the regular APR is variable, meaning it depends on your creditworthiness. While 14 months is a long time, it can pass by faster than you think, so make sure you have a concrete plan to pay off your balance before the intro period ends.
Also consider: The Citi Simplicity® Card has an even longer intro offer on balance transfers, but shorter 0% period on purchases and a higher balance transfer fee.
Most notable features: The Citi Rewards+ features no annual fee while offering a competitive sign-up bonus and ongoing rewards. You can earn 15,000 points after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months and 2X points at supermarkets and gas stations up to a $6,000 spend each year and 1X after that. There's also 10% back on points you redeem, on up to 100,000 points each year.
Why we like it: There are a number of features with this card, but its biggest surprise is the round-up feature, which works by rounding up your rewards to the nearest 10 points on every purchase—with no cap.
How to make the most of it: The unique round-up feature makes this card very suitable for earning rewards on small purchases.
Also consider: If you're looking for a no annual fee card with savings at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, the Amex Blue Cash Everyday Card is also an excellent choice.
Most notable features: The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card offers 18 months of 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers, after which its regular APR is 17.74% - 27.24% variable. This card has no annual fee and does not earn rewards, but it does have some additional benefits such as free access to your FICO credit score.
Why we like it: The sheer length of its 0% intro period—18 months—places this card firmly on top of our list in the balance transfer category.
How to make the most of it: Make your balance transfers within the first 120 days when the balance transfer fee is 3%, because that fee goes up to 5% after that ($5 minimum). Also make sure to pay off your balance within your 18 month intro APR period, because the regular interest rates after that are quite high.
Also consider: For another card with a long introductory offer on balance transfers and low regular APR, the Discover it Balance Transfer is also an excellent choice.
Most notable features: The new and improved Savor card comes with a generous 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% back on all else. Additionally, it has one of the hottest sign-up bonuses right now: a $500 cash bonus for a required spend of only $3,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is waived in the first year, but it will be $95 after that.
Why we like it: It's a no-brainer for foodies, and even if you aren't someone who spends a lot at restaurants, the sign-up bonus could still be worth it.
How to make the most of it: Don't forget that you get 4% cash back not only on dining, but also entertainment, which includes a number of different purchases such as movies, concerts, and sporting events. Take some time to check out the card agreement to see all the types of purchases that are covered under "entertainment."
Also consider: The similarly named SavorOne card is a no-annual-fee version of the Savor that comes with a lower 3% back on dining and a smaller sign-up bonus.
Most notable features: Cash back on regular purchases is the hallmark of the Blue Cash Everyday, which earns you 3% at U.S. supermarkets and 2% at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. The 3% at U.S. supermarkets applies for your first $6,000 in purchases each year, then it goes to 1%, which is also what you earn on all other purchases. Additionally, you earn a $150 statement credit after making $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months.
Why we like it: This card's helps you get the most out of your purchases at gas stations and supermarkets.
How to make the most of it: Log into your account online regularly to check out special offers from American Express; there are often deals with popular retailers that can net you even more savings on top of your regular cash back.
Also consider: For an alternative that offers even higher cash back at U.S. gas stations but charges an annual fee, check out the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express.
Most notable features: The Discover it Balance Transfer offers 18 months of 0% APR on balance transfers; unfortunately, its intro 0% APR only lasts for 6 months on purchases. However, in either case, the interest-free period is followed by a low regular APR of 14.24% - 25.24% variable. It does offer impressive rewards, with 5% cash back in rotating categories after enrollment up to the quarterly maximum and automatic cash back match at the end of your first year.
Why we like it: This card's 18-month 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers is hard to beat, helping you stay interest-free into 2020 and beyond. There is also potential to earn a lot of cash back.
How to make the most of it: As with any balance transfer card, make sure you pay off your balance before the introductory period ends, to avoid paying interest.
Also consider: The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express† has a shorter intro offer on balance transfers, but no balance transfer fee.
Most notable features: The BofA Travel Rewards credit card is a straightforward card that comes with handsome rewards. It earns a consistent and unlimited 1.5X points per dollar on every purchase, and provides a 25,000 point sign-up bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days.
