Best Credit Cards of September 2021

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Not all credit cards are created equal. The best card for you depends on your financial situation. Your spending habits, debt balances, and credit score are all important factors to compare against the tools and benefits any individual card offers. 

As a starting point, we’ve outlined a few of our favorite credit cards on the market across different categories and for a broad range of credit users, whether you’re looking for cash back savings on your regular purchases, a balance transfer tool to pay down debt, or travel benefits for your next vacation. These are the cards we believe can best help you maximize your dollars and add value back into your wallet.  

Some of the offers below are no longer available and may be out of date- Capital One Spark Cash for Business

Before You Start

Credit cards are helpful tools for saving money and building credit, but can also lead to costly debt and interest balances. Before opening a new credit card — especially a rewards card with a high APR and other fees — prepare to use it responsibly and review the basics on how they work. Pay down any existing high-interest debt and establish healthy credit habits like paying your balances in full and on time each month.

Our Picks for the Best Credit Cards

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Best Value for No Annual Fee
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Editor’s Score: (4.7/5)
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Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Best for Maximum Cash Back on Regular Spending
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
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Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Best for Travel Rewards Beginners
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
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Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best Premium Travel Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
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AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
Best for Long 0% Intro Offer
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
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Citi® Double Cash Card
Best Ongoing Value After Intro Offer
Citi® Double Cash Card
Editor’s Score: (4.4/5)
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Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best Starter Credit Card
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (3.0/5)
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Capital One Spark Cash for Business
Best for Everyday Business Expenses
Capital One Spark Cash for Business
Editor’s Score: (4.0/5)
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American Express® Business Gold Card
Best for Business Travel
American Express® Business Gold Card
Editor’s Score: (3.9/5)
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Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Best Value for No Annual Fee

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Editor’s Score: (4.7/5)
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Rewards rate:

Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®. Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores. Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: $200
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 14.99% – 23.74% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

Chase Freedom Unlimited is our top pick among cash back credit cards.

To start, you can score a $200 bonus after spending $500 within three months of account opening. As for ongoing rewards, Chase Freedom Unlimited boasts 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining at restaurants and at drugstores, and an additional 1.5% cash back on every other purchase you make — all for no annual fee.

You’ll also get added benefits like 5% cash back on qualifying Lyft rides through March 2022, and complimentary DashPass access from DoorDash for 3 months followed by 9 months of DashPass membership for 50% off (activate by 12/31/21).

Read our full review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited card

Why we chose this card

Based on average consumer spending data, we’ve calculated Chase Freedom Unlimited’s ongoing rewards value at $250.75, after a first-year earn of $450.75. Freedom Unlimited is valuable for its unique pairing of both tiered rewards for everyday purchases and flat cash back, meaning you can save on every single purchase you make, no matter where you spend. 

And one of our favorite features of the Freedom Unlimited is its seamless pairing with other Chase cards for maximizing value even further. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Sapphire Reserve (which earn boosted points value for certain redemption options), you can pool your rewards (as Ultimate Rewards Points) onto your Sapphire account and stretch your savings even further.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Best for Maximum Cash Back on Regular Spending

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
Learn more externa link icon at our partner’s secure site. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
Rewards rate:

6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more. 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations. 1% Cash Back on other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: Up to $350
  • Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Regular APR: 13.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

Unlike other cards on our best cash back list, the Blue Cash Preferred charges an ongoing annual fee. But its stellar rewards in everyday categories — the value of which far surpasses the $95 price tag ($0 intro annual fee for the first year) — make it a standout for maximum earning. 

You’ll earn 6% cash back (the highest rate we’ve seen) at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases each year (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, and 1% on other purchases. The intro bonus is great too: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases within the first 6 months of card membership, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of card membership. Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.

Read our full review of the Blue Cash Preferred card

Why we chose this card

Based on average spending, we’ve calculated the Blue Cash Preferred’s ongoing annual rewards value (after accounting for the annual fee) at $302.96, after a first-year value of $547.96. If you can max out the 6% cash back at U.S. supermarket category by spending at least $500 at the supermarket each month, that value will be even higher.

