Spending patterns have shifted in recent years, and household budgets have been reshaped. Are your current credit cards still the most appropriate options? Ted Rossman, credit card expert at Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com, offers a look at some compelling cards that could deserve a place in your wallet now…
US credit card debt is closing in on $1 trillion. If you carry a credit card balance, finding a card that charges little or no interest could be a huge moneysaver if you are looking to pay down your balance as quickly as possible (and carry credit card debt no longer than necessary). Many cards continue to offer long 0% introductory rates even as interest rates rise, including…
Bank of America’s BankAmericard.* New cardholders receive a 0% introductory rate on both new purchases and balance transfers for the first 21 months.
Wells Fargo Reflect Card matches that 21-month 0% introductory rate but falls short in one key area—Bank-Americard charges a reasonable 3% balance-transfer fee…Reflect charges a steep 5%.
Citi Simplicity Card also offers a 21-month 0% introductory rate on balance transfers with a reasonable 3% balance-transfer fee, but Simplicity’s 0% introductory rate on new purchases made with the card lasts only 12 months. One perk: Unlike virtually all other credit cards, Simplicity doesn’t impose late fees or penalty interest rates—that’s a plus for anyone prone to missing payment deadlines.
Also worth considering: First Tech Choice Rewards Mastercard offers a 0% rate on balance transfers for 12 months with no balance-transfer fee charged on transfers made within 90 days of opening the account. If you can pay off a transferred balance before those 12 months are up, the lack of a balance-transfer fee makes this card more appealing than the previous 21-month introductory-rate cards. Available only to members of First Technology Federal Credit Union (FirstTechFed.com), but virtually anyone can be a member of that credit union by paying a token amount to join one of its partner nonprofit organizations.
Another option: Skip the 0% introductory offers, and instead transfer your balance to a card that has an ongoing interest rate much lower than the 20%-plus that’s now common. But: Even the lowest ongoing credit card rates tend to be near or above 10% these days, so carrying debt on cards should not be considered a viable long-term strategy if there’s any way to avoid it. Credit union credit cards tend to offer the lowest ongoing interest rates. Visit credit unions’ websites for membership details and applications…
Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Card recently offered rates as low as 11.5%. As with most cards, the rate you’re offered will depend on your credit score. Virtually anyone can join this credit union by making a onetime $5 contribution to the nonprofit ALS Foundation.
NASA Federal Credit Union Visa Classic offers rates as low as 12.4%…and as low as 9.4% on balances transferred to the card with no balance-transfer fees. Virtually anyone can join this credit union by signing up for a complimentary membership in the National Space Society.
Navy Federal Platinum Credit Card offers rates as low as 10.99%. The card also has an ultra-low 0.99% balance-transfer introductory rate for the first 12 months, with no balance-transfer fee. Navy Federal Credit Union is open to current and former members of the armed forces and their family/household members, Department of Defense employees and the spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents and household members of this credit union’s current members.
Unify Financial Credit Union Visa Platinum Card recently offered rates as low as 9.49%—one of the very few sub-10% ongoing interest rates still available. Virtually anyone can join this credit union without paying a fee.
USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum Card offers rates as low as 11.9% and has a 0% balance-transfer introductory rate that lasts 15 months. USAA isn’t a credit union, but it has credit-union–like eligibility requirements—it’s open to current and former members of the military and their spouses as well as children of USAA members.
Travel is back, but airlines, hotels and car rentals are significantly more expensive than before the pandemic. That’s a good reason to apply for a card that provides airline miles or other perks that trim travel costs. The best travel card for you might be the card affiliated with whichever airline or hotel chain you use most, but some travel cards that aren’t tied to a particular travel brand are excellent as well.
