Find the best credit cards and you’ve got a method of effective money management at your fingertips, whether you’re looking to build credit, earn cashback or spread the cost of a big purchase. There are even credit cards available that are specifically designed for students, so no matter your financial needs, there’ll be a card to suit.
The best credit cards can also be a good financial backup, particularly in the current climate where the pandemic has taken its toll on incomes across the nation. If you’re facing an unexpected expense or find you’re a little short before payday, a top rated credit card can be a financial lifeline, while for those who have already accumulated credit card debt, balance transfer cards could provide the solution – a form of debt consolidation, interest-free balance transfer cards allow the user to pay off their debt without accruing interest for a set period of time.
"Credit cards provide security, convenience, and even rewards based on spending. However, if cardholders don’t manage their cards carefully, they may find themselves facing unwanted consequences like a poor credit score or hidden fees."
Visa Practical Money Skills
Credit cards also really come into their own when used by the financially savvy, who would like to receive something back with every purchase. Cashback and reward credit cards are particularly appealing to the modern consumer, while those that offer airline miles are ideal for those who like to travel. You should also pay particular attention to credit cards that offer a sign up bonus, which could give your points balance a healthy head start.
Our overview highlights the cards that can cater to all of the aforementioned requirements and more, whether you’re looking for the best credit cards for students, for cashback, balance transfers or airmiles. However, it’s important to remember that credit cards may not be the best solution for all, particularly those looking to pay off debt. In this case, alternative methods should always be considered, including the best personal loans if you’re looking to consolidate larger amounts of debt, or would prefer to pay off a large purchase over a period of years rather than months.
How we chose the best credit cards
Our analysis of the best credit cards takes into account a number of features common to most credit cards, and then additional category-specific considerations for each type of credit card.
1. The annual percentage rate or APR
All credit cards will have an APR which is effectively the rate of interest you will pay on what you borrow. The latest data from the Federal Reserve reveals the average APR charged on credit card borrowing was 15.78% in May 2020, but it will vary between card type. Many cards have an APR range, with the rate that you are offered dependent on your creditworthiness. The better your credit score, the lower the APR you can expect.
2. Card fees
At the same time, credit card issuers will charge borrowers fees for the privilege of using their cards. Some credit cards have annual fees, while others don't - although the latter might be expected to charge higher APRs to compensate. Other common charges include fees for late payment and, if you're transferring an existing credit card debt to a new card, balance transfer fees that might be a percentage of the amount you're moving over or a flat fee. Almost all cards will have high charges for cash advances, making this something that should be avoided if at all possible.
3. Introductory periods
If you need a balance transfer card or a credit card that you intend to use to make a significant purchase, you'll want to take note of the length of time that you are afforded at a 0% introductory rate. Introductory periods tend to range between 12 and 18 months, but the longer an interest-free period is, the more time you have to pay off your debt without incurring any interest at all.
If you're fortunate enough to be able to pay your credit card balance in full each month, you're in a good position to consider the rewards that credit cards can offer. These are commonly in the form of cashback, loyalty points or air miles, with greater rewards available for certain types or patterns of spending. Sign-up bonuses are a common form of reward too.
Best credit cards
We've researched the credit card market extensively to finalize our shortlist of the best credit cards below. Importantly, this is not a ranked list, but a selection of the credit cards that are likely to be best suited to different types of credit card borrower.
Citi Simplicity Card: Best balance transfer credit card
- 0% balance transfers for 21 months
- No late payment fees
- Above average balance transfer fees
An interest free balance transfer period of almost two years alongside some welcome leeway for missing monthly payments makes the Citi Simplicity Card – No Late Fees Ever our current choice for best balance transfer credit card. The balance transfer fee of the greater of $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer might be more than the typical balance transfer credit charge will charge, but then this is not a typical credit card.
There are no annual fees, and as well as enjoying 0% APR for 21 months, you will not be asked to pay a late fee or penalty APR if you miss a payment. Given the uncertainty that currently abounds, such features could prove invaluable in the fullness of time. Despite the flexibility, the importance of paying off your debt before the end of the interest free period remains, so as to avoid the go-to variable APR which has a range of 14.74%-24.74%, and will ultimately be determined by your creditworthiness.
Citi User Reviews
- Scores 2 out of 5 via Consumer Affairs
- Scores 1 out 5 via Better Business Bureau
We looked at a selection of some of the 6,000 user reviews of Citi across the Consumer Affairs and Better Business Bureau sites alongside reviews on Citi's own website. Users rating the Simplicity card on the Citi platform have awarded an average of 4.6 out of 5, and tend to declare themselves "truly satisfied" or refer to a "great experience". Some positive experiences can also be found at Consumer Affairs, where one user said Citi "has the cleanest, easiest to use, and most simple online platform to manage my credit card".
