Best credit cards for 2018

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The best credit cards on the market today feature outstanding rewards, large bonus offers, long 0% APR periods, and low fees. The experts at Bankrate have examined over 300 credit cards spanning across 30+ categories to pick their favorite credit cards for 2018 from our partners. Below, you will find comprehensive credit card advice and reviews so that you can find and apply for the right credit card for your situation.

Table of contents

The best credit cards of 2018

Updated August 15, 2018

How we chose our top credit cards of 2018

Bankrate’s team of credit card experts considered over 300 cards in the process of determining which would earn a spot on our list of best credit cards of 2018. The most important factors in determining our top picks were rewards, cash back rates, introductory 0% interest offer term lengths, balance transfer options, the opportunity to build credit, interest rates, and ownership fees. Every card that we offer has been rated on a scale of 0-100. You can find more information about each card by clicking on the card names to read our reviews.

Review criteria

What you are looking for in a credit card varies depending on your personal circumstance. While some will be looking for the most rewards value on their spending, others may be seeking to improve their credit score. That’s why we have identified what each card does best. Bankrate’s scoring matrix factors in a myriad of different elements, below are some more detail on just a few:

  • Rewards – We understand that rewards are frequently the motivation behind applying for a new card. After all, why not get cash back, points, or miles on the money that you’re already spending? Rewards can get confusing but we try to make it easy. Our editors take into account the type of rewards, how they are earned, and how easy they are to redeem.
  • Annual fee – Some cards charge a fee. Our experts analyze the annual fee to assess when the expense is worth the benefits and tell you how much you would need to use your card to cover the annual charge.
  • APR – Annual percentage rate is the interest rate you would pay on a credit cards outstanding balance. Standard APR can range from below 10% to over 20%. Some cards have a higher “penalty” APR which can reach almost 30% if you’re late in making a payment. We pay attention to the fine print and include an analysis of APR in our Bankrate score.
  • Extras and discounts – The additional perks that many cards offer, such as airport lounge access, travel credits, and additional security features, increase their value substantially. From straightforward credit cards to luxury rewards cards, we have scored the extra features that credit cards offer as they compare to the standard in their respective categories.

Editor’s review: Bankrate’s favorite credit cards

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Best rewards credit card

This rewards credit card offers generous cash back and a decent sign-up bonus.

Highlights:

  • Earn an unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase.
  • Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
  • Cardholders can redeem rewards for cash in any amount at any time. Rewards don’t expire as long as your account remains open.

Who should get this card

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is a good choice for anyone who wants a straightforward rewards program. It’s also useful for anyone who already owns a Chase rewards card since Chase Ultimate Rewards can be transferred between cards.
It comes with a 0 percent, 15-month introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers, making it a good option for someone trying to pay down high-interest debt. After the initial intro period, the card has a variable APR of 16.74 to 25.49 percent.

Its cashback rate, while good, isn’t the highest flat-rate available. This card also has no bonus categories, a downside if you spend frequently in one area where you want to maximize rewards.

Citi Simplicity

Best 0% interest credit card

This zero interest credit card has an industry-leading introductory offer, which makes it a great choice for the consumer who wants to make a big purchase and pay it off slowly. And because of its generous stance on late fees (there are none), it’s also a solid option if you need flexibility with payments.

Highlights:

  • Pay no interest on purchases or balance transfers for 18 months. That’s the longest interest-free intro period available.
  • There are no late fees with this card, giving borrowers the flexibility and help they need to pay off high-interest debt.
  • Pay no annual fee and no penalty rate, making it a great choice for consumers on a budget.

Who should get this card

Anyone wrestling with high-interest credit card debt should consider the Citi Simplicity card. Its generous 18-month introductory zero percent APR offer on balance transfers and new purchases gives debtholders an opportunity to pay down their bill without accruing additional charges. This card also has access to Citi’s Price Rewind program, which will refund the price difference if you made a purchase that can be found for less elsewhere.

After the introductory period expires, this card has an ongoing variable APR of 15.74 to 25.74 percent.

