It turns out 2018 is a great time to be in the market for a new credit card. Sure, interest rates may be on the rise, but with the booming economy, Americans are also spending more. That means the competition for borrowers is fierce and issuers are offering plenty of cards with consumer-friendly terms.
Beyond that, the best credit card offers today encompass an ever-expanding world out there of perks, points, and credits. The trick is figuring out which combination adds up to the best credit card for you.
To do this, think about how you want to use your new credit card to figure out which features will give you the most bang for your buck, Karimzad advises. Are you trying to build credit, for yourself or your business? Do you want to rack up lots of rewards, or get perks like airline lounge access? Or are you trying to borrow strategically, either to pay down debt or make a big purchase?
The best travel credit card isn’t necessarily the best rewards credit card, and neither of those would be the best credit card if you’re looking for a low APR to make a big purchase or transfer a balance. You’ll have the greatest number of choices — and be eligible for the cards with the most tantalizing perks — if your credit is good, but there’s a card out there for everyone — and responsible use of credit is the best way to improve your credit score and your access to the cards with the most generous terms.
Whatever your reason for getting a new credit card, MONEY and MagnifyMoney have sifted through hundreds of cards to find the best in nine different categories. Here are the best credit cards of 2018, the cards that will deal a winning hand to your finances.
1. The Best for Travel Rewards
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve
The travel rewards credit card category has been radically reshaped over the past few years by two converging trends: An increase in general-purpose cards that give you credit for your spending regardless of what airline you fly or what hotels you book, and the rise of premium-travel cards that come with hefty annual fees, but offer hundreds of dollars in perks and generous rewards that will appeal to frequent travelers.
When you’re trying to narrow down just what is the best credit card for travel, you need to consider a number of different variables, including the ease of earning and redeeming rewards, extra perks (like airline lounge access) and, of course, those annual fees.
While you’re chasing those perks around the globe, keep in mind that the best travel credit card also is one that’s accepted worldwide. The best credit card for international travel is one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
- Rewards: Three points per $1 spent on travel and dining, one point elsewhere
- Annual Fee: $450
- APR: 17.74%-24.74%
Why You Should Get It
Picking a winner used to be all about finding the best travel credit card for travel miles, but with the rising popularity of travel rewards credit cards that aren’t affiliated with an airline, the math has changed. Among top travel credit cards, this card stands out for a few reasons: In addition to triple points per $1 spent on travel and dining, Chase Sapphire Reserve (also a winner in our Best in Travel feature in April) offers a $300 annual travel credit for hotels or flights (including baggage and seat-upgrade fees), plus a $100 credit every four years toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and access to more than 1,000 airport lounges. The card also offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 within the first three months, which is worth $500, or $750 if redeemed through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal.
If you travel just once or twice a year, Bank of America Travel Rewards has a nice, simple rewards structure—you receive 1.5 points to be used for travel for every $1 spent—and there’s no annual fee. If you really want to snag a travel credit, Bank of America Premium Rewards costs $95 a year but offers a $100 credit toward ancillary fees (e.g., baggage and seat-upgrade charges), a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit every four years, and a slightly higher rewards rate than Bank of America Travel Rewards for travel purchases.
2. The Best for Cash Back
Winner: Citi Double Cash
This category is definitely one where the old adage, “Keep it simple, stupid,” applies. If you’re looking for the best rewards credit card to earn cash back, your focus should be on how much you have the potential to earn and how easy it is to accomplish that. While all of the best cash back credit cards appear generous at first glance, you need to read the fine print to learn how cash back credit cards work. Some have terms that just award cash back as a percentage; with others, you earn cash back “points.” Either way is fine, but if you’re getting points, make sure you’re looking at the best credit card offers, which have points that are generally worth 1¢ each; in other words, a $100 purchase would earn you 100 points, which equals $1 cash back. Lower than that isn’t really a good deal in today’s competitive credit card market.
