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Top Credit Cards

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Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Updated September 7, 2021
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Lantern Top Credit Cards
Choosing a credit card is an important financial decision, but knowing what you want and what you’re likely to qualify for can make it easier. While many people want to know what the top credit card is, how you go about choosing the right credit card for you will depend on what kind of credit card you need. For example, you might be looking for a card that offers cash back rewards, while someone else will prefer one that features travel rewards. And you’ll also likely want to look for a card that fits your credit profile. If you don’t have excellent credit, your priority may be to find a card that you’re likely to be approved for.But given that everyone is different, within each category some choices may be better for you than others. Let’s take a closer look.

How We Chose the Top Credit Cards

To find the top credit cards, we first divided the market into nine groups:
  • Top rewards credit cards
  • Balance transfer credit cards
  • 0% Intro APR credit cards
  • No annual fee credit cards 
  • Secured cards 
  • Fair credit cards 
  • Cash back credit cards 
  • Travel credit cards 
  • Small business credit cards
We then looked at the selection of cards that best fit each category that are issued by over a dozen major card issuers and credit unions. (However, we only included cards that are offered to all applicants, which leaves out products offered by credit unions that not everyone can join.) Be aware that credit card terms and offers can change; our assessments are based on information that was current as of August 12, 2021.Then we looked at the most salient factors for each category. For example, the top balance transfer credit card needs to have the longest promotional financing period, while the top travel credit card needs to offer the most valuable travel rewards. Read on for more details—and the top cards.Recommended: Credit Card Terms

Top Rewards Credit Cards

There are many types of rewards credit cards, including ones that offer cash back and others that provide travel rewards. The cards we ranked as top rewards cards offer the most valuable rewards. The most important factor in our ranking is ongoing rewards for spending, followed by the initial new account bonus. After that, we considered each card’s annual fee as well as benefits offered. The card’s APR and promotional financing wasn’t important in our determinations, as these cards are best used by those who avoid interest charges by paying their balance in full. 

If You Want Travel Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred

This is a fantastic card for new and experienced award travel enthusiasts. New applicants earn 100,000 points after spending $4,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. This card also offers 5x points on all travel purchased through Chase, 3x points on dining, on select streaming services, and on online grocery purchases. You earn 2x points for travel purchases and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Other benefits include a $50 annual credit toward hotels booked through Chase, and an anniversary bonus of 10% of the points earned each year through spending. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card. 

If You Want Cash Back Rewards: Wells Fargo Active Cash

Wells Fargo recently released this card, which quickly became one of the top cash back cards available. New applicants earn $200 in cash back after spending $1,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You simply earn unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, and there’s no annual fee for this card. 

Top Balance Transfer Credit Cards

When you have a significant outstanding credit card balance, then opening a new account with a 0% APR balance transfer offer can be an easy and inexpensive way to pay it off. As we were selecting the top balance transfer credit cards, we considered the duration of the interest free financing period to be the most important factor. Next, we looked at other features, such as cash back rewards. The balance transfer fee on most cards now is the same at 3%, and all of the cards with the most competitive balance transfer offers have no annual fee, so neither factor was among our criteria. 

If You Want the Longest Available Promotional Financing Period: US Bank Visa Platinum

This card offers an industry-leading 20 months of 0% APR financing on balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. You also receive 20 months of interest-free financing on new purchases. But while there’s no annual fee for this card, there are no rewards offered either. 

If You Want a Great Balance Transfer Offer and Cash Back: Citi Double Cash

This card is not just one of the top balance transfer cards, it’s also an extremely competitive cash back card as well. New applicants receive 18 months of 0% APR financing on balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. At the same time, it offers a high rate of cash back on all purchases, with no limits. You earn 1% cash back at the time of purchase and another 1% back when you pay for your purchases, for a total of up to 2% cash back. There’s no annual fee for this card.

Top 0% Intro APR Credit Cards

As with balance transfer credit cards, the top cards in this category will have longer introductory financing periods. It wasn’t necessary to consider annual fees, as all of the top cards in this category don’t have any. And since some cardholders will also want to earn rewards as well, we selected a top card with that option. 

If You Want the Longest Available Promotional Financing Period: US Bank Visa Platinum

Just as its balance transfer offer is the longest currently available from a major card issuer, so is this card’s introductory purchase APR—20 months of 0% APR financing on new purchases. You also receive 20 months of interest-free financing on balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. There’s no annual fee for this card, but there are no rewards either. 

