Comparing Credit Card Offers for Excellent Credit
Updated: August 20, 2018
Cards that require excellent credit can be among the best in the market. They can also be among the most expensive by way of an annual fee (but not always). Travel cards, cash back cards, balance transfer cards – the options are plentiful. We researched over 1,500 credit cards where excellent credit is needed to get approved and used the criteria below to choose the best cards. Want to learn more? Here, we look at:
We'll walk you through each step of the process for deciding the best credit card for you in the excellent credit range. Let us know what other questions you have!
Review Summary: Best Credit Cards for Excellent Credit of 2018
|Excellent Credit Card||Best for...||CreditCards.com Rating||Annual Fee|
|Chase Freedom® Unlimited||Cash Back||3.4 / 5||$0|
|Citi ThankYou® Premier Card||Large Sign-up Bonus||3.8 / 5||$0 intro for first year, then $95|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||No Annual Fee||3.4 / 5||$0|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining and Entertainment||4.6 / 5||$0 intro for first year, then $95|
|Chase Freedom®||Rotating Rewards||3.4 / 5||$0|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Online Shopping||4.1 / 5||$0|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Flexible Travel Rewards||4.2 / 5||$0 intro for first year, then $95|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Gas||3.8 / 5||$0|
|Capital One® SavorOneSM Cash Rewards Credit Card||Groceries||3.5 / 5||$0|
|Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||Mobile Pay||3.5 / 5||$0|
Applicants with excellent credit are eligible for top credit card offers from issuers like Capital One, Chase, and American Express. One of our favorites is the Chase Freedom Unlimited - which gets you 1.5% cash back on all purchases all the time (and you can pair it with a Chase Sapphire card to earn valuable Ultimate Rewards points). Explore a wide array of superb cards right here on CreditCards.com; compare offers and apply today to begin earning rewards.
Methodology: how we got to the best cards
Credit cards for excellent credit analyzed: 1,526
Criteria used: Credit needed, rewards rates, rewards categories, sign-up bonus, point values (if any), redemption options and flexibility, annual fee, other rates and fees, customer service, application process, miscellaneous benefits
Editor's picks: best credit cards for excellent credit
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
With 1.5% back on all purchases and a $150 sign-up bonus after a $500 spend in the first 3 months of account opening, the Freedom Unlimited is a good set-it-and-forget it card. It may not have the sign-up bonus of the Wells Fargo Cash Wise or the tiered rewards of the Blue Cash Everyday, but this card is a good card for earning rewards without having to think about spending.
Bottom line – The $150 bonus can get a 25%-50% boost when you transfer the Freedom Unlimited bonus to a Sapphire card, then use it toward travel with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Among 1.5% back credit cards, this card is one of a kind.
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
Earn 60,000 points after a $4,000 spend within 3 months; 3X points on travel, including gas stations; 2X points on dining out and entertainment; and 1X points on all other purchases. The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year, and you can redeem points at a high value through Citi's online travel center.
Bottom line – This card not only offers a great sign-up bonus, it has exceptional rewards on everything from travel to gas stations to dining out.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
This card is the way to go if you are looking for a respectable sign-up bonus with a reasonable required spend requirement. In the case of the BofA Travel Rewards card, the sign-up bonus of 25,000 points is awarded after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and can be redeemed as a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
Bottom line – You'll be able to get a steady stream of points to add on to the generous intro bonus, thanks to unlimited 1.5X points earned on all purchases. As its name suggests, travel is where these points will drive the greatest redemption value.
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
The Savor is a fantastic card, especially if you lead an adventurous lifestyle. It offers 4% back on dining and entertainment, making it far and away the leader in those spending categories. It has a generous sign-up bonus of $500 for spending $3,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
Bottom line – While there is a $95 annual fee after your first year, this is easily offset by the initial bonus offer and the high amount of cash back you could quickly earn when you use it on dining, entertainment, and groceries.
Like the Discover it Cash Back, the Chase Freedom offers 5% back on rotating categories up to the quarterly limit each quarter you activate, but instead of double your cash back, the Freedom offers a $150 sign-up bonus after a $500 spend within your first 3 months of account opening. That means you get your bonus considerably sooner with the Freedom.