This is a great card for anyone who has embraced stay-at-home life over the past several months, as well as on-the-go families whose primary spending categories are groceries, transportation, and entertainment. For the majority of home shoppers, we believe its excellent rewards far outweigh the Blue Cash Preferred’s cost, as long as you’re willing to pay the ongoing annual fee and your U.S. supermarket spending doesn’t far exceed the $6,000 annual cap (1% cash back thereafter).

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Best for Travel Rewards Beginners

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
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Rewards rate:

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

  • Intro bonus: 60,000 miles
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 15.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

Capital One’s Venture Rewards Credit Card* is a great option for the occasional or budget traveler. If flights and hotels aren’t a regular line item in your budget, the Venture card can help turn your everyday spending into savings on your next trip. 

For a $95 annual fee, you’ll get unlimited 2x miles on every purchase you make, plus earn 60,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. The Venture card comes with a few added benefits, too, such as up to a $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, no foreign transaction fees, and travel insurance and assistance.

Why we chose this card

This card is great for travel rewards beginners for a couple reasons: the simplicity that flat rewards offer, and 2x miles per dollar spent. Plus, Capital One keeps things even more simple with Purchase Eraser: you can redeem your miles for statement credits toward previous eligible travel purchases you make anywhere (within 90 days). If you have a favorite discount booking site, for example, you can use your card to book your flight or hotel there, then use your accumulated miles to receive credit for the purchase. Capital One’s Rewards Center lets you book travel using your miles, transfer miles to eligible airline or hotel loyalty programs you already use, or redeem through PayPal. 

Through April 2021, you can redeem miles for eligible restaurant delivery or takeout, streaming services, and wireless phone services via Capital One’s Cover Your Purchases program.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best Premium Travel Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
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Rewards rate:

Earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Earn 5X total points on air travel. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: 60,000 points
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Regular APR: 16.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 740-850 (Excellent)

Overview

Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a big $550 price tag, but valuable perks and benefits can quickly outpace the cost for frequent travelers. You’ll earn 3x points on travel (after earning your $300 annual travel credit), dining, and at grocery stores (up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases each month through April 2021). After spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, you can also earn a 50,000-point bonus.

In addition to rewards, you’ll get a $300 annual travel credit, fee credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, Priority Pass Select membership, 10x points on Lyft purchases (through March 2022), one year of Lyft Pink membership (activate by 3/31/22), up to $120 credit toward eligible Peloton purchases, up to $120 credit for DoorDash purchases, and 12 months complimentary DashPass for free delivery from DoorDash and Caviar (activate by 12/31/21).

Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card

Why we chose this card

The Reserve card can help you earn on travel purchases, redeem for more travel, and subsidize expenses related to travel like airport lounges, dining, and rideshare services. For anyone who spends a lot of time away from home, this card can be incredibly valuable. 

There are other great premium travel options, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, but we like the Sapphire Reserve for its flexible redemptions, credits, and easy pairing with other Chase cards. Each rewards point you earn with the Reserve gets a 50% boost (1.5 cents per point) when you redeem for travel through Chase. Your 50,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, for example, can be redeemed for $750 toward travel through Chase. Points or cash back you earn on other Chase cards (like the Chase Freedom Unlimited) can be pooled with Reserve points, too, so you get the boost on both. 

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
Best for Long 0% Intro Offer

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
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Rewards rate:

2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases. 1 mile per dollar on other purchases. Earn 10% of your redeemed miles back each calendar year.

  • Annual fee: $99
  • Regular APR: 15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% variable based on your creditworthiness
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

U.S. Bank’s Visa Platinum Credit Card doesn’t offer any ongoing rewards or high-value benefits, but if you’re looking for a card to help pay down debt, this is the best. With a 0% interest introductory offer on both new purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles, it’s our top balance transfer card as well as our choice for 0% interest.

After the intro period, you’ll earn a variable 13.99% to 23.99% interest on any remaining or new balances. There’s no annual fee, no penalty APR, a 3% ($5 minimum) balance transfer fee, and you’ll have 60 days after account opening to complete a balance transfer.

Read our full review of the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card

Why we chose this card

If you’ve racked up high-interest debt and you’re looking to take advantage of the longest 0% interest intro period available to start paying it down, look no further than the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum. It’s also a great choice if you have a large upcoming purchase you’d like some flexibility to pay off, since the intro period applies to new purchases as well. 