Why we like it: With no foreign transaction fee and no annual fee, it's easy to use this card to earn rewards on international trips.
How to make the most of it: Be mindful of how you redeem your points. Generally, you'll get the best value from redeeming points for travel purchases or as statement credits on travel purchases.
Also consider: For a premium credit card with flexible redemption options, consider the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
Most notable features: Earn 50,000 miles after a $2,500 spend within the first 3 months with this top airline card. Additionally, you get 2X miles back at gas stations, restaurants, and every eligible American Airlines purchase. There's also a $100 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 in a year and renew your card.
Why we like it: Plenty of airline cards allow you to earn boosted points for airline purchases, but this one also offers increased points for everyday purchases. And the preferred boarding and free first checked bag just pile on superior travel benefits of the Platinum Select, making this our favorite airline card.
How to make the most of it: This card is great for making purchases abroad since there is no foreign transaction fee.
Also consider: The AAdvantage MileUp Card is a worthwhile alternative with no annual fee and a smaller, more attainable sign-up bonus.
Most notable features: With 1.5% cash back on all purchases, this offer is among the best credit cards out there and can translate into huge savings for businesses that make substantial purchases. With no annual fee, the Ink Business Unlimited offers a compelling value for any business, but especially small businesses. That's not to mention the $500 sign-up bonus after only $3,000 in purchases made in the first 3 months.
Why we like it: The 1.5% unlimited cash back and large sign-up bonus means business owners can quickly rack up rewards dollars from using this card.
How to make the most of it: To maximize your cash back, take advantage of the fact that you can add employee cards to your account at no additional charge and have them use their employee cards on business expenses. Note that you can easily monitor and set spending limits for each employee.
Also consider: The Capital One Spark Cash for Business offers even higher cash back of 2% on all purchases, but charges a $95 annual fee after the first year.
Most notable features: The Capital One Platinum accepts you even if your credit that's not the best, as low as a 580 credit score, making it ideal for credit building. If you pay it off in full and on time each month, you have a good shot at getting a higher credit line after your first 5 months of on-time payments.
Why we like it: This card doesn't have the hidden fees that you'll sometimes find with a card that accepts fair or limited credit. And with no annual fee, the Capital One Platinum is our favorite among the fair credit cards.
How to make the most of it: Set your own monthly due date and use the payment method that is most convenient for you (by check, online, or at a local branch).
Also consider: For better rewards and a small annual fee, take a look at the Capital One QuicksilverOne.
Most notable features: Earn 1% back on select everyday purchases such as gas, groceries, and services such as cellphone, internet, cable and satellite TV. This card is perfect for you if your score is under 670 on a scale of 300-850, and Credit One automatically monitors you to see if you qualify for a higher credit line.
Why we like it: This card is great training if your credit isn't the best but you want to practice good credit card habits while earning rewards.
How to make the most of it: It cannot be emphasized enough, pay your full balance on time every month. Only use it for purchases that you know you can pay off at the end of the month.
Also consider: For a secured card alternative, consider the Capital One Secured Mastercard.
Most notable features: College students can benefit from this card's 5% back on quarterly rotating categories after you activate, up to the quarterly maximum. Backed by one of the leading credit card networks, this is a great option for students looking to build credit without having to worry about an annual fee. The fact that Discover automatically matches all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year is a huge bonus.
Why we like it: This card is truly tailored for students. In addition to its generous cash back, it also gives students a $20 statement credit for each 3.0+ GPA school year for up to 5 years.
How to make the most of it: Remain disciplined in your spending habits and do not be tempted into making extra purchases now that you have a credit card. That said, do use it on things you would ordinarily buy with cash, so that you earn cash back on fixed expenses and build up your credit history.
Also consider: Take a look at the Discover it Student chrome and decide which rewards structure suits you best.
Credit cards we considered in our research
Out of the 3,476 cards we analyzed to get to the top 17, here's how it broke down by category (certain credit cards overlap across several categories).
|Type||Number of Credit Cards|
|No annual fee||2,744|
|0% introductory APR||1,002|
|No foreign transaction fee||938|
|No credit history||264|
How do credit cards work?
