It’s a wonderful time to embrace the plastic. With more and more credit cards flooding the market—combined with an all-out push by banks to attract today’s debt-shy, Venmo-loving Millennials—there’s never been a better time to scoop up a low APR, score an enormous sign-up bonus, and cash in other great perks.
Of course, not all credit cards are created equal. Some are great for gobbling up outsize sums of cash-back and travel points, while others will let you do cool things like pay down your balance—interest-free—for close to two years. (Others, meanwhile, are really only good for racking up enormous Amazon bills.) But whatever you’re after, remember that it’s absolutely essential that you pay off your balance in full every month, especially given the Fed’s looming interest-rate hike, if you want to take full advantage of these perks.
So here is your complete guide to the best deals on the market right now. And don’t forget: once you’re swimming in miles, start hitting up the 10 Best Vacation Destinations Right Now.
Using a travel card means earnings points and miles for free flights, upgrades, hotel stays, and other travel-related perks. You’ll typically need good credit to be approved for one, but if you are, the sky’s the limit.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the crème de la crème of travel credit cards, packaged up for the everyman. This card has it all: big sign-up bonus, generous rewards program and travel perks like complimentary access to 900-plus airport lounges, free TSA Precheck, and special benefits at a number of qualifying hotels. Oh, and it’s made out of metal. (Trust me: plopping a steel credit card onto a dinner bill is a very satisfying experience.) And, as far as we know, the Reserve is the only major credit card to grace the cover of a magazine.
With a $450 annual fee, owning this card may seem like a burden. But remember: the Reserve comes with a $300 annual travel credit good for anything from hotels and airlines to taxis, tolls, trains, and buses. So if you spend at least $300 on anything that falls broadly under travel, this card costs a more reasonable $150 per year.
It’s unfair to discuss the travel-rewards Chase Sapphire Reserve without mentioning its predecessor, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The Preferred, stripped of the increased perks and larger annual fee of the Reserve, is better suited for the casual traveler. You won’t find airport lounge access or comped TSA Precheck here. You will, however, get access to the same rewards currency as the Reserve, earning 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on restaurants and travel, with 1 point earned on all other spending. The sign-up bonus is a respectable 50,000 points for spending $4,000 in your first three months, and the annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.
The Venture makes another fair-value option compared to the Chase Sapphire Reserve (it’s annual fee of $59 is waived the first year). Still, it comes with a number of impressive perks including a sign-up bonus worth $400 in travel and one of the easiest-to-use rewards programs around. (Cardholders earn 2 miles per dollar spent on everything, with miles redeemable for just about any travel related expense.) It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
This card’s travel-rewards program closely matches the VentureOne’s: 2 points per dollar spent on everything with points redeemable for 1 cent each. The World Elite does have a slight advantage, though, as it offers 5% of your miles back every time they’re redeemed. Tack on a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus with a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and you’ve got another worthy flat-rate rewards card offering. Bonus: the $89 annual fee is waived the first year.
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card is an outlier in the world of travel cards, coming with zero annual fee. The lack of an annual fee does come at some cost; you won’t get the panache and pizzazz of the Chase Sapphire Reserve here. But what you will get is 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, with points worth a cent apiece when—like the VentureOne and Arrival Plus—redeemed for travel. The sign-up bonus isn’t too shabby either: spend $1,000 on the card within the first 90 days of card ownership and you’ll get 20,000 points good for $200 worth of travel.
For those who want to earn points on hotels, the SPG is simply the best around. Cardholders can earn up to 5 points per dollar on purchases at Starwood hotels, 2 points per dollar at Marriott Hotels, and 1 point on everything else. Starpoints convert at the highest value when used at Starwood hotels, but they also transfer to more than two-dozen frequent flier programs. A flexible rewards program means not having your points bound to only one or two airlines, and that’s something that really makes the SPG an upper-echelon credit card.
Welcome to the new world of “bonus category credit cards,” which earn bonus cash back on categories that rotate each quarter. Actually activating the bonus categories requires opting in on your card’s website. If you don’t opt in, no bonus.
For those interested in earning 5% cash back on categories like gas, groceries, restaurants and wholesale clubs, the Chase Freedom has you covered. Along with a slew of bonus categories that cover everyday spending, this card comes with a $150 sign-up bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months of opening the account.
Much like the Chase Freedom, this card comes with 5% bonus cash back on a number of common spending categories that change every quarter. Its sign-up bonus is what really makes the Discover It unique, though: Discover will double whatever cash back cardholders earn in their first year. And — like with the Chase Freedom — there’s no annual fee.
Also, most 0%-APR cards don’t earn rewards. The Discover it is an exception, offering a 6-month 0% APR on purchases, an 18-month 0% APR on balance transfers AND a rotating 5% cash-back bonus category. Combining rewards and a low APR into one card makes the Discover it truly unique .
