Best Credit Cards of July 2019

What is the best credit card? In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all card; the best credit card for you depends on your goals and lifestyle. That's why the experts at have compiled a list of the best cards in each major category, from cash back and travel rewards to balance transfers and more. Explore our top picks from our partners and find the best credit card for you.

What is the best credit card? In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all card; the best credit card for you depends on your goals and lifestyle. That's why the experts at have compiled a list of the best cards in each major category, from cash back and travel rewards to balance transfers and more. Explore our top picks from our partners and find the best credit card for you.


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Best sign-up bonus credit card

Best everyday spending Credit Card

Best travel rewards credit card

Best rewards credit card

Best flat-rate cash back credit card

Best balance transfer credit card

Best no annual fee credit card

Best dining credit card

Best 0% interest credit card

Best low interest credit card

Best no foreign transaction fee credit card

Best airline miles credit card

Best business credit card

Best credit card for fair credit

Best credit card for bad credit

Best student credit card

Our methodology and research

3,476 Credit Cards Analyzed
600 Banks Analyzed

Criteria Used

Rates and fees, rewards rates, sign-up bonuses, redemption options, credit needed, miscellaneous benefits, customer service, security, ease of application.

Common Benefits:

  • Auto rental Insurance
  • Extended warrant program
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Purchase protection
  • Price protection
  • Lost Luggage reimbursement
  • Concierge service
  • Roadside assistance
  • Free credit score

What factors to consider when choosing the best credit card

When you are ready for a new credit card, you'll first want to identify which type is right for you. With the right card, you can earn hundreds of dollars a year, build your credit or enjoy special travel benefits. Here are 8 questions to ask yourself in your endeavor to choose the best card.

Want to build credit?

Most credit cards, including cards for authorized users, allow you to build credit. But check with the card issuer to make sure they'll report your credit habits to the 3 major credit bureaus.

Paying a lot of interest and fees?

A balance transfer card helps take away the sharp edges of credit card debt, although you still need to pay off the balance before the 0% intro APR offer ends.

Credit not its best?

Cards for consumers with bad or thin credit can help with this.

Willing to strategize your spending?

A couple of cards offer quarterly categories of 5% cash back – such categories as home improvement stores, wholesale clubs and Load up on spending each quarter for rotating categories.

Specific categories you often use?

Some cards, such as the Amex Blue Cash cards, offer improved rewards year-round on such categories as gas and groceries.

Want to use it and forget it?

For those of us who don't want to think about our shopping rewards, some travel and cashback cards reward at a flat rate for all spending.

Travel your thing?

If you plan to travel often (or even occasionally), some cards reward for worldwide travel and restaurants, such as the Chase Sapphire cards. Flat rate travel cards are also available.

Have a favorite brand?

Express yourself with a card that delivers miles for using your hotel or airline brand of choice.

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.

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, 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 airline tickets. With new credit cards constantly entering the market and offers frequently changing, it can be tough to wrap your head around all of 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!

best credit cards 2019

Here is a summary of our top picks in an easy to read table, with our choice for the best credit card in each major category. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at or leave us a comment below.

Compare: Best Credit Cards of July 2019

Credit CardCategoryAnnual FeeReview Score
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardSign-up Bonuses$953.9 / 5
Discover it® Cash BackEveryday Spending$04.3 / 5
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardTravel Rewards$95 waived first year4.2 / 5
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® CardRewards$03.5 / 5
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit CardFlat-rate Cash Back$03.7 /5
Discover it® Balance TransferBalance Transfers$04.5 / 5
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit CardNo Annual Fee$03.5 / 5
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit CardDining$95 waived first year4.8 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressGas$03.5 / 5
Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees EverPurchases$03.7 / 5
Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card0% Intro APR$04.4 / 5
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit cardNo Foreign Transaction Fee$03.4 / 5
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American ExpressAirline Miles$95 waived first year3.6 / 5
Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit CardBusiness$03.5 / 5
Capital One® Platinum Credit CardFair Credit$03.7 / 5
Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit CardBad Credit$0-$992.1 / 5
Discover it® Student Cash BackStudents$04.2 / 5

Details on the best credit card offers

Chase Sapphire Preferred

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.

Runner up: The Citi PremierSM Card also has a big sign-up bonus that is on par with the CSP's. The Premier is definitely worth considering as its ongoing rewards are arguably better with 3X points per dollar spent on travel.

Discover it Cash Back

Most notable features: Discover's hallmark feature of matching all cash back earned in the first year remains one of the most valuable offers of any credit card. Activate each quarter to take advantage of its 5% cash back on an eclectic mix of rotating categories up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 in purchases.