Credit cards provide you with a line of credit that can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted. Credit is essentially borrowed money from the card issuer, usually capped at a dollar amount (known as your credit limit). All credit cards carry an Annual Percentage Rate (APR), also known as the card’s interest rate. You’re not obligated to pay your entire credit card bill in full every month, but if you carry a balance, you’ll accumulate interest based on your APR.
Credit cards offer significant advantages over other payment methods. Ted Rossman, CreditCards.com industry analyst, points out that "the main reason to use a credit card instead of a debit card or cash is because credit cards offer lucrative rewards. Credit cardholders can easily get 1.5% or even 2% cash back on everything they buy. As long as you can pay your statement balance in full, it’s a no-brainer, because it’s free money."
"Credit cards are also faster when it comes to checking out," says Randall Yates of The Lenders Network. "Debit cards require a PIN, adding precious seconds to a transaction."
We consumers love our credit cards. In fact, the American Bankers Association found that card use picked up dramatically in the last year. There was an increase of 10% of super-prime credit card accounts and an increase of 3.9% of prime accounts during Q3 2018 compared to the same period the previous year. Even subprime accounts increased at a robust 7.9%.
Is a credit card right for you?
There is a right time and a wrong time to take out a credit card. We look at how to time it so that you can get the product that best suits your needs — here are some general guidelines to follow. Only consider getting a new credit card if:
1. Your credit score is where it needs to be – This is a big one. Make sure your score is within the range of the card you are looking at. If you have a credit score of 550, there's no point in applying for a high-end travel card that requires a much higher score.
2. You don't have any upcoming loans to take out – It's generally a bad idea to apply for a credit card if you are about to take out a loan for, say, a car or home. It can appear to lenders that you are desperate. Instead, time your applications so that you give each one a cushion of several months.
3. You haven't applied recently for a loan or card – In the same way, you don't want to apply for a card immediately after you apply for another type of loan. Every time you apply for a lending product your score takes a small hit (although it's temporary, so don't despair).
How do you qualify for the best credit cards?
Your creditworthiness in large part dictates which credit cards you qualify for, and your creditworthiness is assessed with your credit score, a number that ranges from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the more credit card options are available to you.
Think of your credit score as your financial report card. Lenders use it to decide what lending products to grant you and the terms of those products. For example, if you have a FICO score of at least 740, you have a greater chance of being approved for the best credit cards.
Here's how it works:
- Your credit habits are reported to the 3 major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, by your lenders.
- Those credit habits are used by credit score models FICO and VantageScore to assign you a score.
- Prospective lenders, landlords, insurance agencies and others look at that credit score to assess your creditworthiness.
- You are granted or denied lending products based in part on the score you've been assigned.
How to get a credit score
There are two major types of credit score: FICO and VantageScore. As the dominant scoring model, FICO sells its scores for about $20 each. There are three scores available, one for each of the major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. (There is no need to check all three simultaneously.) Many credit card issuers offer free access to your credit score as a benefit of holding one of their cards.
How a credit score is determined
Your credit score is influenced by the following major factors. In order to increase your chances of being approved for top tier credit cards, make sure your credit is healthy in each of these regards:
On-time payments, or payment history, figure heavily into the dominant scoring model, FICO, making up 35% of the score's criteria pie. Payment history is extremely influential in the VantageScore model. When it comes to using credit cards, a good rule of thumb is to only buy what you can pay for in cash within the next month.
How much you owe compared to how much credit you have available makes up 30% of the FICO pie. It's highly influential in the VantageScore, while available credit is less influential. Total balances or debt are considered moderately influential.
Length of credit history
How long you have been building credit is a consideration to a lesser degree, making up 15% of the FICO scoring model. Age of accounts is highly influential with VantageScore.
This metric makes up 10% of your FICO score, which means you'll want to avoid opening new accounts unnecessarily. VantageScore ranks this as less influential.
Ten percent of your FICO score, you are encouraged to have a mix of credit types such as revolving (typically credit cards) and installment (such as mortgages and car loans). Credit mix is highly influential in VantageScore.
As Brandon Ackroyd of Tiger Mobiles puts it, "Two things have served me well to build a strong credit score: making 100% of payments on time and keeping my credit utilization low."
