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Best Credit Cards of May 2021

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The Ascent's shortlist of the best credit cards for 2021 contains the market-leading picks. They include perks, such as lucrative rewards programs, big sign-up bonuses, long 0% intro APR offers to avoid interest, and no annual fees.

Add up the value of these benefits and it's not uncommon for the top credit cards to pack in upwards of $1,000 in value. Whether you're looking for a rewards card, a balance transfer card, a business credit card, a secured card to help you build credit, or simply a good credit card offer, there's a card out there for everyone.

To help you navigate the market, our experts crunched the numbers on hundreds of credit cards and included only our select few top picks below. Read on to learn more about the best credit card offers that we would recommend to our closest friends and family.

Apply Now

On Bank of America's Secure Website.


Rewards

3% cash back in your choice category, 2% at grocery stores & wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), 1% on all other purchases.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 15 billing cycles

Balance Transfers: 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days

Ongoing APR

13.99% - 23.99% Variable

Welcome Bonus

$200 after making at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening

Highlights

  • No annual fee
  • $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice, automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases) and unlimited 1% on all other purchases
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee (min $10) applies to all balance transfers
  • No expiration on rewards
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% - 75% more cash back on every purchase
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap
  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or when visiting Bank of America Financial Centers. To take advantage of this offer, click "Apply Now" above.
Apply Now

On Chase's Secure Website.


Rewards

2x points on travel and dining, 1x points on all other purchases. 25% more points for travel booked through Chase's portal.

Annual Fee

$95

Intro APR

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Ongoing APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Welcome Bonus

80,000 points after spending $4,000 within 3 months

Highlights

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.


Rewards

5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 14 months

Balance Transfers: 0%, 14 months

Ongoing APR

11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Welcome Bonus

Dollar-for-dollar match of all cash back earned the first year

Highlights

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back in any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • #1 Most Trusted Credit Card according to Investor’s Business Daily.
  • No annual fee.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
Apply Now

On Citi's Secure Website.


Rewards

N/A

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 18 months

Balance Transfers: 0%, 18 months

Ongoing APR

14.74% - 24.74%, variable

Welcome Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • 0% Intro APR for 18 months on purchases from date of account opening and 0% Intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer. After that the variable APR will be 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Get free access to your FICO® Score online.
  • With Citi Entertainment®, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
  • Shop with confidence knowing that you have dependable protection benefits, including $0 Liability on Unauthorized Charges and Citi® Identity Theft Solutions.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Apply Now

On American Express' Secure Website.


Rewards

6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets ($6,000 spending cap per year), 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, 1% back on all else

Annual Fee

$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Foreign Transaction Fee

2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars.

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 12 months

Balance Transfers: N/A

Ongoing APR

13.99%-23.99% Variable

Welcome Bonus

Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.

Highlights

  • Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95.
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • Terms Apply.
Apply Now

On Chase's Secure Website.


Rewards

Unlimited 1.5% cash back, 5% cash back on travel through Chase

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 15 months

Balance Transfers: N/A

Ongoing APR

14.99% - 23.74% Variable

Welcome Bonus

$200 after spending $500 within 3 months

Highlights

  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
Apply Now

On Chase's Secure Website.


Rewards

5% cash back ($1,500 spending cap for bonus categories each quarter you activate), 1% back on all else

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 15 months

Balance Transfers: N/A

Ongoing APR

14.99% - 23.74% Variable

Welcome Bonus

$200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months

Highlights

  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
Apply Now

On Citi's Secure Website.


Rewards

2% cash back: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: 0%, 18 months

Ongoing APR

13.99% – 23.99%, variable

Welcome Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.


Rewards

5% cash back at different places each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 6 months

Balance Transfers: 0%, 18 months

Ongoing APR

11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Welcome Bonus

Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Highlights

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • #1 Most Trusted Credit Card according to Investor’s Business Daily.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • No annual fee.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
Apply Now

On Bank of America's Secure Website.


