The Best Credit Cards - Top Offers & Reviews 2021

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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% intro APR and more. We do the research so you don’t have to sift through hundreds of options to find the best 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)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

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 Balance Transfer Cards

21 months 0% intro APR | Excellent credit

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate

N/A

Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

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

Apply now
On Wells Fargo's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate

N/A

Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99%-24.99% Variable APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best 0% Intro APR Cards

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)

Best for up to 2% cash back

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% (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)
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 your first travel card

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3X Earn 3X points on dining.
  • 2X Earn 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Intro bonus
60,000 points 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 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 our 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 No Annual Fee Cards

Best for sign-up bonus

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% Earn 3% on dining and drugstores.
  • 1.5% Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99 - 23.74% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

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 

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 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 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

Best unsecured credit card with rewards

Apply now
On Credit One Bank's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1% Earn 1% cash back rewards on eligible gas, grocery purchases and mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV services. Terms apply.
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$75 for the first year. After that, $99 annually ($8.25 per month)
Regular APR
23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Bad to Fair (300 - 670)

Best Card for No Credit History

Best for students with no credit history

Apply now
On Deserve's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1% Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve EDU Mastercard
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
18.74% Variable
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

In the news today: 56% of Gen-Z and millennials ready to take on debt to celebrate end of pandemic

As travel restrictions ease and more members of the Gen Z and millennial age groups are vaccinated, travel and entertainment are certainly top of mind. To find out how to avoid going into debt while celebrating less stringent pandemic restrictions, check out the full article by industry analyst Ana Staples.


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 responsibly. 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 in the right direction.

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 2021

Card name Our pick for Bankrate score
Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card 2% cash rewards 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it® Cash Back Maximizing rotating categories 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card Balance transfer with excellent credit 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card Promotional interest 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card Automatic bonus category 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi® Double Cash Card Best for up to 2% cash back 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Everyday family purchases 4.0 / 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)
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Your first travel card 4.1 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Flexible redemption options 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Unlimited® Overall rewards card with no annual fee 4.6 / 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)
Discover it® Student Cash Back Earning cash back with no credit history 4.1 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Dining and entertainment 4.5 / 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)
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students Students with no credit history 2.6 / 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: Those who want to earn unlimited cash rewards on purchases at twice the rate of the typical 1%.
  • 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% cash rewards or more reserve that rate for particular purchase categories and have a limit on how much you can earn in a quarter before the rate drops to 1%. With this card, earnings are unlimited on eligible purchases.
  • Is the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card worth it? If you’re looking for generous rewards without categories or caps or an annual fee, this card could be a game-changer.

Read our full Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card 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? Considering the earning potential and the lack of an annual fee, it can be a considerably valuable card. Activating the categories and adjusting your spending does require some effort on your part, though.

Read our full Discover it® Cash Back review.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Best balance transfer card for excellent credit

  • This card is best for: Someone with good credit looking for an exceptionally long balance transfer offer.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone looking for long-term value. The 21-month 0% intro APR for balance transfers can save you a lot of money, but after that, the variable APR is 13.74% to 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Without a rewards system, the card loses its luster after the intro APR period ends. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
  • 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? 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.

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 is looking for an extra-long window to pay those balances back without incurring interest.
  • 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% to 24.99% variable APR).
  • Is the Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card worth it? 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.

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Best for automatic bonus category

  • This card is best for: Those who want 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 that you’ll earn the highest rate where you’ve spent the most.
  • Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it? The automatic bonus category might be an unfamiliar feature in the cash back landscape, but there’s still potential to earn big returns.

Read our full Citi Custom Cash℠ Card review.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Best for up to 2% cash back

  • This card is best for: Anyone who likes the idea of turning good credit habits into additional cash back (1 percent when you make eligible purchases, another 1 percent when you pay your credit card bill).
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who spend large amounts in special areas (gas, groceries, superstores, etc.) and might get higher returns with a rotating category card.
  • What makes this card unique? The two-part cash back system provides extra incentive to make timely payments — not just for the sake of your credit score but also to earn the additional 1 percent.
  • Is the Citi® Double Cash Card worth it? It might not be the flashiest cash back card, but it offers a practical and potentially lucrative way to earn as you go.

Read our full Citi® Double Cash 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 from American Express worth it? The $95 annual fee is one of the few potential turn-offs, but Amex offers a $0 intro annual fee your first year. Even when the annual fee does take effect, the rewards earnings and benefits are likely to counteract the cost.

