Jul 17, 2020
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Valuations are based on what TPG would pay to buy points and the overall redemption value, factoring in variables like award availability, fees and change or cancellation policies.Learn more
There is no one-size-fits-all credit card out there. Every person has different goals and spending habits, so credit card issuers offer full line-ups of cards to help serve those different needs. But with so many credit cards available, how do you choose the best credit card for you?
The team at TPG has done a lot of the research for you, compiling our top picks of the best credit cards available on the market today. We’ve looked through the best welcome offers, earning rates, redemption options, benefits and more to help you determine which card will help you reach your goals — whether you’re looking to save up travel rewards for your dream vacation or save money on everyday expenses with cash back.
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
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|Card||Best for||Welcome bonus||Rewards||Annual fee|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Total value||60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months||5x on Lyft
2x on travel and dining
1x on everything elseSee temporary bonus categories
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Non-bonus spending||50,000 Capital One miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months||2x on all purchases||$95|
|American Express® Gold Card||Dining and takeout||35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months||4x on restaurants worldwide and the first $25,000 spent per calendar year; (then 1x) at U.S. supermarkets
3x on airfare booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel
1x on everything else
|$250 (see rates and fees)|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||Groceries||$250 back after you spend $1,000 in the first three months||6% on select U.S. streaming services and the first $6,000 spent per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1%)
3% on transit and U.S. gas stations
1% on everything else
|$95 (see rates and fees)|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Travel insurance||50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months||10x on Lyft
3x on travel and dining
1x on everything else
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Rewards beginners||$150 cash back bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months||1.5% on every purchase||$0|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||Cash back||N/A||2% on every purchase (1% when you buy; 1% when you pay your bill)||$0|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card||Luxury hotel perks||150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months||14x on eligible Hilton purchases
7x at U.S. restaurants, flights booked directly or through amextravel.com and car rentals booked directly with select companies
3x on all other purchasesTerms apply
(see rates & fees)
This page includes information about the Discover it Student Cash Back and Discover it Cash Back that is not currently available on The Points Guy and may be out of date.
Why it’s the best credit card for rotating cash back: The Chase Freedom earns 5% on the first $1,500 spent each quarter in rotating categories. While $1,500 per quarter in bonus spending may not seem like a lot, that still equates to $300 in annual cash-back rewards. During Q3 2020, you’ll earn 5% back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods.
Annual fee: $0
Current welcome bonus: $200 after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening (when you apply directly through Chase)
Pros: A card with rotating categories is great to have in your wallet regardless, but the current bonus categories on the Freedom make it even more valuable right now. Remember, Chase cash-back cards can be paired with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred to turn that cash back into full-on Ultimate Rewards points. That means you’ll be earning 5x on those rotating categories, or a 10% return on spending, since TPG values Chase points at 2 cents each. Whether you’re looking to boost your Ultimate Rewards account balance or just want a reliable cash-back card, the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom is a great option.
Cons: As with any rotating category card, you’re only getting 5% in a select number of categories each quarter. So while the Chase Freedom will be great for Amazon and Whole Foods for Q3 2020 while those are bonus categories, you’ll probably want to use a different credit card on those purchases throughout the quarters when they’re not. Additionally, keep in mind that you have to activate your new categories each quarter, which means you’ll miss out on rewards if you forget.
The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Why it’s the best credit card for 0% APR: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of the best cash-back cards around because of its low cost and flexibility, but the card also comes with a solid 0% intro APR offer. You’ll have 15 months of 0% APR on new purchases (regular variable APR of 14.99%-23.74% applies after the intro period ends) to help you finance large purchases or pay down debt.
Annual fee: $0
Current welcome bonus: $200 after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening
Pros: You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on purchases, without having to worry about restrictive bonus categories. You can also earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (excluding Walmart or Target) for your first year (up to $12,000 spent). However, if you also have an Ultimate Rewards card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card, those basic points can be transformed into Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll then be able to redeem them at a higher rate through the Chase travel portal or transfer them to hotel and airline partners.