Why we like it: The return from its first-year cashback match feature can outshine the sign-up bonuses offered by competing cards, especially for heavy spenders.

How to make the most of it: Make sure to set your e-mail preferences so you get reminders from Discover to activate your earning on the upcoming quarter's bonus categories. That way, you don't have to worry about missing out.

Runner up: For a cash back card with constant rather than rotating categories, consider the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

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, 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 15 airline partners, including the most recent addition to their program, JetBlue.

Runner up: For comparable features with no annual fee, consider the Capital One VentureOne. Heavy spenders will find the Venture more rewarding while cost-conscious consumers will appreciate the VentureOne.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Most notable features: The revamped Propel card is already making a big splash in the rewards scene. It has everything a rewards aficionado looks for: a stalwart sign-up bonus of 30,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, along with generous rewards of 3X points on travel, dining, and popular streaming services. Most impressively, it does all this without charging an annual fee. This easily makes it one of the top offers of any credit card in 2019.

Why we like it: The Propel punches way above its weight class with the magnitude of its intro bonus and rewards – these are exceptional for a credit card with no annual fee.

How to make the most of it: Don't forget that it's a great credit card to bring with you on trips abroad, since no foreign transaction fees are charged. This means you can take full advantage of the Propel's rewards on travel and dining at international locations as well.

Runner up: The Capital One Venture is an alternative worth considering if you don't mind paying the annual fee that comes with its larger sign-up bonus.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Most notable features: This card's rewards include 1.5% back on all purchases and a sign-up bonus of $150 after a $500 spend within the first 3 months. Also, there is a 15-month 0% intro offer on balance transfers and purchases.

Why we like it: Quite simply, the ongoing rewards are great for the consumer who doesn't want to think about where she is spending, and the sign-up bonus is competitive.

How to make the most of it: As with all rewards cards, it's best to pay off your charges in full and on time each and every month.

Runner up: The Chase Freedom Unlimited has similar rewards and 0% offers, but with the added feature of allowing you to partner with the Ultimate Rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Rewards.

Discover it Balance Transfer

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 2021. It is rare to find a credit card that has both an attractive balance transfer and cash back rewards yet this card offers both.

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 the 5% cash back category changes each quarter so be aware when the category changes so you can maximize your rewards.

Runner up: The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has a shorter intro offer on balance transfers, but no balance transfer fee.

Capital One VentureOne 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 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 Go for travel rewards when you redeem the miles you've earned, as they tend to hold the greatest redemption value.

Runner up: For another straightforward rewards card that earns miles, consider the Discover it® Miles.

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card

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 better sign-up bonuses right now: a $300 cash bonus for a required spend of $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."

Runner up: 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.

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

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.

Runner up: 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.

Citi Simplicity® Card

Most notable features: There is little question that the best in the market for 0% intro APR for balance transfers is the Citi Simplicity, with a 21-month offer. It's 16.99%-26.99% variable after that.

Why we like it: This card's BT offer is unparalleled, even with no sign-up bonus and no ongoing rewards.

How to make the most of it: To make it worth your while, make sure you pay off your balance before the 21-month offer ends in order to avoid interest charges.

Runner up: If you are looking for a card at the top for 0% intro APR on purchases, the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa has an 18-month offer, compared to only 12 months for the Simplicity.

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card

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 13.74% - 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.

Runner up: The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card is another low-interest card that has an even longer introductory offer.

Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card

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.

Runner up: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is also a strong option for more frequent travelers.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Most notable features: You can earn 30,000 bonus miles after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months with this top airline card. Additionally, you get 2X miles on every eligible purchase made directly with Delta and 1 mile on all other eligible purchases. There's also a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase within your first 3 months.

Why we like it: Not only does this card allow you to earn miles for Delta purchases, it also features superb travel benefits. Along with priority boarding, the free first checked bag benefit on Delta flights is among the most generous of any airline card.

How to make the most of it: Take advantage of the free first checked bag perk, and note that it applies to the cardholder and up to eight companions.

Runner up: The Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express is a worthwhile alternative with no annual fee and a smaller, more attainable introductory bonus.

Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card

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.

Runner up: 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.

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

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).

Runner up: For better rewards and a small annual fee, take a look at the Capital One QuicksilverOne.

Credit One Bank Visa Credit Card

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.

Runner up: For a secured card alternative, consider the Capital One Secured Mastercard.

Discover it Student Cash Back

Most notable features: 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.

Runner up: Take a look at the Discover it Student chrome and decide which rewards structure suits you better.

How do credit cards work?

Some 60.5% of Americans carry at least one credit card – in fact, consumers on average hold 4 cards – and for good reason. They are the easiest way to build credit, and they are super convenient.

