The Best Credit Cards - Top Offers & Reviews 2020

Bankrate does the research to help you compare today’s best credit cards and top credit card offers, from travel and cash back to business and balance transfers. We focus on the features that matter: rewards programs, affordable APR, welcome offers and more. Choose a category below and find your best credit card from our partners today.

credit card balance-transfer category Top Balance Transfer Cards

Best for larger debt consolidations

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi Simplicity® Card

Rewards Rate:
N/A
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 12 months on Purchases
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 21 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • No Late Fees, No Penalty Rate, and No Annual Fee... Ever
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months from date of first transfer. All transfers must be completed in first 4 months. After that, the variable APR will be 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 12 months from date of account opening. After that, the variable APR will be 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • If you transfer a balance with this offer, after your 0% Intro purchase APR expires, both new purchases and unpaid purchase balances will automatically accrue interest until all balances, including your transferred balances, are paid in full
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
  • Stay protected with Citi® Quick Lock and $0 liability on unauthorized charges
Terms and Restrictions Apply
Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Rewards Rate:
N/A
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 12 months on Purchases
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 21 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months from date of first transfer. After that, the variable APR will be 13.74% - 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness. All transfers must be completed in first 4 months.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 12 months from date of account opening. After that, the variable APR will be 13.74% - 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • If you transfer a balance with this offer, after your 0% Intro purchase APR expires, both new purchases and unpaid purchase balances will automatically accrue interest until all balances, including your transferred balance, are paid in full.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Get free access to your FICO® score online.
  • With Citi Entertainment℠, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
  • Shop with confidence knowing that you have dependable protection benefits, including $0 Liability on Unauthorized Purchases and Citi® Identity Theft Solutions.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.74% - 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card zero-interest category Top 0 Interest Cards

Best for personal finance management

Wells Fargo Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Wells Fargo's secure website

Wells Fargo Platinum card

Rewards Rate:
N/A
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 18 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 18 months on qualifying balance transfers
Regular APR:
15.49%-24.99% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Pay down balances instead of interest with Wells Fargo’s longest intro APR
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Platinum card
  • Easy access to your FICO® Credit Score with Wells Fargo Online®
  • Zero Liability protection for promptly reported unauthorized transactions
  • Convenient tools to help create a budget and manage your spending with My Money Map
  • Select "Apply Now" to learn more about the product features, terms and conditions

credit card cash-back category Top Cash Back Cards

Best for flat-rate cash back

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi® Double Cash Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% intro for 18 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% - 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% - 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card travel category Top Travel Cards

Best for flexible redemptions

Chase Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Chase's secure website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel. 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide. 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Annual Fee:
$95
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
15.99%-22.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card business category Top Business Cards

U.S. Bank Image

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent (740 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On U.S. Bank's secure website

U.S. Bank Business Platinum

Rewards Rate:
N/A
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0*
Purchase Intro APR:
0%* for 20 billing cycles on purchases
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0%* for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers
Regular APR:
9.99% - 17.99%* (Variable)

Card Details

  • 0% Intro APR* on purchases and balance transfers for the first 20 billing cycles. After that variable APR currently 9.99% - 17.99%*
  • No annual fee*
  • Free employee cards
  • Zero fraud liability* protects you against unauthorized transactions

credit card rewards category Top Rewards Cards

Best for earning on everyday spending

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi Rewards+℠ Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% intro for 15 months on Purchases
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% intro for 15 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)

Card Details

  • The Citi Rewards+℠ Card - the only credit card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap.
  • Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfer fee — either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card student category Top Student Cards

Best for students with no credit history

Deserve Image

Recommended Credit Score

No Credit History

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Deserve's secure website

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

Rewards Rate:
1% unlimited cash back on All purchases
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
18.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Complimentary Amazon Student Prime (Lifetime Value worth $59)
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Cellphone Protection
  • Extended Warranty
  • Mastercard Platinum Benefits
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 18.74% variable APR (Prime + 15.49%)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card excellent-credit category Top Cards for Excellent Credit

Best for flexible redemptions

Chase Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Chase's secure website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel. 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide. 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Annual Fee:
$95
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
15.99%-22.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card good-credit category Top Cards for Good Credit

Best for flat-rate cash back

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi® Double Cash Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% intro for 18 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% - 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% - 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card fair-credit category Top Cards for Fair Credit

Best for repairing your credit score

Credit One Bank Image

Recommended Credit Score

Bad to Fair (300 - 670)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Credit One Bank's secure website

Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® for Rebuilding Credit

Rewards Rate:
N/A
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0 - $99
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
19.49% to 25.49% Variable

Card Details

  • See if you Pre-Qualify without harming your credit score. Find the card that's right for you in less than 60 seconds.
  • CreditOneBank.com and the Credit One Bank mobile app makes it easy to access and manage all your account information and make payments whether you're at home or on-the-go.
  • Know you're protected from unauthorized charges with Zero Fraud Liability—included with every Credit One Bank account
  • Take advantage of free online access to your Experian credit score and credit report summary so you can track the key factors impacting your credit health. Terms apply.
  • Give your credit a boost with credit line increase opportunities, a fee may apply.
  • Eligible purchases such as gas, groceries, mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV will automatically earn 1% cash back rewards. Terms apply.
  • Always know what's happening with your account with custom email and text alerts to remind you about your payment due date, notify you when a payment posts, or warn you if your available credit runs low.
  • Customize your card by selecting a unique design from Credit One Bank's card gallery. There are more than 20 options to choose from. A fee may apply.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card no-credit-history category Top Cards for No Credit History

Best for students with no credit history

Deserve Image

Recommended Credit Score

No Credit History

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Deserve's secure website

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

Rewards Rate:
1% unlimited cash back on All purchases
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
18.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Complimentary Amazon Student Prime (Lifetime Value worth $59)
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Cellphone Protection
  • Extended Warranty
  • Mastercard Platinum Benefits
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 18.74% variable APR (Prime + 15.49%)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

credit card bad-credit category Top Cards for Poor Credit

Best unsecured credit card with rewards

Credit One Bank Image

Recommended Credit Score

Bad to Fair (300 - 670)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Credit One Bank's secure website

Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV, terms apply.
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0 - $99
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
19.49% to 25.49% Variable

Card Details

  • Find the card that's right for you without affecting your credit score.
  • Show off your personality by selecting from a variety of card designs, a fee may apply.
  • Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV, terms apply.
  • Set up custom email or text alerts so you'll always be aware of your payment due date, when your payment posts, or if your available credit runs low.
  • Don't get stuck with a payment date that doesn't work with your schedule. Credit One Bank allows you to choose your monthly payment due date. Terms apply.
  • Take advantage of free online access to your Experian credit score and credit report summary so you can track the key factors impacting your credit health. Terms apply.
  • Credit One Bank evaluates every account for credit line increase opportunities. We'll let you know as soon as you're eligible for a higher credit line.
  • Know you're protected from unauthorized charges with Zero Fraud Liability—included with every Credit One Bank account.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Find the credit card you’ve been looking for

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

Don’t feel overwhelmed. 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 in the right direction.

Our experts evaluate top cards in all the major categories — including rewards, cash back, travel and business — and narrow down the list to a select few.

A complete guide to choosing and using credit cards

‘Why should I get a credit card?’

You might find the answer in a concept that keeps inching closer to reality: the cashless society. Credit cards play a big role in this trend, which is evident in the number of chip readers, online payment portals and digital wallet interfaces most of us encounter every day.

Bankrate.com recently surveyed credit card users to find out how they often used their cards on purchases that could earn rewards. One of the findings was that owners of rewards cards who don’t carry a balance from month to month paid for these purchases with their cards a lot more often than with cash or a debit card:

Type of purchase Paid with rewards credit card Paid with cash or debit card
Groceries 56% 44%
Restaurants 57% 43%
Gas 63% 37%
Airfare 85% 15%
Hotel 84% 16%

Technology has made using credit much more convenient than in the past, and credit cards also feature built-in incentives such as:

  • Security features that reduce your vulnerability to fraudulent charges
  • Rewards programs that earn cash back, travel discounts and more
  • Tools that help you build or repair your credit

So, should you get a credit card? The answer depends on your personal financial situation, your financial goals and other factors.

Do you need to build up your credit profile? Do you have responsible spending habits? Is the card for personal use or for your business? Do you want to earn rewards that will help you maximize the value of your spending? These are some of the questions you should answer as you compare the best credit card offers.

When credit cards are used responsibly and to their full potential, they can provide convenience and value you don’t get with other payment methods. To reap these benefits, you’ll first need to choose the right card and then use it the right way.

How to choose a credit card that’s right for you

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all credit card. Although you have an abundance of cards to choose from, the sheer number of options can make it difficult to know exactly which one represents the best credit card for you.