Using average American debt and interest data, we’ve calculated that someone paying average 16% interest on a balance of $5,700 and making minimum monthly payments would save $4,154 in interest and 169 months of debt payoff by paying their balance in full by the end of the Visa Platinum’s 20-billing cycle intro period.

Citi® Double Cash Card
Best Ongoing Value After Intro Offer

Citi® Double Cash Card

Editor’s Score: (4.4/5)
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Rewards rate:

Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

  • Intro bonus: N/A
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

It doesn’t have the longest intro period available, but the Citi Double Cash Card* doubles as both a solid balance transfer card and a great rewards card, with no annual fee. 

The 0% intro interest period on balance transfers lasts for 18 months, after which you’ll earn a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%. You’ll pay a balance transfer fee of 3% ($5 minimum) and have 4 months after account opening to complete the balance transfer. 

You won’t earn rewards on any transferred balances, but any new purchases you make earn an unlimited flat 2% cash back — no matter the spending category. But you’ll have to pay your balances in full to get it: Citi Double Cash earns 1% back as you spend, and 1% as you pay for each purchase.

Read our full review of the Citi Double Cash Card

Why we chose this card

18 months is a solid introductory period for balance transfers. Based on average American debt and interest data, someone paying minimum monthly payments on a $5,700 card balance earning 16% interest could save $4,154 in interest and 171 months’ time by paying off that balance in full by the end of the 18-month intro period. 

Citi Double Cash has an advantage over many other balance transfer cards: valuable ongoing rewards. We like the simplicity of flat cash back rewards, and 2% back on every purchase you make is a solid rate. Based on average consumer spending, we’ve estimated this card’s annual rewards value at $265.16. 

And if you’re using it as a balance transfer tool because you’ve overspent in the past, the rewards stipulation requiring you to pay for a purchase before earning the full 2% cash back rate offers extra incentive to pay your balances in full and on time going forward.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best Starter Credit Card

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Editor’s Score: (3.0/5)
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Rewards rate:

Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.

  • Intro bonus: N/A
  • Annual fee: $39
  • Regular APR: 26.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: (No Credit History)

Overview

Capital One’s QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card* is our pick for people with lower credit than is required for other cards on our list. While you can’t qualify for many of our top picks without good-to-excellent credit, QuicksilverOne is a good option for average credit scores. What’s more, it offers a good rewards program that can help you save on everyday purchases, unlike many cards in this credit range.

For a $39 annual fee (the standard Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card* for higher credit ranges has no annual fee), you’ll earn flat 1.5% cash back on every purchase, without having to keep up with rotating or tiered categories. You will also incur a high variable APR of 26.99%, so you’ll want to be diligent in paying your balances down in full each month. As a reward for responsible card usage, Capital One automatically considers a credit limit increase after six months of on-time payments.

Why we chose this card

If you’re brand new to credit cards or looking to improve a bad credit score, options like student or secured credit cards, as well as credit-builder loans, may be the best way to establish a credit history.

But if you’re already in the fair to good credit range and want to continue building your credit and practicing good credit habits, Capital One’s QuicksilverOne card is both attainable and offers decent rewards. Flat 1.5% cash back can help you save on every purchase you make with the card while boosting your credit score so you’re more likely to qualify for other rewards cards in the future.

Capital One Spark Cash for Business
Best for Everyday Business Expenses

Capital One Spark Cash for Business

Editor’s Score: (4.0/5)
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Rewards rate:

Earn unlimited 2% cash back for your business on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions.

  • Intro bonus: $500
  • Annual fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
  • Regular APR: 20.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

Like personal credit cards, flat cash back business cards can be a simple, effective way to save money on your small business’s everyday purchases. 

With Capital One Spark Cash for Business*, you’ll earn 2% cash back on every purchase you make. You can qualify for a $500 cash bonus after spending $4,500 within the first three months of account opening. And while there is a $95 annual fee, it’s waived for the first year (Capital One also offers a Select version of the Spark Cash Business card, Capital One Spark Cash Select for Business*, which earns 1.5% cash back for no annual fee).

Why we chose this card

Many cards targeted for small business owners reward business-related purchases like office supplies and travel. But for nontraditional small business owners whose expenses vary month-to-month or for freelancers and sole proprietors whose expenses don’t fit neatly into conventional business rewards categories, we like the flexibility that the Spark Cash for Business offers. 

