Why there’s no such thing as the ‘best’ credit card

Mar 3, 2021

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Being a credit card reporter at The Points Guy, the question I get asked more often than any other from friends, family and readers alike is — what is the best credit card?

Spoiler: There isn’t such a thing as “the best credit card.”

Everyone and every situation is different, and that means the right card varies for everyone. We all have different spending habits, changing financial goals and priorities, varying budgets and disparate levels of access to credit as a whole. What works for one person likely won’t work for the next — and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

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I feel like sometimes people can get caught up in this idea that a select number of cards (typically high-fee cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve) are objectively better cards than their lower-annual-fee counterparts such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. But that’s not actually true.

The reality is that all of these are excellent cards — the difference is just who they are best suited for. 

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Different cards for different habits 

Ultimately, “the best credit card” is subjective and largely based on your habits and priorities. 

(Photo by JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images)
The card that’s best for you will depend on your needs and habits. There is no one-size-fits-all credit card. (Photo by JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

For example, a frequent traveler might normally praise the Amex Platinum as “the best credit card” because of its unmatched lounge access and other travel benefits including elite status with Hilton and Marriott. But that same person might have changed their opinion during the second half of 2020 when saving money on groceries (at U.S. supermarkets) and earning cash back on select streaming in the U.S. became more important parts of their life. Then, they might argue that the Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express is “the best credit card.”

It all depends on your perspective and what your personal financial goals are for your card strategy. 

Related: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

Even when comparing people with similar hobbies and habits, people may be divided on what card is the best. One frequent traveler may argue that the Amex Platinum is the best because of its benefits, but another frequent traveler may argue that the Chase Sapphire Reserve is actually the best because of its broader bonus categories and more flexible travel credit. Neither party is wrong; they just have different priorities and spending habits. 

Find the ‘right’ card, not the ‘best’ card 

Instead of looking for the best credit card, focus on finding the right credit card for you.

How do you do that? As part of TPG’s “Ask the Expert” series on Instagram Stories, I walked through the three questions I always initially ask when someone wants a credit card recommendation. 

1. What’s your credit score? 

This is a good base question because it will help establish what cards you’ll most likely be approved for. Especially during the current economic downturn, issuers are tightening approval criteria, so your credit score is an important factor in figuring out what kind of card is best suited for your situation. 

Related: 6 things to do to improve your credit in 2020

2. What are your spending habits? 

Your spending habits should inform which bonus categories you look for in your credit cards. 

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Do you spend a ton on groceries and dining at restaurants? If yes, then a card like the American Express® Gold Card, with its 4x points on dining at restaurants and the first $25,000 spent each calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1x after) could be the right card for you. 

3. What are you looking to get out of the card? 

Do you want to earn rewards for free flights and hotel stays? If so, a card that earns transferable points from a rewards program such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles or Citi ThankYou Points is a great starting point. Is saving money on everyday expenses (and maybe an occasional vacation) a bigger priority? If that is the case, there are a ton of cash-back credit cards out there that can help you accomplish just that. 

Once you have these three basic questions answered, you can start digging into things including which rewards program is best suited to your travel goals, what your annual fee budget is, which sign-up bonuses you want to hit and more. 

This may finally be the year you go on that long-planned road trip across the US. (Photo by Peter Amend/Getty Images)
The right card for someone who loves road-tripping will be different than the right card for someone who wants to save money with free luxury flights. (Photo by Peter Amend/Getty Images)

Bottom line 

Hunting for a credit card can be a stressful process, especially with all the pressure to find the “best” card.

The fact of the matter is that there’s no such thing. At the end of the day, the right card for you will be one that earns rewards that you’ll actually use on the purchases you make regularly. Whether that’s one of the best travel credit cards with a benefits list a mile long, a no-annual-fee credit card that helps you put money into savings each month or something in between, it doesn’t matter — so long as it’s helping you hit your financial, life or travel goals.

Featured photo by The Points Guy.

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Editorial Disclaimer: 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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.