The Best Credit Cards - Top Offers & Reviews 2022

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At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

There’s a whole world of credit cards out there, but Bankrate knows you’re not trying to fit the world into your wallet. Our experts are dedicated to helping you make the right choice, with the best credit cards available from our partners—rewards, cash back, travel, balance transfer, 0 percent intro APR and more. We do the research so you don’t have to sift through hundreds of options to find the best credit card for you.

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Best Cash Back Cards

Best for 2% cash rewards

Apply now
On Wells Fargo's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Intro bonus
$200 cash rewards 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99%-24.99% Variable APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for sign-up bonus

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more;
  • 3% 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • 1.5% 1.5% on all other purchases
Intro bonus
Earn an Additional 1.5% Cash Back 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best No Annual Fee Cards

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1.5% Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for dining and entertainment

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 8% Earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
  • 3% Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).
  • 1% Earn 1% on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best 0% Intro APR Cards

Up to 21 months 0% intro APR | BEST FOR PROMOTIONAL INTEREST

Apply now
On Wells Fargo's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Purchase intro APR
18 months 0% intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99%-24.99% Variable APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

BEST FOR LONG INTRO APR

Apply now
On U.S. Bank's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Purchase intro APR
20 billing cycles 0% for 20 billing cycles on purchases
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for everyday family purchases

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 6% 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more.
  • 3% 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1% 1% Cash Back on other purchases
Intro bonus
$300 
Annual fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR
13.99%-23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for automatic bonus category

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter.
  • 1% Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
Intro bonus
100,000 miles 
Annual fee
$395
Regular APR
16.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Excellent (740 - 850)

Best for flexible redemption options

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro bonus
60,000 miles 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best Balance Transfer Cards

21 months 0% intro APR | Excellent credit

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Balance transfer intro APR
21 months 0% for 21 months on Balance Transfers
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CARD WITH REWARDS

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Balance transfer intro APR
18 months 0% for 18 months
Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for earning cash back with no credit history

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • 1% Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 21.99% Variable
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

Best Card for Excellent Credit

Best for maximizing rotating categories

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • 1% Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best Card for Good Credit

Best for gas and groceries with no annual fee

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 3% 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
  • 2% 2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.
  • 1% 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99%-23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best Card for Fair Credit

Best for no annual fee

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate

N/A

Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
26.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Fair to Good (580 - 740)

Best Card for Poor Credit

Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1-1.5% Cash Back Unlimited 1-1.5% Cash Back on all Purchases
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0 - $19
Regular APR
26.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Fair to Good (580 - 740)

Best Card for No Credit History

BEST FOR CREDIT-BUILDING WITH CASH BACK

Apply now
On WebBank's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1.5% Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
  • 1% 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

A complete guide to choosing and using credit cards

The right credit card can play an important role in helping you achieve your financial goals. But how do you choose among the hundreds of credit card offers available on today’s market? Bankrate is here to help.

Do you want to earn cash back on everyday purchases? Upgrade your travel experience? Manage different kinds of consumer debt? Build or repair your credit? Whatever your objective might be, our expert analysis of leading offers from our credit card partners can guide you.

Below, we evaluate top contenders for today’s best credit cards in all the major categories and narrow down the list to a select few. We also offer expert advice on how to best utilize a credit card as part of your overall personal financial profile.


Compare the best credit cards of 2022

Card name Our pick for Bankrate score
Wells Fargo Active Cash Card 2% cash rewards 3.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Unlimited Best sign-up bonus 4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card Best for 1.5% cash back 3.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Dining and entertainment 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Wells Fargo Reflect Card Promotional interest 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card Long intro APR 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express Everyday family purchases 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Custom Cash Card Automatic bonus category 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card No-frills benefits 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Flexible redemption options 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Diamond Preferred Card Balance transfer for excellent credit 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it Balance Transfer Balance transfer card with rewards 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it Student Cash Back Earning cash back with no credit history 4.1 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it Cash Back Maximizing rotating categories 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express Gas and groceries with no annual fee 3.9 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Platinum Credit Card No annual fee 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit Unsecured credit card with rewards 2.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card Credit-building with cash back 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at Bankrate’s best credit cards

Wells Fargo Active Cash Card

Best for 2% cash rewards

  • This card is best for: Someone who wants to earn unlimited cash rewards on purchases at twice the rate of the typical 1 percent.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who’s opened another Wells Fargo credit card in the last six months. You’ll have to wait until six months have passed to apply for the Active Cash card.
  • What makes this card unique? Most cards that earn 2 percent cash rewards come with spending caps or tiered categories. With this card, earnings are unlimited on everyday purchases.
  • Is the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card worth it? Yes, the Active Cash is worth it for cash rewards fans and maximizers.