If You Want a 0% APR Card with Cash Back Rewards: Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers new applicants 15 months of 0% APR financing on new purchases, plus the same on balance transfers. But this card is also a strong cash back card, offering 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining including takeout and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases. You also receive a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account, as well as 5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. There’s no annual fee for this card. Recommended: Reading Your Credit Card Statement

Top No Annual Fee Credit Cards

There are still many credit cards from all of the major banks and credit unions that have no annual fee. And like other credit cards, these no-fee cards come with a variety of strengths that make them best suited for different uses. Once we excluded cards with an annual fee, we looked at the remaining cards from major issuers that had other outstanding features including 0% APR financing, were available to people who have poor credit, and offered the chance to earn travel rewards. 

If You Want a No Annual Fee Card for 0% APR Financing: US Bank Visa Platinum

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that a card that sits at the top of balance transfer and 0% introductory APR markets is one of the top cards with no annual fee. That’s because it offers 20 months of 0% APR financing on new purchases and balance transfers, which could be a valuable offer if these are helpful features for you. If you take advantage of a 0% APR promotional financing offer, avoiding new debt will make it much easier to pay off your existing balance before the promotional offer expires. 

If You Have Poor Credit and Want to Rebuild It: Capital One Secured Mastercard

There are millions of Americans with poor credit, and this card offers them an easy way to begin rebuilding it. All you have to do is make an initial, refundable deposit of $49, $99, or $200 (depending on your creditworthiness) and you’ll receive a $200 line of credit. If you pay your bills on time, you’ll be automatically considered for a higher line of credit in as little as six months. But otherwise, this card works just like any other credit card. You’ll receive a monthly statement and you must make a monthly payment. Unlike some secured cards, there’s no annual fee. 

If You Want to Earn Travel Rewards: Bank of America® Travel Rewards

This card offers new applicants 25,000 online bonus points, with $250 in travel rewards, after they make at least $1,000 in new purchases within 90 days of opening the account. You also earn 1.5 points for each dollar spent on all purchases. The card even comes with 12 months of 0% APR financing on new purchases, too. In addition to having no annual fee, it has no foreign transaction fees either. 

Top Secured Cards

Secured credit cards are great for those who have bad credit and are looking to use a new card to help rebuild their credit history. Secured cards work just like regular, unsecured credit cards except that they require you to make a refundable deposit before you can open an account. We looked at the top secured cards, with a preference for those that have no annual fee. We also considered whether the secured cards have a low minimum deposit and/or offered rewards for spending. 

If You Want a Low Refundable Deposit: Capital One Secured Mastercard

With most secured cards, the amount of your deposit always becomes your credit limit. But with the Capital One Secured Mastercard, some cardholders will receive a $200 credit limit with only a $49 or $99 refundable deposit. Depending on your creditworthiness, you might have to make the full $200 deposit, but you will automatically be considered for a higher credit limit after six months. There’s no annual fee for this card. 

If You Want to Earn Rewards with a Secured Card: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card

It used to be that you couldn’t earn rewards from a secured card, but now there are several that offer cash back. The secured card with the most generous cash back rewards is the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card. Just like the unsecured version, It offers 3% cash back in the category of your choice, including gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. You also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. This card requires a $300 minimum deposit, and has no annual fee.

Top Fair Credit Cards

People with fair credit likely either have a limited credit history or have had significant credit problems, but still have better credit than those with bad credit. The problem for people in this category is that they won’t qualify for cards that require good or excellent credit, but they can still be approved for cards with more generous terms than those meant for applicants with bad credit. To choose the top cards in this category, we looked for issuers that are specifically marketing their cards to those who have credit between poor and good. We then looked for cards that offer compelling features such as cash back rewards and the ability to be approved without an established credit history.  

If You Have Fair Credit and Want to Earn Rewards: Capital One QuicksilverOne Rewards

Here’s a card that you can get with fair credit but that still offers strong rewards. You earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with no limits. And although it has a $39 annual fee, there are no foreign transaction fees imposed on charges processed outside of the United States. 

If You Have a Limited Credit History: Petal 1

Petal is an innovative card issuer that judges new applicants by factors beyond your credit score, such as your banking history. Its Petal 1 card features a credit limit of $500 to $5,000 and even earns 2% to 10% cash back at select merchants. But best of all, there’s no annual fee for this card.

Top Cash Back Credit Cards

There are several kinds of cash back credit cards, but the two most popular are flat rate cards that offer the most cash back on all purchases, and cards that feature bonus categories while only earning 1% on charges that don’t qualify for a bonus. When we were selecting the top cash back credit cards, the most important factor was the rate of cash back offered, followed by how few additional limits or restrictions applied. The next most important factors to consider were the card’s annual fee and any new account bonus offered. As with other reward credit cards, the APR isn’t considered as these cards aren’t suited for those who intend to carry a balance. 