Read our full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 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? Earning flat-rate cash back might not be rocket science, but the Quicksilver is one of the most valuable “fire it and forget it” choices you’ll find.

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

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Best for your first travel card

  • This card is best for: Anyone who wants to explore the ins and outs of travel credit cards and is looking for lucrative benefits without paying an exorbitant annual fee.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who want premium travel perks such as airport lounge access or free checked bags.
  • What makes this card unique? You have the option of redeeming your points for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories without losing value. In fact, you could get 25 percent more during the current offer.
  • Is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card worth it? The rewards program makes it fairly easy to get your money’s worth with this card (plus you’ll receive a 25 percent points value boost when you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards online portal).

Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® 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? The $95 annual fee is comparable to similar cards. If you put a premium on flexibility, the array of options for redeeming miles should have a value all its own.

Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Best for overall rewards card with no annual fee

  • This card is best for: Those who want a cash back card with multiple categories and a sign-up bonus that you can easily earn without overspending ($200 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening).
  • 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. Through Dec. 31, 2021, you can use Pay Yourself Back with these cards to redeem donations made to eligible charities for a 25 percent boost in your points value.
  • Is the Chase Freedom Unlimited worth it? Travelers and shoppers who maximize the eligible purchase categories can earn considerable cash back rewards. The sign-up bonus offers solid value in relation to the low spending requirement.

Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited® review.

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

Credit-building with cash back

  • This card is best for: People with no credit history, particularly students, who want to build their credit profile responsibly while also earning cash back rewards.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Experienced credit users. If your credit history is already solid, finding a card that offers higher cash back rates and better perks shouldn’t be difficult.
  • What makes this card unique? It has an incentive-driven rewards program that rewards responsible credit habits. Make 12 on-time monthly payments and you could see your cash back rate increase from 1 percent on eligible purchases to up to 1.5 percent on eligible purchases.
  • Is the Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card card worth it? New credit users are sure to appreciate the lack of an annual fee, part of the card’s “no-fees-whatsoever” appeal. If you’re just starting this part of your financial journey, the Petal 2 could serve as a useful teaching tool.

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

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 (unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), plus 1% on all other purchases).
  • 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? 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.

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: Those who do their grocery shopping at superstores and wholesale clubs. Purchases that don’t fit the American Express 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? 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 have fair credit and you’re looking to find a solid, no-frills card that can help you boost your creditworthiness, the Capital One Platinum may be a good fit for you. If you’re looking for a card with a bit more on the rewards and benefits front, there may be other cards on the market to look into.

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 deep in the bad range (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? You’ll still need to 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.

Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Best for students with no credit history

  • This card is best for: Students who might have trouble getting approved for a credit card because they don’t have a credit history. In particular, international students don’t need a Social Security Number to apply.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who have enough of a credit history (such as paying off a car loan or maintaining a utility account) that they don’t need the relaxed application requirements.
  • What makes this card unique? Unlike many cards for people with no credit history, the Deserve EDU Mastercard earns cash back (1 percent per $1 spent on eligible purchases.
  • Is the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students worth it? The cash back program and benefits like the Amazon Student Prime membership reimbursement after spending $500 in the first three months of card membership (lifetime value worth $59) add to the card’s value. However, the main attraction is how the application process removes some of the barriers that might be standing between you and your first credit card.

Read our full Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students 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. Most credit cards tout variable interest rates, meaning they change over time in conjunction with the prime rate. Your issuer will base your specific APRs on your creditworthiness. 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.

Benefits of using credit cards

When credit cards are used responsibly and to their full potential, they provide convenience and value that you don’t get with other payment methods, in ways that include:

  • Access to a line of credit, which grants you some extra money to cover major expenses.
  • Chip readers, online payment portals and digital wallets that make transactions easy and virtually instantaneous.
  • Rewards programs that earn cash back, travel miles and multi-purpose rewards.
  • Security features that reduce your vulnerability to fraudulent charges.
  • Tools designed to help you build or repair your credit and manage your budget.
  • Short-term financing in the form of a grace period (which is a window of time, usually 21 days, that a cardholder has to pay off their balance before it accrues interest) or promotional APR offers.
  • Ancillary benefits like travel insurance, car rental insurance, extended warranties or purchase protection, which are offered by many of the better cards on the market.

To reap these benefits, you’ll first need to choose the right card and then use it the right way — staying within your credit limit and making full payments on time each month.

