The Best Credit Cards - Top Offers & Reviews 2022

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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 of 2022 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 for everyday family purchases

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
See if you're pre‐approved for this card with CardMatch™
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 offer
$350 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.49%-25.49% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for maximizing rotating categories

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
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 offer
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best Cash Back Cards

Best for 2% cash rewards

Apply now
On Wells Fargo's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Intro offer
$200 cash rewards 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49%, 21.49%, or 26.49% Variable APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

BEST FOR CHOICE OF BONUS CATEGORIES

Apply now
On U.S. Bank's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 5% 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in eligible net purchases each quarter on the combined two categories you choose.
  • 5% 5% cash back on prepaid air, hotel and car reservations booked directly in the Rewards Travel Center.
  • 2% 2% cash back on one everyday category, like Gas Stations/EV Charging Stations, Grocery Stores or Restaurants.
  • 1% 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases.
Intro offer
$200 bonus 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 25.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best No Annual Fee Cards

Best for dining and entertainment

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 8% Earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and tickets at Vivid Seats
  • 5% Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • 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 offer
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 5% Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • 1.5% Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Intro offer
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for flexible redemption options

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
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 offer
75,000 miles 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
17.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 5X 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
Intro offer
75,000 miles 
Annual fee
$395
Regular APR
18.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Excellent (740 - 850)

Best Balance Transfer Cards

21 months 0% intro APR | Excellent credit

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Balance transfer intro APR
21 months 0% for 21 months on Balance Transfers
Intro offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

BALANCE TRANSFER CARD WITH A SIGN-UP BONUS

Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
Balance transfer intro APR
18 billing cycles 0% Intro APR for 18 billing cycles for any BTs made in the first 60 days. A 3% fee (min. $10) applies.
Intro offer
$100 statement credit 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.74% - 23.74% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
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
Purchase intro APR
18 months 0% intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening
Intro offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49%-26.49% Variable APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

BEST FOR LONG INTRO APR

Apply now
On U.S. Bank's secure site
Purchase intro APR
20 billing cycles 0% for 20 billing cycles on purchases
Intro offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 25.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best Card for Excellent Credit

Best for automatic bonus category

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
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 offer
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% (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
See if you're pre‐approved for this card with CardMatch™
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.
  • 1% 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
Intro offer
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49%-25.49% 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
Rewards rate

N/A

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

Best for earning cash back with no credit history

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
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 offer
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

Best Card for Poor Credit

Best for credit limit policy

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Rewards rate

N/A

Intro offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
26.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

Best Card for No Credit History

BEST FOR CREDIT-BUILDING WITH CASH BACK

Apply now
On Petal's secure site
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 offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.74% - 27.74% (Variable)
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

Compare Bankrate’s top credit cards of 2022

Card name Our pick for Bankrate score
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express Everyday family purchases 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it Cash Back Maximizing rotating categories 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Wells Fargo Active Cash Card 2% cash rewards 3.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card Choice of bonus categories 3.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Dining and entertainment 4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card Best for 1.5% cash back 3.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Flexible redemption options 4.1 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card No-frills benefits 4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Diamond Preferred Card Balance transfer for excellent credit 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
BankAmericard credit card Balance transfer card with a sign-up bonus 4.3 / 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 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Custom Cash Card Automatic bonus category 4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express Gas and groceries with no annual fee 3.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Platinum Credit Card No annual fee 5.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it Student Cash Back Earning cash back with no credit history 4.3/ 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Platinum Secured Card Credit limit policy 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card Credit-building with cash back 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at Bankrate’s best credit cards

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: Best for everyday family purchases

  • What we love about the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: 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.
  • Who this card is good for: Modern, on-the-go families who spend a lot on groceries, gas, transit and streaming subscriptions.
  • Alternatives: Individuals or families that want to avoid paying an annual fee will still be able to get strong rewards value at supermarkets and gas stations from the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express.

Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.

Learn more: Is the Amex Blue Cash Preferred the best card for big families?
Read our full Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express review.

Discover it Cash Back: Best for maximizing rotating categories

  • What we love about the Discover it Cash Back: 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 of ownership.
  • Who this card is good 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.
  • Alternatives: While the Discover it Cash Back card offers low fees and predictable rotating bonus categories, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a competitor that offers additional year-round 3 to 5 percent back categories and superior benefits, including fantastic travel insurance and World Elite Mastercard perks.

Learn more: Is the Discover it Cash Back worth it?
Read our full Discover it Cash Back review.

