When used conscientiously, with the balance promptly paid in full each and every month, credit cards are a convenient and efficient way to pay for stuff, build up a good credit score and history, and earn cash back and rewards. But a credit card user who pays bills late, spends beyond their means or gets caught up in daunting fees and interest rates and can quickly end up with a mountain of debt. 

Not all credit cards are created equal — and some are designed only for particular kinds of transactions. For example, you wouldn’t want to transfer a balance to a rewards credit card with a high annual percentage rate. And certain maneuvers may require a bit of digging beneath the surface. Case in point: a balance transfer card with a 0% APR may not be the ideal credit card for everyone. 

Best credit cards, compared

Best cash-back card Best travel credit card Best card for balance transfers Best card for students Best card for Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers Best card for Apple Pay super-users (and privacy enthusiasts)
Chase Freedom Unlimited Capital One Venture Card US Bank Visa Platinum Discover it Student Chrome Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Apple Card
Annual fee $0 $95 $0 $0 $0 $0
Credit requirement 670 to 850 720 to 850 680 to 850 No credit history required but you do need proof of income 580 to 850 580 to 850
Purchase APR 14.99% to 23.74% variable 17.24% to 24.49% variable 13.99% to 23.99% variable 12.99% to 21.99% (0% for the first 6 months) 14.24% to 22.24% variable 12.49% to 23.49% variable

Ultimately, a lot depends on how you plan to use a credit card. Are you expecting to carry a balance from month to month or will you reliably pay it off? Looking to earn rewards points or miles to redeem for travel? Do you need a business credit card or an employee card? Are you a student who needs to finance a bunch of back-to-school purchases? But, then, some credit cards are just clearly better than others — offering more generous terms and conditions, better rewards, lower interest rates and fees and more consumer-friendly privacy policies. 

In 2020, we’ve looked at dozens of credit cards and identified the best credit card options across a variety of categories. We’ve analyzed rewards credit cards — including those that pay cash back on every purchase, earn you rewards points and miles for all kinds of travel purchases, or focus on one particular airline. We’ve assessed which credit cards are best for students, optimal for Amazon Prime shoppers and worthwhile for Apple Pay aficionados. Note that we continuously monitor these cards (and their interest rates) and keep our eyes peeled for new ones, too. Our current top picks for the best credit card are presented below.

Best cash-back card

Chase

  • Reward rates: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back on travel, 3% cash back on dining, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • Annual fee: $0
  • New member bonus: $200
  • Bonus redemption threshold: $500 in first three months
  • Credit requirement: 670 to 850
  • Intro APR: 0% on purchases (15 months)
  • APR for purchases: 14.99% to 23.74% variable
  • APR for balance transfers: 14.99% to 23.74% variable
  • Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

Most of the best cash-back cards offer a simple, flat rate and no fees. Until recently, the Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card gave you all of that — a flat rate of 1.5% cash back on all purchases, without a spending limit, no annual fee and flexible redemption policies. In September 2020, however, the credit card company improved on that deal, adding a little bit of worthwhile complexity and ratcheting up the reward rates on travel (5%) purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards points, dining (3%), and drugstore purchases (3%). While it’s no longer the simplest, we think it’s the best cash-back card for most people.

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Best credit card for travel rewards

CapitalOne

  • Reward rates: 2x miles on everyday purchases, 5x miles (hotel and car rental only) made through Capital One Travel
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Welcome bonus: Up to 100,000 miles
  • Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $20,000 in first 12 months to earn 100,000 reward miles, or spend $3,000 in the first three months to earn 50,000 miles
  • APR: 17.24% to 24.49% variable
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Credit requirement: 720 to 850

The Capital One Venture is a straightforward, easy-to-use credit card for booking travel with rewards points. And those rewards points are generated whenever you spend — so there’s no need to worry whether a particular category is eligible. Though the maximum bonus redemption threshold is high — spend $20,000 in the first 12 months — the 100,000 reward miles are significant, especially given the relatively low annual fee. 

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best travel credit cards.

