Best Credit Cards in 2021
The best credit cards can put hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars back into your pocket every year.
If you’ve learned to use credit responsibly by paying your credit card bills in full each month and you’ve established an excellent credit score, you may have access to all types of credit cards that offer generous sign-up bonuses in cash or free travel, in addition to ongoing rewards for every dollar you spend.
Here’s my list of some of the best credit cards for millennials in 2021 based upon the overall value of their sign-up bonuses and recurring rewards structures.
Keep in mind, these cards are suited for consumers who don’t carry balances. If you need to transfer an existing balance to a lower-rate card, check out these balance transfer credit card offers instead.
|Best Cash Back Credit Cards |
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|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||5% cash back on travel through Chase, 3% on dining and drug stores; unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all qualifying purchases|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Up to 5% cash back on rotating categories, up to the quarterly maximum; unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||3x points per $1 spent on eating out, gas, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, car rental, and popular streaming services; 1x points on everything else|
|Best No Annual Fee Travel Credit Cards |
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|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||1.25x miles on all purchases; no annual fee|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card||1.5x points for every dollar spent; no annual fee|
|Discover it® Miles||1.5x miles on all purchases; no annual fee|
|Best Premium Travel Rewards Credit Cards |
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|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||2x miles on all purchases|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||2x points per $1 spent on travel and dining|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve Card||3x points per $1 spent on travel and dining|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card||2x points per $1 spent with Southwest; 1x points on everything else|
|Best Business Credit Cards |
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|Chase Ink® Business Cash Credit Card||5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases on internet, phone & cable; 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card||3x points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines®; 2x points per $1 spent on search & social media advertising, internet, phone & cable services|
|Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit |
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|Capital One® Secured Mastercard®||Applicants with no credit history|
|Milestone® Unsecured Mastercard®||Applicants with fair credit|
Best Cash Back Credit Cards for Millennials
Chase Freedom Unlimited® with No Annual Fee
Now we’re getting into some of my favorite territory: no annual fees. Even though most annual fees are reasonable at ~$100, savings is savings. Right? Each cost you can eliminate is a valuable one.
So how about earning cashback in addition to not paying an annual fee? That’s what the Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card is all about.
For a limited time, new cardmembers can earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
You’ll also earn 5% cashback on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining and drug stores purchases, and 1.5% cashback on all other purchases.
It’s a simple formula. $200 cash back after spending just $500 in your first 3 months. $0 annual fee. Unlimited 1.5% cashback.
Freedom credit cards have been some of my favorites and most used cards for a long time. It’s a great first or second credit card with solid credit.
It doesn’t require a ton of spending upfront to get bonuses, so it can help you practice smart financial management.
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: 1.5% unlimited cashback; opportunities to earn more
- Sign-up Bonus: $200 cash back after spending $500 in your first 3 months
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Chase Credit Cards of 2021.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Everybody loves free money. And that’s exactly why Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card deserves to be in the top 3.
It’s a cashback credit card with solid earning power – and you’ll need to spend very little to qualify for the bonus.
No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees mean you can get cash back as you shop, no matter where in the world you may be.
Spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months, and you’ll earn a one-time $200 cash bonus (free money in your pocket!)! That’s a winning number for me.
You’ll also get a flat rate of unlimited 1.5% cashback on every purchase.
To qualify, you will need excellent credit – but if you have it, I think it’s a fantastic way to rack up cash back rewards.
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months – get a $200 cash bonus
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Capital One Credit Cards of 2021.
Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card
And if you’d prefer a cashback card, Discover it® also has another very appealing option.
Get 5% cashback on rotating categories up to 1,500 each quarter, which will become 1% after that. You’ll also get 1% cashback on all purchases – and there are no foreign transaction fees.
Redeeming your cashback is easy in any amount, except for gift certificates or eCertificates (those start at $20).
Want to know the best bit? For your credit card sign-up bonus, Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. And there’s no limit to how much is matched. Say what now?!