Capital One Venture Rewards Card

Best travel credit card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Card edged out the travel credit card competition with its modest annual fee and a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus worth over $500.

Highlights:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of card ownership.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees with this card.
  • Earn unlimited travel rewards at 2 miles per dollar spent, and those miles never expire.

Who should get this card?

The Capital One Venture Rewards Card is best suited for consumers looking to earn points and miles within a straightforward rewards structure. With 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, this is Bankrate’s favorite flat-rate travel rewards card.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

Best balance transfer credit card

This card’s long 18-month introductory 0% APR balance transfer period and great rewards for no annual fee make it a standout option among balance transfer cards.

Highlights:

  • You won’t pay any interest for 18 months on balance transfers.
  • Standard 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, plus 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories.
  • For the first year, Discover will match your total cash back, doubling your first-year cash back rewards.
  • No annual fee.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Who should get this card

If you’re looking for a long introductory 0% balance transfer APR rate, and generous cash back rewards, all for no annual fee, then the Discover it Balance Transfer card is for you. Although the card’s 3% balance transfer rate is slightly uncompetitive compared to other balance transfer cards available this card’s introductory 0% APR period is long. While you’re working on paying down your balance you can also be earning cash back rewards. This card offers 1% back on all purchases and 5% back on rotating categories such as restaurant purchases, Amazon.com purchases, and wholesale club stores. There is a lot to like with this card, especially for no annual fee. As with most balance transfer cards, the APR rate can be high (depending on creditworthiness) at the end of the introductory period so try and clear your balance within the initial 18-month window.

Citi Double Cash Card

Best cash back credit card

The Citi Double Cash card has a simple rewards structure with no categories to track, no cap on cash back and no annual fee. That makes it a great cash-back card.

Highlights:

  • Earn cash back twice: 1 percent on general purchases and 1 percent when you pay your bill on time. Two percent cash-back on everything makes this an industry-leading card for cash back on general purchases.
  • Pay no interest on balance transfers for 18 months. After that, a variable APR of 15.24% – 25.24% will apply.
  • Register your purchases online through the Citi Price Rewind program and the company will search for lower prices on those items and refund you the difference on better deals.

Who should get this card

This card is good for those seeking an affordable cash-back card with generous rewards on all purchases and an easy-to-use rewards structure. There’s no chasing bonus categories, no rotating categories, and no annual fee.

This card charges a variable APR of 15.2 to 25.24 percent.

If you typically carry a balance or often fail to pay on time, this may not be the card for you. There’s also no sign-up bonus, something you’ll find on other competing cards.

Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Best business credit card

Ample bonus opportunities and points on business-related spending put the Chase Ink Business Preferred at the head of the pack for business credit cards.

Highlights:

  • Earn three points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent annually on select categories, one point per dollar spent on all other purchases with no limit.
  • Earn 80,000 points when you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening an account.
  • Points are worth 25 percent more when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

Who should get this card

This card is a solid option if you spend heavily on the card’s bonus categories. It’s also worth considering if you plan on spending at least $5,000 within the first three months to earn the bonus, which is equal to $1,000 toward travel when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

While it offers generous perks, this card comes with an annual fee of $95. You’ll need to make sure you spend enough to earn rewards that cancel out the fee.

It has a variable APR of 17.74 to 22.74 percent.

Discover it® Student chrome

Best student credit card

The Discover it® Student chrome card is a quality student credit card for cash back and perks. Plus, students can get a bonus for maintaining good grades.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 percent cash back on gas stations and restaurant purchases on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter. On all other purchases, the card pays 1 percent.
  • Maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0 gets you an extra $20 statement credit each school year for a maximum of five years.
  • During the first year, earn double the cash back on all purchases.

Who should get this card

The Discover it Student chrome is a fine pick for students with good grades who would like to enjoy cash back and perks. It also works as a solid introduction to credit because it has no annual fee and allows for mistakes.

There is no penalty APR, no late fee on the first payment and no over-limit fee. You’ll be charged a variable APR of between 14.74 and 23.74 percent.

Take note, though: Discover it Student chrome isn’t widely accepted overseas. So while the card comes with no foreign transaction fees, it’s a less than optimal choice for studying abroad.