Finally, new cardholders will receive a $200 bonus after spending $500 in the first three months. Whether you’re looking for a one-and-done credit card to handle all of your spending or a no-annual-fee card to pair with your existing lineup, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the card for you.
Cons: While 1.5% cash back on purchases is pretty standard for a no-annual-fee, flat-rate card, it also isn’t the highest rewards rate available. Furthermore, if you do not have a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, your redemption options are more limited.
Why it’s the best credit card for small businesses: The Ink Business Preferred is a great mid-tier small business credit card that offers a lot of value to business owners. The card has a great bonus right now, and you’re getting 3x across multiple business categories. All in all, it’s a great card any business owner should consider having in his or her wallet.
Annual fee: $95
Current bonus: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards Points when you spend $15,000 in the first three months
Pros: You’ll earn 3x in the first combined $150,000 spent on travel, shipping, internet, cable and phone services and advertising on search engines and social media sites. The points earned can be used for 1.25 cents each on the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, or you can potentially get even more value by transferring to one of Chase’s partners. The card also comes with some great travel protections and cell phone protection.
Cons: The bonus does require a high spending threshold, which may not be possible for all small businesses—especially those that have smaller budgets in this current economic climate. The card also doesn’t come with perks like lounge access, annual credits or other top-tier benefits. If those are important to you and your business, you’ll want to look elsewhere. You currently have to sign into a Chase credit card or business banking account in order to apply for this card.
The information for the Ink Business Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Why it’s the best credit card for customized earning: The Bank of America Cash Rewards card allows you to choose the category in which you earn 3% cash back each month, which means you have more control of your rewards structure. If your spending needs change throughout the year, this card can accommodate that.
Annual fee: $0
Current bonus: $200 back after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days
Pros: You’ll be able to choose which category you earn 3% back in each month from the following list: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement/furnishings. The card also earns 2% on groceries and wholesale clubs. That’s a solid earning structure on its own, but those who qualify for the Preferred Rewards program with Bank of America can earn up to 5.25% back on the category of your choice and up to 3.5% on groceries and wholesale clubs.
Cons: The card does come with a $2,500 spending cap in combined bonus spending each quarter. Additionally, you’ll have to have a pretty penny saved with Bank of America in order to take advantage of the Preferred Rewards program (at least $20,000 in combined, eligible Bank of America accounts).
The information for the Bank of America Cash Rewards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Why it’s the best credit card for no annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel packs a punch for no annual fee, with a number of 3x rewards categories and cell phone protection.
Annual fee: $0
Current welcome bonus: 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Pros: The Wells Fargo Propel earns 3x on travel (flights, hotels, taxis, ride-hailing and car rentals among others), dining (which Wells Fargo defines as “eating out and ordering in”), gas stations and popular streaming services. While you may not be traveling a lot right now, those other two categories are both very valuable while we’re all staying home — and once travel is once again safe, 3x on those expenses is a great earning rate. Plus, like with Chase cards, you can pool rewards across Go Far Rewards cards. If you have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature (another no-annual-fee credit card), you could even get up to 1.75 cents per point of value when you redeem through the Wells Fargo travel portal. The card also comes with cellphone protection.
Cons: You’re getting a fixed value of 1 cent per point no matter what, which for points and miles experts can put this card at a disadvantage against cards from Chase, Amex, Citi and Capital One that allow you to transfer to partners and get potentially much more than 1 cent per point/mile.
The information for the Wells Fargo Propel has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Why it’s the best credit card for students: The Discover it Student Cash Back comes with pretty much identical benefits as the standard version, but it’s easier to be approved for if you are a college student with little to no credit.