Rewards

None

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 18 billing cycles

Balance Transfers: 0% Intro APR for 18 billing cycles for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days

Ongoing APR

12.99% - 22.99% Variable

Welcome Bonus

None

Highlights

  • 0% Introductory APR for 18 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 12.99% - 22.99% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee (min $10) applies to all balance transfers
  • No annual fee
  • No penalty APR. Paying late won't automatically raise your interest rate (APR). Other account pricing and terms apply
  • Access your FICO® Score for free within Online Banking or your Mobile Banking app
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap
  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or when visiting Bank of America Financial Centers. To take advantage of this offer, click "Apply Now" above.

Rewards

N/A

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 20 billing cycles

Balance Transfers: 0%, 20 billing cycles

Ongoing APR

14.49% - 24.49%, variable

Welcome Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles. After that, a variable APR currently 14.49% - 24.49%.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Fraud protection detects and notifies you of any unusual card activity.
  • Free TransUnion® Credit Score when you enroll in Online Banking.
  • Choose your payment due date.
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your U.S.Bank Visa® Platinum Credit Card. Certain terms, conditions, and exclusions apply.

Rewards

4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases

Annual Fee

$95

Intro APR

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Ongoing APR

15.99% - 24.99%, variable

Welcome Bonus

$300 after spending $3,000 within 3 months

Highlights

  • Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases.
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Capital One cardholders get access to premium experiences in dining, entertainment and more
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card is temporarily unavailable on The Ascent. All information was collected independently from the issuer. Some items may be out of date.
Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.


Rewards

5% cash back at different places each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 6 months

Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months

Ongoing APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR

Welcome Bonus

Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Highlights

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.


Rewards

2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months

Ongoing APR

22.99% Variable APR

Welcome Bonus

Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Highlights

  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • Using your secured credit card helps build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, prepaid and debit cards can’t do that.
  • Establish your credit line with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.

A credit card can be one of your most valuable financial tools -- if used correctly. When you know the right moves to make, you can maximize cash rewards or travel rewards, avoid decades of debt, and protect your credit score. Our credit card guide could help you learn these important skills -- or maybe even find your next favorite card.

How does a credit card work?

A credit card allows you to pay for purchases by borrowing money. The maximum amount you can borrow at one time is called your credit limit. The money you've already borrowed is your balance, and the amount you have left to borrow is your available credit.

At the end of each billing cycle, the card issuer will send you a statement listing the transactions you made. It will list your total balance, as well as the minimum payment due during that billing cycle. You must pay at least the minimum amount by the due date to avoid a late fee -- although it's a good idea to pay more than the minimum if you can afford it.

Credit cards are most often used for purchases, but many of them can also be used for other types of transactions, such as cash advances and balance transfers.

How does credit card interest work?

Credit card interest is the fee a card issuer can charge when you borrow money with your credit card. The amount of interest charged depends on the card's annual percentage rate (APR). Many credit cards have different APRs for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. Most credit cards have a variable APR. A variable APR is an interest rate that can change over time.

The type of transaction also determines when your card issuer starts charging you interest. For example, cash advances almost always start racking up interest immediately. Purchases are different. Just about any top-rated credit card will only charge interest for purchases that aren't paid off by the payment due date. Savvy consumers take advantage of this, pay in full, and never have to deal with credit card interest.

TIP

How to avoid paying credit card interest

Credit card interest is one of those unnecessary charges that you should do your best to avoid. There are two ways to accomplish this.

Pay off balances by the due date: The simplest option is to only use your credit card for purchases you can afford. Pay the entire statement balance on or before the due date. If you do this every billing cycle, you'll never end up with any interest charges.

Get a 0% APR credit card: With these credit card offers, you'll pay zero interest for the entire intro period. A 0% APR can apply to purchases, balance transfers, or both, so make sure you choose the right one. The APR will go up after the card's intro period ends -- it's important to pay off your balance by then.

Types of credit cards

Though there are many different types of credit cards, they all fall into certain categories based on their features and rewards programs. Here are the different types of credit cards and the best credit cards and credit card deals right now within each category.

Travel credit cards

With travel cards, you can redeem your points or miles for free or discounted travel. There are also quite a few top travel credit cards that offer extra travel perks, such as free access to airport lounges, hotel upgrades, and travel insurance. An airline credit card, hotel credit card, and general travel credit card would all fall under this category.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: 2 Chase Ultimate Reward points per $1 on travel and dining

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best travel rewards credit cards

Rewards credit cards

This category includes every credit card that earns purchase rewards. With so many cards to choose from, you'll find a diverse mix of rewards credit cards that earn cash back, travel points, and store rewards.