Others praise the card's long 0% term and low rates, but there are also many reviewers who are less enamored with what they have found. Among the latest gripes is a surprise lowering of credit limit and the "worst customer service ever", with the net result an overall rating of 2 out of 5. An even lower rating of 1 out of 5 is found on the Better Business Bureau website.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express: Best rewards credit card
- Potential $200 introductory offer
- 3x reward points on certain purchases
- High late payment fees
The absence of an annual fee combined with an excellent range of potential rewards sees the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card stand out among the best rewards credit card contenders. It is possible to earn 3x points on eating out and ordering in, travel spending including flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals, at gas stations and on transit, and on popular TV streaming services, with 1x points available on all other purchases.
There is an introductory offer through which 20,000 bonus points – the equivalent of a $200 cash redemption value - can be earned too, provided you spend $1,000 in the first three months. The card also offers 12 months 0% interest on purchases and on qualifying balance transfers, provided they are made within 120 days of taking the card out. The fee attached to balance transfers is the greater of 3% or $5 within the first 120 days of account opening, before rising to 5% or $5.
Once the year of interest free grace is up, the card will have a variable APR of 14.49%-24.99%, dependent on your creditworthiness. Also be aware that late payments will attract a fee of up to $37.
Wells Fargo User Reviews
- Scores 1 out of 5 via Consumer Affairs
- Scores 1 out of 5 via Better Business Bureau
As is usually the case with the largest US banks, user reviews of Wells Fargo tend to tell tales of frustration rather than elation. Across an admittedly limited 31 user reviews over the past year on Consumer Affairs, the banking giant registers an average score of around 1 out of 5, with the same average rating awarded across 367 reviews on the Better Business Bureau.
While not all reviews are related to credit cards either, those that are often refer to long spells of contentment followed by a sudden event that sees Wells Fargo quickly fall out favor. One such example said they had a "fine experience" for the best part of two years, but that this was soured when their contact information was changed twice without consent. However, demonstrating that full satisfaction is possible, easily the most contented customer said he had held a Wells Fargo credit card since 1975 and never had an issue in that time.
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: Best cashback credit card
- 6% cashback at supermarkets and on some streaming services
- $250 statement credit available too
- High annual fee and late penalties
Standing out among the best cash back credit cards is the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. An eye-catching 6% cash back is available on purchases at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 of spending per year (1% thereafter), and on select streaming subscriptions too, while 3% is payable on spending at gas stations, and on transit, including taxis, parking, trains and buses; all other purchases using the card offer cash back at 1%. As an added incentive, there is a $250 statement credit available if you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first three months.
The $95 annual fee may be high compared with other rewards cards on the market, but if you spend at least $135 a month on groceries, the card will already have paid for itself. The card also offers 12 months interest free on purchases and balance transfers from opening, before reverting to a variable APR of 13.99%-23.99%, depending on your creditworthiness.
Remember also that a late payment fee of up to $40 could be charged if you fall behind, and that a penalty APR of 29.24% can also be applied if you make one or more late payment that will last for a minimum of six months.
American Express User Reviews
- Scores 1.5 out of 5 via Consumer Affairs
- Scores 1 out 5 via Better Business Bureau
While there are no user reviews specific to the Blue Cash Preferred Card, American Express itself receives an overall rating of 1.5 out of 5 on Consumer Affairs across 64 user reviews in the past year. A rating of just over 1 out of 5 can be found over 181 reviews via the Better Business Bureau.
Of the positive testimonials, one long-time customer of American Express cards said they said they "rate it highly for ease of use and customer service" and that problems they had encountered in respect of a lost card and rogue charges had been resolved "courteously and efficiently". The more negative reviews typically focus on credit limits that have been reduced sharply with little or no warning, and slow customer service responses.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best airline miles credit card
- Potential $750 in travel rewards
- 1:1 points transferal to airline partners
- High annual fee and APR
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is an excellent all round option among the best credit cards for airline miles. For starters, the sign-up bonus offer includes 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months (terms apply). Combine this with the 25% more value available on points when redeeming for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and that equates to $750 in travel rewards - more than offsetting what is a slightly inflated annual fee of $95.
Great value can also be achieved by transferring points to one of 10 airline transfer partners on a 1:1 basis in order to make high-value redemptions, while other perks include earning 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants (1 point per $1 on all other purchases). The potential benefits are not in doubt, although an above average variable APR of 15.99%-22.99%, depending on your creditworthiness, means you must be sure that you will make the most of them.
Balance transfers are welcome for either $5 or 5% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater, but there is no interest free period on offer. Late payment fees can rise as high as $39.
