The credit card landscape has been a bit static lately. There are plenty of great cards available…but they’re largely the same ones that Bottom Line Personal wrote about in the December 1, 2023 issue. Americans have been signing up for new cards in record numbers in recent years, so issuers see no need to spend millions marketing new cards when their existing cards continue to attract so much business.

But the top cards Bottom Line cited back in December aren’t the only ones worth considering for your wallet. Here’s a look at some attractive under-the-radar credit card offers…

Cash Back on 
Major Ongoing Expenses
Many credit cards offer attractive cash-back rates in specific spending categories. Want cash back on gas or EV-charging purchases? Sam’s Club Mastercard offers 5% back on up to $6,000 in gas or EV charging each year…Costco Anywhere Visa, 4% on up to $7,000. Want a card that offers savings on groceries? American Express Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% back on up to $6,000 in annual supermarket spending—that’s more than enough to cover its $95 annual fee.

Bottom Line wrote about all of these cards back in December. But it’s harder to find attractive cash-back cards for some spending categories than others. Three cards that offer rewards for key spending categories…

Utility bills: US Bank Cash+ offers 5% cash back on up to $2,000 in combined spending on two categories of the cardholder’s choosing—and one of the options is “home utilities.” Other cards with similar rewards programs generally do not include utilities among their options. This card also offers 2% back at grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations…and 1% back on most other purchases. New cardholders who spend $1,000 with the card in the first 120 days earn a $200 bonus.

Insurance premiums: State Farm Premier Cash Rewards Visa Signature offers 3% cash back on up to $4,000 in insurance premium payments each year—and thanks to a special promotion available as of April, that can be bumped up to 5% for the first year by applying for this card through a State Farm agent. Those insurance payments don’t have to be to State Farm, but a State Farm policy is needed to be eligible for this card. This card also offers 2% cash back at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and drugstores…and 1% on most other purchases. New cardholders who spend $500 in the first 90 days earn a $150 bonus.

Rent: Bilt Mastercard allows cardholders to pay their rent using the card and earn points for doing so—even if their landlord doesn’t accept cards or imposes a fee for credit card payments. Bilt offers a way to avoid that fee—it sends checks to landlords on cardholders’ behalf, when necessary. Cardholders earn one point per dollar spent on rent, up to 100,000 points per year…plus two points per dollar spent on travel…three on dining…and one on most other purchases. Cardholders must make at least five transactions with the card each billing period to receive their points. Points can be applied to future rent payments or transferred to a range of hotel- and airline-­loyalty programs, among other options. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent rewards program for mortgage payments.

Flat Cash-Back Rates of 2%…2.5%…Even 3%

When Bottom Line Personal wrote about top credit cards back in December, it mentioned a pair of cards that offer 2% cash back on all purchases—Wells Fargo Active Cash and Citi Double Cash. Those cards remain great options if you want a straightforward cash-back card that doesn’t require keeping track of your spending categories. But if your goal is to earn the highest possible across-the-board cash-back rates, it’s possible to top that 2%—if you’re willing to jump through a few hoops and/or accept that the stellar cash-back rate won’t last forever.

Chase Freedom Unlimited ordinarily has an unspectacular 1.5% cash-back rate on all purchases—but new cardholders receive an additional 1.5% cash back on up to $20,000 during their first year, for a total cash-back rate of 3%. The catch: This card’s rewards program is unspectacular after that first year.

Robinhood Gold Card offers the equivalent of 3% cash back on all purchases. The catch: After that first year, this card’s cash-back program also may not be spectacular. The card has no annual fee, but it requires a subscription to “Robinhood Gold,” a rewards program that offers premium perks such as higher savings yields and matching IRA contributions. Robinhood Gold costs $5 per month or $50 per year. The points cardholders earn can be converted to cash at a rate of one penny per point, but that money must be deposited into a Robinhood Financial Brokerage Account. Caution: Industry insiders suspect this card’s 3% rate might be a short-term marketing strategy and is likely to be lowered in the not-too-distant future.

Farmers Insurance Federal Credit Union Crystal Visa offers new cardholders 3% cash back on up to $10,000 in spending each month for their first year, then 2.5% in subsequent years. New cardholders also receive a $100 bonus if they spend $5,000 in the first three months. The catch: There’s a $99 annual fee that is waived in the first year. You’ll have to join the credit union, but virtually everyone can do so.

