Last Updated – 20 Feb 2019
Figuring out what kind of credit card will most benefit you can be overwhelming. Everybody’s needs and lifestyles are different. Some cards or card types may be better than others depending on your lifestyle and your needs. We broke up credit cards into ten major types and then chose to feature the best card currently available in that type.
The first four categories, based on your credit situation, are: best card for building/rebuilding credit, best card for those with below average credit, best card for those with average credit, and the best credit card for students. We have six more categories for people with good to excellent credit, which include the best cash back card, best travel and dining rewards card, best airline rewards card, best balance transfer card, longest 0% APR introductory period, and the best primary spending card.
All of the cards in our ranking offer the best bonuses, rewards, and incentives in their respective categories.
Best Secured Credit Card (first-time credit card)
1. Capital One Secured Mastercard
The Capital One Secured MasterCard has a 4.4 out of 5 rating from almost 12,000 reviews on the Capital One website. One of the best features of this card is the flexible refundable deposits used to start the card. Depending on credit score, your minimums can be $49, $99, or $200. The initial line of credit is $200, and that increases after you make five on-time monthly payments. Capital One’s secured MasterCard does not charge an annual fee and offers a 24.99% variable APR. Customers also gain access to Capital One’s CreditWise suite of credit tracking tools.
Best Card Card with Below-Average Credit
2. Capital One Platinum Credit Card
The Capital One Platinum card is rated at 4.6 out of 5 stars by customer reviews on Capital One’s website. 93% of reviewers stated they would recommend the card to a friend. Though the card is a bit on the bare bones side, it’s perfect for building up your credit. Your limit will increase after 5 months of on-time payments. Currently the APR starts at 24.99% with no introductory rate currently on offer. There is no annual fee, and you will gain access to the CreditWise suite of credit monitoring tools to help you manage your credit.
Best Credit Card with Average Credit
3. QuicksilverOne from Capital One Credit Card
This is one of the only rewards cards available to people in the average credit tier. There is an annual fee of $39, so it’s important to make sure you will actually benefit from the 1.5% cash back you get on every purchase. You will have to spend $255 per month to earn back the $39 annual fee. If you spend $1,000 per month you will get $180 cash back for the year. This means the maximum cash back offered by this card is $141 per year after accounting for the annual fee.
Best Cashback Credit Card
4. Discover it Cashback Match Credit Card
Rotating quarterly bonus categories which include gas stations, restaurants, wholesale clubs, and amazon.com will give 5% cash back, which is huge. You get 1% cash back on all other purchases. You can earn an additional $50 cash back by referring qualified friends, and the rewards never expire. Discover will then automatically match all the cash back new card members earn at the end of their first year. You can also use your rewards directly at amazon.com.
Best Travel Credit Card
5. Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
If you spend a lot of money on travel and dining, this is the card for you. You’ll get 5,000 bonus points after making your first purchase. Customers who spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months get 50,000 bonus points, equal to $625 towards travel. There is no annual fee for the first year, after which customers will pay $95 per year. Travel and dining offer double points. You get 0% APR for your first year. Another great feature is that you can get 1:1 points transfers to other travel programs, including British Airways, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, and United MileagePlus. You also get 25% more value when you redeem your points for airfare, hotels, car rentals, and cruises.
Best Primary Spending Credit Card
6. American Express Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card
The current welcome offer on this card is $200 cash back if you spend $1,000 in the first three months. New customers also enjoy 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 12 months after which your APR will be between 13.99% and 24.99% depending on your creditworthiness. Cardholders earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (the maximum cash back for this comes out to $360). Customers also get 3% cash back at some select department stores and on gasoline purchases at all U.S. gas stations. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.
Best Airline Credit Cards
7. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is offered through Chase. New cardholders get 40,000 bonus points after they make their first $1,000 in purchases. You get two points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases made directly with the airline, and the same deal on rapid rewards hotels and car rental partner purchases. You earn one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. For your cardmember anniversary, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card will give you 6,000 bonus points. Your rewards points on this card can be redeemed for domestic and international flights, cruises, hotel stays, car rentals, and gift cards.
Best Introductory 0% APR Period Credit Card
8. Citi Diamond Preferred Credit Card
A 21-month 0% APR introductory period on both balance transfers and purchases is just the beginning of what’s offered by the Citi Diamond Preferred card. Do you hate making a big purchase only to see the item you bought go on sale for much less a short time later? Citi Price Rewind helps with that. It automatically searches for lower prices, and if the same item is found at a lower price within 60 days, Citi will credit the difference back to you. This works on items with up to $500 price difference and can be used to save you a maximum of $2,500 per year.
