Our Top 10 Credit Cards

We reviewed hundreds of offers and whittled down the list to the 10 best. Some offer exceptionally long 0% intro APR periods designed for people who have credit card debt, while others offer high-end rewards to cater to the high-income, high-credit score cohort. Check out the picks to learn which is right for you and read our in-depth guide for more credit card essentials.

Great for: Unlimited travel rewards and hotels Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

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Our Bottom Line

Few travel cards can go toe-to-toe with this offer's lineup, including the sign-up bonus, unlimited rewards, and best-in-class hotel rewards program.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Good/Excellent
Highlights
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
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Great for: Travel points transfers and sign-up bonus Chase Sapphire Preferred®

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Our Bottom Line

Practically a must-have card for travelers, due to its sign-up bonus and points program that is the most flexible on the market.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Good/Excellent
Highlights

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

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Great for: Bonus cash back Discover it® Cash Back

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Our Bottom Line

A clear cash-back leader with a laundry list of perks, including double cash back in the first year and other essential wallet-friendly features like no annual fee.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Good/Excellent
Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No annual fee.
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Rates & Fees

Great for: Balance transfers and cash rewards Discover it® Balance Transfer

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Our Bottom Line

Few cards can top this offer. The balance transfer offer and cash rewards program, alone, are best in class, but you get both in one card without having to pay an annual fee.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Good/Excellent
Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No annual fee.
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Rates & Fees

Great for: $0 intro balance transfer fee The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

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The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Our Bottom Line

One of the few remaining balance-transfer cards that include an intro $0 balance transfer fee. Add in the premium rewards and welcome bonus, and it's hard to ignore.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Good/Excellent
Highlights
  • Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 14.74% to 25.74%.
  • $0 balance transfer fee. Balance transfers must be requested within 60 days from account opening.
  • 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x); 1x points on other purchases.
  • Use your Card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period and earn 20% more points on those purchases less returns and credits.
  • Over 1.5 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
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Great for: Cash sign-up bonus Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

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Our Bottom Line

$200 bonus for spending just $1,000 is now a rare perk as other issuers have pulled back on competing offers. Take advantage while you can, especially since there's no annual fee.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Good/Excellent
Highlights

  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
  • Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Google Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
  • No category restrictions or sign ups and cash rewards don’t expire as long as your account remains open
  • 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 Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers (fees apply), then a 15.99%-26.99% variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Select “Apply Now” to learn more about the product features, terms, and conditions

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Great for: Points versatility Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

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Our Bottom Line

3x points for a long list of spending categories. We've not come across a no-annual-fee card that offers premium earn rates for travel, gas, and restaurants in one card.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Good/Excellent
Highlights

  • New! Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that’s a $300 cash redemption value
  • Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in
  • Earn 3X points for gas stations, rideshares and transit
  • Earn 3X points for travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
  • Earn 1X points on other purchases
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers (fees apply), then a 14.49%-26.99% variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee
  • Select "Apply Now" to learn more about the product features, terms, and conditions

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Great for: Long balance transfer offer U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

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U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
Our Bottom Line

One of the longest 0% intro APRs on the market. Great balance transfer card if you're tackling a large debt balance and want to avoid interest for nearly two years.

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Credit Rating Requirement: excellent
Highlights
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles. After that, a variable APR currently 11.74% - 23.74%
  • Great Offer for Customers of U.S. Bank, a 2018 World's Most Ethical Company® - Ethisphere Institute, February 2018
  • No Annual Fee
  • Flexibility to choose a payment due date that fits your schedule
  • 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.
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Great for: Students and cash back Discover it® Student Cash Back

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Our Bottom Line

Good cash rewards program and student credit card usually don't fit into the same sentence. This card reverses that trend and it's a clear winner in the category.

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Credit Rating Requirement: fair
Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time 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.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.99% - 23.99%.
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Rates & Fees

Great for: Bad credit or no history Discover it® Secured

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Our Bottom Line

No annual fees and a FICO® Score for free are requirements in this category. The card delivers both, plus a generous cash rewards program that beats out competing cards that tend to offer none.

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Credit Rating Requirement: Bad/Rebuilding/No History
Highlights
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It’s a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit from $200-$2500 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.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
  • We automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
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Get our latest tips and uncover more of our top picks to help you conquer your money goals

How we picked the top credit cards

Here’s what we looked for when making our top 10 list of credit cards:

Travel cards -- We have a basic rubric for travel cards, looking for offers that include lucrative sign-up bonuses, and rewards that are easy to earn and use. We also think a travel card shouldn’t charge foreign transaction fees, which can add up to as much as 3% on amounts spent abroad.