Wells Fargo Active Cash Card: Best for 2% cash rewards

  • What we love about the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card: Most cards that earn 2 percent cash rewards come with spending caps or tiered categories. With this card, earnings are unlimited on everyday purchases.
  • Who this card is good for: Someone who wants to earn unlimited cash rewards on purchases at twice the rate of the typical 1 percent.
  • Alternatives: While technically not a flat-rate cash back card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited carries a minimum of 1.5 percent back on all purchases as well as a variety of other unlimited bonus cash back categories, offering a significant boost to its average cash back rate if you spend heavily on dining, drugstores and travel through Chase.

Learn more: Wells Fargo Active Cash vs. Citi Double Cash
Read our full Wells Fargo Active Cash Card review.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card: Best for choice bonus of categories

  • What we love about the U.S. Bank Cash+: The rewards redemption flexibility and the choice of three spending categories make the U.S Bank Cash+ a great card for a personalized earning experience.
  • Who this card is good for: Frugal rewards strategists who don’t want to pay an annual fee for a top-notch rewards program and know how to tailor spending to maximize rewards without hitting any caps.
  • Alternatives: Juggling tiered rewards categories can still be a bit of a hassle, especially when spending caps are involved. The Wells Fargo Active Cash card and the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards card both offer high, unlimited flat-rate cash rewards on all purchases for no annual fee.

Learn more: U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card vs. Chase Freedom Flex
Read our full U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card review.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and entertainment

  • What we love about the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Capital One provides access to presale tickets, discounts and more with dining, entertainment and sports experiences.
  • Who this card is good for: Entertainment-seekers who want to turn their appreciation for food and fun into plus-rate cash rewards.
  • Alternatives: Chase loyalists seeking a card with a $0 annual fee and great rewards will want to consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which combines 3 percent cash back on dining with 5 percent back on travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Learn more: Is the Capital One SavorOne Worth it?
Read our full Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for 1.5% cash back

  • What we love about the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: 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).
  • Who this card is good for: People who prefer simple cash back rewards: no special categories or earning limits, just 1.5 percent cash back on every eligible purchase.
  • Alternatives: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a tough competitor of the Quicksilver with its additional bonus cash back categories on dining and drugstore purchases.

Learn more: Why we love the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards
Read our full Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for flexible redemption options

  • What we love about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: 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 Capital One’s 15+ travel partners.
  • Who this card is good for: Frequent travelers who want an easy way to earn rewards and multiple options for using them.
  • Alternatives: While the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a direct competitor of the Venture card, customers can reap more valuable rewards when redeeming through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Learn more: Capital One Venture Card benefits guide
Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Best for no-frills benefits

  • What we love about the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: This card sets the stage for a middle-ground option in the luxury travel space with its $395 annual fee and alluring travel benefits.
  • Who this card is good for: Frequent travelers with a taste for premium perks without the highest of premium costs.
  • Alternatives: Occasional travelers that aren’t concerned with premium travel perks may get more value with Capital One’s former flagship card, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which carries a much lower $95 annual fee.

Learn more: Is the Capital One Venture X Rewards card worth it?
Read our full Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card review.

Citi Diamond Preferred Card: Best for balance transfer with excellent credit

  • What we love about the Citi Diamond Preferred Card: The Citi Diamond Preferred Card’s introductory balance transfer offer is one of the longest available on the market.
  • Who this card is good for: Good credit owners looking for an exceptionally long balance transfer offer or lengthy introductory APR.
  • Alternatives: For more long-term value, it may be worth choosing the Citi® Double Cash Card instead, since it earns an excellent cash back rate on top of its competitive 18-month 0 percent intro balance transfer APR (balance transfers must be within the first four months) and 15.49 percent to 25.49 percent (variable) regular APR.

Learn more: Citi Diamond Preferred Card benefits guide
Read our full Citi Diamond Preferred Card review.

BankAmericard Credit Card: Best for balance transfer card with a sign-up bonus

  • What we love about the BankAmericard Credit Card: This card offers a sign-up bonus, which is rare for a balance transfer card. You’ll earn $100 in statement credit when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Who this card is good for: Anyone who wants to focus on their balance transfer with minimal distractions.
  • Alternatives: If a longer intro APR period is more important to your situation than the BankAmericard’s low ongoing APR (13.74 percent to 23.74 percent variable) and cash welcome bonus, the Citi Diamond Preferred Card is an alternative that offers a 0 percent intro APR on purchases for 12 months and balance transfers for 21 months (transfers must be made within the first four months), along with a regular APR of 15.24 percent to 25.24 percent (variable).