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best rewards credit cards

Cash back credit cards

With this type of rewards card, you earn rewards that can be redeemed as cash or a statement credit. Depending on the card, you may be able to redeem your cash back as a statement credit towards your credit card balance, a deposit to a bank account, or as a check. You'll find cards that earn the same flat rate on every purchase as well as cards that earn extra in bonus categories among the best cash back cards.

  • Discover it® Cash Back: 5% back in rotating quarterly bonus categories you activate up to $1,500 quarterly spending cap, 1% back on all else
  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 annual spending cap, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, 1% back on all else
  • Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: Unlimited 2% back on every purchase (1% when you make the purchase, 1% when you pay it off)
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Unlimited 1.5% cash back
  • Chase Freedom Flex℠: Up to 5% back in rotating categories you active each quarter ($1,500 spending cap quarterly)
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: 3% cash back in a category of your choice and 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on up to $2,500 in combined bonus category purchases per quarter)
  • Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: 4% unlimited cash back on dining

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best cash back credit cards

Balance transfer credit cards

This type of card offers a lower, introductory APR on balance transfers. Many of the top balance transfer cards have a 0% intro APR on balance transfers and intro periods can last for well over a year. If you want to refinance credit card debt and save money on interest, a balance transfer card is ideal.

  • Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: 18-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers
  • U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: 20-billing-cycle 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases
  • Discover it® Balance Transfer: 18-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers, after which the go-to variable rate applies

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best balance transfer credit cards

High limit credit cards

Some credit cards tend to offer higher credit limits than most. These high limit credit cards let you spend more, and they can also help you protect your credit by making it easier to keep your credit utilization ratio low. You typically need excellent credit to qualify.

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best high limit credit cards

0% APR credit cards

Cards in this category have a 0% intro APR that applies to purchases. They're a smart choice if you need to buy something expensive, but you can't afford to pay in full upfront. The most popular 0% APR credit cards also often have those intro deals for a year or longer.

  • BankAmericard® credit card: 18-billing-cycle 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers made within 60 days

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best 0% APR credit cards

Credit cards for building credit

You need to pay a security deposit to open a secured credit card, which is typically used for rebuilding or building credit. The security deposit is often (but not always) equal to your starting credit limit. High-quality secured credit cards can usually graduate to unsecured cards, meaning you get your deposit back if you make enough on-time payments.

  • Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Up to 2% cash back and free FICO® Score tracking

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best secured credit cards

Looking to rebuild credit?: Check out The Ascent's best credit cards for bad credit

Student credit cards

If you're in college, you can get started on building your credit with a student credit card. Even though these cards are for students, there are some excellent perks to be found with the best student credit cards. Some cards include free credit score tracking and money back for good grades.

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: 5% back on rotating quarterly bonus categories you activate up to $1,500 quarterly spending cap, 1% back on all else

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best student credit cards

Store credit cards

Many chain stores, from Macy's to Target to Lowe's, offer their own credit cards. Sometimes these credit cards are accepted everywhere, but often they're only for use in-store. Store credit cards usually come with exclusive discounts and rewards that can only be used at that store. Make sure to read the fine print on any zero-interest offers from store credit cards, as they can involve deferred interest, which is tricky and can lead to hefty surprise interest charges.

Compare more picks: Check out The Ascent's best store credit cards

Find the best credit card for your needs

Compare credit card bonuses, rewards, fees and more using our side-by-side credit card comparison!

Do you need a credit card?

Although a credit card isn't a necessity, there are several ways it can help you financially:

  • Improving credit: A credit card can help you build or rebuild your credit. When you use your credit card and pay the bill on time, your credit score will go up. This can help you qualify for financing, such as a car loan or mortgage, at a low interest rate.
  • Earning rewards: With rewards credit cards, you can earn cash back or travel points on every purchase.
  • Fraud protection: Legally, you're only liable for up to $50 in losses if your credit card is used fraudulently. But most credit card companies go even further. Many credit cards offer zero-liability policies -- meaning you aren't responsible for any fraudulent charges. You also don't need to worry about a thief draining your bank account through your credit card (which could happen if your debit card was stolen).
  • Extra perks and discounts: Credit cards can offer all kinds of benefits, such as extended warranty coverage on purchases or complimentary rental car insurance. Many of the best credit cards have features that can be worth hundreds of dollars or more.

