Best Credit Cards (Best of The Best 2017)

best credit cards

We know how overwhelming it can be sorting through different credit card offers to find the right one for you. While it can be difficult to differentiate between one cash back card and another, the good news is credit card companies are almost always offering attractive incentives to go with their cards. Millennial Money wants to help you navigate the world of credit cards by offering you simple, straight-up info on some of the hottest cards on the market.

*Keep in mind – credit card offers often change on a regular basis, so always be sure to read through the costs and benefits associated with each card. Applying for credit cards can affect your credit, depending on frequency.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

 

If you want to make cash on purchases these cards get you exactly what you want: cash. It’s that plain and simple. If you’re in the market for a cash back rewards card, keep your eyes peeled for cash bonus offers. Instead of earning 30,000 travel miles, you might end up with $300 cash after spending $1k, or whatever amount the credit card terms indicate. This is an awesome benefit. But be careful you’re not just spending money to make money – that cash bonus is only helpful if you can afford those expenses in the first place.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

  • Earn a $100 credit bonus after spending $1k
  • 3% cash rewards on groceries
  • No annual Fee
  • 2% cash at gas stations, 1% on all other purchases
Cashback on Gas
2% at U.S. gas stations
Cashback on Groceries
3% cash back
Purchase APR
13.99%-24.99% Variable
Discover It

Discover it® Cash Credit Card

  • 100% match on all cashback rewards at end of first year
  • Get FICO® score free on monthly statements
  • No Annual Fee
  • 5% cashback in rotating categories
Cashback on Gas
1-5%
Cashback on Groceries
1-5% cash back
Purchase APR
11.99%-23.99% Variable

Compare this card with other cash back rewards cards

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • $150 cash bonus after spending $500 in first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases, every day
  • No Annual Fee
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months
Cashback on Gas
1.5% at U.S. gas stations
Cashback on Groceries
1.5% cash back
Purchase APR
13.99%-23.99% Variable

Compare this card with other cash back rewards cards

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

If you know you’ll be making a lot of trips in the next year then these cards are perfect for you because you’ll rack up miles in no time.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

  •  40,000 miles after $3,000 in purchases (3 months)
  • 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • $0 Annual Fee First Year, $59 after that
  • No foreign transaction fees
Rewards
2x miles per dollar, all purchases
Bonus Rewards
40,000 miles after $3k in purchases
Purchase APR
13.99%-23.99% Variable

Compare this card with other travel rewards cards

Discover it® Miles

  • Match Mile For Mile on all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year
  • Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • No Blackout Dates – fly any airline, stay at any hotel
Rewards
1.5x miles on all purchases
Bonus Rewards
Mile for Mile Match!
Purchase APR
11.99%-23.99% Variable

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

  • 25,000 Points after $2,000 in purchases (3 months)
  • 3X points on airfare, 2X for restaurants, 1X on all other purchases
  • $0 Annual Fee First Year, then $195
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
Rewards
3X on airfare, 2X restaurants, 1X all other
Bonus Rewards
25K points after $2k in purchases
No Foreign Transaction Fees

Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards

These cards are perfect for people that usually fly a particular airline on a regular basis.

Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards

These cards offer some of the most ingenuous ways to free yourself of high interest and debt out there.

Best Small Business Credit Cards

Small Business owners should look to these cards if they’re seeking a more flexible way to manage the cash flow of their business.

Best Student Credit Cards

These cards give college students the perfect opportunity to begin building credit before they enter the working world.

Best Secured Credit Cards

A Secured Credit Card is the perfect solution for people who are looking to improve their credit score, or for those who are just getting started with credit cards.

Best Hotel Rewards Credit Cards

If you’re looking for a few free nights at a favorite hotel chain these cards could be a great option for you.

Best Credit Cards

 

If you’re reading this, I bet a credit card is on your mind. Maybe you’re looking for a better cash back card to go along with an improved credit score, or it could be your first credit card ever. Regardless of where you are financially, it pays to have a solid understanding on the potential benefits of using a credit, while staying aware of the potential pitfalls.

 

Now more than ever, it seems as though there are more credit cards available for all walks of life. Our guide to credit card guide is designed to be no-nonsense, to the point and will hopefully help you navigate the sometimes overwhelming world of credit cards.

 

When managed effectively, having a credit card that fits you well can be a powerful thing. Routine expenses like groceries and gas can get you serious cash back. Earn loads of miles when booking a trip with a travel rewards card. Even use a credit card to improve your credit. For those in the financial position to pay off your balance each month, having a credit card provides the flexibility to help you manage both planned and unexpected expenses.

 

Millennial Money’s guide to credit cards is designed to help you sort through the nonsense, educate yourself on credit card management, and learn how to prioritize criteria when deciding on which credit cards to apply.

Why Would I Need a Credit Card?

 

Before we get into some of the more exciting benefits of today’s credit card offers, let’s take a look at some of the more basic, critical information: why would I need a credit card in the first place. For some, if you, this may be more obvious to you, but it’s worth reading and repeating.

