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- Instead of learning everything about every single credit card, focus on finding the right fit for you.
- Rewards credit cards, one of the most common types of cards, are best for everyday purchases.
- Frequent travelers will benefit the most from travel credit cards, including co-branded airline and hotel cards.
- For credit card beginners, secured or student credit cards can be a great way to build your credit score.
In a world where a dizzying array of credit card types are marketed to consumers, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices and credit card deals out there. The thing is, you don’t have to learn everything about every single credit card on the market. All you need to do is figure out which type of credit card would work for your needs, then focus on finding the right fit.
So, how do you choose the best credit card? Consider the different types of credit cards outlined below and how each type of card might work for your spending and financial goals.
Rewards credit cards
Rewards credit cards also tend to offer at least a few different ways to redeem your points, often including options for statement credits, gift cards or merchandise. This makes them a great option for everyday expenses when you know you can pay off your card right away. By using a rewards credit card to cover your basic purchases, like groceries and household supplies, you can earn cash back and travel rewards for purchases you needed to make anyway.
See our best rewards credit card offers, including:
- Bilt Mastercard® – Best for renters
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – Best for everyday purchases
- Citi Premier® Card – Best for travel rewards on everyday purchases
Cash back credit cards
Cash back credit cards make it easy for you to earn cash back or statement credits on your spending, although how rewards are doled out varies from card to card. Some options in this niche offer a flat rate of rewards, while others offer bonus points in certain categories like dining or travel. Some even offer bonus rewards in rotating categories each quarter, as well as a flat rate of rewards on all non-bonus purchases.
Many cash back credit cards come with no annual fee as well, although some with more generous bonus offers and rewards schemes charge annual fees on the modest side, usually under $100.
If you tend to spend more in particular categories, like groceries or dining, you might choose a bonus category card rather than a flat-rate card, which is ideal for those with varied spending looking for an everyday card.
See our best cash back credit card offers, including:
- Citi® Double Cash Card* – Best for flat-rate cash back
- Discover it® Cash Back – Best for rotating cash back categories
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card – Best for cash back on dining
Travel credit cards
Travel credit cards offer you the opportunity to earn rewards that are geared specifically toward travel, whether that means earning flexible travel credits you can use toward any travel purchase or even points you can transfer to airline or hotel programs. Some travel credit cards also let you earn points within a specific program, such as a frequent flyer program or hotel loyalty program.
If you often travel for business or pleasure, you can also keep your eye out for luxury travel credit cards that offer perks like airport lounge access, annual travel credits and credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. You don’t even have to leave town to start earning points and miles that can make your next trip more affordable — many of the best travel rewards cards let you earn these perks by making everyday purchases.
See our best travel credit card offers, including:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card – Best for flexible travel rewards
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Best starter travel card
- American Express® Gold Card – Best for travel rewards on dining
- Discover it® Miles – Best for first-year miles bonus
Business credit cards
Business credit cards allow cardholders to keep their personal and business expenses separate while they earn rewards on all their business spending. Interestingly enough, like personal rewards cards, business credit cards can also be cash back credit cards, general rewards credit cards, travel credit cards or even secured credit cards. You do need to have a business or income-producing activity to qualify for a business credit card.
In general, a good business credit card helps you benefit from your everyday spending and makes running your business easier. Ideally, you’ll want to find a credit card with a generous rewards program, expense tracking abilities and features that help boost your bottom line. Some business credit cards will give you a flat rewards rate for all of your purchases, whereas other cards reward common business expenses, like travel or internet services, at higher rates. When it comes to redeeming your rewards, business credit cards generally let you exchange your rewards for either cash back or airline miles.
See our best business credit card offers, including:
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express – Best for everyday business expenses
- Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card – Best for unlimited cash back
- American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card – Best business card for startups
Student credit cards
Student credit cards are “starter credit cards” of sorts specifically geared to young people with a limited credit history. In other words, application requirements aren’t so stringent, so it’s easier to get approved. Most student credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, and many offer rewards for each dollar you spend or even bonus perks for good grades. If used responsibly, signing up for a student credit card can help young people build their credit and start creating good financial habits.
See our best student credit card offers, including:
- Discover it® Student Cash Back – Best student card for rotating cash back bonus categories
- Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students* – Best student card for no credit history and international students
- Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card – Best student starter card
- Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card – Best student card for rewards on everyday purchases
Secured credit cards
Most credit cards are unsecured, meaning you don’t have to put down any money upfront for collateral. With secured credit cards, on the other hand, you’re required to put down a cash deposit in order to secure a small line of credit, usually for a similar amount. For example, you might sign up for a secured credit card and put down a $500 initial deposit in order to receive a $500 line of credit.
While putting down collateral may not seem ideal, secured credit cards are the easiest type of credit card to get approved for, so they are often helpful when you need to build credit from scratch or want to repair your credit after a financial hurdle.
See our best secured credit card offers, including:
- Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card – Best secured card for building credit
- OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card – Best secured card with no minimum credit score requirement
- Discover it® Secured Credit Card – Best secured card with rewards
Co-branded credit cards
Co-branded credit cards are store or brand credit cards offered through traditional card issuers like Chase, Citi or American Express. These can include airline credit cards that let you earn miles within a specific frequent flyer program or hotel credit cards that let you earn points within a hotel loyalty program. Some co-branded credit cards also partner with retail stores, although you can typically use them for non-store purchases as well.
Generally, the rewards offered by co-branded credit cards are limited to one brand, but their rewards are solid and, in many cases, the value of these rewards (like free hotel nights) end up being worth more than cash back.
See our best co-branded credit card offers, including:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card – Best overall Southwest card
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card – Best for Delta Air Lines perks
- Hilton Honors American Express Card – Best Hilton card with no annual fee
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card – Best for Marriott loyalists
Store credit cards
Store credit cards are offered through retail stores to let consumers charge their purchases and pay them off over time. Store credit cards are generally only used within the specific store that offers them, although some store credit cards can be used within a specific family of stores.
Generally, store-branded credit cards have higher interest rates than general-purpose cards, and they are often more likely to charge deferred interest. Deferred interest means you’ll get a low or 0 percent introductory rate for a period of time, but if you don’t pay the full amount off within that time, you’ll be charged retroactively for the interest. That being said, if you can pay off your store credit card on time, you may be able to take advantage of some great perks and rewards programs.
Here are some of our favorite store credit cards:
- Prime Visa – Best for Amazon.com shopping
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi* – Best for Costco shopping
- Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®* – Best no-annual-fee grocery rewards card
The bottom line
There are a variety of cards out there, and choosing the best credit card for yourself depends on your specific needs, your credit situation and even what stage of life you are in. Even more, the timing of your credit card selection can also impact which option might be best. The card best suited for you is the one that offers a combination of rewards, benefits, fees and other details that will help improve your financial situation.
To get started, consider using Bankrate’s CardMatch tool to help narrow down your choices, and learn more about basic credit card terms to familiarize yourself with the different features and details of a card as well as the pros and cons of having a credit card.
*The information about the Citi® Double Cash Card, Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card and Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.