Introduction to Credit Cards

Morsa Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Types of credit cards compared

A guide to the different types of credit cards and how they can best work for you and your financial goals


Consider the different types of credit cards outlined in this guide to determine which card might work best for you and your financial goals.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

When you look back at the history of credit cards, they started out simple and standard. Each issuer produced one card with one set of features. Today, credit cards come in multiple different forms with ranging interest rates, fees and reward programs.

Before you allow yourself to feel overwhelmed by the lengthy list of cards available on the market today, it’s important to take the time to determine which type of credit card will best suit your financial needs and lifestyle.

Types of credit cards

So, how do you figure out which type of credit card would work best for you? Consider the different types of credit cards outlined in the following guide and how they may be able to help you reach your financial goals.

Balance transfer credit cards

Balance transfer credit cards allow consumers to transfer a high-interest credit card balance onto a credit card with a low interest rate. The best balance transfer credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR period that typically lasts between 15 and 21 months. The terms of a balance transfer credit card varies between offers, so be sure to thoroughly read the terms and conditions.

Most cards require cardholders to pay a balance transfer fee of 3% or 5%, although there are some credit cards with no balance transfer fee. Even with fees, a balance transfer credit card is a great tool with the potential to save you a lot of money if you can pay off your balance during the 0% APR introductory period.

Here are some of our favorite balance transfer credit cards:

Intro APR credit cards and low-interest credit cards

Low-interest credit cards offer either a low introductory APR that jumps to a higher rate after a certain period, or a single low fixed-rate APR. A low-interest card can be very useful if you need to make a large purchase because it allows several months (sometimes up to a year) to pay it off, with little to no interest. Before using a low-interest card, read all the terms and conditions of the introductory rate so you won’t be surprised by fees or accumulated interest.

Here are some of our favorite intro APR and low-interest credit cards:

Cash back credit cards

Cash back credit cards allow you to earn cash rewards from your everyday purchases. If you’re looking to maximize your spending while also earning rewards, cash back credit cards essentially offer a rebate in the form of a specific dollar amount on eligible purchases. Most cash back credit cards offer a flat rate of rewards, while others offer bonus points in certain categories like dining or travel.

Since cash back programs are costly to credit card companies, some of these cards have an annual fee that can vary from $50 to $100. If used appropriately, a cash back credit card can earn the cardholder a significant amount of money over time.

Here are some of our favorite cash back credit cards:

Rewards credit cards

Rewards credit cards allow users to earn incentives for making purchases with their credit cards. Points accumulate for each dollar charged on the card, and cardholders can redeem these points for various rewards. Rewards cards usually require better-than-average credit for approval and are similar to cash back cards in that cardholders can accumulate points they can redeem for awards.

General rewards cards offer cardholders a variety of items to cash in points for gift cards, electronics, hotel stays, plane tickets and more. Rewards programs and promotional offers often change, so carefully review a card’s terms and conditions before applying. Some general rewards credit cards come with an annual fee, however, most have no annual fee. Rewards cards are best for people who regularly pay off their balances each month.

Here are some of our favorite rewards credit cards:

Business credit cards

Business credit cards are available for business owners and executives and have many of the same features as traditional credit cards: low introductory rates, cash back programs and airline rewards. The difference is these cards come with many additional benefits designed for those running a business.

These perks may include: business expenses kept separate from personal expenses, special business rewards and savings, expense management reports, additional cards for employees and higher credit limits. Every credit card is a bit different, and promotional offers often change, so be sure to examine the terms and conditions for each card before applying.

Here are some of our favorite business credit cards:

Student credit cards

Many college students need a credit card, but they generally have little or no credit history, which makes it difficult to get approved for a traditional card. Student credit cards are specifically designed for those enrolled in accredited four-year colleges and universities to help them build a credit history from the ground up.

Compared to consumer credit cards, student credit cards are often scaled back somewhat in terms of rewards, features and other benefits, but they can still be a valuable commodity. If used wisely, a student can take the first step toward building a solid credit history with this type of credit card.

Here are some of our favorite student credit cards:

Secured credit cards

Secured credit cards require collateral for approval. In order to secure the credit card, a security deposit of a predetermined amount is needed, usually of equal or greater value than the credit amount. Collateral can come in the form of a car, boat, jewelry, stocks or anything else of monetary value. Secured credit cards are for people trying to build or rebuild their credit history.

Cards that help rebuild credit often come with low credit limits (such as $250) and additional fees. Be sure to read over terms and conditions for these add-on services before applying. If you use the card responsibly and pay all your bills on time, you can ask for a credit line increase down the road. The extra fees and low credit lines will be worth it if a secured credit card helps you get your overall credit back on track.

Here are some of our favorite secured credit cards:

Travel credit cards

Travel credit cards help you earn points and miles to use for travel loyalty programs. Credit cards that offer travel rewards for your everyday purchases let you redeem those points and miles for statement credit towards flights, hotel stays and other travel rewards.

If you travel often for business or pleasure, there are many luxury travel credit cards on the market that offer perks like airport lounge access, annual travel credits and credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Most travel rewards credit cards offer new cardholders the chance to earn a welcome offer or sign-up bonus. The most compelling travel rewards cards have hefty annual fees, although some will waive the fee the first year.

Here are some of our favorite travel credit cards:

Co-branded credit cards

Co-branded credit cards are designed to work like a traditional rewards credit card but with rewards specific to one brand, such as an airline, retail or hotel chain. Co-branded airline credit cards, for example, are primarily designed to reward cardholders for booking travel through that airline or its partner airlines.

With a co-branded hotel credit card, you can redeem your points for free nights and upgrades at the hotel chain. Because these reward programs can be costly for credit card companies, many come with an annual fee. If you are not a frequent traveler, the annual fee may negate the benefit of the rewards earned.

Here are some of our favorite co-branded credit cards:

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

Credit Card Rate Report
Cash Back

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more