Annual fee: $0
Current welcome bonus: Discover will match the cash back you earn in your first year
Pros: The Discover it Student Cash Back earns 5% on the first $1,500 spent each quarter on rotating categories each quarter you enroll. During Q3 2020, you’ll earn 5% back on restaurants and PayPal (on the first $1,500 each quarter you activate; then 1%). Students can potentially earn up to $300 in bonus rewards each year, and Discover will even match the cash back you earn at the end of your first year with the card. That means you could get up to $600 in rewards your first year on bonus spending alone. Additionally, students get a $20 statement credit each year your GPA is a 3.0 is higher (up to the next five years). And if you want to keep the Discover it Cash Back after college, you can always convert it over to the standard card when the time comes.
Cons: Like any rotating category card, you’re only earning 5% in select categories each quarter (on the first $1,500 in purchases each quarter you activate). This means if you want to be able to capitalize on restaurants and PayPal year-round, you’ll want another card that earns bonus rewards on those purchases all the time. Additionally, keep in mind that you have to enroll in bonus categories every quarter, which can be an extra headache for students already juggling a full plate of class assignments and exams.
The information for the Discover it Student Cash Back has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Why it’s the best credit card for airline rewards: The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select offers a way to earn American Airline miles and enjoy a few elite-like perks without paying a high annual fee. It’s perfect for beginners or casual American Airlines flyers.
Annual fee: $99
Current welcome bonus: 50,000 AA miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months of account opening.
Pros: The card’s welcome bonus is solid — TPG values it at $700. You’ll earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and at restaurants. The card also comes with a solid lineup of perks for a card with a $99 annual fee, including a free checked bag, preferred boarding, access to reduced mileage awards and a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases each cardmember year and renew the card.
Cons: You won’t get any luxury perks, such as lounge access or help hitting elite status. This card is best suited for those who are loyal to American Airlines. If you consider yourself a “free agent” when it comes to travel loyalty programs, you’d be better off with a card that earns transferable rewards that can be used across airlines and hotel brands.
Credit cards offer a convenient way to pay for purchases while building credit and earning rewards. There are hundreds of credit cards available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. For instance, you might find a card with a strong balance transfer offer but no rewards, or a great travel card that has an annual fee. The key is to understand your individual needs and what cards you can qualify for based on your credit profile — then pick the best credit card that meets those requirements.
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right credit card for you. The top three to keep in mind are:
Credit cards are available to people with a wide range of credit profiles, from those with excellent credit scores to folks that are rebuilding their credit or starting from scratch. There are credit cards you may be eligible for even if you don’t have a top-notch credit profile, but you should know before applying which cards you’re most likely able to get. That way you won’t waste time and a hard inquiry trying to get a card you won’t get approved for.
You might not be able to get a premium credit card without a strong credit profile, but by getting other cards and using them responsibly, you can build up your credit score over time and improve the likelihood that you’ll eventually be eligible for the very top cards.
The biggest advantage of most credit cards is how much you earn in rewards based on your spending. This means it’s important to pay attention to each card’s bonus categories, which are the types of purchases that earn extra rewards. Some of the most popular bonus earning categories include travel and dining purchases, but there are many other earning categories, from groceries to entertainment to streaming services to even fitness club memberships.
When choosing a credit card, you’ll want to match the card that best rewards your personal spending patterns so you can maximize how many bonus rewards you earn on a regular basis.
Credit cards are notorious for having high interest rates, so it’s vital that you either avoid paying any interest at all by paying your bill in full each and every month, or choose a card with a low interest rate. However, when it comes to fees, the calculation is a bit different, as it can sometimes make sense to pay an annual fee — even a substantial one — if the benefits you get from the card are worth the cost.
When choosing the right card for you, you’ll want to calculate how much value you think you’ll get from the card and then compare that amount to the card’s annual fee. If you’re getting more in value than it’s costing you, then the card may be a good choice for you. You’ll also want to consider other fees that might apply to using the card, such as whether it charges foreign transaction fees when you use it on international purchases.
Other factors to consider when choosing the right credit card are the travel benefits it provides, whether it offers bonus perks for high spending levels, protection coverages, the card’s issuer and convenience.