Whether it’s your first-ever card or you’re an experienced cardholder looking to add a new one to your wallet, asking the right questions is crucial to your decision-making process.

Before you start your search for the ideal credit card, you should focus on a few key factors that can help you separate the great options from the good options.

Understanding credit card APR

A credit card is essentially a revolving loan, and most any loan is subject to some form of interest. If you carry a balance on your card, the issuer charges APR (Annual Percentage Rate) to account for interest as well as other fees.

Average credit card interest rate

3-month trend as of March 18, 2020:

                  17.28% variable

Source: Bankrate.com

An APR that’s close to or below the average would be ideal. Keep in mind, though, that your credit score and the type of card you’re shopping for will determine your results.

Of course, you can prevent APR from becoming an issue if you pay your entire credit card statement every month. While most cards don’t require you to pay off your balance in full each month, it’s the only way to avoid paying interest.

The rewards programs should fit you

Credit card rewards programs cater to different spending habits and lifestyles. Knowing your financial goals and spending habits can help you figure out which rewards program will deliver the most value.

  • Are you a frequent traveler interested in earning miles and points to help you offset the cost of airfare, hotels and other expenses? A travel rewards card should probably be at the top of your list.
  • Do you want to earn cash back on everyday purchases? A flat-rate or bonus category cash back card might be more to your liking.
  • Do you want flexibility in choosing how you redeem your rewards? Many rewards programs offer choices including statement credits, gift cards, travel miles and more.

If your card earns cash back, points or miles for particular kinds of purchases, using the card for those transactions as much as possible will help you maximize your earnings. For example, consider using your credit card to pay your water bill instead of a check or bank draft if the card offers cash back on utility payments. If it rewards you for grocery purchases, reach for your credit card at the supermarket checkout rather than your debit card.

Weigh the benefits of an annual fee

Some credit cards require cardholders to pay an annual fee as the cost for holding the card. Typically, the higher the annual fee, the more value the card offers in regard to rewards, bonuses, perks and other benefits.

Annual fees vary by card and issuer. The typical range for annual fees can go anywhere from $50 to $500, but $99 fees are fairly common.

If the card charges a $95 annual fee, you’ll need to spend an average of $400 each month (earning 2x points or 2% cash back on average) to offset that cost. If you don’t plan on using your card that often each month, you’ll be better off with a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee.

Fortunately, it might be easier than you think to find a no annual fee credit card that offers lucrative rewards and useful perks.

Estimate the value of perks and benefits

Each credit card on the market offers a set of perks for cardholders. A top-tier travel card might offer benefits such as:

  • Airport lounge access
  • Trip insurance
  • Travel credits
  • TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credits

Cash back credit cards might be more likely to offer access to presale tickets, retail discounts and special deals available through the issuer’s online shopping mall.

It’s not always easy to put an exact dollar figure on benefits and perks. You might be able to get a reasonable idea by estimating what you would have to pay to get them without the credit card.

How generous is the sign-up/welcome offer?

One incentive issuers often use to get you to apply for a credit card is offering a sign-up bonus, sometimes called a welcome offer.

After spending a certain amount within a set period of time (typically within the first 3 months after you open an account), cardholders receive a one-time bonus in the form of points, miles, statement credits or cash back.

Although sign-up bonuses can be lucrative, signing up for multiple credit cards only to cancel after you’ve earned the bonus is problematic. So-called churning can lead to a lower credit score. Also, some credit card issuers have tightened up their rules on applications to discourage the practice.

Do you want a card to manage debt?

If you’re looking to reduce and/or consolidate debt, a balance transfer credit card can help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on interest payments. You can transfer debt from an existing credit account, usually a credit card but sometimes other types of debt, to a balance transfer card and begin paying it off at a lower interest rate. Many balance transfer cards offer a temporary period when you’ll pay no interest, called a 0% intro APR offer.

In some cases, a card may offer 0% intro APR for purchases, balance transfers or both. If you need to make a big purchase, such as a home appliance, you could use a 0% intro offer to pay it off gradually during the introductory period without interest charges. Once the intro period ends, however, the APR will change to the card’s regular variable range.

How do you apply for a credit card?

Although online applications are increasingly common, you might find yourself replying to an offer you receive in the mail or in person at your bank. Whether you apply with a pen or an internet browser, you’ll need to remember a few tips.

Check your credit 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:

  • Which 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.)

If you don’t know your credit score, you can check it for free by signing up with Bankrate.

