Which credit card should you get in the new year?

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If you’re thinking about signing up for a new credit card in the new year, the best card for you will depend on your spending habits and your financial situation. Here are my top recommendations for different types of spenders.

If you have credit card debt

In this case, your primary consideration should be your interest rate, not rewards. A 0 percent balance transfer card is an excellent way to save money on interest, although these have gotten harder to obtain as lenders worry about the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the economy and the job market.

While some of these 0 percent promotions last as long as 20 months, in my experience, the longer terms are more difficult to qualify for and they charge transfer fees of 3 to 5 percent. My favorite pick is the Navy Federal Platinum Card. It offers 12 months with no interest on balance transfers and doesn’t have a transfer fee. These transfers must be requested within 30 days of opening the account. After the promotional term, the standard variable APR ranges from 5.99 percent to 18 percent.

The Navy Federal Platinum Card is generally recommended for applicants with good to excellent credit, so there’s a chance you could be approved with a credit score as low as the upper 600s. Of course, the higher the better, especially in this climate.

If you want cash back

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ has a really nice blend of long- and short-term benefits. It gives 5 percent cash back on rotating categories that change every quarter, once you activate the category through your account. Five percent cash back on these categories are capped at $1,500 in purchases: You’ll get 1 percent cash back after that. Plus, it gives 5 percent back on travel booked through Chase, 3 percent at restaurants and drugstores and 1 percent on other purchases. New cardholders get a bonus $200 in exchange for spending $500 in their first three months.

If you’re interested in travel rewards

There are a ton of options in this category, and the best one for you will depend on various factors. For example, how much do you travel? What are your biggest spending categories? Are you loyal to a specific airline or hotel chain? How much complexity can you handle? Are you willing to pay a substantial annual fee?

With those caveats, I’ll make a general suggestion of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card. Cardholders have plenty of redemption opportunities, since Marriott is the world’s largest hotel company and has over 1 million rooms spread across more than 100 countries. It has a $95 annual fee, but that’s easy to offset that with the free night award you’ll get each cardholder anniversary. This is worth up to 35,000 points, which could be worth $280, according to our sister site, The Points Guy. All cardholders get 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties and 2 points per dollar everywhere else. New cardholders receive 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in their first three months.

If you’re just starting out

As you build your credit score to hopefully qualify for more lucrative rewards cards in the future, your best bet is to focus on cards that report to the credit bureaus, charge low (or no) fees and extend sufficient credit limits. Rewards are a bonus. The Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card excels in all areas.

Interest ranges from 12.99 percent to 26.99 percent, and it doesn’t charge any other fees. Petal reports to all three major credit bureaus, so positive payment habits will build your credit score. And they don’t expect applicants to have great credit scores—they practice cash flow underwriting to take a detailed look at your financial picture. This allows Petal to give much higher credit limits (up to $10,000) than most starter cards. To start, cardholders get 1 percent cash back on all purchases. After you make on-time payments for six months, that will increase to 1.25 percent. This will increase to 1.5 percent after making 12 on-time payments.

There’s also the Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card, which has fewer bells and whistles. You can check your eligibility for both cards simultaneously at Petal’s website.

Bottom line 

There’s a good chance your spending habits and other key aspects of your financial situation changed in 2020. As we enter a new year and look ahead to a (hopefully) better economy, widespread vaccine availability and a return to something approaching normalcy, it’s important to reevaluate your credit card strategy to make sure you’re playing your cards right.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com and I’d be happy to help.