Read our full Wells Fargo Active Cash Card review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Best for sign-up bonus

  • This card is best for: Someone who wants a cash back card with multiple categories and a sign-up bonus that you can easily earn without overspending.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Infrequent travelers. Travel purchased through Chase is the highest-earning category at 5 percent per $1 spent, so people who don’t take many vacations or business trips won’t get the full benefit.
  • What makes this card unique? Both the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex℠ are part of the Pay Yourself Back program.
  • Is the Chase Freedom Unlimited worth it? Yes. If you maximize your spending in eligible purchase categories, you can reap some worthy cash back rewards, not to mention the sign-up bonus’s solid value.

Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited review.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for 1.5% cash back

  • This card is best for: People who prefer simple cash back rewards: no special categories or earning limits, just 1.5 percent cash back on every eligible purchase.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Big spenders in certain purchase categories (groceries, gas, online shopping and so on) who could earn more with a card that has tiered or rotating bonus categories.
  • What makes this card unique? Unlike some rewards programs, Capital One provides full value when you redeem cash rewards through Amazon Shop with Points ($1 in cash rewards is worth $1 in redemption value).
  • Is the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card worth it? Yes. Earning flat-rate cash back might not be rocket science, but the Quicksilver is one of the most valuable set-it-and-forget-it choices you’ll find.

Read our full Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for dining and entertainment

  • This card is best for: People who want to turn their appreciation for food and fun into plus-rate cash rewards.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Grocery shoppers who are exclusive to superstores and wholesale clubs. The complexities of merchant category codes mean that grocery purchases at establishments like Target or Sam’s Club aren’t likely to qualify for the SavorOne’s 3 percent rate.
  • What makes this card unique? Capital One provides access to presale tickets, discounts and more with dining, entertainment and sports experiences.
  • Is the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card worth it? For social butterflies, you won’t find a better card. Pair the dining and entertainment rewards with the lack of an annual fee and the SavorOne provides a lot of bang for the buck.

Read our full Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Wells Fargo Reflect Card

Best for promotional interest

  • This card is best for: Someone who is getting ready to make a big purchase or has existing high-interest credit card debt and needs a balance transfer.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants to earn rewards on spending or is looking for a card with more long-term value; there are some promotional interest credit cards that offer rewards, albeit with a shorter window of time to skip interest on purchases or balance transfers.
  • What makes this card unique? The promotional interest offer extends to both purchases from account opening and qualifying balance transfers from account opening and even the base offer of 18 months is lengthy for a zero-interest intro APR card (then 12.99 percent to 24.99 percent variable APR).
  • Is the Wells Fargo Reflect Card worth it? Definitely. If you’re looking for a long window of time to pay off a big purchase or a balance transfer, you can’t do much better.

Read our full Wells Fargo Reflect Card review.

U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card

Best for long intro APR

  • This card is best for: Anyone looking to finance a large purchase without extra interest charges for a fairly long period of time. This card has an intro APR offer of 20 billing cycles on both balance transfers and purchases (then 14.49 percent to 24.49 percent variable APR).
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone looking to keep a card for long-term value, as this card doesn’t offer much of anything in terms of rewards.
  • What makes this card unique? The intro APR offers on this card are some of the longest offers on the market.
  • Is the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card worth it? Possibly. If you need a longer-than-average amount of time to pay off debts, this card is a very viable option. However, if you’re looking to reap extra rewards in the long-term, there are other cards with sizable intro APR offers that also have a decent rewards rate.

