There’s no one best credit card out there for everyone, but if you know your spending habits and what kind of rewards you want, you should be able to narrow down your top choices to a few.
To help you, we’ve put together a list of the best rewards credit cards on the market. Specifically, we’ll cover the best cards that offer cash back and travel rewards, and we’ll also share a couple of options if your credit isn’t quite good enough to get the best.
The best cash-back credit cards
The best credit card rewards programs offer flexibility, and that’s what cash-back cards do. After all, you can do whatever you want with cash. Here are the best cash-back credit cards for your wallet:
If you can’t be bothered by credit cards that have multiple rewards rates or require that you memorize rotating bonus categories, the Citi Double Cash Card should be in your wheelhouse.
The card offers a flat 1% cash back on every purchase you make, then another 1% cash back when you pay them off, for an effective 2% cash-back rate. There are very few credit cards that can beat that rate on a consistent basis.
The Citi Double Cash is also a great option if you need to transfer a balance from a high-interest credit card. You’ll get a 0% APR promotion that lasts more than a year. It’s not available for new purchases, though. So, if you need a card that you can use to finance a big-ticket item, this one isn’t for you.
The biggest drawback to the card is that it doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus. Otherwise, it’s a great top-of-wallet card that you can use for just about anything.
2) Discover it
There’s a lot of debate over which card is better: The Discover it or the Chase Freedom. They both offer 5% cash back on categories that rotate each month, up to a certain amount spent. They also both offer 1% cash back on all other purchases.
What really sets the Discover it apart is its sign-up bonus, if you can call it that. Instead of offering a specific cash bonus after you spend a certain amount, Discover simply matches all of the cash back you earn during your first year.
So, instead of getting 5% cash back on bonus categories and 1% back on everything else, you’re effectively earning 10% bonus cash back and 2% back on everything else. That’s tough to beat, especially if you’re a big spender and can max out those rotating categories each quarter.
The card also offers a 0% APR promotion on both purchases and balance transfers. The card’s biggest drawback is that it’s not widely accepted overseas. But otherwise, it’s a no-brainer, at least as a secondary card to take advantage of the bonus categories.
If you spend a lot on gas and groceries, this card has a lucrative proposition. For starters, you’ll earn a $200 cash bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
Then, you’ll get a whopping 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 spent each year (1% after that), 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores, and 1% cash back on everything else. The card also offers a 0% APR promotion for both new purchases and balance transfers.
But if you’re fee-averse, this card might not be a good fit. It charges a $95 annual fee and doesn’t waive it the first year. Of course, if you max out the grocery bonus, you’d earn $360 from that alone, more than making up for the annual fee.
If your credit is in the fair or average range, it’s likely that you won’t get approved for most of the cards on this list. The good news is that the QuicksilverOne is a perfect card to use while you’re building your credit.
The card offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. You’ll also qualify for a higher credit limit once you make your first five payments on time.
Unfortunately, all of these perks come at a cost. The QuicksilverOne charges a $39 annual fee. That’s not terrible, though, considering what you’re getting in return.
In most situations, getting a secured card is the pits. Not only do you have to put up money as a security deposit to get the card, but you’re typically stuck with no rewards and an annual fee. Plus, you won’t get your deposit back until after you close down the account, whenever that happens.
With the Discover it Secured, however, you don’t have to worry about any of these things. First off, there is no annual fee. Secondly, the card offers 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, plus 1% cash back elsewhere. And just like the Discover it card, this card doubles all of the cash back you earn during the first year.
Discover also automatically reviews your account, starting at eight months, to see if it can return your security deposit, effectively turning it into an unsecured credit card. If you have bad or no credit, there’s no card out there that will beat what this one offers.
The best credit cards for travel rewards
Getting cash back is nice, but it can also be boring. Some of the best credit cards offer special perks that can not only help you get free travel but also travel in comfort.
If you like the idea of getting free travel, but still want something simple, the Venture from Capital One is a perfect choice. It offers 2X miles on all purchases, plus a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after you spend $3,000 in the first three months — that’s worth $500 in free travel.
You can use your miles to pay for just about any travel — you don’t have to worry about blackout dates or other restrictions. The card also has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s a perfect travel companion if you’re headed overseas.