Alliant Credit Union Visa Signature offers 2.5% back on up to $10,000 in spending per month…1.5% thereafter. The catch: To get these rewards, you’ll need to join Alliant Credit Union (which virtually anyone is eligible to do) and open a checking account with Alliant…maintain an average daily account balance of $1,000…have one or more electronic deposits made into that account each month…and receive electronic rather than paper account statements.

Compelling Travel Cards

If you’re looking for a credit card that provides attractive travel savings and perks, top options continue to include The Platinum Card from American Express—if you’re willing to pay a steep $695 annual fee for excellent perks…and Chase Sapphire Preferred—if paying a $95 annual fee for still very nice perks is a better fit for your travel budget.

But you also can investigate credit cards that are linked to the specific airlines and hotel chains that you use regularly. Many of these “co-branded” travel cards offer new cardholder bonuses so substantial that they could significantly trim the cost of a future trip. Among the most attractive deals now…

Citi American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select
offers new cardholders 75,000 bonus miles for spending $3,500 on the card in the first four months. The value of those miles depends on how they’re used, but conservatively they’re worth between one and one-and-a-half cents per mile, which means those 75,000 bonus miles are worth $750 to $1,125. ­Cardholders also earn two miles for every dollar spent on gas, restaurants or American Airlines purchases and one mile per dollar on everything else. One nice perk: Cardholders (and up to four travel companions) don’t have to pay a fee for their first checked bag on American Airlines domestic flights. The card’s $99 annual fee is waived in the first year.

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature offers new ­cardholders 70,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 90 days. ­Cardholders also earn three miles per dollar spent at Alaska Airlines…two miles on gas and certain other purchases…and one mile on everything else. Alaska Airlines’ miles generally are estimated to be worth at least one to one-and-a-half cents apiece. One nice perk: Cardholders can obtain a $99 companion fare each year if they spend at least $6,000 on the card. This card has a $95 annual fee.

Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card offers new cardholders three nights free for spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months. Cardholders also receive an additional free night every year in the future, plus ­Silver Elite status with Marriott. They earn six points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels…three points per dollar on gas, groceries and restaurants (up to $6,000 in annual combined spending)…and two points per dollar on everything else. These points usually are estimated to be worth nearly one cent apiece when redeemed at Marriott. Marriott is the biggest hotel chain in the world, so it’s likely to have a property where you want to travel. The card has a $95 annual fee.

Small-Business Cards…
Big Cash-Back Bonuses

Few credit cards currently offer new cardholders cash-back bonuses of more than $200, with one exception—small business cards. If you’re thinking, But I don’t own a small business, it’s worth noting that even freelancers and people working part-time “gig economy” jobs often can qualify for these cards. Among the best small business card offers now…

Capital One Spark Cash Select offers new cardholders a $750 cash-back bonus for spending $6,000 in the first three months. Cardholders also receive 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Chase Ink Business Unlimited is similar—new cardholders can receive a $750 cash bonus for spending $6,000 in the first three months, and they earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Bank of America Business Advantage Unlimited Cash Rewards offers $300 cash back for spending $3,000 in the first three months. It, too, offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Interest Rates Below 10%
If you carry a balance on your credit cards, a low interest rate almost certainly is more valuable to you than a rewards program. As Bottom Line noted back in December, there are cards that offer new cardholders 0% introductory rates that last as long as 21 months—including Citi Simplicity, Wells Fargo Reflect and US Bank Visa Platinum. But cardholders who don’t pay off their balances before the 0% introductory rate periods end can face steep rates. Low ongoing interest rates are trickier to find these days, but there are a few cards that still have rates in the single digits…

Unify Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum has a fixed interest rate as low as 9.49%, depending on your ­creditworthiness. It has no balance-transfer fee and an introductory rate as low as 5.49% for the first six months. Virtually anyone is eligible to join this credit union.

Houston Federal Credit Union Visa Prime Lock has a variable interest rate that’s equal to the prime rate—as of May, that’s 8.5%. This card has no balance-transfer fee, and there’s an introductory rate of just 2.99% for the first six months. But: Membership in this credit union is largely restricted to people who live, work, attend school or belong to a church in or near Houston. You also might qualify if a member of your immediate family lives in that area. The card has a $50 annual fee.

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