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Best Credit Cards

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by Beverly Harzog Credit Cards Contributing Editor

Credit cards are a useful financial tool if used responsibly. With a credit card, you can charge items and services that you need and then pay them off at a later date. If chosen wisely, a credit card can even be used to earn rewards or to build credit.

What credit card should I get?

Your current financial situation and credit history will likely determine which is the best credit card for you. Most credit card companies have an application process that requires you to provide background information, such as personal information and income, before being approved for the card. The credit card company also reviews the consumer’s credit report and credit score. Credit companies vary a little when it comes to applying for and using their credit cards.

How to choose a credit card
1. Check your credit score

There are lots of ways to check your credit. Your FICO or credit score will help narrow down which credit cards you can qualify for, so it’s smart to know what your credit score is before you start comparing different rates and rewards. Credit is scored from 300–850, and a credit score of 700 is generally considered “good.” People with good scores who use credit cards responsibly can boost their scores into the excellent FICO score range (750+).

Cards available to those with fair credit usually have lower credit limits and higher APRs. Only a few cards in this category offer rewards. But these cards can help people improve their credit scores so they can eventually qualify for cards with better terms.

If your score is too low to get approved for an unsecured card, there are steps you can take to improve your credit score. Credit card issuers will also evaluate your income and already established credit accounts (if applicable) to determine if you are eligible for a credit card.

2. Compare the different types of credit cards

First, ask yourself why you want a credit card. For example, there are many good business credit cards available that offer a variety of tools that help with money management, taxes and more. For personal use, you can select from credit cards with cash back, travel and rewards programs or balance transfer options if you want to save on interest and pay down other debts.

There are three main types of credit cards:

  • Personal credit cards. If you have good or excellent credit, rewards credit cards can be used to save money on travel, reduce the cost of everyday expenses (such as groceries or gas) and to maintain a healthy FICO score. People with low credit scores can use credit cards to help rebuild their histories and improve their credit scores. Depending on if you will be paying the balance in full each month or if you intend to transfer old balances to the new card, you might consider a rewards credit card or balance transfer credit card.
  • Business credit cards. Many credit card companies offer business cards so you can separate your personal and business expenses. It’s important to note that business credit cards — both small business cards and corporate cards — are not covered by the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which protects people from sudden rate increases, universal default, retroactive rate increases on outstanding balances and much more. There are some exceptions when applying the CARD Act rules, but the point is that business cards don’t have any of these protections. Be sure to read any correspondence received from issuers in case there have been significant changes to the terms and conditions of your credit card.
  • Secured credit cards. If your score is too low to get approved for an unsecured personal credit card, then using a secured credit card can be a path to rebuilding your credit history. Secured cards require a deposit into a savings account to “secure” the card. Secured credit cards are popular among students but can be helpful to anyone who is rebuilding or establishing credit. Some issuers make the approval process very easy and accept almost everyone who applies.
3. Decide which credit card you need

To select the best credit card for your financial situation, consider the following factors for common credit card objectives.

  • To earn rewards: Travel, cash back and rewards credit cards
    The key is to match your spending patterns to the right kind of rewards since rewards cards are best to use for purchases you have to make anyway. This way, you can earn a profit from your rewards cards. Note that APRs for rewards credit cards tend to be higher than for cards without rewards. So don’t start using rewards cards unless you plan to pay the balance in full by the due date every month. Annual fees range from zero to hundreds of dollars, so pay close attention to the rates and fees as well as the rewards program details.
  • To manage business expenses: Business credit cards
    Comparing business credit cards is similar to comparing personal credit cards — entrepreneurs can earn rewards and make balance transfers, and business credit card issuers often offer a sign-up bonus if you spend a certain amount within a few months of opening the account. Pick a business card that gives higher rewards when you spend in categories relevant to your business. Some business credit cards also come with extra perks that make running your business easier.
  • To save on interest: Balance transfer credit cards
    Many credit card issuers offer balance transfer credit cards to save on interest while they are paying off debt. Some issuers will even assist you in setting up a debt repayment plan. The key differentiating factors across balance transfer credit cards are the length of the introductory period, balance transfer policies and rates for ongoing APR.
    • Introductory period. A longer introductory period will give you more time to pay off debts without interest. Note whether or not new purchases have the same APR.
    • Balance transfer policy. Credit card issuers charge a fee for transferring balances, but some are lower than others. Also, consider restrictions on amounts of types of balances transferred and if there is a specified amount of time you have to complete transfers. Late fees and penalty APR varies by card well. 
    • Ongoing APR. APR stands for annual percentage rate. The APR includes fees and other costs of the card. Some credit card companies lower the APR over time if the cardholder consistently pays on time. But sometimes you have to be proactive. If you have excellent credit and you think your APR is too high, call your issuer and request a lower rate.
  • To build credit: Secured credit cards
    If you’re getting a secured credit card to build your credit, be sure that the issuer reports to all three major consumer credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Secured credit cards require a deposit, but that amount will vary across issuers, and not all issuers charge interest on the deposit. Some, but not all, issuers will charge an annual fee. Find out if your credit limit will automatically increase as your credit score goes up, and try to pick a secured credit card issuer that can upgrade to your account with more competitive terms.
4. Apply for the credit card