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: 5% cash back in two categories you choose up to $1,500 on purchases each quarter, with 1% after; 1% cashback on ALL purchases
- Sign-up Bonus: Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Discover Credit Cards of 2021.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
And, last but not least, it’s the Wells Fargo Propel American Express – your no fee, incredible value credit card.
The truth is, no other card will offer such rich rewards without paying hundreds of dollars in annual fees. So you may want to grab onto this one.
Earn 3x points per $1 spent on eating out, gas, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, car rental, and popular streaming services.
Plus, 1x points on all other purchases. There’s no cap on how much you can earn – plus, there’s a 20,000 bonus when you spend at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months.
The downside is that, as you may know, AmEx isn’t accepted at as many merchants as Visa or Mastercard. You’ll also need to be up there in the credit world – aka excellent credit.
- Annual fee: $0
- Rewards: Earn 3x points per $1 spent on eating out as well as ordering in, gas, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, car rental, and popular streaming services
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first 3 months – and get 20,000 bonus points
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best American Express Credit Cards for 2021.
Best ‘No Annual Fee’ Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
If you’re looking for a credit card that offers fantastic rewards, but you can’t justify an annual fee, Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card deserves your attention.
While its sibling Capital One Venture Rewards is up there for millennials, this is a better option for those who would prefer to skip the annual fee.
It’s an ideal option if your spending is light: get 20,000 bonus miles for spending just $1,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening.
Besides, you’ll earn 1.25 miles per $1 spent, which is pretty awesome (and above the market average).
Also, you won’t need an excellent credit score for it either – although you will need it to be good.
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: 1.25 miles per $1 spent
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $1,000 within 3 months of opening your account – get 20,000 bonus miles
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards for 2021.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
For a generous flat rate on all purchases, look no further than the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card.
Offering an online bonus of 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account, as well as 1.5 unlimited points per $1 spent on ALL purchases, this card is a strong candidate.
The best thing about Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card? No annual fees! Yup – you won’t have to pay a penny for it.
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: You get 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
- Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 online bonus points after making $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of opening the account
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best International Travel Credit Cards of 2021.
Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card
I have always appreciated Discover’s top-notch customer service. Seriously, every interaction I’ve had with the Discover crew has felt more like a small bank. A personal touch goes a long way in my book.
And with their it Miles card, Discover will match every mile you earn in your first year. That means if you earn 40,000, then you’ll end up with 80,000 miles! I think that’s hard to beat.
My favorite aspects are unlimited 1.5x miles on all purchases and no annual fee. It’s a great card for earning miles quickly while featuring no blackout dates.
Discover also makes it easy (and free) to check your credit score. This is a great financial tool that more and more banks are providing to credit cardholders. It helps keep me accountable for my spending.
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: Unlimited 1.5 miles on all purchases
- Sign-up Bonus: At the end of your first year, Discover it Miles will match every mile you have earned. That means if you earn 35,000, then you’ll end up with 70,000 miles
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021.
Best Premium Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Continuing with excellent travel card options, the Venture Rewards card from Capital One is a high-value pickup for those with good credit who want to pick-up double points on every single purchase.
Not just travel purchases, but 2x miles for EVERY purchase.
Good personal finance habits are often the little things we do daily but don’t necessarily have to think about.
I like the Rewards Venture so much because I don’t have to think about where I’m getting extra miles – they are built-in to all of my purchases.
And it’s not just the every day extra points. Capital One will give you 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
Even with a $95 annual fee, waived the first year, this is one of the best all-around cards available, in my opinion. No surprise it’s one of my favorites.
- Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year
- Rewards: 2 x miles on every purchase
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $3,000 in the first three months – get 60,000 bonus miles
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2021.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Like its older brother the Reserve, Chase’s Sapphire Preferred travel rewards card offers a lot for millennials with good credit who want to hop the globe.
The Sapphire Preferred is another hugely popular travel card I give props to because of its high value to cost ratio.
With a massive 60,000 points bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening, no foreign transaction fees, and flexibility to transfer points 1:1 between loyalty programs, what’s not to love?
With the ability to earn 2x points per $1 spent on a wide range of travel purchases, I really like the high earning potential of the Sapphire Preferred.