When comparing the highest cash back credit cards, consider how easy they are to use, as well — the best credit cards won’t make you jump through hoops. Some cash back cards come with onerous restrictions — like capping the points you can earn or making you proactively sign up for (and keep track of) revolving retailer categories like department stores or supermarkets that change every few months.
3. The Best for Balance Transfer
Winner: AmEx EveryDay
- Rewards: Two points earned per $1 spent at supermarkets up to $6,000 per year; one point per $1 elsewhere. If you use your card at least 20 times in a billing period, you can earn 20% more points on those purchases.
- Annual Fee: $0
- APR: 14.74% to 25.74%
Why You Should Get It
Unlike many American Express cards, this is a credit card (which lets you carry a balance) as opposed to a charge card (which you have to pay off every month). Among the best balance transfer credit cards of 2018, this card stands out because it charges no balance transfer fees and offers a generous 15 months of 0% financing for both purchases and balances transferred within 60 days of the account opening. Unlike some other cards competing in this space, the EveryDay has a sign-up bonus of 15,000 points if you make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of opening the account, and it also offers rewards-earning potential.
The best balance transfer cards have no balance transfer fee. That said, while paying a balance transfer fee isn’t ideal, you shouldn’t necessarily think of it as a deal-breaker if you have a lot of debt. There are balance transfer calculator tools on personal finance sites like MagnifyMoney that can help you work out whether or not you’ll save money in the long run even if you do pay a balance transfer fee.
For instance, if you think knocking out your debt will take longer than the 15 months offered by the AmEx EveryDay, the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum charges a 3% balance transfer fee (which still isn’t bad; many cards charge 5%) but gives you 20 months of interest-free financing on both balance transfers and new purchases.
4. The Best for Weak Credit
Winner: Capital One Secured Mastercard
5. The Best for Small Business
Winner: Capital One Spark Cash
Business credit cards were exempt from many of the consumer protections — like a ban on hiking interest rates for no reason and with little notice — instilled in 2010’s CARD Act but, says Brian Karimzad, co-founder of financial of financial product comparison website MagnifyMoney, there are compelling reasons why a small business owner might want a dedicated business card: For one thing, it can make expense analysis and cash flow management easier, since business cards generally offer higher credit limits than personal cards. Rather than having to gather statements from several personal cards, the idea is that you’ll be able to put all of your business expenses onto a single small business card.
Also, if you own a business, especially if you have plans to grow, it can be an advantage to build a business credit file separate from your personal credit history. Karimzad points out that there is business-specific credit; having good business credit can make it easier for you to access lower rates on loans or lines of credit if you want to grow your business
- Rewards: 2% cash back
- Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year
- APR: 18.74%
Why You Should Get It
The best reward credit cards for business owners are ones that make it easy for you to both earn and redeem cash back, and this business credit card delivers. A lot of the small-business cards offer a slate of revolving retail categories in which cardholders earn accelerated rewards for purchases like office supplies, shipping, and telecommunications. But when we crunched the numbers, Spark Cash’s flat 2% unlimited cash back left typical cardholders even or better off. Among the best business credit cards, Spark Cash also has a generous sign-up bonus worth $500 if you spend $4,500 in the first three months after opening the account. The best small business credit cards also make it easy if you need to pay off a balance over time with a flat 18.74% APR that won’t leave you guessing what rate you’ll pay and struggling to manage your cash flow.
If your business incurs a lot of expenses in certain categories, you might want to look at small business credit cards that give you extra rewards for that spending. For example, Chase Ink Business Preferred gives triple points on up to $150,000 a year on travel, telecommunications, shipping, and—an intriguing perk for some—online advertising in paid search and social categories.
6. The Best for Store Rewards
WINNER Amazon Prime Rewards Signature Visa
7. The Best for Students
Winner: Deserve EDU Mastercard
As much as you might be wary of sending your kid off to college with a credit card, the benefits of establishing a good credit history from a young age are worth the risk for responsible spenders. (And you’ve taught them to be financially responsible, right?)