Read our full U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card review.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Best for everyday family purchases

  • This card is best for: Modern, on-the-go families who spend a lot on groceries, gas, transit and streaming subscriptions.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who prefer the simplicity of a flat-rate card that doesn’t involve doing the mental mathematics of calculating rewards rates for special purchase categories.
  • What makes this card unique? You’ll have a hard time finding a card with high-value rewards categories as family-focused as this one’s. The categories don’t rotate, so you won’t have to change your spending habits according to the calendar.
  • Is the Blue Cash Preferred Card worth it? Most likely. While there’s a $95 annual fee, Amex offers a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, so the reward earnings and benefits could help recoup that cost.

Read our full Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express review.

Citi Custom Cash Card

Best for automatic bonus category

  • This card is best for: Someone who wants the high rewards rate of a bonus cash back card without having to activate or choose categories in advance.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Strategic shoppers who prefer plotting out their cash back strategy each quarter before they start spending.
  • What makes this card unique? The cash back program adjusts to your spending habits in the top eligible category each billing cycle so you’ll earn the highest rate where you’ve spent the most.
  • Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it? As a primary credit card, maybe. The monthly $500 cap on your top eligible 5 percent bonus category each billing can seriously stunt max earning potential for some people, so it works much better as a secondary card paired with a primary Citi card.

Read our full Citi Custom Cash Card review.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Best for no-frills benefits

  • This card is best for: Frequent travelers with a taste for premium perks without the highest of premium costs.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who don’t travel often, as most boosted reward rates are offered on travel purchases.
  • What makes this card unique? This card sets the stage for a middle-ground option in the luxury travel space with it’s $395 annual fee and alluring travel benefits.
  • Is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card worth it? Though it does offer many of the premium benefits offered by other luxury cards, the Venture X pares its offerings down to the most useful features, allowing cardholders to have top-tier travel experiences at a more affordable price tag.

Read our full Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card review.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Best for flexible redemption options

  • This card is best for: Frequent travelers who want an easy way to earn rewards and multiple options for how they can use them.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Brand loyalists. A co-branded card could have higher rewards rates and offer perks unique to a particular airline or hotel chain.
  • What makes this card unique? You get a lot of flexibility when it comes to redeeming your Miles. Options that bring the highest value are booking travel through Capital One, redeeming Miles as statement credits for past travel expenses and transferring Miles to any of 15+ travel loyalty programs.
  • Is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card worth it? We say it is. The $95 annual fee is comparable to similar cards, but if you put a premium on flexibility, the array of options for redeeming miles makes this card worth it.

Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.

Citi Diamond Preferred Card

Best for balance transfer with excellent credit

  • This card is best for: Someone with good credit looking for an exceptionally long balance transfer offer or lengthy introductory APR.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone looking for long-term value. The 21-month intro APR for balance transfers can save you a lot of money, but without a rewards system, the card loses its luster after the intro APR period ends.
  • What makes this card unique? The Citi Diamond Preferred Card’s introductory balance transfer offer is one of the longest available on the credit card market.
  • Is the Citi Diamond Preferred Card worth it? For balance transfers, it definitely is. If your goal is to maximize the time you have to pay down a balance without racking up interest charges, the Citi Diamond Preferred has a top-tier offer.

Read our full Citi Diamond Preferred Card review.

Discover it Balance Transfer

Best balance transfer card with rewards

  • This card is best for: Someone who wants the best of both worlds: a decent balance transfer intro APR offer and cash back rewards.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who may find it tedious to keep track of rotating bonus categories and enrollment dates.
  • What makes this card unique? You get the benefits of both a balance transfer card and a rotating-category rewards card in one. Plus, the Cashback Match program will double your reward earnings in the first year with the card.
  • Is the Discover it Balance Transfer worth it? As long as you want to save on interest while also earning cash back, this card is worth it. However, stay vigilant in paying off your balance transfer debt before taking full advantage of the cash back rewards.

Read our full Discover it Balance Transfer review.

Discover it Student Cash Back

Best for earning cash back with no credit history

  • This card is best for: College students interested in the chance to build a credit history and earn as they learn about rotating bonus categories.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who feels like their schedule is already full of reminders and boxes to check. You have to enroll in the bonus categories every quarter to earn 5 percent (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases, then 1 percent).
  • What makes this card unique? Most cash back cards, much less cards with this kind of earning potential, require not just a credit history but a good or excellent credit score, so its availability to students is noteworthy.
  • Is the Discover it Student Cash Back worth it? If you put in the effort to enroll in the bonus categories and target your spending—responsibly, of course—your cash back earnings could really make the grade.

