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The best credit cards on the market today feature outstanding rewards, large bonus offers, long 0% APR periods, and low fees. The experts at Bankrate have examined over 300 credit cards spanning across 30+ categories to pick their favorite credit cards for 2018 from our partners. Below, you will find comprehensive credit card advice and reviews so that you can find and apply for the right credit card for your situation.
Table of contents
- The best credit cards of 2018
- How we chose our top credit cards of 2018
- Recap: The best credit cards
- Editor’s review: Top picks for the best credit cards of 2018
- Key features of the best credit cards
- Choosing the right credit card
- Where to start when applying for a credit card
- How to use a credit card
- Bottom line: Should you get a credit card?
Here are Bankrate’s best credit cards of 2018:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Rewards
- Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card: 0% intro APR
- Capital One® Venture Rewards Credit Card: Travel
- Discover it® Balance Transfer: Balance transfers
- Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Cash back
- Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business: Best business credit card
- Discover it® Student chrome: Students
- Capital One Secured Mastercard: Bad credit
- Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Fair credit
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card: Good credit
Updated: November 13, 2018
How we chose our top credit cards of 2018
Bankrate’s team of credit card experts considered over 300 cards in the process of determining which would earn a spot on our list of best credit cards of 2018. The most important factors in determining our top picks were rewards, cash back rates, introductory 0% interest offer term lengths, balance transfer options, the opportunity to build credit, interest rates, and ownership fees. Every card that we offer has been rated on a scale of 0-100. You can find more information about each card by clicking on the card names to read our reviews.
What you are looking for in a credit card varies depending on your personal circumstance. While some will be looking for the most rewards value on their spending, others may be seeking to improve their credit score. That’s why we have identified what each card does best. Bankrate’s scoring matrix factors in a myriad of different elements, below are some more detail on just a few:
- Rewards – We understand that rewards are frequently the motivation behind applying for a new card. After all, why not get cash back, points, or miles on the money that you’re already spending? Rewards can get confusing but we try to make it easy. Our editors take into account the type of rewards, how they are earned, and how easy they are to redeem.
- Annual fee – Some cards charge a fee. Our experts analyze the annual fee to assess when the expense is worth the benefits and tell you how much you would need to use your card to cover the annual charge.
- APR – Annual percentage rate is the interest rate you would pay on a credit cards outstanding balance. Standard APR can range from below 10% to over 20%. Some cards have a higher “penalty” APR which can reach almost 30% if you’re late in making a payment. We pay attention to the fine print and include an analysis of APR in our Bankrate score.
- Extras and discounts – The additional perks that many cards offer, such as airport lounge access, travel credits, and additional security features, increase their value substantially. From straightforward credit cards to luxury rewards cards, we have scored the extra features that credit cards offer as they compare to the standard in their respective categories.
Recap: The best credit cards
|Card name||Bankrate score||Best for|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||95/100||Rewards|
|Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card||81/100||0% intro APR|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||94/100||Travel|
|Discover it® Balance Transfer||91/100||Balance transfers|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||97/100||Cash back|
|Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business||94/100||Business|
|Discover it® Student chrome||93/100||Student|
|Capital One® Secured Mastercard||84/100||Bad credit|
|Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||81/100||Fair credit|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||97/100||Good credit|
Bankrate’s top picks for the best credit cards of 2018
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best rewards credit card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card’s generous rewards, stellar sign-up bonus and a low annual fee are hard to beat. It’s a fantastic rewards credit card, especially for anyone who likes to travel and dine out as the card’s 2x points on restaurant and travel spending will add up quickly and more than cover the annual fee. We particularly like that you can redeem points for gift cards, cash back or travel through the Chase travel portal, which offers a lot of flexibility and boosts the value of your points by 25%. Overall, the Sapphire Preferred card gives cardholders a generous sign-up bonus, flexible redemption, and generous rewards which is why it secures a place on our “best cards of 2018” list.
- Earn two points per dollar on travel and restaurants worldwide and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
- Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening the account. That’s $625 toward travel when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
- The $95 annual fee for this card is waived in the first year.
Who should get this card
If you spend on travel and dining out and you’re looking for a low-fee rewards card that gives you great optionality then this is the card for you. Any current Chase cardholder should seriously consider adding the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to their roster and collating points to redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which boosts points value by 25%.