Have your information ready

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:

  • Annual income
  • Monthly rent or mortgage payments
  • Current bank accounts

Your wait time will vary

The response time to your application will depend on several factors, including your credit status and whether you’ve applied online or offline.

With online applications, it could take as little as a few minutes or as long as several days to find out. If you apply by mail, the issuer’s mailed response could take a week or more.

Frequently asked questions about credit cards

You don’t have to be a credit card expert to get the most out of your particular card, but it does help to understand some of the basics. Here are some essential questions about credit cards, and their answers.

What does a credit card actually do?

A credit card is a payment method that serves as a line of credit and lets you make purchases now while paying for them later. Unlike cash, you don’t pay upfront. Unlike checks or debit cards, you don’t pay with money that you’ve already deposited into an account.

Physically, credit cards are flat, thin pieces of plastic or metal that can be scanned by electronic readers. You can also use them for digital transactions by entering your account number and other identifying information into an online portal.

Credit cards are typically issued by banks and financial services companies. According to the American Bankers Association, the number of open credit card accounts in the United States has reached an estimated 370 million.

What is credit card APR and why does it matter?

Interest charges are calculated differently with credit cards than with other forms of credit, such as car loans or mortgages. If you carry an unpaid balance on your card past the payment due date, you’ll have to pay interest charges in the form of APR.

Each month, you have the opportunity to pay a minimum payment, your full balance or an amount in between. While most cards don’t require you to pay off your balance in full each month, it’s the only way to avoid paying interest. Bankrate recommends paying off your entire balance every month.

However, carrying a balance may be unavoidable in certain cases. If you expect to carry a balance, it’s worth looking at cards offering a 0% introductory APR. Just make sure that you’ll pay off the full balance by the end of the 0% APR period.

How do you qualify for a credit card?

The more creditworthy you are, the better your chances of meeting an issuer’s requirements. Issuers determine which credit cards you qualify for based on your creditworthiness — primarily your credit score. Top-tier credit cards generally require credit scores in the Good to Excellent range, measured by the FICO scoring model as 670-850.

Substantially improving your credit is a task months or years in the making. If your credit score falls short of the 670-850 FICO range, don’t wait to start building it up. Here are two steps you can take immediately:

  1. Pay your bills on time. It’s not just about avoiding late fees and interest charges. A good record of paying what you owe makes you look more responsible in the eyes of a lender.
  2. Keep your credit utilization on the low side. Think of credit utilization as the relationship between two numbers: the amount of credit you have available and how much of it you’re using. Try to keep the second number at 30% or less of the first, since good credit utilization shows lenders that you know how to avoid getting over-extended.

If you start improving a subpar credit score today, you could increase your chances of qualifying for a top credit card substantially.

Does applying for a credit card hurt your credit score?

A credit card application could have a negative (but temporary and relatively small) effect on your credit score. Getting approved for a credit card or other type of credit account requires some scrutiny of your track record as a borrower. The process can involve two types of credit checks:

  • A “hard” inquiry, when the lender pulls your credit report to make a decision about whether to lend to you.
  • A “soft” inquiry, when the lender checks your credit as part of a preliminary screening. Pre-qualified credit card offers involve soft credit inquiries, so keep an eye out cards that offer pre-qualification.

A hard inquiry can subtract a few points from your credit score temporarily, while a soft inquiry usually has no effect. You’ll want to limit the number of hard inquiries on your credit report, so be as selective as possible about which credit cards you apply for.

How we score and review Bankrate’s top credit cards

Every card that we highlight has been rated on a scale of 1-5 stars. The most important factors in determining the score for our top picks include:

APR

Affordable interest rates are essential to great credit card offers. If you ever need to carry over part of your balance (hopefully not all of it) from one month to another, a lower APR should lower the total cost.

Rewards programs

The best programs for earning cash back, points or miles offer generous rewards rates and flexible redemption options. Some reward programs also include online shopping portals where you can find discounts on popular merchandise.

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 several months, a year or even longer before the regular APR applies.

Fees

A low cost of ownership is another key element of a great credit card. 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.

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:


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. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com.

This editorial content is not provided or commissioned by any of the referenced financial institutions or companies. Opinions, analysis, reviews or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any financial institutions or companies, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such entity. All products or services are presented without warranty. Bankrate.com is an independent, advertising-supported publisher and comparison service. This post contains references to our partners, and Bankrate may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on certain links posted on this website.

* 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.