Read our full Discover it Student Cash Back review.

Discover it Cash Back

Best for maximizing rotating categories

  • This card is best for: People who are willing to put in the work. When the categories rotate, remember to activate — and then direct your spending toward the bonus categories to earn the 5 percent rate on up to $1,500 each quarter, followed by 1 percent.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who want to earn cash back but prefer a low-maintenance way to do it. If that sounds like you, consider a flat-rate card that earns on all eligible purchases.
  • What makes this card unique? One of Discover’s trademark features is the first-year cash back match. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
  • Is the Discover it Cash Back worth it? Absolutely. With its earning potential and the lack of an annual fee, it has considerable value. Activating the categories and adjusting your spending does require some effort on your part, though.

Read our full Discover it Cash Back review.

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

Best for gas and groceries with no annual fee

  • This card is best for: Families with lots of places to go and meals to prepare. The rewards rates on purchases at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores are exceptional.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who do their grocery shopping at superstores and wholesale clubs. Purchases that don’t fit Amex’s definition of U.S. supermarkets earn just 1 percent.
  • What makes this card unique? A complimentary ShopRunner membership offers free two-day shipping and free returns at more than 100 online stores (enrollment required).
  • Is the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express worth it? Yes. The card’s high-rate categories match up well in areas where busy families are likely to make a lot of purchases, and you won’t have to pay an annual fee.

Read our full Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express review.

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

Best for no annual fee

  • This card is best for: People with fair credit looking for a no annual fee card that will help build creditworthiness.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who may need to carry a balance over time because of the fairly high regular APR.
  • What makes this card unique? This card charges no annual fee and it’s possible for people with a credit score as low as 580 to be approved.
  • Is the Capital One Platinum Credit Card worth it? If you use the card to build your credit score at the same time, it can definitely be worth it. However, once your credit score hits the high-600s, you might find more value in a rewards-earning card for good credit.

Read our full Capital One Platinum Credit Card review.

Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit

Best unsecured credit card with rewards

  • This card is best for: People with bad credit scores (300 to 670 FICO) who want a chance to right the ship while earning modest cash back on eligible purchases.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone with a credit score below 500. You will have to pay an annual fee of $75 the first year, then $99 annually ($8.25 per month).
  • What makes this card unique? Not many unsecured cards for bad credit offer cash back programs, making this one a rare exception.
  • Is the Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit worth it? It can be a worthwhile card, as long as you focus on responsible habits (like paying your bill on time and not carrying a balance) and look at earning cash back as a benefit, not a goal.

Read our full Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit review.

Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card

Best for credit-building with cash back

  • This card is best for: Anyone with no credit history who wants to start building credit while also earning modest rewards.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone with a good or excellent credit score—you could find better cash back rewards rates with other credit cards.
  • What makes this card unique? You have the opportunity to periodically increase your cash back rate with on-time payments.
  • Is the Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card worth it? People looking for a place to get started with creating responsible credit-building habits while also earning rewards will find a lot to love with this card.

Read our full Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card review.


How do credit cards work?

A credit card, usually a plastic or metal card, is a payment method that offers a line of credit that lets you make purchases now while paying for them later. When you’re approved for a credit card, you get a credit limit that determines the maximum dollar amount you can borrow on your card. How do credit cards work? As you make purchases, your available credit decreases. When you pay your bill, your available credit increases.

With a credit card you have the option to carry a balance from month to month, meaning you can make a partial or minimum payment rather than paying your balance in full. The downside to carrying a balance is that you could face interest charges determined by your credit card’s APR, or annual percentage rate. Your credit card’s APR is effectively the cost of borrowing money. Remember, credit card interest is relevant only if you carry credit card debt from month to month, and it’s best to pay your balance on time and in full whenever possible.