How credit card rewards work
Our September 2018 survey on rewards cards found that 57% of U.S. consumers have at least one rewards card, whether travel, cash back or co-branded, so it's no surprise that new credit cards are entering the market every day. They might reward you for dining out, shopping at department stores, even making purchases at office supply stores. Used correctly, you can earn hundreds of dollars a year with them.
There are basically 2 ways to earn rewards – with a sign-up bonus and with ongoing rewards. There can be other ways, such as signing up your first authorized user, but those are the most common ways to earn rewards.
With a sign-up bonus, you usually are required to spend a minimum in order to get the bonus, and it will have a deadline – usually 3 months, but sometimes longer. So you might be able to earn $150 back after a $500 spend within 3 months, as in the case of the Freedom Unlimited.
The ongoing rewards are trickier. You can be rewarded for loyalty to hotel and airline brands; certain types of shopping; and loyalty to the card. Credit cards can be cash back cards or travel cards, and there are different types of both, including rotating categories, tiered categories and flat rates.
Ways to redeem the rewards vary from issuing checks and statement credits to redemptions for travel and using loyalty miles for flights. Top credit cards tend to offer higher rewards and be more flexible in how you can redeem them.
Benefits you can get with your credit cards
Credit cards offer a host of benefits, ranging from lost luggage reimbursement to access to the card issuer's travel portal, complete with boosted points. Here are some of the most common—and most compelling—benefits you can get with a top-tier credit card.
Whether you are on the road or traveling by plane, travel cards can provide unexpected benefits worthy of your attention. The result? Hassle-free travel and even saved dollars with such benefits as Chase Sapphire Reserve's $300 annual travel credit. Here are 8 top travel benefits:
- Free checked bags
- Access to airport lounges
- Lost luggage reimbursement
- Roadside dispatch
- Auto rental collision damage waiver
- Trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance
- Airline fee credit
- Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
Products such as travel cards, general-purpose rewards cards and cashback cards can provide superior savings with outstanding sign-up bonuses on most rewards cards, free breakfast at select hotel brands such as Hilton Honors, and even access to special events through such programs as Mastercard's World Elite program.
- Signup bonus
- Purchase rewards in miles, points or cash back
- Points for travel, gift cards, merchandise or entertainment
- Percentage boost for use of issuer's travel portal
- Special benefits at member hotels, including early check-in and late check-out, as well as free breakfast
- Access to special sporting, theater and dining events, as well as other experiences
Cards on the market today have a multitude of features and advantages, from no foreign transaction fee to U.S.-based customer service. Look carefully at what the cards you are eyeing have to offer, because the possibilities may surprise you.
- Zero liability protection
- 24/7 concierge
- 24/7 customer service
- U.S.-based customer service
- Shopping portal
- No foreign transaction fee
- No annual fee
- EMV chip technology
- Cellphone insurance
Is an annual fee ever worth it?
Some fees, such as late fees, should be avoided at all costs. But others may be worth your while, depending on the type. One of the most common decisions you'll come across is whether to go for a card with an annual fee. A card with an annual fee will often have more robust rewards, and the annual fee may be waived the first year. Depending on your goals and spending habits, a card with an annual fee can definitely be worth your while, even compared to cards without one. For example:
|Card||Sign-up Bonus||Ongoing Rewards||Annual Fee||End of First Year Net Value|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||50,000 miles / $3,000 spend in 3 mths||2X miles x $1,000/mth = 24,000 miles||$95 waived first yr||$500 + $240 = $740|
|Capital One VentureOne Rewards||20,000 miles / $1,000 spend in 3 mths||1.25X miles x $1,000/mth = 15,000 miles||$0||$200 + $150 = $350|
Remember to keep an open mind and carefully consider how much you could get out of an annual-fee card compared to no-annual-fee alternatives. The above example can be used as a guideline for conducting a basic cost-benefit analysis.
More of our top picks
Want to do more research? Check out our best credit card picks in popular categories like travel, cash back, and balance transfer.
† All information about The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is no longer available through CreditCards.com.
Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura's work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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