Comparing Credit Card Offers for Excellent Credit
Updated: November 6, 2019
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!
Best Credit Cards for Excellent Credit
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% Cash back up to $1,500 in spend on rotating categories ranging from restaurants to grocery stores and more (then 1% thereafter). With this offer, you could earn up to $300 a year. Then at the end of your first year, earn up to another $300 with Cash Back Match ™.
If you don't treasure the idea of strategically timing purchases with rotating categories, this card is not the best option. Instead, look at a card with a flat-rate rewards offer, such as the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card.
Bottom line: If you want to maximize your rewards, the Discover it Cash Back is a good choice. For example, this card is especially worthwhile for frequent online shoppers, as Amazon.com has been featured in the past as a 5% bonus category in Q4.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
With a flat-rate cash back rate of 1.5%, the Freedom Unlimited is a good set-it-and-forget it card: This card is a good card for earning rewards without having to think about spending.
The Freedom Unlimited doesn't offer tiered rewards like the Blue Cash Preferred, making it not the best option if you plan to spend a lot at U.S. supermarkets, for example.
Bottom line: Among flat-rate rewards cards, the CFU is one of a kind, thanks to its partnership with the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
A straightforward card with a simple rewards structure, the Quicksilver from Capital One frees you up from having to keep track of rotating categories and the such. Instead, just use this card to get 1.5% cash back on every purchase. There's no annual fee, and no foreign transaction fee means it's good to use worldwide.
The disadvantage to a flat rate on a cash back card is that you can't maneuver your spending to max on key categories, as in the case of the Discover it Cash Back.
Bottom line: The Quicksilver is a great card to earn consistent, unlimited cash rewards, and the required spend on the sign-up bonus is rock-bottom.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
This card offers the unique benefit of being able to select a 3% cash back category from several popular categories including gas, online shopping, dining, travel and others. You also get 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on up to $2,500 spent each quarter in 2% and 3% category, 1% thereafter).
Depending on your spending habits, the $2,500 spending limit to earn tiered bonus rewards each quarter is low.
Bottom Line: If you are in the habit of planning ahead for large purchases, you can maximize your cash back with this card.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
A competitive sign-up bonus paired with a flat rewards rate on all purchases makes this card a great contender, but it doesn't end there. This card makes it easy to earn travel rewards, offering a statement credit for any hotel or airline purchase and no limits on miles you can earn.
Miles transfer at a less than 1:1 ratio, and the $95 annual fee is only waived for the first year.
Bottom line: For frequent travelers, the flexible rewards and travel perks make this a good choice.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
This card's worldwide travel and dining rewards are tough to match. Also, through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you can transfer rewards from the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited to redeem more travel rewards.
Unlike some competitor cards, the annual fee isn't waived the first year. Also, the regular APR isn't the best at 17.74%-24.74% variable.
Bottom line: Chase Sapphire Preferred's 60,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months make it a great choice for those who travel often. The value of those points is $750 when you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
This card has steadily evolved over the last 2 years to become a travel card with cash back features. Earn 3X points on everything from dining in and out to gas stations, flights, car rentals and more. The Propel has also kept up with the times by rewarding for homestays and rideshares, also with 3X-point rewards. There is also a generous sign-up bonus of 30,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months - that is a $300 cash redemption value.
The Propel's 0% intro APR offer of 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (15.49% - 27.49% variable thereafter) can easily be beaten by other cash back cards, many of which have 15-month offers.
Bottom line: If you are a traveler who doesn't love the idea of an annual fee, the Propel is a fine choice, particularly if you find yourself often opting for Uber and Airbnb.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
From a new look to new boosted categories, this card's offerings are unique and impressive. In addition to the time-honored rewards at U.S. supermarkets and gas stations, you can now earn an incredible 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3% back on transit and 1% on all other purchases. Also, the welcome offer has been bumped up to $250, yet has the same required spend of $1,000 within the first 3 months.
It's tough to find something not to love about this recently improved card, but you may find the $95 annual fee, which isn't waived the first year, to be an unfortunate piece of the pie.
Bottom line: If the Blue Cash Preferred's tiered categories are ones that you find yourself often using, this is a card that can earn you significant rewards.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
With a reasonable interest rate and a variety of other features, this is a good card for those looking for an array of benefits. With several notable travel perks, like elevated miles per dollar on hotels booked and paid through Hotels.com/venture, this card is good for racking up points if for frequent travelers.