A 2% rewards rate on every purchase you make can add up to major savings over the course of a year, and even with an ongoing $95 annual fee, your rewards will outpace the cost after just $4,750 in annual spending.

American Express® Business Gold Card
Best for Business Travel

American Express® Business Gold Card

Editor’s Score: (3.9/5)
Learn more externa link icon at our partner’s secure site. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
Rewards rate:

Get 4X Membership Rewards® points on the 2 select categories where your business spent the most each month. 1X is earned for other purchases. **

  • Intro bonus: 70,000 points
  • Annual fee: $295
  • Regular APR: 14.24% – 22.24% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

The American Express Business Gold Card is a solid travel rewards card for business owners, but travel doesn’t have to be the largest item on your budget to get great value from this card, making it more useful for a broader range of business owners than many other business travel cards.

For a $295 annual fee, you’ll automatically earn 4x points on the two categories your business spends most each month (on up to $150,000 in combined purchases per calendar year, then 1x), from the following categories:

  • Airfare purchased directly from airlines
  • U.S. purchases on online, TV, and radio advertising 
  • U.S. purchases made directly from eligible technology providers of computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions
  • U.S. purchases at gas stations
  • U.S. purchases at restaurants, including takeout and delivery
  • U.S. purchases for shipping

You’ll get 1x points on other purchases, a 25% bonus when you use your points to book flights via Amex Travel (up to 250,000 points back per calendar year), and additional travel insurance and protections.

Why we chose this card

Among all of our best card choices, flexibility is a primary factor. Though it doesn’t offer flat rewards for business spending, we think Amex’s Business Gold card offers an even more valuable rewards proposition for business owners with standard and changing monthly expenses alike, if your top spending categories align with the Business Gold’s 4x options. And the simplicity still applies: Amex automatically calculates your highest-spending categories, so you don’t have to choose or activate each month.

If you max out the 4x category with $150,000 in annual business spending, you’ll earn 600,000 Membership Rewards points each year, which is worth up to $6,000 when you redeem for travel through Amex Travel.

Best Credit Cards of September 2021 Summary

Card NameWhat It’s Good ForIntro BonusRewardsAnnual FeeCredit Requirement
Chase Freedom UnlimitedCash Back Value for No Annual Fee• $200 after spending $500 within first 3 months
• 5% cash back on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards

• 3% cash back on dining and at drugstores

• at least 1.5% cash back on other purchases 
$0670 – 850 (good to excellent)
Blue Cash Preferred from American ExpressMaximum Cash Back on Everyday Spending• 20% back on Amazon.com purchases within the first 6 months of card membership, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of card membership.• 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 spending per year, then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions

• 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit

• 1% cash back on other purchases
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 after that670 – 850 (good to excellent)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardTravel for Rewards Beginners• 60,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months• 2x miles on every purchase$95670 – 850 (good to excellent)
Chase Sapphire ReserveTravel for Premium Rewards• 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within first 3 months• 3x points on dining and travel purchases

• 1x points on all other purchases
$550740 – 850 (excellent)
U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card0% Interest for Long Intro OfferN/AN/A$0670 – 850 (good to excellent)
Citi Double Cash Card0% Interest and Value After Intro PeriodN/A• 2% cash back on all purchases, 1% as you buy, 1% as you pay them off$0670 – 850 (good to excellent)
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards CardBuilding Credit Starter Credit CardN/A• 1.5% cash back on every purchase$39580 – 740 (fair to good)
Capital One Spark Cash for BusinessBusiness Everyday Spending• $500 after spending $4,500 within first 3 months• 2% cash back on all purchases$95 (waived first year)670 – 850 (good to excellent)
American Express Business Gold CardBusiness Travel• Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply. • 4x Membership Rewards points on 2 eligible categories in which your business spends most each month (on up to $150,000 in combined purchases each calendar year, then 1x)

• 1x points on other purchases
$295670 – 850 (good to excellent)

A Beginner’s Guide to Credit Cards

How Credit Cards Work

Credit cards are financial tools used to make purchases and build credit. You can use a credit card to buy something and pay it off at the end of your billing cycle (typically month-to-month) or over time. If you pay your balance over time, you’ll accrue interest at the rate of your assigned variable APR.