Bottom line – Like the Freedom Unlimited, this card can be partnered with the Sapphire cards for travel, which can give up to a 50% boost on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Discover it® Cash Back
This card has a bit of a twist with no sign-up bonus, but double your cash back. Here's how it works: Earn 5% back on rotating categories ranging from restaurants to wholesale clubs and more. Then at the end of your first year, earn double your cash back at the end of your first year.
Bottom line – With this offer, you could earn up to $300 a year (with a spend of up to $1,500 a quarter on rotating categories after activating), then another $300 at year-end. There's no annual fee, so this cash back is free and clear provided you pay in full each month.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
A tiered card for the world traveler, the Sapphire Preferred offers 2X points on worldwide travel and restaurants in addition to its 50,000-point sign-up bonus after a $4,000 spend within 3 months of account opening.
Bottom line – Even with its $95 annual fee (waived the first year), this card gives a generous boost of 25% on rewards when redeemed for travel at Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, other spending is only 1X point (plus the 25% for travel), so you might want to weigh whether the Venture Rewards is a better choice.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
With tiered categories, this card offers 3% on gas and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on up to $2,500 a quarter on combined purchases in each category. It's 1% back on everything else. There's also a $200 online cash rewards bonus after a $500 spend within the first 90 days of account opening, which is a cut above competing cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
Bottom line – If you do a fair amount of shuttling the family in your SUV, this card can be a good option, with its competitive cash back offer on gas. The 2% back on groceries and wholesale clubs also beats the Freedom Unlimited in that respect. Also, you can earn up to 75% bonus on cash back when you are a Preferred Rewards client.
Capital One® SavorOneSM Cash Rewards Credit Card
If the Savor card appeals to you but you just can't stomach its annual fee, the SavorOne might be right up your alley. It offers a lower but still robust 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, as well as the same 2% back on groceries as the Savor. Its sign-up bonus is lower at $150, but so is the required spend at $500 in the first 3 months.
Bottom line – The SavorOne has less rewards value than the Savor, but it has no annual fee and is an all-around solid credit card. Which of the two is better for you will come down to how much you spend on dining and entertainment.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
The Cash Wise's strongest feature is the $200 sign-up bonus, which comes to you after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership, beating out the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Like the Freedom Unlimited, the Cash Wise has ongoing rewards of a flat 1.5% back on all purchases.
Bottom line – The Cash Wise is a good option for the millennial on the go – earn 1.8% back on mobile wallet purchases your first 12 months from account opening. Also, get up to $600 in protection on your cellphone (with $25 deductible) on covered damage or theft when you pay your cell bill with the Cash Wise each month.
What is excellent credit?
The answer to this question varies from lender to lender. Each lender decides what an “excellent” credit score range is and what constitutes a risk. Lenders depend on credit scoring agencies to assign scores to potential customers. The scores from FICO and VantageScore are the most frequently used, and each has their own ranges and threshold for excellent credit. A FICO score above 800 or a VantageScore above 750 is considered excellent:
FICO score ranges
What determines an excellent credit score?
Your credit score is based on information in your credit report. Lenders assign the highest scores to consumers who pose the lowest risks – that is, consumers who consistently pay their bills on time and carry small amounts of debt compared to their overall borrowing capacities. Here’s a breakdown of their credit scoring criteria and the weight placed on each factor for FICO and VantageScore (see below for an explanation of each factor):
|FICO scoring criteria||VantageScore scoring criteria|
|Payment history (35%)||Payment history (extremely influential)|
|Credit utilization and total debt owed (30%)||Credit utilization (highly influential)|
|Length of credit history (15%)||Length of credit history and type of credit (highly influential)|
|Type of credit (10%)||Total debt owed (moderately influential)|
|New credit accounts and recent credit inquiries (10%)||Recent credit inquiries (less influential)|
|Available credit (less influential)|
Making payments on time is the most important aspect of a credit score. This portion of your score factors in the frequency of late or missed payments and the length of each delinquency. The more severe, recent and frequent your late payments, the larger the impact on your score. You need to be scrupulous about paying your bills by the due date if you want to push your score into the excellent range – your credit history should show no recent late payments. Negative information can stay on your credit report for seven years, although the older the information, the less of an impact. That means that even if you slip up, by correcting your behavior, you will see your score rise again soon after a drop.