The best credit card for students

  • Standard APR: 12.99% to 21.99% (0% for the first 6 months)
  • Penalty APR: None
  • Late payment fee: Up to $40
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Cash back rewards: 2% on gas and dining, up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter; 1% on all other purchases 
  • Foreign transaction fee: 0%
  • Standout feature: No late fee for first late payment
  • Eligibility requirements: No credit history required, proof of income 

The Discover it Student Chrome offers a winning combination of cash back and other rewards as well as lenient terms for first-time credit card holders. You won’t get dinged for a late payment — at least the first one — or have to deal with an exorbitant penalty APR. And getting 1 to 2% back in rewards each month is a welcome bonus. Note that Discover offers another similar card, the Discover it Student Cash Back credit card, but the rotating bonus categories make things overcomplicated, especially for first-time cardholders. 

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best student credit cards.

Best credit card for balance transfers

  • Introductory APR: 20 months of 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases
  • Standard APR: 13.99% to 23.99%, variable
  • Penalty APR: None
  • Introductory balance transfer fee: N/A
  • Standard balance transfer fee: 3% or $5, whichever is greater
  • How long you have to make transfers: 60 days
  • Credit requirement: 680 to 850
  • Annual fee: $0

Paying down credit card debt can be exhausting. A balance on an account with a high interest rate can take years to pay off — or worse, balloon out of control. A balance transfer credit card, used properly, can offer you a relatively cost-efficient opportunity to catch up. The US Bank Visa Platinum offers one of the longest zero percent introductory APR periods — 20 months — combined with one of the lowest fees, 3%.

Learn more in CNET’s roundup of the best balance transfer credit cards.

Best credit card for Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers

  • Reward rates: 5% on Amazon, Whole Foods; 2% at restaurants, gas stations, drugstores; 1% on everything else
  • Annual fee: $0
  • New member bonus: $100 Amazon Gift Card
  • Bonus redemption threshold: Card approval
  • Credit requirement: 580 to 850
  • Intro APR: None
  • APR for purchases: 14.24% to 22.24% variable
  • APR for balance transfers: 14.24% to 22.24% variable
  • Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

This credit card is a must-have for anyone who shops regularly on Amazon. And given that you can buy just about anything on Amazon — 5% back on all eligible purchases there is pretty sweet. The card also features 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations and drug stores and 1% on everything else. (Note that Amazon offers a basic, non-Prime member card that features 3% cash back on Amazon purchases; but if you’re spending more than $250 per month at Amazon or Whole Foods, you should be a Prime member.)

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Best credit card for Apple Pay super-users (and privacy enthusiasts)

Apple

  • Reward rates: 3% on Apple, Uber and Walgreens purchases; 2% on Apple Pay purchases; 1% on everything else
  • Annual fee: $0
  • New member bonus: $0
  • Bonus redemption threshold: None
  • Credit requirement: 580 to 850
  • Intro APR: None
  • APR for purchases: 12.49% to 23.49% variable
  • APR for balance transfers: Not offered
  • Balance transfer fee: Not offered

The Apple Card is a beautiful but odd duck. Crafted out of sleek titanium, the credit card looks like it was birthed from a slot on a MacBook Pro. But it’s the iPhone that unleashes its true potential: When you use Apple Pay — the company’s digital wallet and touchless payment feature — you get 2% cash back on all purchases. (The Citi Double Cash Card offers up to 2% on everything, no matter how you pay.) Otherwise, the Apple Card’s rewards program is a mish-mash of cash rewards: 3% cash back on eligible purchases of Apple gear and services, Uber and Walgreens purchases and 1% cash rewards on everything else. 

But there are a few other noteworthy features. The Apple Card’s privacy policy states that it will “never share or sell your data to third parties for marketing or advertising” — a commitment that’s rare in an ordinarily mercenary industry. Apple delivers your cash-back rewards at the end of each day, instead of the usual month-long billing cycle. And Apple does not charge late fees, an annual fee or foreign transaction fees.  

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Read more: Everything you need to know about choosing a credit card

source: cnet.com

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