Most credit card companies have an application process that requires the consumer to provide background information, such as personal information and income, before being approved for the card. The credit card company also reviews the consumer’s credit report and credit score. Credit companies vary a little when it comes to applying for and using the credit card. They pay attention to credit scores and credit reports, but each issuer looks at additional factors when making a decision. Approved applicants can expect to receive their new card within 7–10 days.

Find the right credit card for you

Balance transfer credit cards

Low-interest or 0% APR credit cards are a good option for people who already have balances on a credit card with high-interest APR. Balance transfer credit card holders can transfer the balance on the high-interest card to a balance transfer card that offers a 0% introductory APR period. This allows you to pay off — or at least pay down — the debt without paying interest during the introductory period, which is usually a year or more.

LabelCompany nameSummary
HSBC Gold MasterCardHSBC Gold Mastercard
  • 0% intro APR for 18 months
  • No annual fee
Logo
Chase Freedom UnlimitedChase Freedom Unlimited Card
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months
  • No annual fee

COMPARE BALANCE TRANSFER CARDS


Travel credit cards

Travel rewards credit cards earn points or miles when you use the card to make purchases and often come with perks like VIP access to airport lounges or free checked luggage. Some cards let you earn extra rewards for specific categories, like dining or entertainment, or come with a sign-up bonus. You can redeem miles or points for travel-related purchases like airfare, lodging, statement credits or other merchandise.

LabelCompany nameSummary
Chase Sapphire PreferredChase Sapphire Preferred Card
  • Earn 2X points on travel and dining purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else
  • $95 annual fee
Logo
Capital One Venture RewardsCapital One Venture Rewards
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase plus 10X miles on eligible hotels
  • $95 annual fee waived first year

COMPARE TRAVEL CARDS


Cash back credit cards

With cash back credit cards, the more you spend, the more cash back you receive. Cash back credit cards let you earn cash rewards for everyday purchases. Some issuers offer cards that give, for example, 1% cash back per dollar spent. Many of these cards then provide “bonus” categories. For instance, the card might offer 3–5% cash back on groceries and 1% on everything else. Not all cash back credit cards charge an annual fee, but cards with highly desirable rewards programs usually cost about $100 or more annually.

LabelCompany nameSummary
capital one savor rewards credit cardCapital One Savor Cash Rewards
  • Get 4% back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee, waived the first year
Logo
blue cash preferred cardBlue Cash Preferred Card
  • Get 6% back at U.S. supermarkets, 3% back at gas stations and 1% back on everything else (terms apply)
  • $95 annual fee

COMPARE CASH BACK CARDS


Business credit cards

For those who run a small business, there are many good business credit cards available that offer a variety of tools that can help separate your personal and business expenses. If your goal is to build business credit, be sure you ask the issuer if they report payment history to the major consumer bureaus or specialized commercial credit bureaus. Unless you have established credit in your business’s name, your personal credit history is reviewed when you apply for a business card.

LabelCompany nameSummary
chase-ink-business-cashChase Ink Business Cash Card
  • Earn 5% cash back on office supplies and internet, cable and phone bills, 1–2% back on everything else (terms apply)
  • No annual fee
Logo
capital one spark classicCapital One Spark Classic
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on every business purchase
  • No annual fee

COMPARE BUSINESS CARDS

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Profile picture of Beverly Harzog
Beverly Harzog Credit Cards Contributing Editor

Beverly Harzog is a nationally-recognized credit card expert, consumer advocate and author. She’s appeared on Fox News, CNN Newsource, NBC New York and more. Her advice has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Money Magazine, CNNMoney.com, The New York Times, Kiplinger, Real Simple, Time.com, Family Circle and much more.