There’s no introductory fee for the first year. After that, the fee is $95 per year. It has a variable APR from 17.99 to 24.99 percent.
Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card: Best 0% interest credit card
This zero interest credit card has an industry-leading introductory offer, which makes it a great choice for the consumer who wants to make a big purchase and pay it off slowly. And because of its generous stance on late fees (there are none), it’s also a solid option if you need flexibility with payments.
- Pay no interest on purchases or balance transfers for 18 months. That’s one of the longest interest-free intro period available.
- This card charges no annual fee and gives you access to your FICO® score through Wells Fargo Online®, making it a great choice for consumers who want to plan and track their financial journey as they pay down debt.
- As an added bonus, if you pay your monthly bill with this card, you will get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft.
Who should get this card
Anyone wrestling with high-interest credit card debt should consider the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card. Its generous 18-month introductory zero percent APR offer on balance transfers and new purchases gives consumers with high-interest debt an opportunity to pay down their bill without accruing additional charges. This card also grants cardholders access to a myriad of financial planning and tracking tools that can help them make a comprehensive plan to get and stay out of debt.
After the introductory period expires, this card has an ongoing variable APR of 13.49 to 26.99 percent.
Capital One Venture Rewards Card: Best travel credit card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Card is one of the best travel rewards credit cards available today. There’s no cap on the rewards you can earn, no annual fee in the first year, and a generous 50,000-mile sign-up bonus worth over $500. Capital One has partnered with airlines around the globe to enable cardholders to transfer their miles to airline loyalty programs, significantly maximizing the value of their miles. For frequent travelers who want to earn rewards on every dollar they spend this card is a go-to no-hassle option. And, like every good travel rewards card, you’ll pay no foreign transaction fee on purchases made outside the U.S.
For a limited time Capital One is offering a significantly higher sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles worth over $750 for new cardholders who spend $5,000 in the first three months of card ownership. Get more information on this offer at Capital One or through The Points Guy.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 within the first three months of card ownership.
- There are no foreign transaction fees with this card.
- Earn unlimited travel rewards at 2 miles per dollar spent, and those miles never expire.
Who should get this card?
The Capital One Venture Rewards Card is best suited for consumers looking to earn points and miles within a straightforward rewards structure. With 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, this is Bankrate’s favorite flat-rate travel rewards card.
Discover it® Balance Transfer: Best balance transfer credit card
The Discover it® Balance Transfer is one of the best balance transfer cards available as it offers very favorable balance transfer terms whilst maintaining a lot of valuable features. If you’re struggling to chip away at your credit card debt a balance transfer card can help you consolidate your debt and pay it down interest-free for an introductory period. The Discover it Balance Transfer card gives you 18 months of 0% APR on balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. That fee is a bit of a drawback considering that there are competing balance transfer cards available that have a $0 balance transfer fee for an introductory period but the Discover it Balance Transfer card really shines when you consider the potential rewards value: 5% on rotating cash back categories (with enrollment and up to $1,500 per quarter), 1% on everything else, and after your first year discover with match all of the cash back rewards you have earned in your first year.
- 18-month 0% introductory period for balance transfers. (After that, regular variable APR of 13.99%-24.99% will apply)
- No annual fee.
- Discover will match all the cash back you earn in your first year and there’s no limit to how much is matched.
Who should get this card?
Anyone looking to consolidate and pay down credit card debt. This card gives you a long time at 0% APR and the cash back rewards mean that you will want to keep this card in your wallet after the balance transfer period is over.
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best cash back credit card
The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card offers some of the highest cash back rates available, especially for those who spend heavily on dining and entertainment. The card offers unlimited 4% back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at the grocery store and 1% on everything else. That’s a great return on your food-related expenses and the card’s one-time cash bonus of $500 after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of opening the account is particularly generous.
- One-time $500 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
- Unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees.
Who should get this card?
Anyone who already spends heavily on dining out and entertainment will struggle to find better rewards rates elsewhere.
Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business: Best business credit cards
The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business has a lot to offer small businesses. It’s flexibility really makes it edge out the competition, you will earn 2% cash-back rewards on all of your spending — so there may be higher rates of return if your business spending is concentrated in specific categories — and so for businesses that have varied expenses, or those who want to deal with bonus categories, this is a great option that gives you above-average returns on everything. The redemption is easy and the current sign-up bonus offer juices your returns from the get-go.