People make purchases using credit cards for a number of reasons, including rewards and other benefits, security protections, and payment flexibility. Credit cards are also a great tool for building credit. A great credit score can help you qualify for other cards and loans over time at competitive rates. But accumulating debt with a credit card can have a negative effect on your credit. Failure to pay your amount due, late payments, and overspending on your credit card can cause damage to your credit score that can take years to reverse.

How Credit Card Rewards Work

Credit card rewards can help you earn cash back, points, or miles on the purchases you make everyday — like groceries and dining out — or on big purchases you make only occasionally — like an international vacation. Matching your spending habits with a great rewards card can help you save hundreds of dollars each year on the purchases you already make.

But there is a catch to those great savings. If you carry a balance on your card, accruing interest over time, the interest you pay will far exceed any rewards value a credit card can offer. If you’re looking to maximize your spending with rewards, paying your credit card balances in full and on time each month is essential.

Types of rewards

  • Cash Back Rewards: Cash back credit cards earn a percentage back on select purchases, which you can redeem for cash or statement credits toward other purchases. There are three main types of cash back rewards: a flat cash back percentage on every purchase, tiered cash back rewards on specific categories (like 3% on dining and groceries or 2% on travel), and rotating rewards categories that change quarterly (typically a 5% bonus rate).
  • Miles and Points Rewards: Like cash back rewards, points and miles are earned as a portion of your purchases made in specific categories. You might earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel, for example, or 4x miles per dollar spent with streaming service providers. Options for redeeming points vary based on your issuer’s rewards program, and may include redemptions with specific retailers, travel or points transfers to partners, statement credits or cash back, and gift cards. Travel is often the most valuable of these redemption options, and co-branded rewards cards may only earn points or miles toward a specific loyalty program, like Delta SkyMiles or Marriott Bonvoy.

Tracking Your Rewards

If you have a single rewards card, you can keep track of your rewards balance through your online or mobile app account. You can also find a rewards summary on your credit card statement each month.

It can take a bit more time and effort to track rewards on multiple credit cards, especially if those cards are issued by different credit card companies. If you have multiple cards from the same issuer, you can often view them within the same account login; rewards may even pool together under a single account automatically. For cards across multiple issuers, regularly stay on top of the rewards you’re earning and your redemption options for each, so you can maximize all your cash back, points, and miles earned when it’s time to cash in.

The Rewards Process

  • Earn Rewards: Use your rewards credit card to make purchases in eligible bonus categories, accumulating rewards points, miles, or cash back over time. 
  • Evaluate Redemption Options: Log into your card account to view the redemption options your card issuer offers. If you value simplicity, straightforward statement credits might be your preferred choice, or maybe you want to transfer to your preferred airline loyalty program instead. Keep an eye on your inbox for limited time redemption offers from your issuer, and make sure you know when or if your points expire.
  • Redeem Rewards: When you’re ready to redeem, log into your online account and choose your preferred method. You may redeem at regular intervals or save your points, miles, or cash back for a bigger return less frequently, like the next time you want to book a trip.

How Credit Card Interest Works

Credit cards can earn valuable savings on your spending, as long as you’re careful not to take on long-lasting, high-interest debt.

Credit cards carry extraordinarily high variable APRs (annual percentage rate, or your interest rate in yearly terms). Even in today’s low rate environment, average credit card APRs remain over 15%, with some reaching 24% and even beyond. Any balance remaining on your card after your monthly payment is due will accrue interest daily until the balance is paid.

Generally, the better your credit score, the lower your assigned variable APR. But you can avoid paying interest altogether — and forgo the risk of high-interest debt — by using your credit card like a debit card. Never charge more to your credit card than you can afford to pay off at the end of — or throughout —the month, and pay your balances in full (not just the minimum amount due) by the due date. This will help you avoid interest and, over time, build a strong credit score.

Different Types of Credit Cards

Credit cards are generally used in the same way no matter which one you choose, but picking the right type of credit card for you can help ensure your chances of approval and gain the maximum value from your card over time.

Cash Back

Cash back credit cards are rewards credit cards that offer a percentage back on eligible purchases. They may offer a flat cash back percentage on every purchase, a tiered rewards structure with bonus cash back on certain categories, revolving rewards that change quarterly, or some combination of these. Cash back credit cards typically have no annual fee and require good to excellent credit.