Learn more: Why we love the BankAmericard
Read our full BankAmericard credit card review.

Wells Fargo Reflect Card: Best for promotional interest

  • What we love about the Wells Fargo Reflect Card: The promotional interest offer extends to both purchases 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 14.49 percent to 26.49 percent variable APR).
  • Who this card is good for: Someone who is getting ready to make a big purchase or has existing high-interest credit card debt and needs a balance transfer.
  • Alternatives: Similar to the Reflect card, the BankAmericard credit card is primarily a balance transfer card with few ongoing perks and benefits, but it features a unique intro cash bonus that could help minimize the cost of your balance transfer and potentially offset the cost of your balance transfer fee entirely.

Learn more: Wells Fargo Reflect benefits guide
Read our full Wells Fargo Reflect Card review.

U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card: Best for promotional interest

  • What we love about the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card: The intro APR offers on this card are some of the longest on the market.
  • Who this card is good for: Anyone looking to finance a large purchase without extra interest charges for a long period of time. This card has an intro APR offer of 20 billing cycles on both balance transfers and purchases (then 15.99 percent to 25.99 percent variable APR).
  • Alternatives: Individuals looking to perform a balance transfer and earn cash back rewards in the process will see value from the Citi® Double Cash Card.

Learn more: Is the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card worth it?
Read our full U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card review.

Citi Custom Cash Card: Best for automatic bonus category

  • What we love about the Citi Custom Cash Card: 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.
  • Who this card is good for: Someone who wants the high rewards rate of a bonus cash back card without activating or choosing categories in advance.
  • Alternatives: The Chase Freedom Flex is an excellent alternative as it provides top-notch rewards earning potential and diverse category variety, as well as its ability to pool rewards with Chase’s premium cards and redeem them for a higher value toward travel purchases.

Learn more: Why your Citi Custom Cash card could be great for travel
Read our full Citi Custom Cash Card review.

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express: Best for gas and groceries with no annual fee

  • What we love about the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express: This card offers a complimentary ShopRunner membership, which includes free two-day shipping and free returns at more than 100 online stores (enrollment required).
  • Who this card is good 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.
  • Alternatives: If you or a family member feel that an ongoing $95 annual fee is worth it, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express offers an opportunity to earn significantly higher rewards.

Learn more: Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express vs. Amex EveryDay Credit Card
Read our full Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express review.

Capital One Platinum Credit Card: Best for no annual fee

  • What we love about the Capital One Platinum Credit Card: This card does not charge an annual fee and it’s possible for people with a credit score as low as 580 to be approved.
  • Who this card is good for: People with fair credit looking for a no annual fee card that will help build creditworthiness.
  • Alternatives: If you’re willing to pay a $39 annual fee, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a similar card that offers a rewards program in the form of 1.5 percent cash back on purchases.

Learn more: Who should get the Capital One Platinum Card?
Read our full Capital One Platinum Credit Card review.

Discover it Student Cash Back: Best for earning cash back with no credit history

  • What we love about the Discover it Student Cash Back: 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.
  • Who this card is good for: College students interested in building a credit history and earning as they learn about rotating bonus categories.
  • Alternatives: Providing a more straightforward option for earning rewards, budget-conscious students will love the Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Card’s unlimited 3 percent cash back on student-centric categories (dining, entertainment and popular streaming services) and 8 percent back on Vivid Seats purchases if there’s an event in your future plans.

Learn more: Is the Discover It Student Cash Back card worth it?
Read our full Discover it Student Cash Back review.

Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card: Best credit limit policy

  • What we love about the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card: Not many secured cards come with no annual fee and security deposit requirements as low as $49. Plus, Capital One will review your account for a potential credit limit increase after six months.
  • Who this card is good for: People with bad credit scores (300 to 670 FICO) who want to build their credit with few distractions.
  • Alternatives: For people with limited credit history who want to build their score while taking advantage of a few perks, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card earns rewards on purchases and offers the opportunity to qualify for an introductory rate on balance transfers for six months (24.49 percent variable APR thereafter).

Read our full Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card review.

Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card: Best for credit-building with cash back

  • What we love about the Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card: Cardholders have the opportunity to periodically increase their cash back rates with on-time payments.
  • Who this card is good for: Anyone with no credit history who wants to start building credit while also earning modest rewards.
  • Alternatives: The Discover it® Student Cash Back card lets cardholders earn 5 percent cash back on rotating categories when activated each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, then 1 percent), in categories like Amazon.com and grocery stores. Plus, this card provides a cash back match at the end of the first year and does not charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fee.