The amount of credit that you are currently using is the next greatest factor in your credit score. Lenders look at the total amount that you owe on each of your accounts compared to your credit limit, and the total that you owe overall compared to your overall credit limit. Revolving debt, including credit cards, is an especially important consideration in this portion of your score. The general guideline is to keep your revolving balances under 30 percent of your available credit limit. The lower, the better.
Length of credit history
The age of your accounts is a less important, but still significant factor in your score. This portion of the score factors in the age of your oldest account, the average age of your accounts and the age of specific types of accounts such as credit card accounts, car loans and mortgages. To achieve an excellent score, you need to be especially careful about shutting down long-standing accounts, and you shouldn’t open too many new accounts at once, since this can drag down the average age of your accounts.
Types of credit
The types of accounts under your name (also referred to as your "credit mix") get a smaller amount of weighting in your score. FICO and VantageScore give higher scores to consumers who have a diversity of credit, including revolving credit, such as credit cards, and installment loans such as mortgages. To get your score into excellent range, you should make sure you have multiple types of credit in your credit history.
Recent credit inquiries
Your number of recent credit inquiries is a small factor in both your FICO score and VantageScore. You should be careful about applying for new credit cards. Make sure you can qualify before you apply and try not to apply for a lot of cards all at once, as this can cause your score to drop. Note, this part of the score only looks at “hard inquiries” on your credit report. “Soft” inquiries (inquiries you did not initiate by a credit application) do not count. Also, the impact to your score from a hard inquiry tends to be temporary – it usually bounces back quickly.
New credit accounts (FICO only)
FICO factors in the number of new accounts that you've opened recently as a small part of your score. To nudge your score up, you should be careful not to open too many new accounts in a brief period.
Total debt owed (VantageScore only)
The total debt that you owe isn’t nearly as important as how much of your credit you are utilizing, but lenders do look at the total amount that you owe on all your accounts. In general, you should try to minimize your account balances to increase your credit score.
Available credit (VantageScore only)
For VantageScore in specific, having too much available credit can negatively impact your score. You should avoid taking out more credit than you need, but, you should also weigh this factor against other factors, including credit utilization and account age, which have a much larger impact on your score. Having a lot of available credit also works to improve your credit utilization ratio. Furthermore, older accounts – though you may no longer need them – add to the length of your credit history, so you should think twice before closing them in attempt to reduce your available credit.
Why should I care about my credit score?
Simply put, you should care about your credit score because it’s worth a lot of money – an excellent credit score can save you thousands upon thousands of dollars over time.
Lenders use your credit score to determine your creditworthiness, as well as the conditions of your loan, including the interest rate. A good credit score can help you finance valuable purchases – such as a home – which you can use to build wealth. An excellent credit score can help you get a prime interest rate on the mortgage for that home, which can save you thousands of dollars over 30 years, compared to a merely good interest rate.
Also, credit card issuers will offer you special perks and bonuses based on your credit score to encourage you to apply for their products. If you have an excellent credit score, you can qualify for sign-up bonuses worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. You can use your credit card rewards to finance vacations and hotel stays at sharply reduced or even no cost.
What should I look for in a credit card if I have excellent credit?
If you are a cardholder with excellent credit, you are a coveted customer for credit card issuers. Credit card companies will ply you with generous offers and may even target you with special offers that can amount to twice the value of their publicly advertised offers. You can use your credit score to your advantage to score hundreds of dollars of rewards or 0-percent financing. Here are some hallmarks of a great credit card offer:
- Sign-up bonus
A credit card’s sign-up bonus is the card issuer’s biggest maneuver for getting your business, and can be one of the most valuable features on the card, worth hundreds of dollars, or even more than $1,000. For a points- or miles-based rewards card, keep an eye out for offers of 50,000 points or more. For cash back cards, you should be able to land a sign-up bonus of at least $150.
- Ongoing rewards
You will also be offered generous rewards on your ongoing purchases. In today’s market, you should qualify for a card that offers at least at an average of 1.5 percent back on every dollar (when you combine all the bonus categories), and you should be on the lookout for cards with 2 percent rewards rates. If you’re savvy on how you earn and use your rewards, you can push your earning rate even higher.