Rewards and Travel

Rewards and travel credit cards can offer some of the best savings, but they often come for a price. Cash back cards are rewards cards, as well as cards that earn points or miles on eligible purchases (often travel-related), which you can redeem for a number of options depending on the issuer, including travel booking, gift cards, statement credits, or online purchases. Some rewards and travel cards offer no annual fee, while more premium cards may charge $95, $250, or even $550 annually. These cards generally require excellent credit for approval.

Balance Transfer

Balance transfer credit cards can be a useful tool for debt payoff. These cards offer a reduced interest rate (generally 0%) over an introductory period (usually 12-18 months), during which you can transfer and pay down debt from other credit cards or loans. Some balance transfer cards also function as cash back or rewards cards after the intro period ends, while others are designed to be used solely as debt payoff tools. These cards generally require good to excellent credit for approval.  

0% and Low Interest

0% interest credit cards, like balance transfer cards, offer a reduced interest rate over an introductory period. But instead of transferring old debt, this reduced interest applies to new purchases you make with the card. This can be useful if you have a large purchase coming up and would like the flexibility to pay it off interest-free over time rather than upfront. 0% interest cards generally require good to excellent credit.

Student Credit Cards

Student credit cards are designed to help students with little or no credit history build a credit score and establish healthy credit habits. These cards work in the same way as regular credit cards and may offer rewards or cash back in everyday categories, but are marketed specifically to students. Student cards may have lower interest rates and credit limits and often carry no annual fee.

Credit Cards for Building Credit

Like student credit cards, credit cards for building credit can be used to establish credit and begin practicing healthy credit habits. These cards are for people with poor credit, so you can still get approved even without a good credit score, but they usually offer bare-bones benefits and no rewards. Many credit-building cards are secured credit cards, which require a security deposit upon approval. This deposit may act as your credit line, which is returned when you upgrade to a standard credit card or close your account in good standing.

Small Business Credit Cards

Business credit cards work the same as personal cards, but with rewards and benefits tailored to small business owners, freelancers, or other businesses. Not everyone can qualify for a business credit card — you must have some sort of business or sole proprietorship for approval. These can be helpful tools for separating your business expenses from personal spending, and saving on frequent purchases like travel, office supplies, internet services, and more.

How to Pick the Best Credit Card for You

Before applying, take time to prepare your credit and information you’ll need to get a credit card.

How to Get a Credit Card

  1. Check your credit. Evaluate your credit score and the information on your credit report to see where you stand and what types of cards you may be eligible for.
  2. Choose the right credit card. The card you apply for should align with your goals (earn rewards, build credit, etc.) and your creditworthiness, based on your credit score.
  3. See if you prequalify. Check prequalification offers for the card you’re interested in. This allows you to see whether you’re eligible for a card offer without undergoing a hard credit check.
  4. Submit your application. You’ll need to provide personal information including your full name, address, and income, plus agree to a credit check when you apply.

As you narrow down your options to the specific card you want to apply for, there are a few more factors to consider, ranging from short-term benefits to ongoing costs. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Annual Fee

The annual cost of card ownership. Many cards carry no annual fee, while premium rewards cards can charge more than $500 each year.

Other Fees

Foreign transaction fees, balance transfer fees, late payment fees, cash advance fees and more all vary by card and can increase the cost of your card if incurred. 

Interest Rate

Your card’s interest rate (expressed in yearly terms as APR) determines how much you’ll pay when you carry a balance month-to-month. There are two different APRs to know:

  • Introductory: Some cards offer an introductory APR on new purchases or balance transfers (or both) for a limited time. This is often a 0% APR offer and often lasts several months after account opening.
  • Ongoing: Your ongoing APR will likely be a variable interest rate based on the prime rate and determined by your credit score. Because it’s variable, it can change over time.

Rewards

Rewards, whether cash back, points, or miles, are often a primary determining factor for prospective cardholders. Use your previous spending habits and preferred redemption methods to determine what rewards structures may best serve you.

Welcome Bonus

A great welcome bonus can be a major perk of a new credit card, and boost your initial earnings by hundreds of dollars. But while it’s a good sign-up perk, a high-value welcome bonus offers no long-term value.