Chase User Reviews
- Scores 3.2 out of 5 via Consumer Affairs
- Scores 1 out 5 via Better Business Bureau
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a specific review on Consumer Affairs that enjoys a good rating of 3.2 out of 5, based on 120 user reviews in the past year. "Love this card" is among the endorsements from those offering full marks, along with "the customer service is excellent and the bonus alone is worth getting this card". Another appreciated the "superior service and courtesy" from Chase, although they did point out that the high charges meant it was only worth their while because they travel 15 times a year.
The 95 reviews at the Better Business Bureau are more disappointing, although a rating of 1 out of 5 is not out of line with those bestowed on other credit card providers. Most testimonials on the platform surround poor customer service.
Discover it Student Chrome: Best student credit card
- No annual fee
- Good grade rewards
- Lower balance transfer rates elsewhere
With no annual fee, a six-month 0% introductory rate on purchases, and cash back and good grade rewards, Discover it Student chrome makes a great case for being the best student credit card around. The card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, as well as 1% on any other purchases. Your total first year earnings will also be doubled as part of its introductory offer, while a $20 statement credit is available each school year that your GPA is 3.0 or above for the next five years.
The card also forgives any initial repayment lapses, with a late fee not being applied on the first late payment. Forget to pay more than once and the penalty could be as high as $40, although the APR still won't change from the typical rate of 17.99% variable, based on your credit worthiness.
There is a 0% introductory APR on purchases for six months, but if you have existing card debt, the six-month introductory rate of 10.99% on balance transfers can certainly be bettered elsewhere.
Discover User Reviews
- Scores 2.8 out of 5 via Consumer Affairs
- Scores 1.4 out of 5 via Better Business Bureau
Discover Cards enjoys an above average rating of 2.8 out of 5 on Consumer Affairs, taken across 160 user reviews over the past year. Reviewers praise its customer service as "outstanding, very helpful, knowledgeable", while another says Discover's representatives went "above and beyond" to help them sort a payment problem that was 100% the customer's fault. Among the more negative testimonials, customers speak of sudden account closures and reluctant service responses.
At the BBB, Discover Financial Services as a whole has an average rating of 1.4 out of 5 from 114 reviews, with further accounts of longstanding customers seeing their credit lines reduced.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
All APR and interest rate figures are correct at the time of writing, as are all offers and bonus features listed.
Credit Card FAQs
The world of finance is not always the easiest to negotiate and credit cards are no different. These plastic companions comes in many guises and if you want to find the best credit cards, there will undoubtedly be questions that you need answering.
What is a balance transfer?
With a balance transfer credit card, you can shift the balance on an existing credit card to a new card. As balance transfer cards offer 0% or low interest rates for a set number of months, they are a great way to avoid paying interest and tackle credit card debt.
Is your credit score important when applying for a credit card?
Credit card issuers will always take note of your credit score to try and get an insight into the type of borrower that you are. If you have a good credit score, you stand a better chance of qualifying for the lowest credit card rates and best terms. At the same time, having a bad credit score is likely to see card issuers offer higher rates, simply because they need to protect themselves against the greater risk that you are perceived to be when it comes to being able to pa back what you owe. The best credit repair services can help improve your credit rating and access the best credit card deals.
How does a cashback credit card work?
Cashback credit cards reward borrowers with money back if the card is used to pay for certain goods and services or in particular outlets. Some provide cashback as a percentage of the amount spent, while others pay out on a tiered basis, depending on where and what the card has been used to buy.
How can a balance transfer credit card help to manage debt?
As borrowers are allowed to shift the debt from several credit cards onto a new balance transfer credit card, so they make for an extremely effective way of consolidating a number of debts into one place - it is also usually a better option than approaching the best debt consolidation companies. A fee will be levied for each transfer, but as the best balance transfer credit cards come with lengthy interest free periods, you're effectively buying yourself time to pay off what you owe with incurring any more interest. Once you've moved your card debt onto a balance transfer credit, the priority should then be to try and pay off this debt before the interest free period ends. This is because balance transfer cards typically carry a higher-than-average APR that will kick in once the grace period expires.
Credit Card Glossary
- APR: Short for annual percentage rate, the APR is rate of interest you’ll pay on your credit card balance if you do not clear it each month.
- Cash advance: Using a credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM.
- Credit limit: The maximum amount you are permitted to borrow with a credit card.
- Interest-free period: Length of time during which you will not be charged interest, provided a minimum payment is made each month.
- Late fee: The charge that you must pay if you fail to make the minimum payment by the due date.
- Minimum payment: The lowest amount you are required to pay on your credit card balance each month.
- Purchase rate: The interest rate that applies to buying something.
- Travel credit card: A credit card that gives rewards on travel purchases, such as airfare or hotel stays.
More credit related guides
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Our guide to the best personal loans includes recommendations for those with good and bad credit.
Better manage your debt
Our rundown of the best debt consolidation companies can help if debt is starting to get on top of you.
Boost your credit score
Check out our guide to the best credit repair services, which aim to improve your credit score.