Prices and interest rates are rising fast, and consumers are facing a range of changes in 2022—does that mean they should change credit cards? Adding the right card to your wallet could earn you hundreds of dollars in bonuses and rewards…or save you hundreds in interest payments. Bottom Line Personal asked NerdWallet credit card expert Sara Rathner about some of the best cards available now for different cardholders and purchases…
Hassle-free cash back: Wells Fargo Active Cash Card* offers 2% cash back on all purchases. Other cards offer higher cash-back rates on specific purchases or if certain conditions are met—see below—but if your priority is to earn as much cash back as possible with few hassles, this card could be a fit for you. New cardholders currently receive a $200 bonus if they spend at least $1,000 on Active Cash in the first three months, a perk that the other popular 2% cash-back card, Citi Double Cash, doesn’t match.
Flat-rate cash-back card if you’re willing to jump through some hoops: Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Credit Card offers 2.5% back on all purchases up to $10,000 per monthly billing cycle…1.5% thereafter. To obtain this card and earn that 2.5% rate, cardholders must join a credit union as well as open an Alliant High-Rate Checking account and maintain an average daily balance of at least $1,000. That’s not a deal breaker—Alliant Credit Union is easy to join, and its high-rate checking account has no monthly fees—but this card makes sense mainly if you were planning on opening a new checking account anyway.
Maximizing cash back in a specific spending category: Citi Custom Cash Card offers 5% back on up to $500 in purchases per billing cycle in whichever category you spent the most in that month, whether that’s gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, travel or another eligible category. All other purchases earn 1% back, and new cardholders earn an additional $200 cash back by spending at least $750 in their first three months. Other cards that offer 5% back do so on categories selected by the issuer. If you like to use the same credit card for every purchase, opt for one of the cards above…but if you’re willing to juggle multiple cards, Custom Cash can take a place in your wallet—use it for purchases in only one spending category per billing period.
Grocery store and streaming-service spending: American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card is one of the few cards to offer a cash-back rate above 5% on certain purchases—it provides 6% back at supermarkets, up to $6,000 in purchases per year, and on many streaming services including Disney+, Netflix, Hulu and Spotify. Cardholders also get 3% back at US gas stations and for rideshares, taxis, parking, tolls, trains and buses…and 1% on all other purchases. New cardholders earn a $350 statement credit by using the card to spend $3,000 in the first six months. Blue Cash Preferred has a $95 annual fee, waived in the first year…and that $350 new-cardholder bonus more than covers the following three years of annual fees. It’s a great card to have in your wallet if you’re looking for a way to contain the rapidly rising costs of groceries, streaming and gas.
Gas and drugstore purchases: AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays offers 3% back at gas stations and most drugstores, plus 2% back on certain medical expenses and 1% on everything else. There’s also a $200 bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. AARP membership is not required. Other great cards for gas-station spending include Blue Cash Preferred (see page five)…Sam’s Club Mastercard, which offers 5% back on up to $6,000 in annual gas purchases and 1% thereafter—but it’s only available to Sam’s Club members, with a membership starting at $45 per year…and Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi, which offers 4% back on up to $7,000 in gas purchases—but it’s available only to Costco members, with a membership starting at $60 per year.
Restaurant spending: US Bank Altitude Go Visa Signature Card offers the equivalent of 4% back on restaurant dining, including takeout and delivery. Cardholders also receive the equivalent of 2% back at grocery stores, gas stations, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and streaming services…and 1% on everything else. New cardholders can earn the equivalent of $200 for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. The better-known Savor Rewards from Capital One Card also offers 4% back on dining, but it has a $95 annual fee—Altitude Go imposes no annual fee.
Travel card: Capital One Venture X offers impressive travel rewards and perks for a lower annual fee than the two other premium travel cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum. New cardholders earn 75,000 bonus miles when they spend at least $4,000 on Venture X in the first three months, the equivalent of $750 in travel credits. Cardholders also receive a $300 travel credit each year for bookings made through Capital One Travel…10,000 additional bonus miles each year starting on their first anniversary with the card…$100 credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees…10 miles for every dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel…five miles per dollar for flights booked through Capital One Travel…and two miles per dollar on all other purchases. Cardholders get unlimited free visits to Capital One’s small-but-growing network of airport lounges, too. Venture X has a $395 annual fee, but frequent travelers can more than get their money’s worth.
Rent payments: Wells Fargo Bilt World Elite Mastercard offers one point per dollar spent on rent, up to 50,000 points annually…and two points per dollar spent on travel, three points per dollar spent on dining and one point per dollar spent on everything else. Those points can be transferred to many frequent-flier and hotel rewards programs, among other redemption options. Cardholders must make at least five transactions with the card in a billing cycle to receive points. Earning one point per dollar on rent might not sound impressive when other cards offer 2% to 5% cashback, but many landlords impose surcharges for card payments or don’t let tenants pay with plastic. Bilt waives fees and/or sends rent checks on cardholders’ behalf.
If you carry a balance: Wells Fargo Reflect Card offers an annual percentage rate (APY) of 0% on new purchases and balance transfers for up to 21 months—a big savings for anyone who’s carrying a balance in this rising-rate environment. The 0% period technically is 18 months, but it can be extended by three months by making on-time payments. Another card, Citi Diamond Preferred, also offers 21 months of 0% APRs—but that card has a steep 5% balance-transfer fee, while Reflect has a 3% fee for transfers made within 120 days of opening an account.
If your credit score is too low to land the cards above: Capital One QuicksilverOne Rewards offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases—and unlike most cards with appealing rewards programs, applicants have a reasonable chance of being approved even if their credit scores are in the low 600s or high 500s. However, this card does charge a $39 annual fee.