Credit card companies offer different kinds of cards to meet different consumer needs. Some people put a lot of money on their cards every month and then pay them off immediately — those people benefit from a card that returns a portion of their spending in the form of rewards. Others tend to carry a balance from month to month — they’re better served with a card that offers a low ongoing interest rate. Still others are working to improve their credit — issuers have cards designed for those people, too.
If you’re interested in frequent flyer miles, hotel points or a retailer’s rebate program, a rewards credit card could be right for you. Rewards credit cards offer proprietary points or miles that can be accumulated and redeemed for free goods, services or travel. In some cases, the rewards earned from certain credit cards can be transferred to a variety of other programs — these are known as flexible rewards.
The upside of rewards credit cards is that in some cases, you can leverage the points or miles to get more value from them than you would from cash. The downside is you must redeem the rewards within the issuer’s loyalty system.
There’s nothing more powerful than cold hard cash. If you’re just looking for money in your pocket, you’ll likely want a cash-back credit card. With a cash-back card, you’ll earn a percentage rebate on every purchase (i.e.: 1%, 2%, 2.5%) that adds up to cash in your account. Most cash-back cards provide the ability to redeem your earned cash back as either a statement credit against other charges on your card, as a check or direct deposit into your bank account, or in some cases for gift cards or at retail partners when making purchases.
Even though you can often get enough value from a credit card to offset the annual fee it charges, some people never want to pay an annual fee for a card. For those folks, there are plenty of no-annual-fee credit card choices on the market today. While you won’t find the top-end benefits, perks and earning rates of cards with annual fees on a free credit card, there are definitely worthwhile options that can earn you plenty of rewards or cash back.
There are also specific types of credit cards for businesses, for people looking to carry a balance at a low interest rate, for those loyal to a specific airline, hotel or retail brand and many other categories of cards.
To make sure you’re maximizing what a credit card can do for you, you should take time every 12 months to analyze your overall financial picture and determine if each of your current credit cards is serving your needs. If you aren’t earning bonus rewards in the categories you spend in most often, or if you don’t have the travel benefits you need, or if you’re paying a high annual fee but aren’t taking advantage of a card’s features, it may be time to get a new credit card that better fits your requirements.
Keep in mind that circumstances change over time, and a credit card that was previously right for you may no longer be a good fit. With so many options on the market, there’s no reason to have the wrong credit card in your purse or wallet.
Before you sit down and fill out a credit card application, make sure you know your personal credit score (remember to check your score with all three major credit bureaus), as well as what features you want most in a credit card and the best options on the market with those features. It’s also important to know the application restrictions and rules for the specific financial institution that issues the card you want. You don’t want to waste time and a hard credit inquiry on a card you won’t be able to get.
Related reading: How many credit cards should you have?
Credit card terminology can be confusing for beginners. What’s the difference between an issuer, a card’s network and a cobranded company?
The issuing bank is the institution that provides the financial backing for a credit card. It will be the one that typically determines (and pays for) credit card rewards and benefits. Examples include Chase and Capital One. Payment networks, on the other hand, are the companies that process the transactions between a merchant and an issuer, such as Mastercard or Visa.
Some issuers also do their own payment processing, such as American Express or Discover. Cobranded credit cards pair a credit card issuer with a company to provide unique brand-specific rewards for a cardholder. As an example, let’s take the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. American Express is both the issuer and the payment network, while Hilton is the cobranded company.
There are dozens of financial institutions that issue credit cards, from international banks to local credit unions. If you prefer individual attention and a one-on-one relationship with your issuer, you might want to look for a neighborhood bank that can offer you that level of attention.
On the other hand, the largest issuers tend to be able to offer the most generous perks thanks to being able to leverage their size. So, if your focus is on the best earning rates and benefits, you might prefer to apply with the largest issuers with the most robust credit card portfolios. These issuers include Chase, American Express, Citi, Capital One, Barclays, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.