October 30, 2020
Best credit card - CNET

Best credit card – CNET


Credit cards can be both a godsend and a devil’s tool. Used conscientiously — meaning that the balance is promptly paid in full each and every month — they’re an efficient and convenient way to pay for stuff, earn cash back and rewards and build up a credit score and history. But perils abound. And a credit card user who spends beyond their means, pays bills late or gets caught up in onerous interest rates and fees can quickly end up in a quicksand-filled ditch of debt. 

Of course, not all credit cards are created equal. Some are designed for particular kinds of transactions — but definitely not others. For example, you wouldn’t want to transfer a balance to a rewards credit card with a high annual percentage rate. And certain maneuvers may require a little bit of math. Case in point: a balance transfer card with a 0% APR may not always be the best one for you. 

Best credit cards, compared

Best cash-back card Best travel credit card Best card for balance transfers Best card for students Best card for Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers Best card for Apple Pay super-users (and privacy enthusiasts)
Chase Freedom Unlimited Capital One Venture Card US Bank Visa Platinum Discover it Student Chrome Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Apple Card
Annual fee $0 $95 $0 $0 $0 $0
Credit requirement 670 to 850 720 to 850 680 to 850 No credit history required but you do need proof of income 580 to 850 580 to 850
Purchase APR 16.49% to 25.24% variable 17.24% – 24.49% variable 13.99% to 23.99% variable 12.99% to 21.99% (0% for the first 6 months) 15.74% to 23.74% variable 12.49% to 23.49% variable

Ultimately, a lot depends on how you plan to use a credit card. Are you expecting to carry a balance from month to month or will you reliably pay it off? Looking to earn reward points or miles to redeem for travel? Are you a student who needs to finance a bunch of back-to-school purchases? But, then, some credit cards are just clearly better than others — offering more generous terms and conditions, better rewards, lower interest rates and fees and more consumer-friendly privacy policies. 

In 2020, we’ve looked at dozens of credit cards and identified the best ones across a variety of categories. We’ve analyzed reward credit cards — including those that pay cash back on every purchase, earn you reward miles for all kinds of travel expenses, or focus on one particular airline. We’ve assessed which credit cards are best for students, optimal for Amazon Prime shoppers and worthwhile for Apple Pay aficionados. Note that we continuously monitor these cards (and their interest rates) and keep our eyes peeled for new ones, too. Our current top picks are presented below.

Best cash-back card

Chase

  • Reward rates: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and 5% back on travel, 3% back on dining, 3% back on drugstore purchases
  • Annual fee: $0
  • New member bonus: $200
  • Bonus redemption threshold: $500 in first three months
  • Credit requirement: 670 to 850
  • Intro APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers (15 months)
  • APR for purchases: 16.49% to 25.24% variable
  • APR for balance transfers: 16.49% to 25.24% variable
  • Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

Most of the best cash-back cards offer a simple, flat rate and no fees. Until recently, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card gave you all of that — a flat rate of 1.5% cash back on all purchases, without a spending limit, no annual fee and flexible redemption policies. In September 2020, however, Chase improved on that deal, adding a little bit of worthwhile complexity and ratcheting up the reward rates on travel (5%), dining (3%), and drugstore purchases (3%). While it’s no longer the simplest, we think it’s the best cash-back card for most people.

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Best travel card

CapitalOne

  • Reward rates: 2x miles on everyday purchases, 5x miles (hotel and car rental only) made through Capital One Travel
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles
  • Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $3,000 in first three months
  • APR: 17.24% – 24.49% Variable
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Credit requirement: 720 to 850

The Capital One Venture is a straightforward, easy-to-use credit card for booking travel with reward points. And those reward points are generated whenever you spend — so there’s no need to worry whether a particular category is eligible. And though the rewards rate is lower than some higher-fee competitors, the annual fee is significantly lower. That noted, if you plan to spend more than $10,000 on the card annually, you may be better off with a higher-fee card.

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best travel credit cards.

