Your favorite credit card might not be up to snuff anymore.
"If you haven't shopped around lately, now's the time," said Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, which published its 2014 editor's choice awards this week.
Issuers have been competing fiercely for consumers this year with sign-on bonuses and ongoing rewards as well as low-cost balance transfer offers and teaser interest rates. "The difference between having a good piece of plastic, and an average piece of plastic can be hundreds of dollars," said Odysseas Papadimitriou, founder of CardHub.com.
To see where the experts agree, CNBC cross-checked "best of" rankings from four credit card review sites: CardHub.com, CardRatings.com, MagnifyMoney.com and NerdWallet.com. If you're in the market for a new card, do a personalized search—factoring in details like your credit rating and spending patterns—on one or more of these sites to consider all the options.
Depending on what you're looking for, one or more of these cards could be on your short list of contenders.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant
Posted 16 Dec. 2014
With its new Double Cash card (see below), Citibank has raised the bar on cash back. "If you're not earning close to a 1.5 percent earn rate, you're leaving money on the table in a big way now," said Arnold. Consumers using cards with bigger bonuses should calculate what their real return is in a given month, he said—it's unlikely to beat the straight 2 percent back that's on offer.
Fidelity Investment Rewards. CardRatings and MagnifyMoney noted this card's flat 2 percent cash back. It's deposited into your choice of a Fidelity cash management account (where it can be withdrawn), or a brokerage, retirement or college savings account. There is an American Express version of the card as well as a Visa Signature version.
Sign-on bonuses for reward cards are still substantial. You could easily snag points or miles worth $400 to $500 in value, just for opening the card, said Papadimitriou. But generous cards in this category tend to have annual fees and higher interest rates, making them a poor fit for anyone carrying a balance.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite. New cardholders earn 40,000 bonus miles (worth a $400 travel statement credit) for spending $3,000 within the first three months, and two miles on all purchases.The annual fee of $89 is waived for the first year. Flexibility put this MasterCard on CardRatings and CardHub lists—users can redeem rewards for any recent travel arrangements paid for with the card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred. A top pick on NerdWallet, CardHub and CardRatings, Chase Sapphire Preferred offers two points per dollar spent on travel and dining out, along with a 40,000 point bonus (worth $400) for new cardholders who spend $4,000 in the first three months. Redeem points for travel to get an extra 20 percent boost on points' value.The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.
PenFed Premium Travel Rewards. If you're willing to join the credit union or an eligible association, CardRatings and CardHub peg this American Express card as a top pick. Users earn five points per dollar spent on airfare and one point on everything else, and a bonus of 20,000 points (worth $200) for spending $2,500 within the first three months. All that, and no annual fee.
Consumers carrying debt will find plenty of balance transfer offers with long terms at zero percent interest, said Kevin Yuann, credit cards director for NerdWallet. Don't forget to factor in fees—a cheaper transfer may trump a few extra months of pay-off time.
Citi Simplicity. There's an 18-month term for this card's zero percent balance transfer, which CardHub, MagnifyMoney and NerdWallet all liked. Cardholders pay a 3 percent transfer fee.
The average credit card APR is about 18 percent, but many new cards will offer a break on that rate for of up to 18 months, said Yuann. Those offers, and cards with ongoing low rates, can be a smart pick for consumers who occasionally carry a balance.
Barclaycard Ring. The APR for purchases and (no-fee) balance transfers is just 8 percent, putting it among the cheapest offers on CardRatings and NerdWallet. Plus, there's no annual fee. There's a quirk, however: Cardholders can vote on features that change the terms. (Earlier this year, they voted to reduce foreign transaction fees from 1 percent to zero, and to raise cash advance fees from $1 to $3.)