Platinum Card from American Express is a great card for frequent travelers. Its many valuable perks can more than cover its steep annual fee, especially if you travel often. The card currently offers 80,000 points for making $6,000 in purchases in the first six months, plus five points per dollar on hotels and airfares booked directly or through American Express Travel. Points can be transferred to any of Amex’s many travel partners, among other redemption options. This card has an extremely steep $695 annual fee but justifies that cost with a long list of travel-related perks, including a $200 annual airline fee credit…a $200 annual credit for select prepaid hotel stays booked through Amex…$100 in annual Saks Fifth Avenue credits…$240 in annual streaming service credits…access to American Express and Priority Pass airport lounges…travel insurance…automatic gold status with Marriott and Hilton…and much more. Limitation: While this card provides entry to American Express airport lounges, a recent rule change means that cardholders must pay steep fees to bring travel companions into these lounges.
Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent option if you travel somewhat regularly but not often enough to justify Amex Platinum’s steep annual fee. This Chase card provides 60,000 points when new cardholders spend $4,000 on the card in the first three months. Cardholders also earn five points for each dollar spent on travel purchases through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program…three points for each dollar spent on dining and select streaming services…and more. Each point is worth $1.25 when redeemed for travel booked through Chase, so that 60,000 initial bonus alone is worth $750 toward travel, easily justifying this card’s $95 annual fee. Points also can be transferred to a range of hotel and airline rewards programs.
Wells Fargo Autograph is an appealing entry-level travel-focused credit card, offering significant savings on travel-related spending with no annual fee. Cardholders earn the equivalent of 3% cash back on travel, restaurants, gas, transit—including ride-share services, parking and tolls—phone plans and streaming services. New cardholders also receive the equivalent of $200 cash back if they make $1,000 in purchases in their first three months.
Also consider: If there’s one airline you fly more often than the rest, it’s probably worth signing up for that airline’s branded credit card. These cards typically offer sufficient frequent-flier miles as a sign-up bonus that new cardholders can virtually take a trip for free, though details vary. Many airline-branded cards also provide cardholders and their travel companions one fee-free checked bag per trip, a valuable perk in this era of steep airline baggage fees.
Some credit cards offer 2% to 6% cash back on certain purchases—and many of these provide attractive initial bonuses as well.
Citi Double Cash and Wells Fargo Active Cash might be the very best rewards options, especially for people who want to keep it simple and earn a solid, if not spectacular, all-around return without too many hoops to jump through. While other cards offer steeper cash-back rates in certain spending categories and/or up to spending limits, these two cards keep things simple—they offer the equivalent of 2% cash back on all purchases. The Wells Fargo card also has a $200 bonus for spending at least $500 in the first three months.
Citi Custom Cash Mastercard offers 5% back on up to $500 in purchases per billing cycle in whichever of 10 categories you spend the most in that month—the categories are restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, travel, transit, streaming services, drugstores, home-improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment—plus 1% on everything else. It has a $200 bonus for spending $1,500 in the first six months.
Chase Freedom Flex and Discover It also offer 5% back on select spending categories—but with these cards, the card issuer chooses the categories, which change every three months. Oft-featured categories include gas, grocery stores, Amazon.com and restaurants. But: Keeping track of the current 5% categories does take a bit of effort, and that 5% back applies to only the first $1,500 of spending in those categories each quarter. In addition to those rotating category cash-back offers, the Chase card offers 3% back at restaurants and drugstores on an ongoing basis, plus a $200 cash-back bonus for new cardholders who spend at least $500 in the first three months…while the Discover card doubles the cash back that new cardholders earn in their first year.
American Express Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in annual supermarket purchases, as well as 6% back on select streaming services…3% back on gas…and 1% on everything else. There’s a $250 bonus for spending $3,000 in the first six months. The $95 annual fee is waived in the first year.
Warehouse club credit cards offer impressive cash-back rates for purchases made at virtually all US gas stations, not just the warehouse clubs’ own stations…
Sam’s Club Mastercard offers 5% back on up to $6,000 in annual gas purchases, plus 3% at restaurants, up to 5% at Sam’s Club and 1% on everything else. Rewards can be redeemed for future Sam’s Club purchases.
Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi offers 4% back on up to $7,000 in annual gas purchases and electric vehicle (EV) charging, plus 3% at restaurants and on many travel purchases, 2% at Costco and 1% on everything else. Cash back is provided annually. These cards require membership in the affiliated warehouse club.