The U.S Bank Cash+ is slightly different than other 5% cards in the way it offers its bonus rewards. Cardholders get to pick two categories that earn 5% cash back (up to $2,000 in quarterly spending), one category that earns 2% (unlimited), with all other spending earning 1%. An increased category offering makes this card more appealing for people who aren’t as consistent with their spending and, like its competitors, the U.S. Bank Cash+ doesn’t charge an annual fee. New cardholders will also get $100 if they spend $500 within the first 90 days of the card’s opening.
When it comes to cash-back credit cards—which, as the name suggests, earns straight cash back without the hassle of points conversions—none are simpler than the Citi Double Cash. It earns 1% cash back when you spend and another 1% when you pay off your bill. So, if you pay in full every month, this card functionally earns 2% cash back on everything. There’s no other card on the market that offers such a generous return on all spending. Bonus: no annual fee.
Capital One’s QuicksilverOne falls just short of the Citi Double Cash with 1.5% cash back on everything. The benefit is, if your credit is closer to the average range (around 630-689), you’re more likely to qualify for this card than the Double Cash. One fallback: It comes with an annual fee of $39.
For cash back on groceries and gas, it doesn’t get much better than the Blue Cash Preferred. Earning 6% back on groceries (up to $6,000 in spending) and 3% at gas stations and department stores (unlimited), this is the card you should be using for both. The annual fee of $95 may be tough to stomach for some, but the high cash-back percentages make up for it. And remember, all purchases at supermarkets earn 6% cashback. So if your local grocery store sells gift cards to other retailers — many do — you can stretch that 6% beyond various forms of produce.
Just like its counterpart, the Blue Cash Everyday earns cash back on gas and groceries, albeit a more modest 3% on groceries (up to $6,000 in spending) and 2% on gas (unlimited) with 1% everywhere else. Also modest is the card’s annual fee — there is none. So if you want some of the benefits of the Blue Cash Preferred without the burden of an annual toll, go with the Everyday.
Now, let’s say your goal is to pay off a purchase over time without interest or transfer an interest-accumulating balance from one card to another. Then you’ll want a low or no APR card.
Meet the Citi Diamond Preferred, which comes with 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for a whopping 21 months — tied for the longest of any credit card out there. It has no annual fee, but does charge a $5 or 3% fee (whichever is greater) on balance transfers. If a long purchase APR is all you seek, look no further than the CDP.
The Citi Simplicity is more or less the same card as the Diamond Preferred, offering a 21-month 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers, with no annual fee. The one differentiator is the Simplicity’s absence of late fees and penalty rates. Though missing a payment on this card can still bring you some problems in terms of credit-score damage, you’ll at least avoid some fines.
For balance transfers, the Chase Slate reigns supreme. This card offers a no-fee, 15-month 0% APR on balance transfers as long as you transfer within the first 60 days of opening the card. (The 0% APR also applies for purchases.) You’ll be pressed to find a comparable deal without a transfer fee.
If you need to hold a balance beyond the 21 months offered by the Citi Diamond Preferred and the Citi Simplicity, the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa is one of the best options available. Instead of a 0% APR limited to a certain number of months, this card comes with a low, indefinite APR of 6.25%. Compared to ongoing APRs often in 15-20% range, this card can help save cardholders hundreds if not thousands of dollars in interest while they work to pay down their debt — all without an annual fee.
Let’s say you’re trying to boost your credit score by using credit but are having a tough time qualifying for a card in the first place; there are a number of credit cards made specifically for you. Chances are you need a bad-credit credit card, which usually require the user putting down a deposit (usually anywhere from $50 to a few thousand dollars) upon opening the card. That amount will equal the credit line and ultimately serves as collateral should the cardholder default on payment. If you’re having difficulty getting your spending under control, please see our handy guide for Cutting $10,000 from Your Annual expenses.
One of the best, bare-bones secured cards out there, the Capital One Secured MasterCard’s true beauty lies in its flexibility. To get this card, you’ll have the option of putting down $49, $99 or $200, an amount which you can opt to pay over time (as long as it’s covered in full within the first 80 days of the card being opened). The issuer will also up your credit line if the first five payments are made on time.
If your main goal in signing up for a secured card is upgrading to a non-secured card, the U.S. Bank Secured Visa is worth a look. After the first 12 months of use, if you’ve been using your card responsibly, U.S. Bank will consider you for an upgrade, moving you up the ladder of credit building. The only downside is that there is an annual fee of $29.
Rewards programs are also hard to come by with secured cards, which is why the Discover it’s 2% cash back on restaurants and gas puts it in the ranks as one of the best secured cards on the market. There’s also no annual fee, free access to your FICO score and cardholders are evaluated for a card upgrade after just seven months.