 

To put it simply, credit cards are most useful as they allow us to spend beyond our means (also a major pitfall, which we will cover more later). Or in other words, they give us the spending power we otherwise might not have when relying just on checking or even savings account balances.

 

Maybe you’re just starting a lucrative new job that comes with a big commute, and then the transmission on your car goes out. How can you afford an unexpected $6,000 bill when you haven’t even cashed your first paycheck?

 

Putting that expense on a credit card can give you the flexibility and time needed to build up your finances so that you’re not completely wiped out. Provide that you have the financial means to pay off the new balance, that credit card effectively sets you up with a payment plan. Providing a buffer between your expenses and assets is the most fundamental benefit of owning a credit card.

 

Not far behind in importance is the ability to establish and improve credit. A lot of new college graduates find the sudden rush of expenses overwhelming after finishing up school and moving for their first full-time job. As you’d expect, many of those graduates are also jumping into the professional world without much credit (if any). Getting a low-limit credit card is an excellent way to work your way towards good credit by simply establishing a credit history and showing that you can manage a balance and pay it off in a timely manner.

 

Nowadays, more and more people are strategic in selecting a credit card because of the cash back and travel reward benefits that come with paying off regular expenses. As you’ll see, there are many potential advantages available to those with good or excellent credit.

 

Regardless of your finances, a credit card can provide tangible benefits not available when using a debit card. In many cases you don’t NEED a credit card. But with a steady income and smart credit card management, you could earn hundreds of dollars in cash back offers, fly across the country for free, while boosting your credit.Choosing a Credit Card

 

There are many different things to consider when searching for a selecting a credit card. It can be difficult to sort through a lot of the marketing and focus on the key factors that will ultimately affect how useful a credit card is to you. Here are a few of the most fundamental things to consider.

 

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

 

APR is your yearly interest rate. It tells you how expensive it is to carry credit card debt with a given credit card. The higher the APR, the more you will pay for carrying a balance on your credit card. The best APR offers are often reserved for those with excellent credit.

 

Periodic Rate

 

The periodic rate determines the added cost on your monthly billing statement. In other words, credit card companies use periodic rates to figure out how much to charge you to finance your balance on a monthly or periodic basis.

 

Rewards

 

We’ll cover this one in more detail later! Are you looking for cash back on your purchases, or to build up airline miles and hotel points? You might even be looking at a credit card promoted at a specific retailer. Think about what will benefit you most before applying for a bunch of different rewards cards.

Grace Period

 

This is the amount of time you have to pay off your balance before interest starts to accrue. Many credit cards come with a generous grace period, though not all do. Get a solid handle on your payment schedule before running up a balance.

 

Finance Charges

 

Using a credit card that uses an adjusted balance finance charge might help save you money. Some companies factor-in your previous month’s balance, which can end up costing you more. It is also helpful to know if there is a minimum finance charge from your lender.

 

Security Features

 

How does that credit card protect all of your critical, personal information? Chat with a lender about the levels of security provided with any credit card you consider. Fortunately, more and more (if not all) credit cards come with a built-in chip designed to protect you better than the traditional magnetic strip. In addition, it is helpful to know how to protect yourself from credit card fraud. Do you want to receive fraud alerts? How will your lender respond if your account is compromised?

 

Terms and Conditions

 

It can be a pain, but reading the fine print is the only way to make sure you understand and agree with all of the requirements associated with opening a new credit card account.

 

Benefits at Sign-Up

 

Now to the fun stuff! Competition between credit card companies has created a healthy market for consumers looking to get their hands on a credit card that offers them a healthy balance of spending power and benefits. Not surprisingly, some of the most effective ways credit card lenders are able to secure new customers are through benefits at sign-up.

 

Free Airfare

 

This one is admittedly always appealing to me and can be hard to pass up. When in the market for a new travel rewards credit card, I like to compare the number of miles offered by different companies. It’s pretty common to get 30,000 or 40,000 free miles after signing-up for a new travel card, though it is often conditional on spending a specified amount of money in the first 3 months or so of owning the card. Compare different offers to find the best available – you’ll be surprised to find how many lenders will offer 50,000 or more miles up front. There are many excellent travel credit cards and offers available.

 

Miles aren’t everything though, so always make sure you consider the terms that will directly affect how you can use your card and manage the balance.

 

Intro rates

 

Perhaps the most beneficial perk in acquiring a new credit is the introductory rate. Plenty of companies will offer as low as 0% APR (annual percentage rate) for a specified period of time – almost always somewhere between 6 and 18 months. This means you don’t pay interest on your balance for that period of time. Just make sure to mark your calendar so you don’t end up surprised by accruing interest down the road!

 

No Annual Fee

 

A lot of premium credit cards come with an annual fee of $100 or more – nothing to sneeze at. To encourage customers to sign-up and spend, some credit card companies will waive the annual fee during that first year. This may not sound like a big deal, but it goes nicely when paired with one or more of the sign-up perks we already covered.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Spending beyond your means

 

I mentioned this earlier. It’s amazing how fast you can spend money when your checking account balance doesn’t drop with each purchase. Just a week or two of unrestricted spending can lead to a heavy balance. Keep a frequent eye on your balance (daily) if you find yourself using a credit card for many expenses.