Capital One Secured Mastercard

Best credit card for bad credit

The Capital One Secured Mastercard is one of the only secured cards with a deposit requirement that could be lower than your limit.

Highlights:

  • Depending on your credit history, get a $200 credit line for either a $49, $99 or $200 deposit. You can deposit more to get a higher limit — up to $1,000.
  • The APR is a variable 24.99 percent, but there are no annual fees, application fees or foreign transaction charges.
  • If you make the first five payments on time, you can increase your credit limit without any additional deposits.

Who should get this card

This card is a good fit for anyone with little or no history who might qualify for one of the lower deposit options. The card also comes with an option to pay the opening deposit in installments over an 80-day period, which may help people on a fixed income who are seeking to build credit.

Not everyone can qualify for this card. If you have a non-discharged bankruptcy, a past due or over-the-limit Capital One card, a card that was charged off within the past year or your monthly income does not exceed your monthly housing payments by at least $425, you won’t be approved.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best credit card for fair credit

The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great option for consumers looking to earn cash back while they build or rebuild on their fair credit profile.

Highlights:

  • You will earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Cash back can be redeemed as an account credit, a check, or a gift card.
  • Automatically get access to a higher credit line after 5 consecutive on-time payments.
  • This card comes with a price protection feature, which will reimburse you the difference on eligible items if you find a lower price within 120 days of purchase.

Who should get this card

Anyone looking for a card that will help them transition from an average to an excellent credit score should keep this card top-of-mind. With all of the benefits of being a Capital One account holder combined with a decent rewards rate, it is hard to find a better offer in the average/fair credit range.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Best credit card for good credit

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card’s generous rewards, stellar sign-up bonus and a low annual fee are hard to beat. It’s a solid card for people with good credit who might be scared off by the Sapphire Reserve’s big annual fee.

Highlights:

  • Earn two points per dollar on travel and restaurants worldwide and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening the account. That’s $625 toward travel when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
  • Earn 5,000 points when you add an authorized user within the first three months of opening an account.

Who should get this card

This card is ideal if you’re looking for an every day, low-fee travel card with great perks. It’s especially useful if you’re comfortable using the Chase Ultimate Rewards program — when redeemed through the program, points are worth 25 percent more.

There’s no introductory fee for the first year. After that, the fee is $95 per year. It has a variable APR from 17.74 to 24.74 percent.

The Platinum Card from American Express

Best credit card for excellent credit

The Platinum Card from American Express is a prestigious card that offers unique luxury benefits to consumers with excellent credit scores. This card is geared towards travel rewards, with perks like Centurion Lounge access and a yearly travel credit.

Highlights:

  • 5 Membership Rewards points for every $1 spent on airfare eligible hotels booked through American Express’ travel portal.
  • Cardholders will receive up to $200/year in Uber credits.
  • The welcome offer of 60,000 Membership Rewards points if you spend $5,000 within the first three months of card ownership is worth an estimated $600.

Who should get this card?

This card is a good fit for consumers who spend a lot of money, most notably in the travel category. While the Platinum Card boasts one of the best rewards rates, cardholders will have to weigh those rewards with a $550 annual fee. That being said, the steep annual fee pays for itself if you take advantage of all of the perks that this card offer.

Key features of the best credit cards

All credit cards have a few standard attributes. The most notable ones are:

