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. 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 your mental energy on researching which of those are the right fit.
10 different credit card types
How do you know which type of credit card would serve you best? Consider the different types of credit cards outlined below and how each type of card might work for your spending and your financial goals.
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 categories that change 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.
Here are some of our favorite cash back cards:
- Citi® Double Cash Card – Best for flat-rate cash back
- Discover it® Cash Back – Best for rotating cash back categories
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – Best for cash back on groceries
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card – Best for cash back on dining
Rewards credit cards
Rewards credit cards can come in different flavors, and they even include cash back credit cards. Rewards credit cards typically give you points based on a percentage of your spending and some even offer bonus points in popular categories like groceries, gas and dining out.
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 credit card option for paying 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.
Here are some of our favorite rewards credit cards:
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card – Best for travel rewards with no annual fee
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® – Best for your first rewards credit card
- Citi Premier® Card – Best for travel rewards on everyday purchases
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 non-travel-related purchases.
Here are some of our favorite travel credit cards:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card – Best for flexible travel rewards
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Best beginner travel card
- American Express® Gold Card – Best for travel rewards on dining
- Discover it® Miles – Best for first-year miles bonus
Balance transfer credit cards
If you have some high-interest credit card debt on your hands, you may be considering using a balance transfer credit card to help manage and pay down that debt. The best balance transfer cards let you secure an introductory 0 percent APR for a period typically between 15 and 21 months, which can give you a nice break from paying interest charges while you focus on paying down your debt. Most cards require you to pay an upfront balance transfer fee of 3 percent or 5 percent, although there are some credit cards with no balance transfer fee. Still, even after taking the balance transfer fee into account, you could save a significant sum of money on interest during your card’s introductory APR offer.
Here are some of our favorite balance transfer credit cards:
- Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card – Best balance transfer card with flexible rewards categories
- Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card – Best balance transfer card for digital wallet users
- Citi Rewards+® Card – Best balance transfer card with rewards on small purchases
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card last updated on 05.03.21
Zero percent APR credit cards and low-interest credit cards
You’ll also find an array of credit cards that offer 0 percent APR on purchases for a limited time, usually up to 18 months. Credit cards in this niche can be a boon if you need to make a large purchase and want to pay it back over time without interest. On the same token, you’ll also find low-interest credit cards that offer lower than average rates overall and not just during an introductory offer phase.
Here are some of our favorite 0 percent APR and low-interest credit cards:
- Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card – Best for intro APR on balance transfers and purchases
- Citi® Double Cash Card – Best for intro APR on balance transfers and double cash back
- U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card – Best for long intro APR period
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, 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, the signs of a good business credit card are if it 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 service 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.
Here are some of our favorite business credit cards:
- 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 as stringent, so it’s easier to get approved. Most student credit cards don’t charge an annual fee and many offer bonus perks for good grades as well as rewards for each dollar you spend. If used responsibly, signing up for a student credit card can help young people build their credit and start creating good financial habits.
Here are some of our favorite student credit cards:
- Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students – Best student card for no credit history
- Discover it® Student Cash Back – Best student card for cash back
- Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card – Best student starter card
- Discover it® Student chrome – Best student card with good grades rewards
Secured credit cards
Most credit cards are unsecured, meaning you don’t have to put down any 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. The one-time deposit (and therefore credit limit) can be as low as $49.
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.
Here are some of our favorite secured credit cards:
- Secured Mastercard® from Capital One – Best secured card for bad credit
- OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card – Best secured card for credit building
- Discover it® Secured Credit Card – Best secured card with rewards
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 retroactive 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.
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.
Here are some of our favorite co-branded credit cards:
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi – Best for wholesale shopping and cash back on gas
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card – Best for cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® – Best airline travel card
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card* – Best for hotel rewards
How to choose the right type of credit card
Check your credit score
First, you’ll want to check your credit score to see where you stand. Excellent credit will pave the way to qualifying for any credit card you want, including the top travel and rewards credit cards. If your credit score is just “fair,” or you have particularly poor credit, on the other hand, you’ll be limited in the number of cards you can qualify for and may need to start with a secured credit card.
Write down your goals
Before signing up for a new credit card, figure out what you hope to accomplish with a new card. Do you need to build up your credit score or hope to secure a lower interest rate? Perhaps you travel all the time and want to pick up a credit card with exceptional travel perks. There’s no right or wrong goal to pursue with different credit cards, but knowing what you hope to gain from your new card can help you narrow down the best options for you.
Assess your debt
Do you have a lot of high-interest credit card debt or debt from other loans? If so, you may want to consider a balance transfer credit card that lets you consolidate your debts during an introductory APR period. If you don’t have any debt and you plan to stay that way, on the other hand, you can focus on other credit card benefits, like rewards or cash back.
Compare rewards programs
If your goal is earning rewards, make sure you know which credit cards deliver your desired rewards. That could include cash back, flexible travel rewards or credit card points you can transfer to airlines and hotels. Either way, you’ll want to choose a credit card that lets you earn rewards in the categories where you already spend the most.
Look for fees and other carrying costs
Finally, make sure to compare credit card fees and long-term carrying costs. Not only should you consider your credit card’s interest rate, but you should watch out for annual fees, late fees, application fees, over-the-limit fees and any other charges you may need to pay.
The information about the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card, Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.