Important credit card terms

Your understanding of certain credit card terms is going to be essential in helping you choose a credit card. The terms and phrases listed below should be top of mind when you begin shopping:

  • Interest rate: Interest is the fee a card issuer charges for extending a line of credit. Your interest rates will determine how much your card issuer charges you for carrying a credit card balance from month to month. Rates are influenced by your credit score.
  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR): In the world of credit cards, your interest rate and your APR are interchangeable. Your credit card’s annual percentage rate is the interest you’re charged for carrying a balance on the credit card in a billing cycle. Learn how to calculate your card’s APR.
  • Credit limit: This is your credit card’s spending limit. It will vary based on your credit score. You’ll likely have different credit limits for different transactions. For example, your cash advance limit (if your credit card offers cash advances) will be lower than your credit limit for purchases. A transaction that is over the card’s limit will be declined.
  • Credit score: A credit score is the rating given to rank your level of creditworthiness, or the likelihood that you’ll repay your debt on time and in full. The three credit bureaus use the information they have on file about previous credit accounts and other information to calculate your credit score.
  • Credit card balance: Your credit card’s statement balance is the amount owed at the end of a billing cycle. This amount will include all unpaid transactions made on your credit card and any unpaid fees.

Why use a credit card?

You should use your credit card as a payment method whenever it makes sense. Credit cards are safer to carry than cash and offer consumers several protections against theft and fraud. Using your credit card wisely means avoiding debt, so you shouldn’t spend more on your credit card than what you can afford to pay at the end of each billing cycle. But when you spend on your credit card using only what you can afford, it’s a great way to build credit.

Avoiding fraud liability. If your debit card is used without your permission, the money is deducted from your account right away and is usually very difficult to get back—if you can get it back at all. By contrast, if your credit card is used for fraudulent activity you’re liable for no more than $50—$0 if your card was reported lost or stolen before any charges are made.

Rebuilding your credit. If you’re trying to improve your credit score, using a credit card responsibly is one of the best ways to go about it. On-time payments made on your account are reported to the three credit bureaus and positive credit behavior will boost your credit score over time. If you don’t have a credit profile to get a traditional credit card, secured credit cards offer a great alternative.

Resolving consumer issues. Paying with credit cards provides consumer protection when working with businesses. For example, if you hire a contractor to do renovations, but major issues in the final product arise after payment, you often have little recourse in getting refunded if you paid with a debit card or check. If you paid with a credit card, however, you can dispute the charges on your credit card and report the contractor to your issuer, which will withhold funds from the contractor.

Different types of credit cards

Credit card issuers offer different types of credit cards to meet a variety of consumer needs. Some cardholders tend to carry a balance from month to month, while others typically pay their card balances in full. The former type of cardholder would likely benefit from a card with a low ongoing APR, while the latter would do well with a card that earned rewards. The best credit card for you is going to vary depending on your unique needs. Here are the major types of credit cards:

  • Rewards credit cards. Rewards credit cards typically fall into three categories: travel rewards cards, cash back cards and general rewards cards. When you use a rewards card to make purchases, you’ll accumulate points or miles that you can use to redeem for travel purchases, merchandise or statement credits.
  • Balance transfer and zero-interest credit cards. Balance transfers move existing credit card balances to a different card (usually with a fee) with a 0 percent APR period to help you save money on interest. Zero-interest cards usually have promotional 0 percent APR periods and are good for making large purchases to pay off over time.
  • Credit cards for repairing or establishing credit. Some cards are designed specifically for people just starting out on their credit-building journeys. A college student with limited income and limited credit history could be best served by a student card. A secured credit card requires a security deposit to open an account and will give people with poor credit access to the credit-building benefits of a traditional credit card.

What’s the best credit card for you?

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all credit card, and the sheer number of options can make it difficult to choose a credit card that’s best for your unique situation. When looking for a starting point in finding a card that could work best for you, it’s good to consider a card that matches your spending habits. Today’s credit cards cover a lot of territory for different types of consumers with different financial goals, including:

Bankrate Insights
In response to travel restrictions and lifestyle changes throughout the pandemic, many credit card issuers updated their rewards programs—think added bonus categories and short-term perks. As travel returns, be on the lookout for new opportunities that can increase your rewards value.