  • APR. This stands for the annual percentage rate and is the amount of interest an issuer charges you if you carry a balance. If a card has an APR of 17% and you have a $10,000 balance that you don’t touch for a year, you’ll owe an additional $1,700 on top of the original amount.
  • Annual fee. This is the amount charged to just own the card. Typically, the higher the annual fee, the more extras a card offers in return. Some cards will waive the annual fee for the first year as an enticement for you to apply. Other cards don’t charge an annual fee but might be no-frills. Depending on your goals, an annual fee might be worth it if the card offers you something of equal or greater value in return.
  • Sign-up bonus. Some credit cards will offer you a sign-up bonus as cash-back or other rewards if you meet their minimum spending requirement within a certain amount of time. If you were going to spend the money anyway, a sign-up offer can be a great way to get rewarded for shopping. But, signing up for multiple cards just to earn bonuses can hurt your credit score as it can create too many inquiries with the credit bureaus. Some banks won’t approve you for a card if you’ve opened too many accounts in a short period of time.
  • Balance transfer fee. If you’re consolidating debt to a balance transfer card, there might be a balance transfer fee, usually ranging from 3% to 5% of the amount being transferred. It’s important to calculate the amount of this fee to make sure you aren’t adding more to your debt than you’re paying in interest on the original card.
  • Foreign exchange fee. Some credit cards add a surcharge to all international charges, making every purchase more expensive. If you buy a $100 souvenir with a card that charges a 3% foreign exchange fee, that means you’re paying an extra $3 just for using that card. The best travel cards don’t charge any foreign exchange fees, making them a better choice for using abroad.
  • Card chip. An increasing number of credit cards are embedded with a microchip that you dip (instead of swipe) at a card reader. Also called EMV technology, which stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa, this is considered a more secure payment method than swiping.
  • Mobile wallets. A mobile wallet lets you use your credit card information by storing it on your mobile device. It uses a technology called Near Field Communications, or NFC, that lets you tap an enabled payment terminal with your device instead of opening your wallet and taking out your card. Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are two of the most widely known mobile wallets.

Choosing the right credit card

With lucrative sign-up bonuses and generous rewards offers, choosing your first credit card is an exciting process. The card that is right for you will vary depending on where you are in your financial journey.

Building credit

If you are looking to build your credit, we recommend you take a look at some of our student cards or cards for fair or limited credit. One of our favorite credit cards for building credit is the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. If this card doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, there are still plenty of other credit cards for fair credit.

What to look for:

  • Low or no annual fee.
  • A decent rewards rate on regular purchases.
  • Reasonable APR.
  • The ability to increase your credit limit as your credit score improves.

Rebuilding credit

For consumers who have made financial mistakes in the past, a credit card (when used properly) can be a great tool to increase your credit score quickly. Your best bet is likely going to be a secured credit card. With a secured card, you will be required to put down a deposit that serves as your credit limit. While this will not immediately increase your spending power, these cards typically have lower fees and penalties than unsecured credit cards for bad credit.

What to look for:

  • Fees and penalties.
  • Deposit options for secured cards.
  • Ability to graduate to an unsecured card.
  • Opportunity to increase your credit limit over time.

Maximizing cash back and rewards

Credit card companies offer enticing rewards to make sure that consumers keep their cards top-of-wallet. There are three main types of rewards cards: cash back, points rewards, and travel cards. Regardless of how you shop and how you prefer to redeem rewards, there is an option for everyone.

What to look for:

  • Rewards rate.
  • Rewards structure (e.g. flat rate cash back, rotating category cash back, tiered rewards points, etc.)
  • Sign-up bonus.
  • Annual fee.

Making a large purchase

While we don’t recommend carrying a balance on most credit cards, exceptions can be made for large purchases if you qualify for a 0% interest credit card. These cards offer introductory periods of up to 21 months interest-free. If you feel confident in your ability to make a large purchase and pay it off immediately, consider a rewards card with a generous sign-up bonus.

What to look for:

  • Introductory 0% interest offer term length.
  • Sign-up bonus.
  • Rewards rate.
  • Annual fee.

Where to start when applying for a credit card

Everyone has different financial circumstances and the best card for you is likely to be different from the one that’s best for your partner, friend or colleague. The first place to start is with a free credit check. Once you know which cards you are likely to approve for, consider two things: What do you spend the most on? And, what do you want out of the card? The right card for you will depend on your household’s lifestyle and spending patterns.

For a busy suburban family who spends heavily on groceries and gas, a cash-back card that offers rewards in those categories could be the right match. But road warriors and globetrotters may fare better with a credit card that offers boosted rewards on travel and dining. College students and recent graduates, on the other hand, might benefit the most from a card aimed at helping them build credit.