Cash-back cards -- Cash-back cards that offer lucrative rewards with low minimum redemption thresholds claim their rightful place in our top 10 list. Many of our best picks in cash back cards also supplement their high on-going rewards rates with new cardholder bonuses that can add up to hundreds of dollars in nearly-immediate cash value for qualifying cardholders.

0% APR cards -- Cards that offer 0% intro APRs are plentiful, but we looked for offers with long 0% promo periods and gave bonus points to cards that allow cardholders to move a balance without paying a balance transfer fee. We view the top 0% intro APR cards as tools that can help you finance a purchase for a short period of time at no cost, or break the cycle of credit card debt with 0% intro balance transfers.

Why you can trust us

Together, we’ve spent years looking for the top credit card offers for own wallets, earning cash back and travel rewards that have bolstered our budgets and helped us take trips that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. We carefully studied the fine print on more than 300 credit card offers to pick the very best for readers of The Ascent, mixing in our knowledge of the credit card landscape to find cards with compelling features you can’t find elsewhere. When you look over our favorite picks, we think you’ll agree that the cards we selected for the top 10 really are the best you can find today.

Why you should have a credit card

Credit cards are more than just a way to finance a purchase. Used wisely, they can help you build credit, reduce the risk of fraud, and potentially help you earn rewards on every swipe.

Build credit -- One of the best reasons to have a credit card is to build credit that can help you secure the lowest rates on mortgages, car loans, and qualify for better credit card offers over time. Cardholders who always pay their balances in full each month and use less than 30% of their credit limits are on the fast track to a super-prime credit score in excess of 800.

Protect yourself from fraud -- Credit cards are a safer way to pay than cash or debit. By law, you are only liable for up to $50 of losses if someone uses your card to make a purchase, but most card issuers have a $0 fraud liability policy that completely protects you if your card or card number is lost or stolen. In contrast, if a fraudulent purchase isn’t reported in time, debit card users can be liable for all of the unauthorized purchases.

Rewards -- Debit card rewards were dealt a death blow thanks to a 2011 regulatory change, making credit cards one of the few ways to earn rewards on purchases. Getting 2% cash back (or more) from a credit card is like getting a 2% discount on everything you buy, which can really add up over the course of months or years.

How to use credit cards the right way

Like a razor-sharp knife, a credit card is nothing more than a useful tool when used correctly and safely, but in the wrong hands, it can end in disaster (expensive credit card debt). Here’s our list of the best practices for using a credit card to build credit, earn rewards, and avoid fees and interest charges all at the same time.

  1. Don’t carry a balance (unless you get a 0% intro APR) -- Credit cards are a great way to make a payment, but they are a very expensive way to borrow money. The typical credit card can carry interest rates of 18% per year, or more, several times higher than rates on mortgages or car loans.

  2. Pay on time -- It’s imperative that you pay your balance in full, and on time, in order to avoid any interest or late payment fees. Even the best credit cards can charge late payment fees of $30 or more, just for being a day late on a payment. Being more than 30 days late can have serious negative consequences to your credit score. Set up payment reminders to help you keep tabs on when your payments are due, or automate the payments in advance.

  3. Treat credit cards like debit cards or cash -- Just because your card allows you to spend up to $10,000 doesn’t mean you should do it. If you don’t have the cash in the bank to cover a purchase, you probably shouldn’t charge it to your credit card. We like to think of credit cards as a way to pay, not as a way to borrow.

  4. Keep your balances low -- One key factor that affects your credit score is your credit utilization, or your balances as a percentage of your credit limit. Experts suggest keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30% at all times for best results. Thus, if you have a credit limit of $5,000, you’ll get the most benefit to your credit score by keeping your balance under $1,500.

  5. Redeem rewards carefully -- Some redemption methods offer more value than others. Points or miles earned by travel cards are generally worth more when redeemed for travel than cash back. Some cards, particularly cash-back cards, offer more value when you redeem your rewards for gift cards at certain retailers (2,500 points worth $25 in cash might be redeemable for a gift card worth $30, for example).

  6. Sign up for bonuses -- Many cards offer rotating bonus rewards for spending at certain merchants including restaurants, department stores, or gas stations. Most require that you opt-in by clicking a link on your account online to start earning bonuses. Since bonus rewards are the key feature of category cards, you’ll want to be sure that you opt-in every three months so as to maximize your rewards yield on your spending.

Top credit card FAQ

The best credit cards have some features you won’t find on other cards, which means there is often some vocabulary that even experienced credit card users haven’t encountered before. Here are some frequently asked questions we anticipate about some features of our top picks.