Rotating cash back deals (seasonal)

 

One type of perk advertised heavily is cash back deals on everything from groceries and gas to restaurants and movies. For example, your credit card might give you 5% cash back on grocery purchases from January through April. And that’s exactly the point. You won’t always get maximum cash back on all categories all the time. Credit card companies tend to rotate these cash back deals seasonally, meaning it pays to be strategic on what you use your credit card to purchase.

 

Hidden Costs/Annual Fees

 

Lenders are usually pretty upfront about any annual fees that come with a new card. Chances are that annual fee will be waived during the first year of spending. Just make sure you don’t forget that you will need to start paying that $99 or so annual fee (amounts will vary) a year or so into using the card. This usually doesn’t deter folks who use credit cards frequently, but it’s still worth keeping in mind.

 

Flexibility of Benefits

 

This is a really important. How much of your balance are you expected to pay at the end of each month? Many credit card lenders will let customers make relatively small ‘minimum’ payments on balances carried over from month-to-month. But not all do this. If you plan to use your credit card to pay for more substantial expenses, like fixing your car or financing a two-week vacation in Bali, make sure you aren’t expected to pay off that balance of $5,000+…unless you have planned for it already.

 

Late Payment Penalties

 

Most lenders will hit you with a fee for any late payments on your account. This doesn’t just apply to really late payments. You could be billed for $50 for submitting payment ON your account’s payment due date. The devil is in the details.

 

To sum this section up: read up on the credit card terms and ASK QUESTIONS. The best way to get information on a particular credit card is to chat with a company representative and have a list of prepared questions that you need to be answered before you decide to move forward, either with an application or with using a credit card you’ve already been approved for.

 

Situations Where Credit Cards Are Helpful

 

Building Credit

 

We touched on this earlier. Building good credit is based on your history of making monthly (or regular) payments on-time. For a lot of people, opening a credit card account is a great and accessible way to start building credit, so that you can apply for a car or home loan a few years down the road. The longer your history of on-time payments is, the better shape your credit score should be in. Try to avoid carrying too high of a balance for any extended period of time. Having a high debt-to-credit ratio will actually hurt your credit score. So think of credit cards as a useful tool for building credit, but only when managed responsibly.

 

Renting a Car

 

This is one of my favorite credit card purchases! If you’re planning to use your credit card to rent a car on your next vacation, check to see if your card comes with secondary auto insurance, also known as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). CDW can prevent you from having to pay anything out of pocket if you are in an auto accident while on travel. Chances are you’ll need primary auto insurance in the first place, but your credit card’s benefits may help cover anything else associated with a headache. Call your credit card company to learn more about these details before traveling, as there you might be required to decline any insurance offers from the car rental agency, and some vehicles may not be eligible for coverage.

 

Emergencies

 

Even without a credit card, it’s important to ‘plan’ for emergencies by keeping money in savings that can help bail you out when the unexpected becomes reality. Having $2,000 cash or more for these situations is really helpful. But keeping that much cash on hand can be tough. Having spending power with a credit card or two provides that nice safety net when you’re faced with a huge vet bill or need to replace your personal laptop all of a sudden.

 

Handling A Credit Card

 

Knowing how to properly handle a credit card can go a long way when it comes to managing your personal finances. If you’re going to use them, it’s best to know how to use them to your advantage. The first step to making a credit card an effective part of your personal financial plan is finding the right card. After that, it’s all about making a smart choice such as: paying it off each month, maximizing cash back and rewards and watching out for late fees.

 

If you make the right choices, your credit score should improve and you will surely rack up rewards. With just a little bit of research, it will be to YOUR benefit to get a new credit card.

 

Pro Tips For Good Credit Card Use

 

These tips will make sure you have a worry-free relationship to your credit card:

 

Review Your Charges –Whenever you charge something to your credit card it’s extremely important that you review the charge on an individual basis to make sure that it’s a charge you actually made. Also, make sure you’re on top of any changes to the annual fee that you’ll be making. These can often change.

 

Be Aware Of Your Credit Card Terms – Each credit card has terms that might not seem obvious, but make a big difference when it comes to your experience as a consumer. There are a few things you should review in your credit card terms: annual percentage rate (APR), other APR, balance calculation method, variable rate information, grace periods for purchases, annual fees, minimum charges, specific transaction fees, and over-limit fees. It is absolutely essential you know your credit limit as well. If you don’t know your credit limit you will not amass good credit, and you will not be using your credit card intelligently.

 

Pay More than the Minimum Balance – If you only pay the minimum balance you will amass debt and potentially lose control of your charges.

 

Keep Your Balance Well Below the Credit Limit – If you max out your credit card your credit score will get worse. Remember, one of the aims of getting a credit card is to IMPROVE your credit score. Keep the amount of credit you use below the limit and life will be a lot easier.

 

Protect Your Credit Card Number – Keep your credit card number secure by making sure websites you use to make purchases can be trusted. It’s a very good idea to never share your credit card number with anybody, even people you think you can trust. Just don’t take the risk. When you get a printed credit card statement shred it or discard it somewhere you know it won’t get touched.

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