[UPDATE: Some offers mentioned below have expired and/or are no longer available on our site. You can view the current offers from our partners in our credit card marketplace. DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
Among the dozens of credit card issuers in the U.S., there are hundreds of individual cards that are offered. On one hand, it is great that credit card users have so much choice; on the other hand, how does the typical credit card user figure out which is the best kind of credit card to have?
Asking which credit card is the best one to have is like asking which car is the best. A sports car will be fun to drive, but will be expensive and have little room for passengers and cargo. Likewise, an SUV will have plenty of room, but will get poor gas mileage.
In the same way, the credit card market is so specialized that the best cards for one use will have significant disadvantages for other uses. For instance, cards that offer the best rewards tend to have higher interest rates and annual fees — so they may be good for getting rewards, but not if you carry a balance. Of course, there is likely more room in your wallet for several different credit cards than there is in your garage for a collection of automobiles. With that in mind, here are the best kinds of credit cards to have, depending on how you’ll be using them.
Credit Cards for Beginners
Young adults and others who are new to credit cards need to focus on using these products responsibly while they build their credit. Therefore, the best kind of credit card for them to have is a simple one, issued by their bank or credit union. A simple credit card will have fewer fees, which will save cardholders money each month. For example, the Citi Simplicity has no late fees or penalty interest rate, while the PenFed Promise, issued by the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, has no fees at all. Both of these cards have no annual fee.
Credit Cards for International Travelers
Whether you enjoy making quick trips across the border, or like to take your vacations overseas, international travelers will want a full-featured card designed for their needs. The ideal card will have no foreign transaction fees, as well as an EMV smart chip to ensure compatibility with the latest generation of card readers being deployed around the world. In addition, frequent international travelers will want a card that provides airline benefits such as priority service and access to the business lounges. For example, the American Express Platinum card offers perks to travelers such as business lounge access, elite status with airlines and hotels, and statement credits toward airline fees.
Credit Cards for Those Who Carry a Balance
While credit cards are a secure method of payment, most cardholders also use their cards as a method of finance. These cardholders should focus on reducing their interest charges as much as possible. One way to do so is by choosing a card with a promotional financing offer. For example, the Chase Slate features 15 months of interest-free financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with no balance transfer fee. Otherwise, cardholders should look for cards with a low standard interest rate, such as the Visa Classic from Iberiabank, which offers rates as low as 7.25% APR.
Credit Cards for Rewards Earners
Rewards credit cards offer cardholders the opportunity to earn valuable points, miles or cash back from their purchases. Credit card users can pick one card that makes the most sense for their spending habits, or choose different cards for different types of purchases. For example, the Fidelity Rewards American Express card offers 2% cash back on all purchases, while the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back at grocery stores, as well as other amounts of bonus cash back at other retailers.
Before you shop for a credit card, it helps to know what your credit score is so you can target your search to cards for which you’re more likely to qualify. By checking your credit scores — which you can do with a free Credit.com account — you can see if you fall within the lender’s guidelines before you apply.
At publishing time, the Citi Simplicity, American Express Platinum card, Chase Slate and American Express Blue Cash Preferred are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com may be compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.