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 financial product similar to a personal line of credit that lets you make purchases now, but pay for them later. When you’re approved for a credit card, you get a credit limit that determines the maximum dollar amount you can charge to your card. As you make purchases, your available credit decreases. When you pay your bill, your available credit increases.

With a credit card, you can 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 facing potential 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 essential when choosing 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.
  • Credit limit: This is your credit card’s spending limit and 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.
  • 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.
  • Credit card issuer: Often confused with credit card networks — like Visa or Mastercard that facilitate the transactions between merchants and card issuers — credit card issuers provide credit cards directly to consumers. Cardholders can receive credit cards from financial institutions like credit unions or banks.

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. Using your credit card only for what you can afford is a great way to establish and maintain good 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. Using a credit card responsibly is one of the best ways to improve your credit score. 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 consumers 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.

Pros and cons of credit cards

Credit cards can be a great way to manage your money and make sure you pay your bills on time — but the problem is that they’re also very easy to use. Because of this, you should be aware of some of the benefits and drawbacks of owning a credit card.

Pros:

  • You can have financial flexibility. With a credit card, you don’t have to carry around cash or worry about having enough money on hand for purchases. This can help make your daily purchases more affordable and even help pay for vacations or other big expenses later on down the road.
  • You can earn rewards points. Some credit cards offer rewards programs that allow you to earn points for every dollar you spend. Points can be redeemed for cash back, travel, merchandise and other perks .
  • You can build your credit score. Credit cards help build a positive payment history that may help you get approved for other loans or lines of credit in the future.

Cons:

  • You could face high interest rates. Credit card interest rates are higher than other types of loans or credit accounts (such as mortgages). This means your payments will be higher if you don’t pay off your balance each month.
  • You could get into debt. If you don’t pay off your balance, then this will affect your credit score and may make it harder for you to get loans in the future (although this depends on whether your card provider reports your payment history to credit reference agencies).

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 cards, cash back cards and general rewards cards. When you use a rewards card to make purchases, you’ll accumulate points or miles redeemable 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 (card issuers will typically charge a balance transfer 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:

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The impact of the Federal Reserve’s action to hike rates is likely to filter down to credit card holders, and you should be prepared to see your variable card rates start going up. As any increase can be unwelcome for borrowers with revolving debt, it’s important to look for opportunities to get out of the cycle, like finding a zero-interest balance transfer credit card.

Still unsure which credit card is right for you? Check out our Credit Card Spender Type Tool where you can get personalized credit card recommendations based on your credit score, spending habits and daily needs.

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. Getting the most out of your card will require a bit of strategy and planning. 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 improve it. 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 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:

Avoiding credit card pitfalls

There are plenty of advantages to using 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. If you do happen to accrue credit card debt there are strategies you can use to get your debt under control.
  • Introductory bonuses: Some credit cards offer lucrative sign-up bonuses to new cardmembers in the form of points, miles or cash back when the new member meets a certain spending requirement in a specific period. While designed to encourage spending, it’s important to be wary that it may not be as valuable and could leave you with more debt.
  • Fees: Even the best credit cards often come with a variety of fees such as 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.

How to apply for a credit card and get approved

  1. 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, 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. Based on the FICO scoring model a good-to-excellent credit score will fall in the range of 670 to 850. If you find that your credit score isn’t where you’d like it to be, you can increase your credit score to improve your chances for qualification.
  2. Look for personalized or prequalified offers. With a prequalified credit card offer, you can get an idea of your chances for approval without submitting an application that will trigger a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries temporarily decrease your credit score and stay on your report for two years. Prequalification processes usually involve a soft credit check, so they 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 prequalified matches. Be aware that a prequalified match is still not a guarantee of approval.
  3. What to do if your application is denied. There are a variety of reasons an issuer may choose to reject an application, such as a low credit score or high debt-to-income ratio. Plus, a rejection is possible if you’ve applied for multiple cards in a short period — it’s likely interpreted as credit-risky behavior. Once you’ve received a denial explanation from the issuer, there are a few steps you can take to remedy the situation.
    • You can address any concerns on your credit report by contacting the issuer’s reconsideration line and pleading your case. While there’s no guarantee it will work, it’s worth a shot if you believe you’re a desirable applicant.
    • If you’ve been denied before, consider improving your score before applying again.

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.

More information on credit cards

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
Tracy Stewart is a personal finance writer specializing in credit card loyalty programs, travel benefits, and consumer protections.

* 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.