How many credit cards should I have?

The right number of credit cards for most people is one. That's particularly important for cardholders using credit cards for rewards, since the juice may not always be worth the squeeze when carrying multiple cards and using each to optimize rewards for each spending category. It's even more true for cardholders carrying debt. The best credit cards help you earn big on all your everyday purchases while avoiding fees.

But this isn't necessarily the right mantra for everyone. There's no doubt that savvy cardholders carrying multiple cards can wring out a good amount of value. With the right strategy and a financial discipline, having a few of the best cards for different uses can be worthwhile.

When should I have one credit card?

You should stick to one credit card if:

  • You want to keep your finances as simple as possible.
  • You've never had a credit card before, or you've been using credit cards for less than a year.
  • You've had problems with missed credit card payments or overspending.
  • You value simplicity in managing your finances and don't want to worry about tracking multiple bills.

When should I have multiple credit cards?

You should carry multiple credit cards if you want more card benefits and you're confident in your ability to manage everything. There are some big advantages to having multiple cards:

  • You can carry cards that earn more in different areas, such as one flat-rate cash back card and another with bonus categories. This is a simple way to maximize your rewards.
  • You can use features from each of your cards and get more value overall. Instead of choosing between two of the best credit card deals, you can have both.
  • You'll have more available credit, which helps you maintain a lower credit utilization ratio. This can result in a higher credit score.

What is the best credit card?

The best credit card for most people is the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer. It will get you a 2% cash back rate on all purchases, making it one of the most lucrative and flexible credit cards on the market. The $0 annual fee and lengthy balance transfer offer are also a big draw. The best credit card to have will depend on your unique situation.

We've chosen the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer as the best credit card of 2021 for these following reasons:

  • 2% back is the highest cash back rate for all purchases: This card earns 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay it off.
  • Cash back is flexible: While some people may find travel points valuable, everyone can use cash back.
  • There a $0 annual fee: It's always a plus when you won't need to pay anything extra for your credit card.
  • It includes a long 0% APR offer: The card's versatility shines even more with a 0% APR offer for 18 months for balance transfers.

Learn more about what this card offers in our Citi Double Cash benefits guide.

How to choose a credit card

Any time you're going to apply for a credit card, you want to make sure you choose the right one. Here's how to pick a credit card:

Decide which type of card you want. This will narrow down your credit card offers considerably, so it makes sense to do this first. If you're most interested in, for example, earning travel points, then there's no need to look at the best credit card offers for a 0% intro APR.

Compare credit cards in that category. Once you've chosen a type of card, it's time to compare credit cards side by side. Find the best credit cards in that category and then decide which is best for you. Here's how to compare credit cards:

  • Figure out the features that are most important to you. This will depend on the type of card you're choosing. Let's say you need a balance transfer card. The features to look at would be the length of each card's balance transfer offer and its balance transfer fees.
  • Check for any annual fees on the cards you're comparing. If you're stuck between two credit cards that work for you, one of them may have a cheaper annual fee.
  • Use secondary features as your tiebreaker. These are the features that aren't quite as important but still have value. Secondary features could include sign-up bonuses or a FICO® Score for free.
  • Read the fine print. All credit cards display common card features in a standardized format, including an outline of the APRs and lineup of fees. Keep an eye out for the following fees and compare them to other cards: Annual, balance transfer, cash advance, late payment, and foreign transaction.

How to apply for a credit card online

The simplest way to apply for a credit card is online, where you can complete an application in minutes. Here's how to apply for a credit card online:

  1. Choose a credit card and click "Apply Now": You'll find this link on the credit card page.
  2. Fill out the required information: Card applications ask for your personal information, including your name, mailing address, date of birth, and Social Security number. They also ask for financial information, including your income. Some companies might ask about your net worth.
  3. Submit the application: You may receive an instant decision of either an approval or a denial (hopefully approval). The card issuer could also put your application under review, meaning it needs more time to decide.

