The Best Credit Cards

With more than 1,500 credit cards available to consumers, offering everything from airline miles to double cash back on NASCAR purchases, choosing a credit card can be overwhelming. Dan Crimmins, financial coach with Crimmins Wealth Management and author of award-winning financial blog Roots of Wealth, suggests “reviewing your spending habits, then getting the best card for your lifestyle.” We looked at more than 100 cards, consulted consumer studies, experts, and compared rewards and fees to bring you seven solid credit card options for a variety of spending habits and preferences.

The 7 Best Credit Cards for 2018

Best for Cash Back
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
American Express
With 6% back on groceries, 3% on gas, and 1% on everything else, this card is worth the $95 annual fee.
Pros
Cash back rewards
Added benefits and services
Cons
Acceptance rate
Added fees, fewer ways to redeem

Why we chose it

Cash back rewards

When most people think “best credit card,” they think rewards. When it comes to getting the most rewards possible, especially if you have a large family to feed or practically live on the road, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is hard to beat. You’ll get 6% cash back at supermarkets for up to $6,000 per year, 3% cash back at gas stations and select department stores, and 1% cash back on everything else. What’s more, you’ll also get a $200 cash back bonus after spending $1,000 within the first three months of opening your account.

Travel and shopping benefits

Gas and groceries aside, American Express lets you feel secure when using the card for travel and online purchases (the company won’t hold you accountable for fraudulent charges). In fact, assistance with medical, legal, or financial services when you’re miles away from home is only a phone call away with American Express’ Global Assist® Hotline. The travel perks don’t stop there, though, as Amex provides travel accident and car rental loss and damage insurance to make sure you’re covered.

Points to consider

Acceptance rate

You might want to think about carrying backup payment methods with you if this Amex credit card sounds appealing. Although 1.5 million more merchants started accepting American Express in 2017, it’s still not accepted at all stores. American Express actually has one of the lowest merchant acceptance rates across the U.S.

Added fees, fewer ways to redeem

The stronger the rewards, the higher the annual fees — that’s usually the way it goes. American Express charges you for its impressive 6% cash back with a $95 annual fee. Think about it this way: You need to make $1,584 in grocery purchases before your 6% cash back equals the card’s $95 annual fee. You could also wipe out the cost of that annual fee with the card’s $200 bonus after putting $1,000 on your Blue Cash Preferred® Card within the first three months of opening your account. The bottom line is to make sure you could actually spend the maximum amount on groceries and use your Amex card when filling up your gas tank — otherwise, you might not be getting the most out of your rewards program.

You can only redeem your cash back via statement credits with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card. This means you’ll only be able to use these earnings to pay off purchases you’ve already made on your card. So if you want to have the option to turn this cash into a gift card or deposit, this isn’t the credit card for you.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Highlights
  • $200 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) – that means spending $60 a week at U.S. supermarkets could earn over $180 back per year.
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores, 1% back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 14.74% to 25.74%.
  • Over 1.5 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

Best for Travel
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Capital One
A low annual fee and a reward rate of 2x miles for every purchase make this card an exceptional value.
Pros
Mile earning potential
Sign-up bonus
Noteworthy travel perks
Cons
Travel insurance shortcomings

Why we chose it

Mile earning potential

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is our pick for the best travel credit card, mainly because of its high earning potential in terms of rewards. You get an unlimited 2x the miles on every purchase (one mile is equal to one cent, roughly), so this card gives you more opportunities to earn redeemable miles toward travel expenses like airfare and hotel bookings. In fact, you can earn 10x miles when you pay for any of the thousands of participating hotels through Hotels.com/venture.

Sign-up bonus

Capital One makes it easier than the competition to obtain the sign-up bonus on this card. You only have to spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening your account to earn a hefty 50,000 bonus miles (a $500 value). To compare, one of our other travel card contenders requires you to spend $4,000 within the same amount of time to receive the same amount of points.

Travel perks

While this isn’t a co-branded card that offers perks specific to a certain airline, it does offer universal benefits that can be applied to various forms of travel. With the Venture Rewards card, you’ll get Visa Signature® Benefits, and this includes shopping discounts, extended warranty coverage, auto rental collision coverage, a 24/7 concierge service, and complimentary upgrades and savings with hotel, resort, and spa bookings. Whether you want to use your miles as soon as you can or save them for a dream vacation, Capital One has you covered. Better still, all of the miles you earn won’t expire for the life of your account, and there’s no limit on how many you can earn.

In June of 2018, Capital One included another travel perk to help ease the airport entry process for frequent flyers — if you use your Venture card to pay for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, Capital One will give you a rebate.