I know I love to travel and this card has helped me earn a lot of free miles. I know you would love it too!
- Annual Fee: $95
- Rewards: 2x points per $1 spent on travel and dining at restaurants
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $4,000 in the first three months – get a whopping 60,000 bonus points (equivalent to $750 towards travel)
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Credit Cards For Good Credit Scores of 2021.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
The Sapphire Reserve from Chase is another top-shelf travel card. I love it because of how flexible the Chase travel rewards are when booking travel.
I have access to a wide range of top-flight airlines, like flying to Australia on Qantas, no matter where I’m going. Using travel rewards has never been easier.
A 50,000-point bonus offer is one of the best you’ll find right now. To get it you will need to spend $4,000 in the first three months, so make sure the $1,000 equivalent is worth it.
It’s often no problem for those who can use a credit card to pay bills, groceries, and other monthly costs.
Chase will also give you a $300 statement credit to cover travel expenses from the past year. This helps cover most of the $550 annual fee. While high upfront, it more than pays for itself if you travel often, like me.
The Sapphire Reserve may not be the most accessible travel card, as it requires excellent credit. If that includes you, it could be a valuable pick-up.
- Annual Fee: $550
- Rewards: triple points on traveling and dining after earning your $300 travel credit
- Sign-up Bonus: A 50,000-point bonus offer after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card’s Rewards
This is Grant’s favorite card because he says nearly everyone he knows either has or has used the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus card!
Me, I rarely fly Southwest. But if you do, I agree that this is a card to put at the top of your list!
First, you only have to spend $2,000 in the first 3 months to get the 50,000 points.
Just use this credit card for everyday expenses (paying off your balance as you go), and you’ll have a ~$650 travel bonus in your pocket after 90 days. Pretty sweet, huh?
Plus, you’ll earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 within the first 9 months.
You’ll also get 3,000 points after a year to mark your first anniversary.
My favorite part though is the low $69 annual fee. It’s not free, but I’ll take it if there are no blackout dates and I’m getting 2 points for every $1 spent on Southwest and most travel expenses, and 1 point for every $1 spent on everything else.
- Annual Fee: $69
- Rewards: 2 points for every $1 spent on Southwest and most travel expenses, and 1 point for every $1 spent on everything else
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $2,000 in the first 3 months – get 50,000 points (plus 30,000 additional points for spending $10,000 in 9 months)
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Southwest Credit Cards.
Side Hustling? Check Out the Best Small Business Credit Cards
Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card
Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! I obviously love to side hustle, and the Chase Ink Business Cash card helped me get where I am today.
The perfect credit card for small businesses, the Ink Business Cash gives you 5% cash back on the first $25,000 each anniversary year for things like internet, phone and cable services, as well as office supply stores.
You can also earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on the first $25,000 spent, plus 1% unlimited cash back on ALL other purchases. Plus, your rewards don’t expire as long as your account is open!
The Ink Business Cash card usually requires excellent credit – but there’s no annual fee. But for most people looking for a high-value card to help them save on business expenses and travel, it’s a hard one to beat.
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: Earn 5% cash back for things like internet, phone and cable services, as well as office supply stores; 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, and 1% cashback on everything else
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $7,500 in the first 3 months – and get a $750 bonus
Pro Tip: Check out all of the Best Chase Business Credit Cards of 2021.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card is a new kid on the block – but it definitely deserves your attention.
There is a $199 annual fee, but you get fantastic perks like 3 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airline purchases, as well as four upgraded boardings per year, and even in-flight Wi-Fi credits.
Add an impressive sign-up bonus to the mix, and you have a deal that’s hard to say no to.
With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, you’ll get a whopping 70,000 Rapid Rewards points when you spend $5,000 on your first 3 months.
That said, if you want to hit the $5,000 minimum spend, you will have to plan your expenses responsibly. Mainly because many expenses can’t be paid with a credit card.
But if you’re making large purchases for your side-hustle, or need to hire someone to do something for you on sites like People Per Hour or Upwork, you should be able to pay with a credit card.