- 0-percent financing
You should also be able to find some plum deals for financing a balance transfer or a new purchase at 0-percent. While the average introductory period lasts for 12 months, you may qualify for introductory periods of 18 months or even longer.
- Perks and benefits
On top of rewards and 0-percent financing, your list of benefits should extend beyond the standard list of Mastercard or Visa benefits. Depending on the type of card and whether it charges an annual fee, you should expect to have a full list of travel and purchase protections, special perks such as concierge services and presale tickets for events and – for luxury cards – lounge access and hundreds of dollars in travel credits.
- Interest rates
You should qualify for the lowest interest rate on the card. “Lowest,” of course, depends on the type of card. A true low interest card might start at 8 or 11 percent. Rewards cards, which tend to be pricier, start around 14 to 16 percent.
How to compare similar credit cards
Here are a two comparisons of seemingly similar credit cards that are both designed for people with excellent credit. However, once break down the details on different spending categories and other features, one card in each comparison quickly rises to the top. When comparing two credit cards, look out for details like: rewards rates, other hidden benefits, annual fee, intro and ongoing APRs, other fees, and more. We break down rewards comparisons below.
Comparison of Sapphire Preferred vs. Venture Rewards...
|Card||Sign-up bonus||Travel and restaurants||Other ongoing rewards||Hotels||Annual fee||Total end of first year|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||50,000 pts*125%=$625||$500*2X pts*12 mths*125%=$150||$500*1X pts*12 mths*125%=$75||$2,000*2X pts*125%=$50||$95, waived first yr||$900|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||50,000 miles=$500||$500*2X pts*12 mths=$120||$500*2X pts*12 mths=$120||$2,000*10X miles=$200||$95, waived first yr||$940|
Comparing Venture Rewards vs. VentureOne Rewards in second year...
|Card||Ongoing rewards||Hotels||Annual fee||Total end of second year|
|Venture Rewards||$1,000*12*2X miles=$240||$2,000*10X miles=$200||$95||$345|
|VentureOne Rewards||$1,000*12*1.25X miles=$150||$2,000*10X miles=$200||$0||$350|
How many people have excellent credit?
FICO, the dominant scoring model, has found that the average consumer's score reached 700 in April 2017, the highest ever recorded. They also found that more people are scoring higher and fewer are scoring lower. Here is a breakdown of scores and the percentage of consumers who have captured them; 20.7% had a credit score of 800 or higher.
- Score of 850-800
- Score of 799-750
- Score of 749-700
- Score of 699-650
- Score of 649-600
- Score of 599-550
- Score of 549-500
- Score of 499-300
Source: FICO April 2017 data
FICO attributes much of this improvement on strong economic growth since the Great Recession. They've also found there is increased awareness of scores and credit building among consumers, who are on the hunt for ever-higher scores.
Types of rewards that excellent credit consumers are typically eligible for
Rewards and benefits abound for the consumer with excellent credit. Whether you are interested in a straightforward cash back card, an airline card or even a luxury card, rewards await you. Here are different types of cards that typically require excellent credit and the rewards they often offer.