- One-time $500 cash bonus after you spend $4,500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
- Unlimited 2% back on every purchase.
- Employee cards come with no annual fee and earn the same cashback rates.
Who should get this card?
Small businesses that want to keep things simple and want the peace of mind that they’re getting good rewards rates on all their spending.
Discover it® Student chrome: Best student credit card
- Earn 2 percent cash back on gas stations and restaurant purchases on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter. On all other purchases, the card pays 1 percent.
- Maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0 gets you an extra $20 statement credit each school year for a maximum of five years.
- During the first year, Discover will match your cash back.
Who should get this card
The Discover it Student chrome is a fine pick for students with good grades who would like to enjoy cash back and perks. It also works as a solid introduction to credit because it has no annual fee and allows for mistakes.
There is no penalty APR, no late fee on the first payment and no over-limit fee. You’ll be charged a variable APR of between 14.99 and 23.99 percent.
Take note, though: Discover it Student chrome isn’t widely accepted overseas. So while the card comes with no foreign transaction fees, it’s a less than optimal choice for studying abroad.
Capital One Secured Mastercard: Best credit card for bad credit
The Capital One Secured Mastercard is one of the only secured cards with a deposit requirement that could be lower than your limit. Secured cards, when used responsibly, are a great way to build or rebuild your credit and Capital One offers one of the best deals available.
- Depending on your credit history, get a $200 credit line for either a $49, $99 or $200 deposit. You can deposit more to get a higher limit — up to $1,000.
- The APR is a variable 26.99 percent, but there are no annual fees, application fees or foreign transaction charges.
- If you make the first five payments on time, you can increase your credit limit without any additional deposits.
Who should get this card
This card is a good fit for anyone with little or no history who might qualify for one of the lower deposit options. The card also comes with an option to pay the opening deposit in installments over an 80-day period, which may help people on a fixed income who are seeking to build credit.
Not everyone can qualify for this card. If you have a non-discharged bankruptcy, a past due or over-the-limit Capital One card, a card that was charged off within the past year or your monthly income does not exceed your monthly housing payments by at least $425, you won’t be approved.
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best credit card for fair credit
The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great option for consumers looking to earn cash back while they build or rebuild on their fair credit profile. The card offers 1.5% cash back on all spending which, to be clear, isn’t the highest flat cash back rate, but for those with fair credit, it’s one of the best rates available. Better yet, you may be able to get access to a higher credit line after making five on-time payments consecutively.
- You will earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Cash back can be redeemed as an account credit, a check, or a gift card.
- Automatically get access to a higher credit line after 5 consecutive on-time payments.
- This card comes with a price protection feature, which will reimburse you the difference on eligible items if you find a lower price within 120 days of purchase.
Who should get this card
Anyone looking for a card that will help them transition from an average to an excellent credit score should keep this card top-of-mind. With all of the benefits of being a Capital One account holder combined with a decent rewards rate, it is hard to find a better offer in the average/fair credit range.
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card: Best credit card for good credit
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card is a great option for those with good credit who enjoy eating out and traveling — including gas purchases. The high-rate cash back categories are broadly defined and the card offers a great sign-up bonus, add in the fact that this is a no annual fee card, and the result is one of the best deals available today.
- 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
- There’s no annual fee.
- 3x points for eating out and ordering in, gas stations, rideshares and transit, flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals.
Who should get this card?
Anyone who wants high cash back rates without paying an annual fee. If you spend heavily on dining and travel, and you’re looking for straightforward rewards and redemption, this card deserves some consideration.
Key features of the best credit cards
All credit cards have a few standard attributes. The most notable ones are:
- APR. This stands for the annual percentage rate and is the amount of interest an issuer charges you if you carry a balance. If a card has an APR of 17% and you have a $10,000 balance that you don’t touch for a year, you’ll owe an additional $1,700 on top of the original amount.
- Annual fee. This is the amount charged to just own the card. Typically, the higher the annual fee, the more extras a card offers in return. Some cards will waive the annual fee for the first year as an enticement for you to apply. Other cards don’t charge an annual fee but might be no-frills. Depending on your goals, an annual fee might be worth it if the card offers you something of equal or greater value in return.