Credit cards provide you with a line of credit that can be used anywhere the credit card is 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, 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."

Types of credit cards

When trying to select the best credit card, it helps to understand the different types of credit cards. There are myriad cards for all sorts of purposes, from rewards to credit building, and we're going to walk through which cards are available and how to use them.

Rewards credit cards

Our September 2018 survey by YouGov of 1,218 American adults 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.

Airline credit cards

Airline cards, sometimes called co-branded cards, are ideal for the loyal customer who frequents a particular brand. Heads up that miles and points can be a burden if you aren't willing to spend some time maximizing their rewards. That said, the benefits, such as free checked luggage, can be worth your while.

Hotel credit cards

A simpler but less rewarding co-branded card, the hotel card also rewards the customer for loyalty to the brand. This card often offers excellent benefits, including early check-in and free breakfast.

General travel credit cards

General-purpose travel cards generally reward for all manner of travel (and sometimes all spending), rather than just a specific brand. They will sometimes offer a boost for travel redemptions, such as with the Citi ThankYou Rewards program.

Cash back credit cards

Cash back cards are great for consumers just starting out in rewards, although they can get complicated fast, so make sure you are clear about how your choice of card works and whether it suits your lifestyle. Categories are typically everyday expenses, such as gas and groceries, as well as occasional shopping, such as and home improvement stores.

Sign up bonuses

While a sign up bonus is not a type of card, most rewards cards offer some incentive for signing up for the cards. 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. For example, you can earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 spending within 3 months with the Chase Sapphire preferred. Be sure to consider a card's sign up bonus when choosing a rewards card.

0 percent credit cards

Balance transfer cards

Balance transfer cards are a good choice when you have a balance you are paying interest on. You transfer the balance to a new card that offers a 0% offer on balance transfers and avoid paying interest for a set amount of time, up to 21 months. Heads up that there is usually a balance transfer fee of up to 5% or $5, whichever is greater.

0% credit cards for purchases

Cards that offer 0% intro APR for purchases are ideal when you have a big expense coming up. Like the BT cards, you are given a set amount of time to pay back the balance while avoiding interest.

Credit cards for small businesses

Cards for small businesses can offer lucrative sign-up bonuses and ongoing rewards on business-targeted categories, as well as occasionally offering intro 0% offers on purchases. These are good cards for the business owner who wants to separate expenses, get cards for employees and build business credit.

Credit cards for college students

Student cards are typically the same as other cards, except they might have the occasional student-centric benefit, such as money back for good grades. These cards usually have ongoing rewards, although a sign-up bonus is rare.

Credit-building credit cards

Credit cards for fair credit

Cards for fair credit might have an annual fee, but other fees may not be present. They are usually not secured, meaning you don't have to put a refundable deposit down, but your credit limit might be low.

Credit cards for bad credit

Credit cards for bad credit can be secured or unsecured (no deposit required) and are great for getting your credit feet under you. Just make sure the card issuer will report your good habits to the 3 credit bureaus.

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. Here are some of the most common—and most compelling—benefits you can get with a top-tier credit card.

Travel benefits

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
  • Special benefits at member hotels, including early check-in and late check-out, as well as free breakfast

Rewards benefits

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
  • Access to special sporting, theater and dining events, as well as other experiences

Miscellaneous benefits

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

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:

  1. Your credit habits are reported to the 3 major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, by your lenders.
  2. Those credit habits are used to assign you a score, using the scoring model of FICO or VantageScore.
  3. When you apply, credit card companies look at that credit score to assess your creditworthiness.
  4. You are granted or denied credit cards (and other lending products) based in part on your assigned credit score.

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:

Payment history
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.

Amounts owed
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.

New credit
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.

Credit mix
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.

Is an annual fee ever worth it?

Some fees, such as late fees, should be avoided at all costs. But other fees may be worth your while, depending on the situation. 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, if you regularly spend $1,000 a month with a credit card, the Capital One Venture Rewards card would yield a higher net value than its no-annual-fee counterpart:

CardSign-up BonusOngoing RewardsAnnual FeeEnd of First Year Net Value
Capital One Venture Rewards50,000 miles / $3,000 spend in 3 mths2X miles x $1,000/mth = 24,000 miles$95 waived first yr$500 + $240 = $740
Capital One VentureOne Rewards20,000 miles / $1,000 spend in 3 mths1.25X 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.

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).

TypeNumber of Credit Cards
No annual fee2,744
Rewards points1,640
Excellent credit1,526
Good credit1,478
0% introductory APR1,002
No foreign transaction fee938
Low interest869
Cash back682
Bad credit269
No credit history264
Fair credit161
Charge card27

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