The card does charge an annual fee of $95, but it waives it the first year.
If you want special airline perks, this card offers perks you won’t get with the competition. The card offers 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You’ll also earn 2X miles on a United purchase and 1X miles on everything else.
That’s not what sets this card apart, though. The card also offers two free passes to the United Club, the airline’s airport lounge. That’s worth just a little more than the card’s $95 annual fee (waived the first year).
You’ll also get primary rental car insurance, which means you don’t have to tap your personal car insurance company first if something happens to your rental car. The majority of credit cards offer secondary rental car insurance.
This card also offers other airline perks, including priority boarding, a free checked bag for you and one other person on your itinerary, no foreign transaction fees, and upgrades for MileagePlus Premier members.
If you don’t mind a steep annual fee, the Platinum Card just might be worth it. You’ll earn a sign-up bonus worth 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. But compared with the other perks the card offers, the rewards program surprisingly isn’t all that important.
For example, you’ll get:
- Free access to a collection of more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.
- A $200 annual credit to use against incidental airline fees like checked bags.
- $200 worth of free Uber rides each year.
- A credit for your application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, worth up to $100.
- Elite status at select hotels and car rental companies.
- No foreign transaction fees.
Depending on how you use the card, you could get a lot more value than what you’re paying for the card’s $550 annual fee.
This Bank of America card has no annual fee, but it can still pack a punch despite first impressions. For most, you’ll earn just 1.5 points per dollar spent, and get a 20,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
But if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member — you have to meet certain deposit or investment minimums — your rewards rate could go up to 2.625 points per dollar.
You’ll also get a 0% APR promotion on purchases and balance transfers, and no foreign transaction fees.
Which card should you choose?
There’s no one right credit card out there for everyone. To find out which one is best for you, do your due diligence.
Check out SuperMoney’s credit card review page to get an idea of what offers are out there. Then compare each one to consider what you want the most.
Also, make sure your credit is good enough to get approved. “Being aware of your financial standing before applying for a credit card is key to avoid any denials,” says Natasha Rachel Smith, a personal finance expert at Topcashback.
While shopping around for the best rewards credit card, here are some things to keep in mind to help you pick the best one for you:
Figure out how you’ll be using the rewards points first. To find the best rewards credit card for you, think about how you will be using the points. Consider a card in each of the major categories: travel reward credit cards, cash-back credit cards and general rewards credit cards. Even if you are maximizing your rewards on a card, it’s all for naught if you’re not able to take full advantage of your points.
For instance, if you recently started a new job with a longer commute, you might want to consider overall rewards or cash-back card versus a travel card. Or if there’s a new addition to your family and you won’t be able to travel much in your near future, you might get the most from a cash-back rewards card.
Credit card usage tips
Look at the transfer ratio. If you’re considering transferring your reward points to a transfer partner or eligible loyalty program, check the transfer ratio beforehand. You’ll also want to look at what the terms, conditions, and limitations are, and whether the reward points have an expiration date. Most rewards points expire three years from when they were accrued. Some cards don’t have expiration dates as long as you use your card in the last 12 months.
Consider splitting your spending into several cards. This can boost your reward earnings, especially if there is an equal transfer ratio. This is more likely the case for cards offered by the same company.
Avoid paying the annual fee by switching cards. If a particular card has an annual fee that is waived the first year, consider switching to another card after 12 months. For example, for the Spark Miles from Capital One, you can switch to the Spark Miles Select, which has no annual fee. The tradeoff is that you get 1.5 points for every dollar, whereas you net two points for every dollar with the Spark Miles card.
Be sure to check whether there’s a balance transfer fee, and what the reward rates, APR, and fees are on the new card before making the switch.
Avoid carrying a balance. While the rewards offered by a credit card are exciting, it’s best not to get caught up in reaping the rewards to the point you are paying lots in interest by carrying a high balance. You’ll want to make sure you maintain a solid credit score by making your payments on time and pay your balance in full each month.
Ben Luthi is a personal finance writer and a credit cards expert who loves helping consumers and business owners make better financial decisions. His work has been featured in Time, MarketWatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report, CNBC, Success Magazine, USA Today, The Huffington Post and many more.