Other Benefits

Many rewards cards (especially those with higher costs or that require excellent credit) offer ongoing benefits beyond rewards, such as annual credits toward certain purchases and merchants; access to events, lounges, and experiences; and additional savings on your spending. If they fit with spending you would have made anyway, these added benefits can help offset an annual fee on a new rewards card.

Credit Card Issuers, Networks, and Co-Brands

Every credit card is issued by a financial institution (such as Capital One or Bank of America) and runs on a specific card network (like Visa or Mastercard). And in the case of Discover and American Express, the issuer and network may be the same company, but they serve very different functions. There are even more parties involved for co-branded credit cards, which require a partnership between the issuer and another company, like an airline or retail brand. 

Credit Card Issuer

Your credit card issuer (or credit card company) is the bank or financial institution that issues the card and provides financial backing. These may be large national banks like Chase or smaller community banks and credit unions. Issuers determine a card’s rewards, benefits, rates, and fees, all of which will vary depending on the specific bank and card. 

Your credit card issuer is the bank which approves your card application, sets your credit limit and interest rate, and settles any fraud or payment issues you may have. Each month, you’ll also pay your credit card bill to the issuer.

Credit Card Network

Credit card networks process your card transactions and facilitate payment between credit card issuers and merchants. Credit card networks also determine interchange fees, which merchants pay each time a customer makes a purchase using a credit card. 

There are four major credit card networks in the United States: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. Cards on Visa or Mastercard’s network are issued by other banks (such as Citi or Chase), while American Express and Discover act as both card networks and credit card issuers.

Co-Branded Credit Cards

Credit card issuers often partner with travel and retail brands to issue co-branded cards geared toward frequent customers. You’ll typically find co-branded options for airlines (like Citi’s AAdvantage MileUp Card) or hotel chains (like the Hilton Honors American Express Card) among an issuer’s card portfolio. These cards are issued by a credit card company and backed by a card network, so you can use them anywhere, but may be most valuable for purchases you make with the partner brand.

Retail credit cards are a form of co-branded cards as well. Some, like the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature or Target REDCard work like general rewards credit cards. You can use these cards anywhere, but you’ll receive special discounts and rewards with the co-branded retail partner. These differ from more restrictive closed-loop store cards, which may only be used with the partner retailer.

Should I Get a Credit Card?

A credit card is a great financial tool for building credit and saving money, but opening a new credit card is also a big responsibility. Whether you’re deciding on a credit card for the first time, or adding a new card to your rotation, it’s good to make sure the time is right. Here are a few questions that can help you decide whether you should get a credit card:

  • Do you have bad credit? Bad credit isn’t necessarily a reason not to get a credit card. But if your credit is poor because of past mistakes or negative payments, make sure you’ve addressed those concerns before opening a new line of credit. When you are ready to begin rebuilding your credit, or build credit for the first time, a credit card for people with bad credit or no credit history can be a great help. 
  • Do you have good credit? Alternatively, if you’ve taken time to build your credit score and you’re ready to upgrade to a high-value rewards credit card (or add another card to your wallet), choose a card that aligns with your spending to help you save money on everyday purchases and more.
  • Do you have any high-interest debts? If you have high-interest debt balances, it’s not a good idea to take on another credit card you’ll use to increase your debt. But a balance transfer credit card with a 0% introductory interest rate could help you eliminate your debt without accruing more interest.
  • Have you applied for a new credit card recently? Too many inquiries on your credit report within a short time period (whether you’re approved or not) can not only have a negative impact on your credit score, but also make you appear more risky to potential lenders.
  • Do you plan to apply for a mortgage or loan in the near future? Similarly, you should wait to get a new credit card if you’re planning to apply for a mortgage or other long-term loan anytime soon. Hard inquiries only have a small effect on your credit, but you’ll want to apply with the highest credit score you can to secure the best possible terms on long-term loans. Even tenths of difference in a mortgage interest rate can have a big effect on how much you pay over a 15- or 30-year term.

Are you financially secure? Perhaps the most important thing to consider before opening a credit card is your ability to pay your balance in full and on time each month. If you’re facing income loss or financial hardship, using a credit card to make purchases you can’t afford should be a last resort. Revolving a credit card balance with an interest rate of 15%, 20%, or higher can quickly lead to long-term, lasting debt.