How to make the most of your credit card

Your credit card can be a major help or a hindrance to your financial health, depending on how you use it. To make the most of your credit card, follow a few guidelines:

Pay your bills on time: Generally speaking, the credit card payments you make are reported to the three credit bureaus. While late payments negatively impact your credit score, consistent on-time payments have the opposite effect. Making your credit card payments on-time each month is one way to ensure you’re improving your credit score over time.

Pay your balance in full: Avoid charging more on your credit card than you can pay back at the end of your billing cycle. This will help you avoid interest charges. Paying your balance in full also helps keep your credit utilization ratio low, which is another credit score booster. If you’ve planned on using a credit card to make a large purchase and carry a balance over time, it’s best to do so on a 0 percent intro APR card.

Use your card’s perks: Do you know all the perks and benefits available to you through your credit card? Sign-up bonuses, cash back rewards, and airline miles are just a few of the perks that come with certain cards. It’s important to be well-versed in the specific benefits of your credit card, so you’re able to take advantage of them.

Know your credit card’s drawbacks: Understanding what your credit card’s potential drawbacks can go a long way toward helping you avoid them. Be sure you’re aware of things like your card’s interest rates and fees upfront so you can plan on how you’ll deal with them if you need to.

Factors to consider before applying for a credit card

Choosing the best credit card all comes down to which card is going to provide you with the most value. That answer will change based on your financial situation, spending habits and more. Think about these questions when a credit card offer catches your eye:

What’s my credit score?

The better your credit score, the more likely you’ll qualify for a credit card with excellent perks and terms. You can review your credit report by requesting a free copy from AnnualCreditReport.com and there are a variety of ways to check your credit scores for free. If your credit score isn’t where you’d like it to be, work on improving your credit.

Do I plan to carry a balance?

It’s best practice to pay your balance in full each month so you avoid paying interest. However, if you do expect to carry purchases from time to time, you’ll likely want to opt for a low interest credit card. Low interest credit cards tout APRs that are lower than the current industry average. As of Dec. 15, 2021, Bankrate estimates the average credit card interest rate at 16.32 percent variable.

If you’re in the habit of paying your balances in full, you’re positioned to take advantage of a rewards credit card. These cards tend to carry higher APRs but generally offer a return on spending, plus certain ancillary benefits and protections.

Am I looking to pay off existing credit card debt or a large purchase?

If so, you’ll probably want to consider a 0 percent introductory APR credit card, which lets you avoid interest on purchases or balance transfers (or both) for a certain period of time (usually 12 to 21 months). Bonus: Some of these cards do tout rewards and hold value in the long term.

What are my current spending habits?

If your spending is concentrated in a certain area, look for a card that offers solid rewards in that category. For instance, if you spend a lot on groceries, look for a credit card that offers bonus points or cash back at grocery stores. Alternatively, if you travel frequently, consider a card that offers miles. If you don’t spend a lot in one particular category, consider a flat-rate cash back credit card.

Can I qualify for a sign-up bonus?

Many credit card offers involve a sign-up bonus for new cardholders, sometimes called a welcome offer. The typical sign-up bonus is an offer of cash back, rewards points or travel miles that you earn by spending a certain amount of money within the specified timeframe after opening the account, usually three months. If you can hit a card’s required spend without taking on debt, you should consider a card with a welcome offer. See the best credit card sign-up bonuses currently on the market.

Avoiding credit card pitfalls

There are numerous advantages to owning a credit card. You can improve your credit score with proper use over time, earn lucrative rewards and protect yourself from fraud. There are also important drawbacks to be aware of when obtaining a credit card. Some potential pitfalls to avoid include:

Damaging your credit: Your credit card issuer reports your payments activity and credit card balances to the three credit bureaus each month. While keeping your credit utilization low and making on-time payments consistently can help improve your credit score over time, doing the opposite will certainly harm your credit score.

Incurring debt: If you spend more on your credit card than you can afford to pay before the end of each billing cycle, you will incur debt. Interest rates on credit cards can be expensive, and if you consistently carry large balances on your credit card interest payments can pile on fast.

Fees: Even the best credit cards often come with a variety of fees. Balance transfer fees, annual fees, late fees and more. You can avoid many of these fees with responsible and strategic credit card use. For example there are many cards that allow cardholders to skip annual fees.