What’s a statement credit?

Many cash back and travel rewards cards offer statement credit redemptions. This means that the points or miles you earn can be used to reduce the balance on your statement. Cash-back cards typically allow you to redeem in increments of $25 or less, so when you meet the minimum redemption threshold, you can redeem your rewards to reduce the balance you owe on the card.

Travel cards that use statement credits work a little differently because the statement credit is applied to a specific purchase. For example, if you have 10,000 points or miles, you may be able to redeem them to erase all or part of a specific purchase. If you book a hotel at a cost of $500, redeeming 10,000 points or miles would typically reduce the charge to $400, thus valuing each point or mile at $0.01 each (10,000 × .01 = $100).

How do sign-up bonuses work?

We tend to refer to sign-up bonuses as new cardholder bonuses because you have to do a little more than just sign up for the credit card. A typical bonus will give you a certain amount of cash, points, or miles for spending a certain amount in a predetermined amount of time.

Cash-back cards typically offer $100 to $200 in value for spending $500 to $1,000 on the card in the first three months after account opening. Travel cards can offer travel value ranging from $100 to $750 for spending $500 to $4,000 in the first three months after account opening.

Keep in mind that the date of account opening isn’t necessarily when you receive your card. If you’re worried about meeting the minimum spending requirement in time, call or send a message to the card company to confirm the date at which you need to have made a certain amount of spending. They’ll be happy to give you a specific day when the promo period ends.

Does a FICO® Score for free really matter?

Though there are many services that offer free credit scores, few actually offer a real FICO® Score. Most simply offer what’s known as a FAKO score, or an approximation of your real credit score. We like when a card provides a real FICO® Score as an added perk.

Getting a real FICO® Score can be helpful as a learning tool, since you’ll see how changes in your account balances affect your score. It also acts as an alert service, notifying you when new accounts appear on your credit report, so you can be proactive if there’s an error on your report, or a new account you don’t recognize.

What are some unique features I should know about?

Many of our top 10 credit cards have a killer feature that separates them from other cards that make the list. In the table below, we’ll show you some of the big benefits that are unique to certain cards, which may steer you toward one particular card.

Credit card Killer feature
Chase Sapphire Preferred® and Chase Sapphire Reserve® Enhanced insurance for rental cars, and rewards that can be transferred to other loyalty programs.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Loyalty bonuses that increase the rewards you earn by up to 75%
Chase Slate® and BankAmericard® Credit Card 0% intro APRs on balance transfers, plus no fees on balances transferred in the first 60 days after account opening
Discover it® Cash Back Double cash back in the first year

With so many credit cards out there, it’s easier than ever to find a card that threads the needle for rewards, low APRs, and other perks that fit perfectly with what you need in a credit card.

Should I pay an annual fee for a credit card?

It can make sense to pay an annual fee for a credit card. That said, we think everyone should start with a no-annual-fee credit card. That’s because a no-annual-fee credit card can serve as an important building block for your credit report since you can keep it open for years or decades without incurring a charge just to keep it open. (Key parts of your credit score are the age of your oldest accounts and the average age of all of your accounts.)

People who already have a no-annual-fee credit card may want to consider a card with an annual fee, but it typically only makes sense to pay an annual fee if it gives you an increased rewards rate. For example, consider the case of a card that offers 1.5% cash back with no annual fee and another card that offers 2% cash back with an annual fee of $50.

These two cards would breakeven at $10,000 of annual spending ($50 fee ÷ 0.005 = $10,000). Above $10,000 in annual spending, the card with the annual fee would offer more value. Below that, the no annual fee card is a better pick.

To recap, here are the top 10 credit cards

Card Rating Great For…
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Graphic of Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
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Great For:

Unlimited travel rewards and hotels

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Graphic of Chase Sapphire Preferred®
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Great For:

Travel points transfers and sign-up bonus

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Great For:

Bonus cash back

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Great For:

Balance transfers and cash rewards

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Great For:

$0 intro balance transfer fee

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Great For:

Cash sign-up bonus

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Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Excellent
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Great For:

Points versatility

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Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon
4.5 stars Info icon We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Best
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Excellent
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Good
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Fair
Star Review Icon = Poor
Great For:

Long balance transfer offer

Discover it® Student Cash Back Graphic of Discover it® Student Cash Back
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon
4.5 stars Info icon We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Best
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Excellent
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Good
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Fair
Star Review Icon = Poor
Great For:

Students and cash back

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4.0 stars Info icon We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Best
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Excellent
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Good
Star Review Icon Star Review Icon = Fair
Star Review Icon = Poor
Great For:

Bad credit or no history