The introductory bonus is not as impressive as the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. The VentureOne® also doesn't offer as many perks, like a credit towards Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® .
Bottom line: If you are a traveler seeking a card with no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, the Capital One® VentureOne® may be a good fit.
The quarterly rotating categories offer a competitive rewards rate, and this sign-up bonus is nice too. This is a good card for the cardholders who make purchases strategically in order to maximize cash back. Additionally, there is no annual fee.
Unfortunately, the foreign transaction fees make this card less optimal for those who travel internationally or make purchases through a foreign bank.
Bottom Line: The first-year rewards offer is a great way to build your cash back in the course of 12 months.
Compare the best credit cards for excellent credit of 2019
|Excellent Credit Card||Best for...||CreditCards.com Rating||Annual Fee|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Online shopping||4.3 / 5||$0|
|Chase Freedom® Unlimited||Cash back||3.8 / 5||$0|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Simple rewards||3.4 / 5||$0|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Consumer choice cash back||4.0 / 5||$0|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Hotels.com Purchases||4.2 / 5||$0 first year, then $95|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up Bonus||3.9 / 5||$95|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||No annual fee||3.5 / 5||$0|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||Rewards at U.S. supermarkets||4.3 / 5||$95|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Variety of features||3.5 / 5||$0|
|Chase Freedom®||Rotating cash back categories||3.1 / 5||$0|
Applicants with excellent credit are eligible for top credit card offers from issuers like Capital One, Chase, and American Express.
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
What is an excellent credit score?
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 its own ranges and threshold for excellent credit. A FICO score above 800 is considered exceptional and a VantageScore above 750 is considered excellent:
|FICO score ranges|
How does an excellent credit score work?
At first blush, there may not seem to be much difference between good and excellent credit. But look deeper, and you'll see that it's a difference of interest rates and credit cards that you qualify for.
Other than bragging rights, excellent credit can save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars by landing you a lower interest rate and better terms, particularly with car loans and mortgages. That's because lenders deem you to be more credit-worthy when your score is outstanding. In the case of credit cards, a better score will help get you a lower rate on the range of the card's variable APR.
Also, your options can open up. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve only accepts excellent credit. This is a high-end card with a pricey annual fee, but it is also packed with superior rewards and benefits.
What determines an excellent credit score?
Your credit score is based on information in your credit report. Scoring models 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. Even if you fail to pay on time your first time, your credit score can see a drop, according to VantageScore, one of the leading scoring models. The dominant scoring model is FICO. Here’s a breakdown of the credit scoring criteria and the weight placed on each factor for FICO and VantageScore.
Making payments on time is the most important aspect of a credit score – 35% of the FICO scoring model and extremely influential in the VantageScore. 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 – 30% with FICO and highly influential with VantageScore. 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, but the lower, the better.
Length of credit history
The types of accounts under your name (also referred to as your "credit mix") can get a smaller amount of weighting in your score – 10% of FICO and highly influential with VantageScore. 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.
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 – it only makes up 10% of the FICO model and is less influential with 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, with a weight of 10%, 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. It has a moderately influential weight in the VantageScore model. In general, you should try to minimize your account balances to increase your credit score.
Available credit (VantageScore only)
For VantageScore specifically, your amount of available credit is a factor, although Experian says you can never have too much available credit. In the case of VantageScore, it is ranked as less influential in the VantageScore model. 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.
Credit card perks you can earn if you have excellent credit
- Rewards: While even cards that accept bad credit can offer rewards, the rewards steadily improve as your credit improves and you qualify for better cards. Sign-up bonuses are higher and ongoing rewards can earn you hundreds of dollars a year if you use them correctly.
- Benefits: Benefits for the cardholder with excellent credit can include access to airport lounges, annual credits for travel, travel fees and even shopping at exclusive retailers. There can also be numerous shopping and travel benefits such as extended warranties and car rental insurance.
- Types of cards: With good to excellent credit, your options open up considerably to include cards with 0%, loyalty cards like airline and hotel cards, business cards, even luxury cards with exceptional benefits.
- Interest rates: There are a few things you should do once you achieve excellent credit, including doing a loan check to see if you can get better rates, including calling your card issuers.