If You Want a Cash Back Credit Card That Earns a Flat Rate of Cash Back on All Purchases:  Wells Fargo Active Cash

Those who want to use one card that offers an excellent rate of cash back on all purchases with no limits will appreciate the new Active Cash card from Wells Fargo. It features unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, with no gimmicks. New applicants also earn $200 in cash back after spending $1,000 on purchases within three months of account opening, and there’s no annual fee for this card. 

If You Want a Cash Back Credit Card That Offers Large Amounts of Cash Back on Purchases from Bonus Categories: American Express Blue Cash Preferred® Card

At a time when many Americans are spending more than ever at supermarkets and on entertainment streaming services, this card offers a phenomenal 6% cash back on these purchases (limited to $6,000 per year in US supermarket spending, then 1%). It also offers a strong 3% cash back on gas and on transit purchases including taxis, rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses, and more. All of these opportunities to earn cash back are well worth this card’s $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year. 

Top Travel Credit Cards

When choosing a top travel rewards credit card, you can go in several directions. One option is a card that offers rewards with your favorite airline or hotel program. Another is to earn rewards that are transferable to multiple airline or hotel programs. To select the top travel credit cards, we looked primarily at the value of the rewards earned from spending and how easy it is to redeem those rewards. Next, we looked at the initial new account bonus offered, followed by any unique benefits featured. We also considered the annual fee, but it’s not one of the most important factors since most travel rewards cards will have an annual fee.

If You Want to Earn Rewards That Can Be Transferred to Airline and Hotel Programs: Chase Sapphire Preferred

This card is a leader among those that offer flexible rewards that can be transferred to airline miles or hotel points. New applicants earn 100,000 points after spending $4,000 on new purchases within three months of opening the account. This card also features 5x points on all travel purchased through Chase, 3x points on dining, on select streaming services, and on online grocery purchases. You earn 2x points for travel purchases and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Other benefits include a $50 annual credit toward hotels booked through Chase and an anniversary bonus of 10% of the points earned each year through spending. Points can be transferred to airline or hotel partners or redeemed for travel reservations booked through Chase. This card even offers a range of valuable travel insurance and purchase protection policies. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card. 

If You Want to Earn Rewards and Elite Status on a Discount Carrier: Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® from Barclays

There are a lot of airline credit cards, but this one stands out. First, it offers new applicants 50,000 bonus miles after spending just $500 on purchases within 90 days of account opening. It also offers 5x miles on Frontier Airlines purchases and 3x miles at restaurants. But unlike any other airline credit card, you can earn one qualifying mile towards elite status for every dollar spent on all purchases. This allows you to easily earn elite status and avoid many of the ancillary fees that can be drawbacks when flying ultra-low cost carriers like Frontier. And although it has a $79 annual fee, that’s waived the first year and you can earn a $100 flight voucher each cardmember year after spending just $2,500 on purchases. 

Top Small Business Credit Cards

With the right credit cards, small business owners can organize their spending while earning valuable rewards. Thankfully, most major credit card issuers offer cards that are specifically designed for business use. When selecting the top small business credit cards, we looked at many of the same features that are valued in a consumer card. We considered the value of the rewards earned for spending, the initial new account bonus, and the annual fee. 

If You Want Flexible Reward Points: Chase Ink Business Preferred

This card offers new applicants a massive 100,000 point bonus after spending $15,000 within three months of account opening. It also features 3x points on up to $150,000 each year spent on combined purchases of shipping, online advertising, travel, and internet, cable, and phone services. Points are earned in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program and can be transferred to airline or hotel partners or redeemed for travel reservations booked through Chase. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card.

If You Want to Earn Cash Back from Your Business Purchases: Capital One Spark 2% Cash

Small business owners who prefer cash back to travel rewards may prefer the Spark 2% Cash card from Capital One. New applicants earn a $500 cash bonus after spending $4,500 on purchases within three months of account opening. They also earn a flat rate of 2% cash back on all purchases, with no limits. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year. 

The Takeaway

When you’re choosing a credit card, there are a lot of features to choose among. Taking the time to figure out what’s most important to you (as well as what you’re eligible for) can help you narrow the field. And knowing what’s top in each of our rankings can give you options to aim for as you apply. Just remember that your needs may change, so it may be a good idea to review what’s available every so often and make sure that your card is still tops for you.If you’re trying to find a credit card that’s right for you, Lantern by SoFi can help by showing you a range of offers.
Photo credit: iStock/SolStock
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About the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.
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