How the Application Process Works

  1. Check your credit report and credit score: Once you’ve determined the card you’d like to apply for, view your credit score to ensure you have solid chances of approval. Also check your credit report for any errors before applying; you can check your own report for free using AnnualCreditReport.com.
  2. Apply: You can complete your card application online. Make sure you have all the relevant information you may need, including your address, Social Security number, and current income. 
  3. Review: If you’re approved, some issuers may allow you to begin using your new card online immediately, or wait until the card itself arrives by mail. If your application is rejected, consider the reasons for your denial. Have you applied for too many cards within a short time? Is your credit not quite where it should be for approval? Take time to build your credit score and practice paying your bills and other debts in full and on time before submitting a new application.

*All information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card, Citi Double Cash Card, Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Spark Cash for Business, and Capital One Spark Cash Select for Business has been collected independently by NextAdvisor and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, click here.

For rates and fees of the American Express Business Gold Card, click here

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest card to get approved for?

If you have little or no credit history, or a poor credit score, you may find the best chances of approval with a secured credit card. These cards require an upfront cash security deposit upon approval, which usually acts as your credit limit. While they typically offer few rewards and high fees, secured cards can be a useful tool for establishing credit.

How many credit cards should you have?

The number of credit cards you have will depend on your spending, preferred rewards, and your responsibility when it comes to using your cards. Over time, you may accumulate more than one credit card to use for different purposes, or you may rely on single card for the majority of your spending. If you are looking to take on multiple credit cards, make sure you can keep up with each card’s payments and don’t apply for more than one in a short time period, as it could have a negative (but temporary) impact on your credit score.

What’s the difference between Visa and Mastercard?

Visa and Mastercard are both credit card networks. They facilitate payments between merchants and the banks that issue credit cards. Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted by most merchants worldwide, and whether your card is one or the other won’t make much difference. Instead, look for your card’s issuing bank (such as Chase or Wells Fargo) for card details and fees that may affect your card use.

What is the best credit card company?

The best credit card company for you depends on what type of card you need and details like interest rate and fees that can impact your card usage. Discover tends to appeal to new credit users, for example, while American Express is popular among people who spend a lot of money on their cards. When choosing a new credit card, look into issuer-specific features like security measures, payment details, account access, and more before making your decision.

How do you qualify for a credit card?

Credit card issuers determine whether you qualify for a credit card based on your creditworthiness, or the details in your credit report and card application. Each credit card company is different, but you can increase your chances of qualifying by practicing good credit habits, building a positive payment history, and establishing an income you can include on your application. 

Before applying, get a better sense of your qualification odds by comparing your credit score to the card’s recommended credit range and looking into prequalification offers.

How does credit card interest work?

When you’re approved for a card, your issuer will assign a variable annual percentage rate (APR). But interest compounds daily on any balances you carry on a credit card after the due date. 

Consider a 16% variable APR on a $1,000 balance. The first day, you’ll accrue .044% in daily interest, increasing your balance to $1,000.44. The second day, daily interest compounds again, so your new total balance rises to $1,000.88, and so on. The speed with which interest compounds on credit cards is one of the reasons high-interest credit card debt can be dangerous.

You can avoid credit card interest altogether by charging only what you can afford, and paying your statement balances in full and on time every month.

Does applying for a credit card hurt your credit score?

When you apply for a credit card, your issuer conducts a hard credit check. This inquiry can cause your credit score to drop by a few points, but only temporarily. Once you’re approved, practicing good credit habits like timely payments and keeping a low credit utilization can help you make up that ground.

However, you shouldn’t apply for several new credit cards at once. And if your application is denied, avoid applying for another one too quickly. One new card application will have minimal negative impact on your score, but many hard credit inquiries can have a larger negative effect.

Methodology

To determine our best credit card picks, we evaluate credit cards within popular card categories. Our criteria includes details specific to each category (redemption value for travel cards, for example, or credit requirements for beginner credit cards) along with standard details across cards — rewards earned, welcome bonus, annual fee, introductory offer, interest rate, and more. Most importantly, each of the cards on our list delivers on its marketed purpose, whether that’s great travel rewards, business savings, or everyday value. We believe the cards on this list offer a mix of high rewards value, simplicity, and relevance for the broadest range of consumers. 

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