Student credit cards tend to have higher APRs and lower credit limits then typical cards. Some cards we reviewed, with help from MagnifyMoney, offer financial literacy or education programs to help students become more credit-savvy. To make sure that young adults don’t get over their head with debt they can’t afford to repay, the CARD Act requires all credit card applicants under the age of 21 — including for student credit cards — to provide proof of independent income or have a co-signer.
Why You Should Get It
Not only this card, but the entire Deserve card program is tailored specifically for students: There’s no annual fee, and you can get one even if you don’t yet have a credit history, which is a benefit other credit cards for college students don’t generally offer.
Deserve EDU does have a couple of restrictions that act as financial guardrails for credit card novices—namely, you have no ability to transfer a balance or get cash advances. Among credit cards for students, this is an important distinction that can help avoid drowning in debt. And there are other perks, too: This best credit card for college students include a simple, easy-to-use rewards program (no revolving categories to keep track of), and you can join the Amazon Prime Student program—a $59 value—for free. If you’re planning to travel during spring break, or take a gap year or a semester abroad, there are no foreign transaction fees. This card also stands out in the category with its relatively lenient late fee of $25.
If you know you have a short-term budget-buster like an upcoming big purchase, two Discover student credit cards — the Discover it Student Cash Back and Discover it Chrome — both offer an introductory 0% APR for six months. Discover also gives you an incentive to keep your grades up with an annual $20 statement credit available for up to five school years as long as your GPA stays at 3.0 or higher. However, Discover is less widely accepted outside the U.S., a consideration if you plan to study abroad.
While many student credit cards require you to be a student in the traditional sense of the word, there’s a Capital One student credit card that offers you more flexibility: The Capital One Journey Student Rewards Mastercard doesn’t require cardholders to be enrolled in college. The card offers 1% cash back and an extra 0.25% bonus cash back if you pay on time every month. Plus, there’s a potential credit-limit hike after five months.
- Rewards: 1% cash back
- Annual Fee: $0
- APR: 20.49%
8. The Best for Low Interest
Winner: Visa Titanium Signature Rewards from Andrews Federal Credit Union
9. The Best for No Annual Fee
Winner: Capital One SavorOne Rewards
For a lot of people out there, the idea of paying an annual fee just to be allowed to spend money seems absurd. While annual fee credit cards can be cost-effective, we know there are plenty of you who think it’s a deal breaker and want to find the best rewards credit card that won’t charge you to keep it in your wallet.
Overall, even the best credit cards with no annual fee tend to have skimpier perks and fewer rewards than their fee-toting counterparts, but the competitiveness of the U.S. credit card landscape means that there are plenty of contenders in this category that do offer incentives to woo new cardholders, and the best credit card offers can be quite generous.
- Rewards: 3% cash back per $1 spent on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back per $1 spent at grocery stores, 1% elsewhere
- Annual Fee: $0
- APR: 14.74%-24.74%
Why You Should Get It
While there are plenty of cash back credit cards with no annual fee, the SavorOne taps into a hot trend we’ve observed in the best credit cards of 2018: You get extra points for eating out (or in—restaurant takeout counts too), but it ups the ante by also giving you 3% cash back for entertainment purchases like tickets for movies, sporting events, and tourist attractions. Also, since your waistline and your wallet would probably appreciate it if you ate at home at least occasionally, the SavorOne gives you 2% cash back at supermarkets (save for so-called superstores like Walmart and Target).
Among credit cards with no annual fee, the SavorOne also offers a better-than-average 15 months of 0% financing on purchases and balance transfers (albeit with a 3% balance transfer fee), and right now you can get a $150 cash back bonus if you spend $500 in the first three months after opening the account.
The new Wells Fargo Propel American Express and the Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi are two others that also give you 3% cash back on dining (you have to be a Costco member for the second one, though). Plus, the Propel gives you 3% cash back on streaming services, if your style is more takeout and Netflix than dinner and a movie. If you want to earn even more for your dining dollars, another Capital One option, the similarly named Savor Rewards, gives you 4% back for purchases in that category, although it also charges a $95 annual fee after the first year.
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