Managing credit card debt

Credit cards are a great financial tool if you can successfully avoid any pitfalls. If despite your best efforts to follow the tips above, you find yourself having to address significant credit card debt, there are strategies you can use to help you pay down your credit card debt.

Build an emergency fund. If you have debt, a sure way to prevent incurring more in the future is by building up an emergency fund. Most personal finance experts recommend starting with a savings goal of three to six months of living expenses. An emergency fund helps protect you from going further into credit card debt when the unexpected—like job loss, emergency home or auto repair or unexpected medical expenses—happens.

Create and stick to a budget. Failing to create a monthly budget is a recipe for growing credit card debt. A budget helps you avoid making purchases on your credit cards that you can’t afford and will help you successfully allocate money to pay down your existing credit card debt.

Get help. There are resources available to help you with your credit card debt if it becomes overwhelming. Credit counseling exists to help you learn to manage your finances and provide other resources.

How to apply for a credit card and get approved

Know your score

Before you start filling out applications, or even shopping around, you should find out your current credit score.
Knowing your credit score will give you a better idea of:

  • The cards you’re most likely to qualify for. On Bankrate.com, for example, each card offered by our partners has a Recommended Credit Score that you can use as a guideline.
  • The APR you might be offered. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to get a lower APR.

You can check your credit score through any of the major credit bureaus, the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), or possibly through your bank.

Improve your credit score

Most premium credit cards require a good-to-excellent credit score. Based on the FICO scoring model, a good-to-excellent score will fall in the range of 670 to 850. Improving your credit score increases your chances of meeting credit issuer requirements’ and securing the card you want.

You can increase your credit score by demonstrating good credit behavior over time. Secured credit cards are a great option for people with negative credit histories or no credit histories at all. Cardholders can boost their scores with responsible use and get started with deposits as small as $49, making the cards a low-cost credit-building option.

What you need for a credit card application

The obvious blanks you’ll need to fill include:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Social Security number

You should also be ready to provide additional information such as:

Look for personalized or pre-qualified offers

With a pre-qualified credit card offer, you can get an idea of your chances for approval without submitting an application that will trigger a hard credit inquiry.

This kind of offer has two benefits. One is the convenience of finding out how likely you are to be approved for the card, and the other is the lack of a hard credit check. Each hard credit check will temporarily knock your credit score down a few points. The pre-qualification process involves a soft credit check, so pre-qualified offers could help you avoid minor, short-term dings to your credit score as you shop for the right card.

One way to find and compare offers is by using tools like CardMatch™. The CardMatch feature is designed to show you personalized offers from our partners that match up with your credit profile. Based on your information, you may receive special offers and pre-qualified matches. Be aware that a pre-qualified match is still not a guarantee of approval.

How we choose Bankrate's best credit cards

Bankrate currently has expert reviews for more than 200 credit cards, which are rated using a 5-star scoring system. The most important factors we use to determine which cards appear on this page include:

APRs

Affordable interest rates are essential to great credit card offers. If you ever need to carry over part of your balance from one month to another, which we advise against if at all possible, a lower APR should reduce the amount of interest you're charged.

Rewards programs

Top programs for earning cash back, points or miles offer generous rewards rates and flexible redemption options. Some reward programs also include discounts and online shopping portals.

Introductory 0% APR offers

A zero-percent APR offer — essentially a temporary reprieve from interest — could make it much less expensive to pay off a big purchase or a balance transfer. The best offers last anywhere from 12 months to 20 months before the regular APR applies.

Fees

A low cost of ownership is another key element of the best credit cards. The total burden of fees should be low. If a card does charge an annual fee, it should also offer rewards and benefits that can help offset that cost.

User-focused value

Auto-pay options, credit-building tools, fraud protection, insurance … these and other benefits help make a credit card useful, valuable and worth having.

Essential reading for credit card users

If you’re looking for more information on how credit cards can help you reach your financial goals, check out some of our top resource articles:


Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

Frequently Asked Questions

about the author
Former Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and other personal finance products since 2017. Before joining Bankrate, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina.
about the editor
Jeanine Skowronski is a credit card expert, analyst, and multimedia journalist with over 10 years of experience covering business and personal finance.

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.