- Higher available credit: Also, a better credit score can get you higher credit limits, which not only give you access to more money, but also can improve your score further by lowering your credit utilization ratio.
The advantages to having excellent credit are numerous, from superior rewards and welcome bonuses to convenient benefits that can save you time and hassle. There are also some advantages that may not have occurred to you, such as being able to get a credit limit increase.
How to compare similar credit cards
Here are two comparisons of seemingly similar credit cards that are both designed for people with excellent credit. However, once we 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||60,000 pts*125%=$750||$500*2X pts*12 mths*125%=$150||$500*1X pts*12 mths*125%=$75||$2,000*2X pts*125%=$50||$95||$930|
|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|
As you can see, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card enjoys significant earnings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program (25% boost on travel bookings). However, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card's partnership with hotels.com through January 2020 significantly improves the Venture's standing. In the end, the two come in close – that's when you want to look at such features as insurance and travel benefits.
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|
It's no surprise that the Venture Rewards would come out on top the first year of comparing because the annual fee is waived ($95 thereafter). But as you can see above, when the second year rolls around, the VentureOne Rewards actually comes out ahead. You'll find that the VentureOne is better for occasional travelers and spenders, while the adventurer who will spend enough to recoup the $95 annual fee will want to opt for the Venture Rewards.
How many people have excellent credit?
FICO, the dominant scoring model, has found that the average consumer's score reached 706 in September 2019, showing a steady increase since the figure bottomed out in 2009 at 686. They also found that more people are scoring higher. Here is a breakdown of scores and the percentage of consumers who have captured them.
- 800-850 FICO Score
- 750-799 FICO Score
- 700-749 FICO Score
- 650-699 FICO Score
- 600-649 FICO Score
- 550-599 FICO Score
- 500-549 FICO Score
- 300-499 FICO Score
FICO Sept. 2019 figures
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.
Expert tips to maintain excellent credit
Freeze your credit reports. It's now free – and advisable – to freeze your 3 credit reports to ensure no one accesses them illegitimately.
Pay multiple payments in a month. Since you won't know when your card issuers will send your information to the credit bureaus, it's a good idea to pay at least 2 times a month, even if you pay in full each month. That increases the likelihood that your balance will be low when the credit scoring models pull your information.
Keep old debt on your credit reports. As tempting as it may be, Bankrate recommends that you avoid trying to get your old debt removed from your credit reports once they have been paid off. When you've paid the bill off, that actually benefits your credit.
Apply for loans in a short amount of time. FICO scoring models only count up to 3 loan inquiries as one when they are made in a short period of time, as little as 14 days and as much as 45 days. This includes mortgages, student loans and auto loans but not credit cards.
Consolidate balances. Credit expert John Ulzheimer notes that when you carry small balances, it's best to consolidate them "because you're penalized for having too many accounts with a balance. It's better to have fewer accounts with a balance than more accounts. So to the extent you can use fewer cards for the same purchases, the better you'll be."
Plan out loans. Strategize several months out before taking out auto loans or mortgages so that you don't have large balances on your cards and you don't take out new cards.
Follow the 20/10 Rule. Wells Fargo advises that you not let your card debt exceed more than 20% of your total yearly income after taxes, and that you not have more than 10% of your monthly take-home pay in credit card payments.
Notify your bank of a move. Wells Fargo also advises that you make sure you notify your card issuers and other lenders of address or email changes so that you get your statement in a timely manner.
Stay in touch with creditors. If you are late on a payment, or can't pay, reach out to your creditor and see what alternative payment plans they might offer, says Wells Fargo.
What missteps do people with excellent credit make?
- By failing to put someone you trust on your card as an authorized user, you are missing out on rewards you can get through their spending.
- If you aren't reviewing what's on the market periodically, new rewards cards that suit your lifestyle may be passing you by.
- By keeping a card that doesn't serve your needs, like a card with an annual fee that you don't really use, you're not taking full advantage of your excellent credit. If it's an older card that you want to keep to continue to build your credit, you can ask for the annual fee to be waived, or you can ask for the card to be downgraded to a no annual fee card.
- There's nothing in the credit rule book that says mortgage payments or student loans are more important to your credit than card debt. Everything matters, and you need to be sure to pay everything on time, every time. One missed payment can quickly drop your score.
- Don't make sudden changes such as suddenly paying less or charging more, says Bankrate. That can indicate to your card issuer that you are having credit issues.
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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