- Sign-up bonus. Some credit cards will offer you a sign-up bonus as cash-back or other rewards if you meet their minimum spending requirement within a certain amount of time. If you were going to spend the money anyway, a sign-up offer can be a great way to get rewarded for shopping. But, signing up for multiple cards just to earn bonuses can hurt your credit score as it can create too many inquiries with the credit bureaus. Some banks won’t approve you for a card if you’ve opened too many accounts in a short period of time.
- Balance transfer fee. If you’re consolidating debt to a balance transfer card, there might be a balance transfer fee, usually ranging from 3% to 5% of the amount being transferred. It’s important to calculate the amount of this fee to make sure you aren’t adding more to your debt than you’re paying in interest on the original card.
- Foreign exchange fee. Some credit cards add a surcharge to all international charges, making every purchase more expensive. If you buy a $100 souvenir with a card that charges a 3% foreign exchange fee, that means you’re paying an extra $3 just for using that card. The best travel cards don’t charge any foreign exchange fees, making them a better choice for using abroad.
- Card chip. An increasing number of credit cards are embedded with a microchip that you dip (instead of swipe) at a card reader. Also called EMV technology, which stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa, this is considered a more secure payment method than swiping.
- Mobile wallets. A mobile wallet lets you use your credit card information by storing it on your mobile device. It uses a technology called Near Field Communications, or NFC, that lets you tap an enabled payment terminal with your device instead of opening your wallet and taking out your card. Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are two of the most widely known mobile wallets.
Choosing the right credit card
With lucrative sign-up bonuses and generous rewards offers, choosing your first credit card is an exciting process. The card that is right for you will vary depending on where you are in your financial journey.
If you are looking to build your credit, we recommend you take a look at some of our student cards or cards for fair or limited credit. One of our favorite credit cards for building credit is the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. If this card doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, there are still plenty of other credit cards for fair credit.
What to look for:
- Low or no annual fee.
- A decent rewards rate on regular purchases.
- Reasonable APR.
- The ability to increase your credit limit as your credit score improves.
For consumers who have made financial mistakes in the past, a credit card (when used properly) can be a great tool to increase your credit score quickly. Your best bet is likely going to be a secured credit card. With a secured card, you will be required to put down a deposit that serves as your credit limit. While this will not immediately increase your spending power, these cards typically have lower fees and penalties than unsecured credit cards for bad credit.
What to look for:
- Fees and penalties.
- Deposit options for secured cards.
- Ability to graduate to an unsecured card.
- Opportunity to increase your credit limit over time.
Maximizing cash back and rewards
Credit card companies offer enticing rewards to make sure that consumers keep their cards top-of-wallet. There are three main types of rewards cards: cash back, points rewards, and travel cards. Regardless of how you shop and how you prefer to redeem rewards, there is an option for everyone.
What to look for:
- Rewards rate.
- Rewards structure (e.g. flat rate cash back, rotating category cash back, tiered rewards points, etc.)
- Sign-up bonus.
- Annual fee.
Making a large purchase
While we don’t recommend carrying a balance on most credit cards, exceptions can be made for large purchases if you qualify for a 0% interest credit card. These cards offer introductory periods of up to 21 months interest-free. If you feel confident in your ability to make a large purchase and pay it off immediately, consider a rewards card with a generous sign-up bonus.
What to look for:
- Introductory 0% interest offer term length.
- Sign-up bonus.
- Rewards rate.
- Annual fee.
Where to start when applying for a credit card
Everyone has different financial circumstances and the best card for you is likely to be different from the one that’s best for your partner, friend or colleague. The first place to start is with a free credit check. Once you know which cards you are likely to approve for, consider two things: What do you spend the most on? And, what do you want out of the card? The right card for you will depend on your household’s lifestyle and spending patterns.
For a busy suburban family who spends heavily on groceries and gas, a cash-back card that offers rewards in those categories could be the right match. But road warriors and globetrotters may fare better with a credit card that offers boosted rewards on travel and dining. College students and recent graduates, on the other hand, might benefit the most from a card aimed at helping them build credit.
If you’re torn between two offers that seem similar, check and compare if they have any sign-up offers, which can typically be worth anywhere from $150 to $1,500 if you meet a minimum spending requirement within the specified time period. If both cards offer the same benefits, it usually makes sense to go with one that offers a bonus.