Points to consider

Travel insurance shortcomings

While the Visa Signature® Benefits are designed to make traveling easier, its insurance falls short. Capital One does offer standard protection for travel accidents, but unfortunately, you’re out of luck when it comes to trip cancellation reimbursement. If you lose your luggage, Capital One will reimburse you up to $3,000 per trip, but there’s a laundry list of items that are not covered (read: contact lenses, glasses, animals, sporting equipment, cameras, “business items,” cell phones, art objects, and more). We like knowing that our hard-earned miles — and personal belongings — are fully protected.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Highlights
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card’ by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates
  • Miles won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that

Best First Credit Card
Discover it® Cash Back
Discover
5% back on rotating categories, plus Discover matches your cash back at the end of the first year.
Pros
Good for starters
Variety of spending categories, perks
Cons
Quarterly maximum
Interest rate

Why we chose it

Good for starters

The Discover it® Cash Back card is a solid choice if you’ve never had a credit card or are still learning how things work — it actually holds your hand on a few things. There’s no annual fee, and you won’t be penalized for your first late fee — Discover won’t raise your APR, and it won’t charge you. You can also track your FICO score and learn what factors affect your credit score, which is helpful in setting the stage for healthy spending habits, especially for new cardholders.

This card does require a good credit score, so the best way to start building credit is to become an authorized user on someone else’s account and make payments on time.

Variety of spending categories, perks

Discover offers 5% cash back on participating companies every quarter, and the categories include gas stations, wholesale clubs, grocery stores, restaurants, and even Amazon.com. Discover also gives you 1% cash back on all other purchases made. Its standout feature, though, is the dollar-for-dollar match on all the cash back earnings you receive within your first year of opening the account. For those who plan on hitting the quarterly maximum every time, this perk could bring in substantial savings.

Points to consider

Quarterly maximum

With some rotating cash back credit cards, you know what to expect in terms of a quarterly maximum, or how much you can spend before the company stops giving you the rewards rate. For example, the Chase Freedom® credit card has a set limit of $1,500 every quarter. Discover will fully disclose its limit, too, but it might change from quarter to quarter. This is one more thing we’d rather not have to keep track of.

Interest rate

While the card’s 13.74%-24.74% range is competitive for the type of card, there is a possibility you could pay a high interest rate — especially for new cardholders or those with lower credit scores. If you are new and forget to make a few payments on time, a potentially high interest rate only hurts your wallet (and your credit score) more.

Discover it® Cash Back Highlights
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There’s no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No annual fee.

Best for Balance Transfers
Chase Slate®
Chase
One of the only cards that offers both a 0% intro annual percentage rate (APR) for 15 months plus fee-free balance transfers within the first 60 days.
Pros
Pay off debt interest-free (for a limited time)
Low fees
Cons
No spending rewards
Good credit score

Why we chose it

Pay off debt interest-free (for a limited time)

If you’re carrying credit card debt, it’s time to transfer that balance to a card that’ll let you pay it off without paying interest. With Chase Slate®, you get fee-free balance transfers for the first 60 days of opening your account. This is significant due to the fact that most cards charge a 3% or 5% balance transfer fee, which means that you’ll pay $30 to $50 in fees for every $1,000 you transfer. It is important to note, though, that after the 60 days, Chase Slate® charges a 5% balance transfer fee.

Low fees

Another key factor in the Chase Slate® appeal is its 15-month 0% APR on both purchases and balance transfers — with this, you can knock out a significant chunk of your debt without paying any interest or worrying about an annual fee. Plus, you’ll get monthly access to your FICO score as well as tools to help you understand, as Chase puts it, “the five main attributes that drive your credit health.” Note: If your outstanding credit card balance is on a Chase card, you won’t be able to transfer it to the Chase Slate®. Learn more in our review of the Best Balance Transfer Cards.

Points to consider

No spending rewards

If you’re looking for a card that will earn you points, miles, or cash back from spending money on frequent purchases, this is not the card for you. While the low fees and no penalty APR feature are great for those prone to making late payments, those who want to spend to earn should look elsewhere.

Good credit score

Another caveat is that you have to have a good (or average-to-excellent) credit score to obtain this card. If this card appeals to you for its low fees and no penalty APR, it might be worthwhile to consider if you’re someone who forgets a payment every now and then — and if you are, build your credit score by making payments on time and in full before considering this card.

Chase Slate® Highlights
  • $0 Intro balance transfer fee for the first 60 days your account is open. After that, the fee for future transactions is 5% of the amount transferred with a minimum of $5.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, 16.74% – 25.49% variable APR.
  • See monthly updates to your FICO® Score and the reasons behind your score for free
  • No Penalty APR – Paying late won’t raise your interest rate (APR). All other account pricing and terms apply
  • $0 Annual Fee

Best for Bad Credit
Discover it® Secured
Discover
One of the only secured cards that still offers cash back rewards.
Pros
Rewards and introductory bonus
Cash back redemption options
Credit-building incentives
Cons
Spending restrictions

Why we chose it

Rewards and introductory bonus

The Discover it® Secured card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants for up to $1,000 each quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, Discover will match your earnings dollar-for-dollar at the end of your first year.