How to use a credit card

Whether your credit card helps or hurts you all depends on how you use it. To ensure that your credit card provides value and doesn't get you in debt, here are a few key guidelines:

  • Use your credit card regularly: To build your payment history and increase your credit score, you need to use your credit card for at least one purchase per month. That's just a minimum, though. If you have a rewards card, consider putting all your purchases on your credit card to earn as much back as you can.
  • Only charge what you can afford: It's safest to only purchase what you can afford with the money you have your bank account. This will help you avoid overspending and debt. The exception is when you have a card with a 0% intro APR on purchases, since those are designed for financing expenses.
  • Pay on time and in full: Late payments can lead to fees, interest charges, and a lower credit score. Missing a payment does not help your credit score; carrying a balance does not help your credit score. It's important to always pay on or before the due date. Once again, 0% APR credit cards are an exception. You can carry a balance on those during the intro period without interest (though you still need to make the minimum payment).
  • Take advantage of your card's perks: All of the good credit cards have their share of benefits. Spend some time learning what your card's benefits are so that you can use them when you need them.

Important credit card terms

Annual percentage rate (APR): The annual percentage rate is charged for carrying a balance on a credit card, expressed as an annual percentage. With credit cards, the APR is the same as the interest rate.

Balance: The amount owed on a credit card, including all unpaid transactions and fees. The balance at the end of a statement period is called the statement balance.

Balance transfer: Moving a balance from one credit card to another. This is usually done when the new card offers a lower APR. Not every credit card offers balance transfers, and many of the cards with this feature charge a balance transfer fee.

Cash advance: Withdrawing cash from a credit card, most often through cash advance checks, using the card at an ATM, or by wiring money with the card. Cash advances usually have a higher APR and start accruing interest immediately, so it's a poor way to use a credit card.

Credit card: A credit card is a revolving line of credit issued by a bank and connected to a revolving line of credit. The cardholder can use their credit card for purchases and possibly other types of transactions, although this depends on the card.

Credit limit: The credit card's spending limit. This can vary based on the type of transaction. On credit cards that offer cash advances, there is typically a lower credit limit for cash advances than for purchases. A transaction that would exceed a card's credit limit will be declined unless the cardholder has opted to allow over-the-limit transactions (and any potential fees that come with them).

Credit score: A credit score is a rating of a consumer's creditworthiness. The score indicates how likely it is that they will make bill payments on time and repay what they borrow. Credit scores are calculated based on the consumer's financial history.

Interest: A fee charged for borrowing money. The APR determines how much interest a credit card company can charge on balances.

Minimum payment: The minimum amount a cardholder can pay by the due date to remain current on their credit card bill and avoid a late fee.

FAQs

  • A credit card allows you to pay for purchases by borrowing money. The maximum amount you can borrow at one time is called your credit limit. The money you've already borrowed is your balance, and the amount you have left to borrow is your available credit.

  • The best credit card for many people is the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer. It will get you a 2% cash back rate on all purchases, making it one of the most lucrative and flexible credit cards on the market. The $0 annual fee and lengthy balance transfer offer are also a big draw. While this is an easy pick to recommend for many people, it's important to know that the market is packed with plenty of the best credit cards, ones included on this shortlist and not. The best credit card to have will depend on your unique situation.

  • You can compare credit card offers with our side-by-side credit card comparison tool. Pay attention to key features like the APR, annual fee, rewards system, welcome offers, and credit requirements.

  • The right number of credit cards for most people is one. That's particularly important for cardholders using credit cards for rewards, since the juice may not always be worth the squeeze when carrying multiple cards and using each to optimize rewards for each spending category.

  • Whether your credit card helps or hurts you all depends on how you use it. To ensure that your credit card provides value and doesn't get you in debt, here are a few key guidelines:

    • Use your credit card regularly
    • Only charge what you can afford
    • Pay on time and in full
    • Take advantage of your card's perks

To recap, here are the best credit cards of 2021

The Picks
Card Rating Great For
Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Bonus and cash rewards flexibility

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Travel sign up bonus

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Bonus category cash back

Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Balance transfers and 0% intro APR for purchases

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

U.S. supermarkets and gas

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Unlimited cash back

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Cash back versatility with a big bonus

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Balance transfers and cash back

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Balance transfers

Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

0% intro APR

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Long 0% intro APR offer

Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Dining

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Student cash back

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
Great For:

Building credit with cash back

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