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5 best credit cards for shopping at Costco of December 2020

Costco shoppers can only use Visa credit cards in-store. Here are the 5 best credit cards for shopping at Costco warehouses.

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Costco shoppers are dedicated to the retailer's bulk discounts and rotisserie chicken, but you need to make sure you have the right credit card before you shop there. Since 2016, Visa has been the exclusive credit card of Costco.

That means you won't be able to pay in-store with a credit card backed by American Express, Mastercard or Discover. However, you can use a Mastercard or Discover card at Costco.com and via the Costco app. If you prefer to shop in-store at Costco with a credit card, then make sure you have a Visa-backed credit card.

Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top credit cards for shopping at Costco:

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year (then 1%); 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases; 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com; 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0, Costco membership required

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    15.24% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Generous gas rewards
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Reasonable 15.24% variable APR

Cons

  • Costco membership is required
  • Rewards are distributed once a year and can only be redeemed at U.S. Costco Warehouses
  • No welcome bonus, so you can’t maximize rewards during the first few months of card opening
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $406
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,031

Who's this for? Perhaps the most obvious choice is the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi. There is no annual fee, and the Costco membership requirement shouldn't be an issue since you need a membership to shop at the warehouse (unless you share with a family member or friend).

Cardholders earn 4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year (then 1%); 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases; 2% cash back on all eligible purchases from Costco and Costco.com; and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

One quirk about this card: You earn an annual reward certificate once a year, and it's only redeemable at a U.S. Costco Warehouse. You can redeem the certificate for purchases at Costco, a Costco Shop Card (which can be used for purchases at Costco.com) or a cash (at Costco's discretion). Learn more about how to redeem Costco credit card rewards.

Added perks include no foreign transaction fees, travel and emergency assistance, worldwide travel accident insurance and worldwide car rental insurance.

Want even more info? Here are 5 key things to know about the Costco Anywhere Visa Card.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining (including takeout) and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 23.74% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Long intro 0% APR period for purchases
  • Rewards can be transferred to a Chase Ultimate Rewards card
  • Generous welcome bonus

Cons

  • Below average 1.5% cash back on non-bonus category purchases
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $847
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,709

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Chase Freedom Unlimited® has no annual fee and a simple cash-back program. Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining, including takeout, and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases. If you don't want to deal with rotating bonus categories or activation, this card can be a simple way to earn cash back.

Cardholders can take advantage a generous welcome bonus: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR). Cardholders can also benefit from purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa®  card
Information about the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    1.5% cash rewards on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    $150 cash rewards bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    14.49% to 24.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days, then 5% ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Use your Wells Fargo Debit or ATM card to redeem rewards for cash at Wells Fargo ATMs ($20 increments)
  • Long intro 0% APR period for purchases and balance transfers
  • Generous welcome bonus

Cons

  • Below average 1.5% cash back
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $482
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,809

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus and assumes you use eligible mobile wallets for 75% of purchases your first year.

Who's this for? The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card offers a decent 1.5% cash rewards on all purchases. That can increase to 1.8% cash rewards when you use a qualifying mobile wallet, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, during the first 12 months from account opening.

There is no annual fee and the cash-back program is straightforward, with no activation or rotating bonus categories. And you can conveniently use your Wells Fargo Debit or ATM card to redeem cash back at Wells Fargo ATMs in $20 increments.

The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card also comes with cell phone protection, up to $600 (subject to a $25 deductible), for eligible damage or theft when you pay your monthly cell phone bill with this card.

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card
On PenFed's secure site
  • Rewards

    1.5% cash back on all purchases, 2% cash back on all purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members

  • Welcome bonus

    $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% promotional rate for the first 12 months on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 17.99% variable on purchases; 17.99% non-variable on balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2% cash back on all purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members
  • Welcome bonus, which is hard to find among flat-rate cash-back cards with no annual fee
  • No bonus category activations or limits to the amount of cash back you can earn
  • Competitive 14.99% to 17.99% variable APR

Cons

  • 3% balance transfer fee
  • Credit union membership is required
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $543
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $2,313

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus and assumes you're a PenFed Honors Advantage member, earning 2% cash back

Who's this for? The PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card can earn you 2% cash back on every purchase, if you're a PenFed Honors Advantage member (which requires a qualifying checking account or military affiliation). Otherwise, you earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

PenFed is a credit union, so membership is required to open a card. Anyone can join by applying, opening a savings account with a $5 deposit and maintaining a $5 account balance.

To earn the higher cash-back rate, you need to become an Honors Advantage member in one of several ways: be in an active military service status, a member of the Reserves or National Guard, an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran or retired from such service; be the primary owner on both the credit card and checking accounts of any existing open PenFed product (excluding PenCheck Limited accounts); or open a new Access America checking account (which requires a daily balance or monthly direct deposit of $500 or more to waive the $10 monthly service fee).

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Chase Sapphire Preferred®
On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2X points on travel and dining worldwide, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 22.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Transfer points to leading frequent travel programs at a 1:1 rate, including: IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy™ and World of Hyatt®
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • Travel protections include: auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No hotel-specific perks or credits
  • No introductory 0% APR
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,006
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,028

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is one of the best travel credit cards available and pairs well with the other two Chase credit cards mentioned earlier. Chase Sapphire Preferred® cardholders earn 2X points on travel and dining worldwide and 1X points on all other purchases.

This card is notable for the strong redemption rate when you redeem points for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Points are worth 25% more, so the 60,000-point welcome bonus is worth $750 towards travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards (you need to spend $4,000 within the first three months to earn the bonus). This is a great way to maximize the value of points and the welcome bonus.

Beyond rewards, cardholders can benefit from helpful travel perks, such as no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, travel and emergency assistance services, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement.

FAQs

What to know before applying

Before you apply for a credit card, you should always ask yourself a few questions that can help shape which credit card is best for your needs.

  • What's my credit score? Knowing your credit score is key to gauging which credit cards you have the best chances of qualifying for. There are numerous free credit score resources available that provide your credit score, updated on a monthly basis.
  • Why do I want to open a credit card? You should only open credit card when there's a need. So if you shop at Costco and pay with cash because you don't have a credit card backed by Visa, then that's a good reason since you're missing out on rewards.
  • Is an annual fee worth it? If you're looking at a credit card with an annual fee, do the math to see if the benefits outweigh the fee.
  • How do I plan to use the card? You've already decided that you want a card for Costco, but now you should see what other purchases you expect to charge to the card. If you want it for everyday use, consider a flat-rate cash-back card, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. But if you plan on traveling outside the U.S., check out credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred®.

Learn more: How to choose the best credit card in 3 easy steps

Making the most of your card

Credit cards provide numerous perks beyond the ability to buy now and pay later. You may earn bonus rewards in select categories, benefit from annual statement credits, receive a 0% APR period and many other benefits. Review what credit card benefits are offered by your card, then take full advantage of them.

So if you open the Citi® Double Cash Card, you receive no interest for the first 18 months on purchases (then 13.99% to 23.99%  variable APR). Consider paying for any upcoming large purchases with that card and benefiting from interest-free financing.

Then if you plan on traveling abroad, cards like the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card, PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® are the best options since they have no foreign transaction fees.

Don't miss: The best store credit cards

Our methodology

To determine which cards offer the best value for Costco shoppers, CNBC Select analyzed 234 of the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

We also estimated how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee. Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.