Cash back redemption options

To redeem your cash back, Discover lets you do this in the form of a credit to your account, an electronic deposit into your bank account, via CashBack Bonus at Amazon, or a charitable donation. With the card’s strong rewards and straightforward redemption processes, you can focus more on what matters — like actually building your credit score — rather than worrying whether you’re getting the maximum value out of your card.

Credit-building incentives

Forewarning: This card does possess a high interest rate, but we didn’t consider this a bad thing, especially for those trying to improve their credit score. Paying interest is avoidable, and the best way to evade the 24.74% rate is to make payments on time and in full. Although using this as a pro seems contradictory for someone who is trying to build credit, it actually urges spenders to pay their bills.

Plus, Discover also practices forgiveness by waiving the first late fee — your interest rate won’t rise after making a late payment, either.

Points to consider

Spending restrictions

To bolster your trustworthiness in the eyes of Discover, you have to make at least a $200 security deposit to open your account — your security deposit will equal your line of credit. Because of this, your line of credit is determined on your income and ability to pay and maxes out at a low $2,500. While this may put a cap on your spending potential, it isn’t completely negative. In fact, this limit will keep you from holding a large balance that could eventually hurt your credit score.

Never fear — you won’t be stuck here with a low limit and hand-holding restrictions. After eight months, Discover will monitor your account to see if you’re eligible for an upgrade.

Discover it® Secured Highlights
  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
  • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There’s no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.

Best for Fair Credit
Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Capital One
Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases with a reasonable $39 annual fee.
Pros
Cash back rewards and other benefits
Good for building credit
Cons
Interest rate

Why we chose it

Cash back rewards and other benefits

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and it carries a pretty reasonable $39 annual fee along with 0% intro APR for nine months. You’ll also get Platinum Mastercard® Benefits, which include extended warranty coverage, auto rental and travel accident insurance, 24/7 assistance programs, and price protection. So if you’re someone with an average credit level looking for a blend of solid rewards, benefits, and manageable fees, this is the card for you.

Good for building credit

The real purpose of the QuicksilverOne® is to help you improve your credit so you become eligible for one of those high-rewards cards. Use Capital One’s free CreditWise® app, which gives you unlimited access to your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 credit score and helps you plan strategies to improve your rating. See how quickly you can take it from fair to good.

Points to consider

Interest rate

This card holds a high interest rate of 24.99% — that’s higher than any of our other contenders. While this may incentivize paying off your credit card on time and in full, this card offers little forgiveness in terms of interest if you forget to make a payment or two.

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Highlights
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn’t expire for the life of the account
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use
  • Get customized alerts and manage your account with the Capital One mobile app

Best for Students
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Discover
Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with a reasonable $39 annual fee.
Pros
Offers the same benefits as Discover it® Cash Back
Good Grades Rewards
Cons
Rewards categories
Fees

Why we chose it

Offers the same benefits as Discover it® Cash Back

If you’re a college student and like what our other Discover cash back card offers, you’ll be even more attracted to this one. Both cards offer the same core benefits and cash back percentages, except this one is tailored to students.

Good Grades Rewards

Your parents and distant relatives are no longer the only parties giving you money for making good grades. With this student card, Discover helps you out through the entirety of your college career by giving you an extra $20 for completing a school year with a 3.0 GPA or above, for up to five years.

Points to consider

Rewards categories

It’s important to consider whether you would actually shop at the stores participating in the 5% cash back bonus program during a particular quarter. For example, if you are a student and don’t own a car or aren’t able to keep your vehicle with you on campus, would you really be able to maximize rewards earnings if Discover offered 5% cash back on gas during a quarter that coincided with a semester? This is something only you can decide. We suggest looking at Discover’s benefits calendar first to see if you can truly maximize earnings with its offers.

Fees

While the fees associated with this card are similar to our other picks for newer cardholders or those who are trying to build credit, it is important to remember that they exist — especially as a busy college student. If you’re short on cash and want to draw from your credit limit, Discover charges you 5% of the amount of the cash advance each time you do so. And if you do forget to make a payment, your first time is penalty-free, but any other time after that will cost you $37.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There’s no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.74% – 23.74%.

How to find the best credit cards for you

Conduct your own credit cards comparison

Once you’ve decided what type of shopper you are and whether you need a card that will reward you for frequent travel, help build your credit score, or reflect your shopaholic tendencies, it’s best to then see how much you spend and where you spend it within a certain amount of time. From there, see how the cards you like stack up to your projected spending habits. What kind of credit line do you need? What do the fees look like, and will they negate any potential rewards? We suggest reading the terms and conditions of each card before signing anything.

