Credit cards are as ubiquitous as cash at this point — the average American has around 4 cards in their name, so you’re in good company if you’re in the market for a new card. Used responsibly, credit cards are a useful tool to have in your financial utility belt, bridging the gap when you’re cash-strapped.
With credit card companies loading up their cards with heavy incentives like cash back and rewards, choosing which card is best for you is no easy feat. Benzinga’s list puts you ahead of the game and narrows your choices down to the cream of the crop.
Best for Luxury Perks: Luxury Card
If you’re willing to pay higher fees in exchange for a best-in-show concierge service and VIP perks, look no further than Luxury Card. Not only will you get a luxury heavy metal card, but you’ll also earn travel AND cashback rewards up to 2% on all purchases.
You’ll also gain access to the Luxury Card Concierge, your new lifestyle assistant who can handle anything from booking last-minute flights to buying (and wrapping) the gift that slipped your mind.
You can choose from 3 different Luxury Card cards, each with impressive features like airline credits and discounts on travel.
Best for Building Credit: Citi Secured Mastercard
If you need to build or repair credit, a secured card is a great way to do it. This type of card, like the Citi Secured Mastercard, is backed by a deposit into a linked bank account. Unlike a debit card, the Citi Secured Mastercard will be reflected on your credit report by reporting to all 3 credit bureaus.
By only spending what is available in your bank account, you can easily pay down your balance each month. Your monthly payments show up on your credit report, boosting your score and establishing a solid credit history. If you pay the balance down before the end of each cycle, you also avoid accumulating interest.
The Citi Secured Mastercard has no annual fee and comes with 0% liability on all unauthorized purchases, so you’re protected financially if someone uses your card without your permission.
Eligibility will depend on a look into your credit history and debt. If approved, you’ll have to deposit a minimum of $200 to fund your credit limit.
Best for Students: Discover It Student Cash Back Credit Card
The Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card is laden with student-friendly perks like rewards for good grades and no APR raises with late payments (just in case one slips your mind while you’re in cram mode for a test).
Like other Discover it Cash Back cards, this card offers a whopping 5% cash back when you spend with places like Amazon and PayPal along with restaurants, gas stations and more. And, you’ll get 1% back on all purchases in general.
If you sign up now, Discover offers some great perks.
Best for Bad Credit: Indigo Platinum Mastercard
A truly unique card, the Indigo Platinum Mastercard is an unsecured card structured around the needs of people with imperfect or bad credit. This card allows you to access credit even if your credit needs work.
Because Indigo is an unsecured card, there’s no need to make a minimum deposit to use your credit limit. You can spend safely with Mastercard ID Theft Protection and Zero liability protection.
You can prequalify easily on their website, or directly apply if you already received a mail offer.
Best for No Credit: Jasper Mastercard
Jasper is a prime Mastercard made for high-earning, quality employees, with no credit history. Jasper doesn’t award you a credit card based on an established credit history — you can start your credit journey with Jasper with little or no credit history. Jasper offers a high credit limit (up to $5,000) and best-in-class terms. The Jasper Mastercard allows you to begin building great credit as soon as you start your new job in the U.S.
Jasper’s approval decisions are based on multiple factors: income, employment history and in the case of applicants who have over one year of U.S. credit history at the time of application, your credit history. If you are not a newcomer to the U.S. when you apply for Jasper, your credit score does matter but it’s only one factor Jasper uses to make approval decisions.
Get started with Jasper today.
How to Compare Credit Cards
When deciding which credit card you should apply for, there are several ways you can assess how useful a card will be to you. Before all else, research which cards you are likely to qualify for. Look for cards you can prequalify for or use a comparison service like Credible to compare cards you are likely to qualify for side-by-side.
The most common type of credit card fee is the annual fee. While this may seem like something you want to avoid, keep in mind that cards with annual fees often have worthwhile rewards and bonuses. If you know you’ll use your card heavily, what you reap in kickbacks like miles or cash back may offset the annual cost.
Don’t worry if you’re more of the fee-free type — many lenders, including some of our partners, offer cards with no annual fees, so you’ll have no trouble finding one that meets your specifications.
With many cards, you have the opportunity to earn cash back or points for travel when you spend. If you travel frequently or have your eye on a big trip down the road, a card that earns miles could be beneficial. But if you use your card frequently for smaller purchases at places like grocery stores and gas stations, getting cash back in your pocket for everyday expenses may be the sweeter deal.
Rewards cards sometimes come with higher fees or annual percentage rates (APRs), the amount of interest you’re charged to use credit. If you’ll spend enough to earn sufficient rewards and quickly pay off your balance, these cards may offer you higher returns than you’ll pay in interest. It’s best to carefully weigh the costs versus the rewards (literally, in this case) when selecting a credit card.
Perks and Bonuses
In addition to rewards, credit cards can come with a ton of perks and bonuses. Your card may offer priority boarding on flights or discounts at your favorite merchants. Many cards offer protections and insurance on travel, lost or stolen goods and purchases, including refunds if something you ordered somehow never makes it to your doorstep.
If you’re a college student, you can look for cards that offer special perks for your school. Or if you’re a high roller who is always on the move, a credit card with a concierge service can act as your in-wallet butler, ready to fulfill your every whim.
A huge factor in choosing a credit card is comparing annual percentage rates. If a card has a really high APR, your purchases could end up costing you way more than the ticket price in interest if you let your balances get out of control. Some cards offering hefty rewards or perks can come with equally hefty APR rates — just be sure you can afford to pay down your balances monthly to ensure you’re not spending more in interest than you’re getting back.
Using Credit Cards Responsibly
The rush of having a shiny new credit card is real, but don’t let it go to your head. Using credit is a serious responsibility. We’re not saying don’t make a little celebration purchase, but make sure you pay it off quickly and keep your monthly balance low. This will keep you from getting trapped under a mounting pile of interest. And it’ll keep your credit score intact — high card balances can impact your credit negatively by raising your credit utilization.
If you haven’t had a chance to build credit or need to repair bruised credit, a credit card can help boost your score if used correctly. We recommend getting a secured card to start out with. You’ll secure your balance with a deposit or a linked bank account, so you can only spend what you actually have. Making regular monthly payments and keeping a low balance on a secured card can boost your credit.
You could also consolidate debt at a lower interest rate by transferring your credit card balances to one low APR credit card, although a personal loan may be a better option for this depending on your circumstances.
How to Apply for a Credit Card
Anyone over 18 can apply for a credit card (and people younger than 18 may be able to become an authorized user on someone else’s account).
Once you’ve decided on a credit card, see if you can prequalify. This will give you a solid idea of if you’re eligible for the card without hurting your credit score with a hard credit pull.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and apply for a card, follow the direction on a lender’s website to apply or give them a call if applicable. Usually, you’ll have to provide some basic identifying information and undergo a credit check, although this varies between cards.
Maximize Your Credit Use With the Right Card
Anybody can feel indecisive when trying to choose from an endless list of equally impressive sounding credit cards. Once you know what matters most to you about a card, whether it’s low fees or hefty rewards, you’re on the right path. Benzinga’s list of the best credit cards is a great place to go from there — we’ve selected an all-star roster to make your decision easier.
Once you’ve chosen a card, see if you are able to prequalify to assess your eligibility risk-free. Use a credit card comparison service to shop around for credit cards without hurting your credit score.
Benzinga determined the top credit cards by carefully analyzing more than 60 cards. Cards were rated on factors like APR, rewards and annual fees. Only credit cards reporting to all 3 credit bureaus were considered.