The best student credit card

  • Standard APR: 12.99% to 21.99% (0% for the first 6 months)
  • Penalty APR: None
  • Late payment fee: Up to $40
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Cash back rewards: 2% on gas and dining, up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter; 1% on all other purchases 
  • Foreign transaction fee: 0%
  • Standout feature: No late fee for first late payment
  • Eligibility requirements: No credit history required, proof of income 

The Discover it Student Chrome offers a winning combination of cash back and other rewards as well as lenient terms for first-time credit card holders. You won’t get dinged for a late payment — at least the first one — or have to deal with an exorbitant penalty APR. And, of course, getting 1 to 2% back in rewards each month is a welcome bonus. Note that Discover offers another similar card, the Discover it Student Cash Back credit card, but the rotating bonus categories make things overcomplicated, especially for first-time cardholders. 

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best student credit cards.

Best card for balance transfers

  • Introductory APR: 20 months of 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases
  • Standard APR: 13.99% to 23.99%, variable
  • Penalty APR: None
  • Introductory balance transfer fee: N/A
  • Standard balance transfer fee: 3% or $5, whichever is greater
  • How long you have to make transfers: 60 days
  • Credit requirement: 680 to 850
  • Annual fee: $0

Paying down credit card debt can be exhausting. A balance on an account with a high interest rate can take years to pay off — or worse, balloon out of control. A balance transfer credit card, used properly, can offer you a relatively cost-efficient opportunity to catch up. The US Bank Visa Platinum offers one of the longest zero percent introductory APR periods — 20 months — combined with one of the lowest fees, 3%.

Learn more in CNET’s roundup of the best balance transfer credit cards.

Best card for Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers

  • Reward rates: 5% on Amazon, Whole Foods; 2% at restaurants, gas stations, drugstores; 1% on everything else
  • Annual fee: $0
  • New member bonus: $100 Amazon Gift Card
  • Bonus redemption threshold: Card approval
  • Credit requirement: 580 to 850
  • Intro APR: None
  • APR for purchases: 15.74% to 23.74% variable
  • APR for balance transfers: 15.74% to 23.74% variable
  • Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

This card is a must-have for anyone who shops regularly on Amazon. And given that you can buy just about anything on Amazon — 5% back on all purchases there is pretty sweet. The card also features 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations and drug stores and 1% on everything else. (Note that Amazon offers a basic, non-Prime member card that features 3% cash back on Amazon purchases; but if you’re spending more than $250 per month at Amazon or Whole Foods, you should be a Prime member.)

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best travel credit cards.

Best card for Apple Pay super-users (and privacy enthusiasts)

Apple

  • Reward rates: 3% on Apple, Uber and Walgreens purchases; 2% on Apple Pay purchases; 1% on everything else
  • Annual fee: $0
  • New member bonus: $0
  • Bonus redemption threshold: None
  • Credit requirement: 580 to 850
  • Intro APR: None
  • APR for purchases: 12.49% to 23.49% variable
  • APR for balance transfers: Not offered
  • Balance transfer fee: Not offered

The Apple Card is a beautiful but odd duck. Crafted out of sleek titanium, the card looks like it was birthed from a slot on a MacBook Pro. But it’s the iPhone that unleashes its true potential: When you use Apple Pay — the company’s digital wallet and touchless payment feature — you get 2% cash back on all purchases. (Of course, the Citi Double Cash Card offers up to 2% on everything, no matter how you pay.) Otherwise, the Apple Card’s rewards program is a mish-mash of cash back offers: 3% cash back on purchases of Apple gear and services, Uber and Walgreens purchases and 1% back on everything else. 

But there are a few other noteworthy features. The Apple Card’s privacy policy states that it will “never share or sell your data to third parties for marketing or advertising” — a commitment that’s rare in an ordinarily mercenary industry. Apple delivers your cash-back rewards at the end of each day, instead of the usual month-long billing cycle. And Apple does not charge late fees, an annual fee or foreign transaction fees.  

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Read more: Everything you need to know about choosing a credit card



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