The best credit cards generally offer low interest rates, great perks, and no hidden fees. However, that doesn’t mean the “right” card is the same for each person. Because each credit card offer is as different as we are, the best card for your needs depends on your spending habits, credit score, and personal credit goals. Use this post as your guide to match up your needs with the benefits you desire most.
But, if you want to avoid analysis paralysis, here’s the CliffsNotes version: According to our readers, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the single best credit card with the best rewards and perks for nearly every type of spender.
How do we know? Because, over time, more of our readers have signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card than any other rewards card we have seen. Add onto that the myriad feedback we receive on this card’s benefits, such as no foreign transaction fee and the flexibility of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points, and it’s easy to see why the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the top cards on the market.
I can attest to its greatness as well. I have been writing about the credit card landscape for several years now, and this is the card I use for the bulk of my family’s everyday spending because I find the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform to be the most flexible for earning and redeeming travel. I even use the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card from Chase for my business as well to combine my business and personal Ultimate Rewards points to take my family of four on a free vacation.
The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for 2017
The best credit cards on the market come with plenty of perks that include things like cash back rewards, travel insurance, and price protection. They can also help you travel for free, or score heavily discounted travel perks. Other types of cards offer a lower interest rate, which can lead to huge savings over the long term. To help you get started, we created a list of our top cards in each of the main categories:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Best Travel Credit Card
- Chase Freedom®
Best Cash Back Credit Card
- Discover it® Cashback Match™
Earn Double Cash Back Your First Year
- Chase Slate®
Best Balance Transfer Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Best Airline Credit Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Best Hotel Credit Card
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Best Sign-up Bonus for Travel
How Should I Choose the Right Credit Card?
While the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the clear winner for my family, that doesn’t mean it’s the best card for yours. In reality, the best card for your needs depends on your spending style and personal credit goals. Below are a few scenarios to help you narrow down the right card for you.
“I want free travel and perks.”
Travel credit cards are notorious for their amazing perks and travel-related benefits. Not only can you earn points or miles good for free travel, but also many travel credit cards let you earn special status with a hotel or airline, and also let you transfer your points to numerous hotel and airline loyalty programs.
What to look for: If travel is your number one goal, you’ll want a credit card that earns at least 2x points on travel, and has tons of flexibility, including allowing you to transfer points to hotel and airline loyalty programs. Also, many of the best travel credit cards offer additional travel benefits like trip cancellation coverage, primary and secondary auto rental coverage, and emergency travel assistance.
Beware: Most travel cards have annual fees, which are well worth the price if you earn enough points each year to justify the fee. You will also need excellent credit for most top travel cards.
Check out our picks for the top travel cards below.
“I’m looking for the best sign-up bonus right now.”
While it’s smart to think about the ongoing rewards you can earn, scoring a huge sign-up bonus doesn’t hurt, either. Fortunately, a ton of credit cards offer huge bonuses to people who are able to meet a minimum spending requirement within the first few months. While these sign-up bonuses can come in the form of cash back, you can also earn gift cards, airline miles, free hotel stays, and hotel points as well.
What to look for: Credit card sign-up bonuses are often cyclical with a peak season generally in the summer months, although some top travel cards offer healthy bonuses all year round. Sign-up bonuses are highest on rewards cards and travel cards, but make sure the one-time bonus is worth it. Often the largest point bonuses are on hotel cards, which offer little long-term value unless you travel frequently or only stay at one hotel chain. If you only travel one to two times per year, you will probably not earn enough points to justify the annual fee.
Beware: Since most cards with big bonuses come with a minimum spending requirement, you’ll need to make sure you can hit that requirement without hurting your finances. Also make sure the “bonus” you earn is something you can actually use. For example, a sign-up bonus made up of airline miles will only be useful if you plan to travel and can actually fly that airline.
Check out our picks for the top cards with sign-up bonuses below.
“I want to earn cash back on my spending.”
Cash back credit cards let you earn cash back, statement credits, or gift cards for every purchase you make. The best credit cards allow you to accumulate two or more points per dollar or more. Cash back cards are great second credit cards to own and work best when paired with a more general 2x points per purchase rewards card. And since many cash back credit cards are also considered “beginner credit cards,” they offer a great opportunity to build credit while you earn rewards.
What to look for: A cash back card is ideal when used as either your first credit card, or a complement to a higher-earning rewards card. Use cash back cards to maximize rewards on groceries, gas, and other categories where your rewards card might not earn bonus points. I use the Blue Cash Preferred Card® by American Express to earn 6% back on groceries at U.S. supermarkets for my family — up to $6,000 per year, for example. You also, generally do not need excellent credit like with a rewards card, but this can vary by issuer.
Beware: Cash back cards often rotate their bonus categories on a quarterly schedule. This means that you might earn 5% back on gas for the first three months of the year, and then groceries in the second quarter. Also, despite the allure of high earnings, cash back cards often cap the points you can earn in a given quarter.
Check out our picks for the top cash back cards below.
“I need to reduce my interest rate.”
One way to avoid high-interest credit card payments is to transfer your balance to a new credit card. When you do this, make sure it’s a credit card that will either accept your balance without charging a fee or offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for over a year. This gives you time to pay off your large balance.
What to look for: If you’re carrying credit card debt at a high interest rate, look for a card with a low interest rate or 0% introductory APR for anywhere between 12 to 21 months. Depending on how much you owe and your current rate, the interest you save could add up quick. And when you’re not paying huge interest payments every month, you may be able to get out of debt faster.
Beware: Most 0% introductory APR cards carry a fee for transferring your balance to the new card. This fee is usually between 3% and 5% of your total balance. The Chase Slate® card waives this fee if the balance is transferred within 60 days from a non-Chase credit card.
Check out our picks for the top balance transfer cards below.
“I need to build credit.”
Building credit is an important step in your financial journey, and using a credit card responsibly is the quickest way to build credit. However, when you do not have credit history, it can be difficult to obtain a card. There are two types of credit cards for building credit: unsecured and secured. Most credit cards are unsecured and do not require a cash deposit to use. A secured credit card is needed in more extreme circumstances where you need to “secure” your line of credit by depositing a cash amount equal to what you want to borrow.
What to look for: If your goal is building credit, rewards should take a back seat for the time being. Instead of looking for the top rewards credit cards, you should home in on cards geared to people with poor or evolving credit. If you can, you’ll want to get an unsecured credit card that doesn’t require a deposit.
Beware: You might have to apply for a secured credit card if your credit score is extremely low or if your credit history is limited. With a secured credit card, you would need to deposit $200-$500 with the credit card company in order to receive a $200-$500 line of credit. This sounds like a big barrier, but with a few months of on-time payments, you can reasonably expect to have the deposit requirement lifted.
Read our reviews for Best Credit Cards for Average Credit, Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit, and Best Student Credit Cards to find one that’s right for you.
“I don’t know what I need.”
If you’re still unsure which type of card would benefit you the most, browsing them all can help you compare and contrast. Take a look at our credit card database below.