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:

The budget-minded shopper

You can earn cash back on everyday purchases, and more, with a cash back credit card. While some cards earn a fixed percentage on every eligible purchase, others offer tiered categories with higher rates tailored to specialty areas such as:

Seasonal shoppers whose spending habits change with the calendar might benefit from a rotating category card. This type of card earns bonus cash back rates on certain types of purchases at three-month intervals throughout the year.

The frequent traveler

If you want to earn miles and points to help offset the cost of travel, a travel rewards card should probably be at the top of your list.

Travel credit cards feature perks and benefits specifically designed to make the journey easier and more affordable, including:

  • Access to private airport lounges
  • Free hotel upgrades, when available
  • TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credits
  • Trip cancellation insurance

Many travel cards earn rewards on airfare, hotels and other expenses, no matter how you fly or where you stay. However, your options also include co-branded cards geared toward travelers loyal to particular airlines or hotel chains.

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.

The small business owner

Business credit cards can benefit people who own or operate small businesses in a number of ways.

With a cash back card for business, you can earn a flat percentage on general purchases or a higher rate on specialty categories such as office supplies. A business travel card that earns miles or points can help you reduce your costs for airfare, hotel stays and transit.

Like travel cards, many business rewards cards also offer specialized features and benefits such as:

  • Higher credit limits than consumer cards
  • Tools to help you manage expenses
  • Free additional cards for employees

The debt manager

Two types of credit card features specifically address debt and interest: balance transfers and introductory zero-interest offers on purchases.

You can use a balance transfer credit card to move debt from an existing credit account to the new card and, ideally, pay off the transferred debt at a lower interest rate. The best credit cards for balance transfers offer an introductory period of 0% APR that lets you temporarily avoid paying any interest.

Cards with zero-interest offers on purchases also provide a temporary window of 0% APR, making them useful for large purchases that would be difficult to pay off in a single billing cycle. Once the intro period ends, however, the APR will change to the card’s regular variable range.

Another possible option is a low-interest credit card that has a regular APR range a few points below average.

The credit-builder

Used responsibly, the right cards can help you establish a credit history and improve your credit score — all while providing a convenient and secure method of payment for all kinds of expenses. Many issuers offer credit cards for people who have less than perfect credit scores or no credit history at all. Categories for credit-builders include:

You’ll find some overlap between the no-credit-history category and the student category, since many students lack a true credit history before getting their first card. A number of student cards don’t require a credit history or a good credit score to apply.

So-called starter credit cards usually fall into one of the two categories mentioned above. Another category where people will seek out starter cards is those who have developed a credit history without using credit cards, possibly through repaying a loan or keeping up with utility bills.

The categories of bad credit and secured cards also overlap to an extent. A secured card requires an upfront deposit, which will then serve as your credit limit. Deposits are refundable over time as long as you’ve established a good record of on-time payments. By providing the deposit, a consumer with bad credit is essentially putting up collateral so that the issuer faces less risk in issuing the secured card.

The student

A young adult can get a head-start on life’s financial journey with a student credit card. The best credit cards for students have features tailored to this specific type of consumer, including:

  • Relaxed credit requirements. You might not need a good or excellent credit score (or even a credit history at all) to qualify.
  • Features designed for you. To cite just one example, how about an annual statement credit that rewards you for maintaining a high GPA?
  • Less emphasis on annual fees. For someone who doesn’t yet have a career or annual income, a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee makes a lot of sense.

Factors to consider before applying for a credit card

While it may be tempting to try and discover the best credit card offer out there, the truth is no single credit card offer is better than another in every single category. Choosing the right credit card offer for you 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, etc. 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 by taking action.

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 Oct. 13, 2021, Bankrate estimates the average credit card interest rate at 16.16% 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% interest 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 20 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 3 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.

Which card offers the most value?

While it can be challenging to compare cards, there are certain factors that will set similar cards apart:

  • For rewards or travel cards, a rewards structure that lets you keep points for the life of your card account will typically offer more value than ones that let your points expire.
  • For low interest and 0 percent introductory APR cards, offers with a longer introductory period and a forgiving late fee policy will help you save the most on interest charges.

Using a credit card is a great way to earn rewards and free travel. More than that, choosing the right credit card is an important financial decision. But it doesn’t stop there. Whatever credit card you choose should help you achieve whatever larger financial goals you’ve set for yourself like an improved credit score or managing debt. Keep this in mind when making your decision.

How to apply for a credit card and get approved

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 in person or online, you’ll need to remember a few tips for how to apply for a credit card.

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:

  • 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.

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:

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.