If you’re torn between two offers that seem similar, check and compare if they have any sign-up offers, which can typically be worth anywhere from $150 to $1,500 if you meet a minimum spending requirement within the specified time period. If both cards offer the same benefits, it usually makes sense to go with one that offers a bonus.

But you shouldn’t necessarily sign up for a card just because it comes with a bonus. Although these lucrative offers can be enticing, longer-term it pays to be sure that the benefits of the card beyond any initial bonus are still a match for your spending habits.

How to use a credit card

There’s really only one rule to strive for when you have a credit card: pay your balance in full and on time every month. When you don’t pay it off, you accrue finance charges, which can range from an annual percentage rate (APR) of 11% to as much as 36% depending on the credit card. If you continue to carry a balance and just make the minimum payments each month, you’ll add those interest charges onto your existing debt and increase your financial burden.

Carrying a large balance on your card can also affect your debt-to-available-credit ratio and have a negative impact on your credit score. This is important because your credit score determines the rates you’re eligible for on everything from a mortgage to an auto loan to other credit cards. The lower the rate, the less interest you’ll pay.

If you must carry a balance, a good rule of thumb is to keep your credit card bill at 30% or less than your card’s maximum limit. For example, if you have a credit card with a limit of $10,000, try to never carry a balance larger than $3,000.

Paying off your card every month? You could benefit from using a rewards credit card that offers cash-back, points or other incentives just for shopping the way you normally would. Keep in mind the value of these rewards—typically between 1% and 5% of the amount of purchase, will always be less than the double-digit interest you’ll pay on your debt.

If you do tend to carry a balance on your credit card, you’d be better off with a low-interest card than one that pays rewards but has a steeper interest rate.

Bottom line: Should you get a credit card?

Deciding to sign up for a particular credit card depends on your unique situation. If you have little to no credit history or are trying to improve a low credit score, making regular on-time payments on a secured credit card can help you build up your credit profile and eventually allow you to graduate to a credit card with better terms.

If you’re trying to eliminate your debt, you may want to consider a balance transfer card, which gives you a break on interest for a period of time, allowing you to pay down more of the principal and knock out the balance faster.

Using a credit card with a 0% APR offer has the same benefit if you’re looking to buy some big-ticket items in a short period of time. If you use a card with an introductory zero percent offer, you get some breathing room to pay off the balance without adding interest charges on top of what you owe.

For someone who doesn’t typically carry debt and has predictable spending patterns, a cash-back or other rewards card can help you save money. Using a card that gives a flat cash back rate is like getting a discount every time you shop. Other rewards cards may offer rotating quarterly bonus categories giving you a chance to earn enhanced rewards for a limited time at select places, these rewards are redeemable for travel, gift cards, or statement credits.

Travel credit cards often come with additional perks and benefits like free checked luggage, priority boarding or elite hotel status, which could be especially appealing for frequent travelers.

Many premium airline credit cards will also offer extras that can be worth more than the cost of ownership. Airport lounge access, reimbursement for TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fees, price protection, rental car coverage and travel credits are just some of the plush perks found on these cards.

When used responsibly, credit cards offer perks, rewards, and credit score benefits that just aren’t available with standard debit cards. If you are still undecided regarding which card is right for you, take a look at our expansive selection of credit card reviews to see more of what the credit card experts at Bankrate have to say about some of the best offers available.

Recap: The best credit cards

Card name Bankrate score Best for
Chase Freedom Unlimited 92/100 Rewards
Citi Simplicity 88/100 0% interest
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card 94/100 Travel
Discover it Balance Transfer 91/100 Balance transfers
Citi Double Cash Card 94/100 Cash back
Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card 92/100 Business
Discover it® Student chrome 93/100 Student
Capital One Secured Mastercard 84/100 Bad credit
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card 81/100 Fair credit
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 95/100 Good credit
The Platinum Card® from American Express 95/100 Excellent credit

Author Spotlight: Robin Saks Frankel is a credit cards journalist with multiple years of experience in card reviews, breaking news, points guides and editorial advice. Robin has written content for Bankrate, Nerdwallet, and multiple other financial publications. You can find her on Twitter @robinsaks.

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.