But you shouldn’t necessarily sign up for a card just because it comes with a bonus. Although these lucrative offers can be enticing, longer-term it pays to be sure that the benefits of the card beyond any initial bonus are still a match for your spending habits.
How to use a credit card
There’s really only one rule to strive for when you have a credit card: pay your balance in full and on time every month. When you don’t pay it off, you accrue finance charges, which can range from an annual percentage rate (APR) of 11% to as much as 36% depending on the credit card. If you continue to carry a balance and just make the minimum payments each month, you’ll add those interest charges onto your existing debt and increase your financial burden.
Carrying a large balance on your card can also affect your debt-to-available-credit ratio and have a negative impact on your credit score. This is important because your credit score determines the rates you’re eligible for on everything from a mortgage to an auto loan to other credit cards. The lower the rate, the less interest you’ll pay.
If you must carry a balance, a good rule of thumb is to keep your credit card bill at 30% or less than your card’s maximum limit. For example, if you have a credit card with a limit of $10,000, try to never carry a balance larger than $3,000.
Paying off your card every month? You could benefit from using a rewards credit card that offers cash-back, points or other incentives just for shopping the way you normally would. Keep in mind the value of these rewards—typically between 1% and 5% of the amount of purchase, will always be less than the double-digit interest you’ll pay on your debt.
If you do tend to carry a balance on your credit card, you’d be better off with a low-interest card than one that pays rewards but has a steeper interest rate.
Bottom line: Should you get a credit card?
Deciding to sign up for a particular credit card depends on your unique situation. If you have little to no credit history or are trying to improve a low credit score, making regular on-time payments on a secured credit card can help you build up your credit profile and eventually allow you to graduate to a credit card with better terms.
If you’re trying to eliminate your debt, you may want to consider a balance transfer card, which gives you a break on interest for a period of time, allowing you to pay down more of the principal and knock out the balance faster.
Using a credit card with a 0% APR offer has the same benefit if you’re looking to buy some big-ticket items in a short period of time. If you use a card with an introductory zero percent offer, you get some breathing room to pay off the balance without adding interest charges on top of what you owe.
For someone who doesn’t typically carry debt and has predictable spending patterns, a cash-back or other rewards card can help you save money. Using a card that gives a flat cash back rate is like getting a discount every time you shop. Other rewards cards may offer rotating quarterly bonus categories giving you a chance to earn enhanced rewards for a limited time at select places, these rewards are redeemable for travel, gift cards, or statement credits.
Travel credit cards often come with additional perks and benefits like free checked luggage, priority boarding or elite hotel status, which could be especially appealing for frequent travelers.
Many premium airline credit cards will also offer extras that can be worth more than the cost of ownership. Airport lounge access, reimbursement for TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fees, price protection, rental car coverage and travel credits are just some of the plush perks found on these cards.
When used responsibly, credit cards offer perks, rewards, and credit score benefits that just aren’t available with standard debit cards. If you are still undecided regarding which card is right for you, take a look at our expansive selection of credit card reviews to see more of what the credit card experts at Bankrate have to say about some of the best offers available.
Need to do more rewards research?
Finding the right card for you can be hard but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. If you want to do some further reading, check out our more extensive reviews section. Here, you can view every single credit card review we have ever written for a variety of rewards categories.
- All Bankrate’s credit card reviews.
- All rewards card reviews.
- All zero interest card reviews.
- All cash back card reviews.
- All travel credit card reviews.
- All balance transfer card reviews.
- All business card reviews.
- All student card reviews.
- All bad credit card reviews.
- All fair credit card reviews.
- All good credit card reviews.
Author Spotlight: Robin Saks Frankel is a credit cards journalist with multiple years of experience in card reviews, breaking news, points guides and editorial advice. Robin has written content for Bankrate, Nerdwallet, and multiple other financial publications. You can find her on Twitter @robinsaks.
This editorial content is not provided or commissioned by any of the referenced financial institutions or companies. Opinions, analysis, reviews or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any financial institutions or companies, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such entity. All products or services are presented without warranty. Bankrate.com is an independent, advertising-supported publisher and comparison service. This post contains references to our partners, and Bankrate may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on certain links posted on this website.