Best Balance Transfer Credit Card
9. Citi Simplicity Credit Card
Looking to transfer your credit card balances in order to get ahead of the interest? Citi Simplicity provides you with 24 months at 0% APR on balance transfers. The intro offer for purchases is still a solid 12 months at 0% APR. Your balance transfer fee is the greater of $5 per transaction or 3% of the amount of each credit card balance you transfer. There is no annual fee, and no late fee. You also get the benefit of Citi Price Rewind which automatically searches for a lower price on items you purchase with the card. If a lower price is found within 60 days of your purchase, Citi will credit the difference back to you. Citi will credit up to $2,500 per year back to you through this program.
Best Credit Card for Student
10. Discover it Chrome for Students Credit Card
Having a credit card as a student can be a helpful thing. It’s a good idea to start building your credit early. The Discover it Chrome for Students card is a great choice. Few cards available to students with little to no credit offer cash back features. Discover it Chrome for Students offers 2% cash back for restaurant and gas, up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter. If you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA, you can get an extra $20 cash back each school year. The card offers an introductory APR of 0% for six months and a purchase APR of 13.99%-22.99%, which is quite low for a card targeting a market that’s new to credit.
Basic Strategy for Maximizing Your Credit
Credit cards are a great way to build and take advantage of your credit. However, most people don’t use credit cards in ways that are advantageous. Following some simple strategies will help you get the most out of cards, without getting in over your head in credit card debt. First is to maintain a low balance. Having a low balance on your card can actually help you more than paying off your balance completely every month.
Companies like to see that you use your lines of credit, so having a small balance on the card is a good thing. Don’t max them out if you can help it. Maintaining a balance around your maximum limit can hurt your credit even if you make your payments every month.
Don’t switch cards and accounts too often. Card juggling can really hurt your credit. It’s okay if you find yourself in a tight spot and need a good balance transfer card to get your finances under control while you take a break from paying interest. But the age of your accounts is important. The older your accounts, the more stable and reliable you seem to companies, giving your credit score a boost. So pick a good card (or cards) that you’re comfortable with, and stick with it for the long haul.
Finally, remember to think of credit cards as financial tools, not extra money. Any credit limit will dry up fast if you just view it as extra money. It’s better to see them as ways to get a discount and benefits for spending money. Credit cards are useful for building up your credit so that when you need a bigger loan for a car or house, you will have built the credit you need. But they can be a trap if you rely on them just to get by.
What’s a Secured Card?
Secured cards are a unique solution for individuals with no credit or poor credit. Being in such a position is often frustrating because there are few opportunities to build credit. The secured card lets you make a security deposit to act as collateral. This deposit is fully refundable after a certain period of time using the card and making timely payments. The secured card functions as a normal credit card, not a prepaid or debit card. Most credit companies and banks offer a secured card. But not all secured cards are created equal. Some secured cards offer more benefits than others. Some have annual fees, while others don’t. We encourage you to do plenty of research on the secured cards available to you. A great place to start is with a card we featured right here in our ranking!
Get the Most from Your Cash Back and Rewards Cards
Cash Back and Rewards cards can help you save lots of money over the years, but it’s important to understand how to use them effectively. The key to getting the most out of Rewards and Cash Back cards is to pay off as much of your balance as you can every month. These cards reward you for how much money you spend. If you spend up to your balance, and then just pay minimum payments, you’ll never use the card enough to really benefit from the rewards. Instead, paying off as much of the balance every month as you can allows you to earn significant rewards by spending money on the card consistently.These cards are perfect for customers who can do the bulk of their spending on the card while keeping their balance low.
While you don’t want to open and close cards left and right, it’s okay to have a bunch of different cards to cover different spending categories. For instance, you might want one card that gives you travel and dining rewards, and another for gas and groceries. This way, when you spend money in either category, you get maximum rewards.
Balance Transfer Cards Explained
Sometimes you get a bit behind and find yourself carrying too high a balance on a few different credit cards. The interest rate on these can become overwhelming and keep you from paying off the debt. Balance transfer cards are the perfect tool to help yourself get ahead. Most balance transfer cards offer a long intro APR of 0%, and sometimes that 0% APR period also applies to new purchases on the card. Balance transfer cards charge fees for each balance transfer, but at 3%-5% of the balance, you’ll still save a lot on the interest. The Citi Simplicity card gives you 24 months interest free to pay off that balance, has low fees, and great features. That makes it a great place to begin when you start looking at the balance transfer options in the market.