Cash back cards typically require good to excellent credit, or at least a score of 670. Rewards and benefits include cash back, 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers, and free FICO scores. Categories are usually for everyday purchases, such as restaurants, groceries and gas, although the cards with rotating categories may delve into purchases at Amazon.com, home improvement stores and wholesale clubs. Cash back cards that require excellent credit include:
- Capital One Savor Card
- Capital One Quicksilver Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
While some airline cards might accept good credit, some, such as British Airways Visa Signature, require excellent credit, which means your credit needs to start at 740. These cards typically have no foreign transaction fees, although there is likely an annual fee. It's flights that will get you the most miles, although some cards, such as the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, reward for everyday purchases such as groceries, gas and restaurants. Currently, the best airline credit cards for excellent credit include:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUpSM Card
While many hotel cards have annual fees of $89 and more, some offer no annual fee at all. Common benefits can include early check-in and late check-out; free breakfast for two; and free nights. Rewards are given for hotel stays, of course, but some, such as the Wells Fargo Propel, also offer rewards for surprising categories such as gas, rideshares, transit, dining, and all manner of travel. The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card even rewards for purchases at U.S. supermarkets. The best hotel credit cards that require excellent credit are:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Citi ThankYou Premier
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
General-purpose travel cards often have an annual fee – sometimes sizeable – but you can find them without. These cards often come with no foreign transaction fees; no blackout dates or restrictions; and some offer credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check. Common categories include travel, restaurants and hotel stays. These are the best travel credit cards for excellent credit:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
With annual fees in the hundreds of dollars, you may pause at getting a luxury rewards card, but these products offer superior access to airport lounges, 24/7 concierge service, upgrades and even gifts. For example, The Platinum Card from American Express offers an annual credit on Uber of up to $200, as well as an annual airline credit of $200. Categories can range from travel, as expected, to U.S. restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores, as in the case of Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. While you might expect these cards to only accept excellent credit, there are some that accept good as well. Some of the most popular luxury cards include:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- The Platinum Card from American Express
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
Finally, many business credit cards require excellent credit, making the bar higher for the business person who wants a product to augment her operation. Employee cards, travel benefits and more are featured with these cards. Categories can range from business-related purchases such as office supply stores and advertising to wireless and internet bills. Examples of business credit cards for excellent credit include:
- Ink Business Unlimited
- The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express
- Ink Business Cash
How to build and maintain an excellent credit score
With time, patience and responsible use of credit, you can easily take your credit score from good to great. Here are some suggestions for tipping your score over the excellent mark:
Pay your bills on time
Since payment history is the biggest factor in your credit score, you need to be especially careful about paying your bills on time – especially the balances on your credit cards or loans, since lenders report your account balances and payments monthly. Pay your bills early to make sure you meet the due date and set up automatic payments to ensure you at least pay the minimum amount by the due date.
Keep your credit utilization low
Credit utilization is the next biggest factor in your credit score, so you need to keep the balances on your accounts low. The lower your balances, the better. If you make a large purchase, pay your bill off immediately. Pay your bill in full at the end of the month and try to send in your payment before the statement closing date.
Sign up for credit cards and use them
Credit cards, when used responsibly, can be a great tool for building and maintaining a credit history. If you sign up for a card and maintain a low balance on it, you can improve your overall debt to credit ratio. And, if you use your card and pay it off each month, you can create a history of timely payments.
Don’t apply for too many cards at once
That said, don’t go wild with your credit card applications, since each application results in a hard inquiry to your account, which can temporarily lower your credit score. Be selective in which cards you apply for and make sure you can qualify for a card before you apply.
Sign up for a mix of credit products
Applying for different types of credit products can help boost your score. Make sure you have at least a couple credit cards to your name, and, in addition to credit cards, consider applying for an installment loan (if you have a student loan, it counts as an installment loan). When you purchase a new car or a piece furniture, finance a portion of the purchase and pay it off over a few months. Or, you can take out a credit building loan – a small bank loan specifically designed to build credit history – to pad your credit report.
Become an authorized user
Becoming an authorized user on another cardholder’s account can be the fastest track to an excellent credit score. Once you’re added to a card, the entire history for the account becomes part of your credit report. If the primary cardholder has a long history of on-time payments and low credit utilization, it could jump-start your credit history.
A couple of caveats: You should make sure that the card has a clean record, since you will also inherit any negative marks on the account. And, if you are cardholder thinking of adding an authorized user to your account, you should be extremely careful about handing out cards to additional users, since you will be responsible for any balances they put on the cards.
Keep a close eye on your credit
Check your credit card accounts and check your credit report often to map your progress and to keep an eye out for any problems or inaccuracies. For instance, if you find that you are using more than 30 percent of your available credit in one month, you should try to scale back your card use the next month.
Robin Ratcliff is the managing editor for reviews on CreditCards.com. Before CreditCards.com, she worked as a analyst and editor, and still brings that same analytical rigor to her card recommendations today. You can reach Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracy Brackman is a credit card news editor at CreditCards.com, writing breaking news stories on card updates and new card launches. You can reach Tracy at email@example.com.
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