On the other hand, the bonus helps you earn the Southwest Companion Pass, allowing you to designate a companion who can fly with you nearly for free. Whether it’s your business partner or life partner, I’m sure they’d appreciate it!
- Annual fee: $199
- Rewards: 3x points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases; 2x points per $1 spent on search engine and social media advertising, internet, phone and cable services
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $5,000 in the first 3 months – and get a whopping 70,000 points bonus, plus an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first 6 months
Less-than-perfect Credit? No Credit History? The Best Credit Cards for You
Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is the ideal choice for first-time credit card applicants who don’t have a credit history yet, for college students needing a credit card with little credit or for applicants with prior credit problems.
Secured credit cards work just like other cards with the exception that you must make a security deposit when opening the account.
This money will be returned to you when you close the account or when your account becomes eligible to be upgraded from a secured credit card to an unsecured credit card.
The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has no annual fee and provides an initial credit line of $200 after you make a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, which will depend on your credit history.
Sure, $200 isn’t a large credit line, and there are no rewards associated with this card. But, keep in mind that the purpose of a secured credit card is to help you build your credit score in a responsible way so that one day you will have access to other kinds of rewards cards. Finally, you’ll get access to a higher credit line after you make your first five payments on time—there’s no additional deposit needed.
- Annual fee: $0
- Security deposit: $49, $99, or $200
Milestone® Unsecured Mastercard®
The Milestone® Unsecured Mastercard® is an unsecured credit card available to applicants with poor credit histories.
Again, because this card offers a chance of approval to people with bad credit, there are no rewards or other frills.
However, the Milestone® card is an unsecured credit card, meaning you don’t have to make a security deposit before using it.
There is, however, an annual fee that will vary based on your creditworthiness at the time of application.
- Annual fee: $35 – $99 (depending on creditworthiness)
- Security deposit: None required
Finding the Best Credit Cards for Millennials
With so many good credit cards to choose from, how do you choose the best credit card for you?
Finding the best credit card for you will be easier if you know how you want to use your rewards and where you spend the most.
Cashback credit cards provide the most straightforward rewards. When you’ve accumulated enough cash back, you can simply apply the credit to your bill or deposit them to your checking account.
Travel cards, on the other hand, let you redeem points or miles for airfare, hotel stays, and more. With some cards, you can be selective about how you redeem your rewards and actually get more value from your miles than you would receive in straight cash back. Plus, sometimes free travel simply “feels” more like a reward than a statement credit.
If your spending is average, I’ve found that you’ll likely earn the most rewards by choosing a simple cash back credit card. The most rewarding cash back credit cards are actually Chase Freedom® and Discover it® Cash Back, which let you earn up to 5% cash back on a certain amount of purchases in categories that change each quarter. However, you have to remember to “activate” the 5% each quarter—as well as pay attention to where you’re spending. If that sounds like a hassle, then stick with a straightforward cash back card like the Capital One® Quicksilver® card.
If you spend more than a couple thousand dollars per month, on average, or your spending is concentrated on travel or dining, you’ll likely earn more from a premium travel rewards credit card. And if you travel even just a few times per year, the additional travel perks on some of these cards make them a no-brainer.
If you’re like me, you may even end up with multiple premium credit cards simply because the travel perks are so valuable. Between the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Delta Reserve Amex that I carry, I get free TSA Pre-check, free checked bags on Delta, lounge access on multiple airlines, priority boarding on Delta, accelerated elite status with Delta, and more. Together, these perks almost make flying fun.
That said, the most important thing is to manage your spending effectively. If you get so blinded by credit card rewards that you’re overspending and then paying interest when you can’t pay your credit card bill in full, you’re not getting ahead.
The best advice I can give is to know yourself: If you’re not fully in control of your spending and have no hesitation that you’ll pay your balance in full each month, be wary of using credit cards too much until you’ve got your spending mastered.
When you’re there, make the most of your credit card’s reward schemes and use it to boost your credit score over time. And, most importantly, have fun with it – I love keeping track of the cash back I earned as well as other perks and rewards I get.