Check your credit score

Get to know your credit score and how to improve it. If one of our top picks isn’t under “best for bad credit” or “best for fair credit,” assume the card requires a good or excellent score. Before you apply for any credit cards, look up your own credit score and figure out where you fall.

The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) uses this scoring method:

Exceptional: 800+
Very good: 740 - 799
Good: 670 - 739
Fair: 580 - 669
Poor: <580

Look at the interest rates

If you make your payments on time and don’t keep a balance, you won’t have to worry about paying interest. When you get a credit card, your annual percentage rate (APR) will be based on your credit score — the higher your credit score, the less you’ll have to pay in interest. Be sure to check the cards’ APR ranges and gauge where you might fall before becoming too invested in one particular card.

Remember, it might not be possible to pay off your balance in full and on time every time. Because of this, it’s definitely worthwhile to do the math and make sure any potential interest fees won’t negate your rewards earnings.

Research mobile banking app ratings

More lenders are transitioning to offering mobile services more now than ever, as nearly 80% of cardholders use their phones to manage transactions. This could be a deal breaker, especially if a lender’s mobile app is known for glitches. If you need to report a lost or stolen card or manage a fraudulent charge, the last thing you need to get in your way is an unresponsive or buggy app. We suggest reading the app’s ratings and seeing what other people like and dislike about the interface and services.

Credit cards FAQ

How do I know which credit card offers are right for me?

You’ll never really know which offers are right for you until you really crunch the numbers on how much you spend and where you spend it within a year’s time. The good news is, if you like more than one card, you don’t have to choose between one or the other — you can apply for both. This sounds obvious, but not everyone thinks of it (and how doing so could maximize your rewards).

How many credit cards can I have?

It depends. “There really isn’t a top-end limit as to the ‘right’ number of cards,” credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax, told us. “If you use them properly and sparingly, then it doesn’t really matter if you have a lot of them. Plus having a lot of credit cards with zero balances is great for your credit scores.” Joe Saul-Sehy, former financial advisor and current host of the Stacking Benjamins podcast, agrees. Credit bureaus compare the amount of credit available to you vs. the amount of credit you’re actually using. It’s called a credit utilization ratio, and having a low ratio is great for your credit score.

Will having several credit cards affect my credit score?

The short answer: yes. Applying for too many credit cards within a short time frame can ding your credit score, as the credit bureaus will wonder why you need so much credit all of a sudden. (Are you going to buy something really expensive and never pay it off?). Some credit card issuers, notably Chase, will even decline your application if it looks like you’ve applied for too many cards recently — more than five credit cards in the past 24 months — even if you weren’t accepted for those cards.

How do I raise my credit score?

The best way to get that credit score up is to make on-time payments, pay off your balances, and keep your credit utilization ratio low. Also, if you pay off a credit card, don’t cancel it (unless the card comes with a bunch of fees you’d rather not pay). Keeping credit cards open, even if you aren’t actually using them, improves your credit score because it proves that lenders have given you credit for an extended period of time.

How low should I keep my credit balance?

As we’ve said, the key to keeping your credit score healthy is to make payments on time and in full each month. A good rule of thumb is to keep your balance as low as possible, or less than 30% of your credit limit, at all times.

What is a secured credit card?

If you’re looking to improve a bad credit score, you want a secured credit card (this may also be the only kind of credit card you’ll qualify for). These cards are “secured” because you put down a security deposit, and in return you get a credit card with a small line of credit. Use that line of credit to prove that you can use credit responsibly (always make on-time payments; don’t max out your card; try to pay your balance off in full every month) and watch your credit score rise.

The Best Credit Cards: Summed Up

Annual Fee
APR
Welcome Offer
Foreign Transaction Fee
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Best for Cash Back
$95
14.74% to 25.74%
$200 statement credit after spending $1,000 or more in the first three months
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Best for Travel
0% for the first year, $95 after that
14.74% to 24.74%
50,000 after spending $3,000 in the first three months
Discover it® Cash Back
Best First Credit Card
$0
0% intro for 14 months, then 13.74% – 24.74%
Dollar-for-dollar match on cash-back earned the first year
Chase Slate®
Best for Balance Transfers
$0
0% for the first 15 months, then 16.74%-25.49%
N/A
Discover it® Secured
Best for Bad Credit
$0
24.74%
Dollar-for-dollar match on cash-back earned the first year
Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best for Fair Credit
$39
24.99% (variable)
N/A
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Best for Students
$0
0% intro APR for first 6 months, 14.74%-23.74% after that
Dollar-for-dollar match on cash-back earned the first year

Our Other Credit Card Reviews

Are you a seasoned cardholder looking for more in-depth information? Are you looking to build your credit score or find your very first credit card? Regardless of where you are in your credit card journey, we’re here to help. Check out our other credit card reviews for more details.