There are so many credit cards available to consumers that it can be hard to choose the best card. There's no "one size fits all" credit card, but instead options for different types of people — whether you're a foodie, road warrior, traveler or someone looking to build credit. A little research can help you find a card that's specifically designed for your lifestyle.
To determine which cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed 234 credit cards available in the U.S. that anyone can apply for. When comparing rewards cards, we used a sample budget based on the latest spending data available from the location intelligence firm Esri to break down how much money each card could net you over the course of five years. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)
The cards we selected also provide numerous additional benefits, such as annual statement credits, discounts at select retailers, insurance and more that make using a credit card truly worthwhile. These cards can be a great way to save money, especially since the average American spending budget is around $21,852 a year, according to the latest spending data available from Esri.
In order to get the most benefit from your card, you want to make sure you practice responsible credit behavior, such as paying off your balance on time and in full each month and avoiding overspending and falling into debt.
Below, CNBC Select rounded up the best credit cards of November 2019 that can help you build credit, save on interest charges and earn you over $2,000 in cash back over five years.
3% unlimited cash back on all purchases during the first year; 2.5% on all purchases after
$99, waived the first year
11.99% to 14.99%
Who's this for? The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card ranks as CNBC Select's best cash-back card, even with its $99 annual fee (waived the first year). This card earns the average American the most cash back compared to other cards with an estimated $656 after the first year and $2,445 after five years.
Cardholders earn an industry leading 2.5% cash back on every purchase. And, during your first year from account opening, you earn 3% cash back on all purchases.
Beyond rewards, this card has a competitive 11.99% to 14.99% variable APR, which is helpful if you wind up carrying a balance (though we always recommend paying on time and in full to avoid interest altogether).
This card also has no foreign transaction fees and comes with travel benefits, such as travel accident coverage, roadside assistance and auto rental collision damage waiver.
You have to become a member of Alliant Credit Union and open an account. The easiest way to become a member is by supporting Alliant's partner charity, Foster Care to Success. You don't need to pay the charity directly — Alliant pays $5 on your behalf when you apply to join the credit union. Membership is also open to family members of current members, employees of partner organizations or those who live or work in qualifying towns and communities near Chicago's O'Hare International airport.
5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase, plus 10X miles on thousands of hotels on hotels.com/venture (through January 2020)
50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
$0 first year, then $95
17.49% to 24.74%
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers the best rewards rate on select hotel purchases: Earn 10X miles per $1 spent on thousands of hotels on hotels.com/venture through January 2020 (so if you spend $500 on the site, you earn 5,000 miles). If you're looking to take a trip before the end of the year, this is a great way to maximize the amount of miles you can earn.
This card also earns 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠ and 2X miles per dollar spent on all other spending, which is a great flat rate. While Venture does come with a $95 annual fee, it's waived during the first year. And $95 is low compared to some other rewards cards, with some annual fees up to $550.
In addition to rewards, every four years cardholders receive a credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, up to $100. If you travel often, this is a great perk that can save you time and money.
This card has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a bunch of additional travel perks, such as travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance services and an auto rental collision damage waiver.
*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus. When we calculated the first year returns for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, we assumed the cardholder would spend $572 a year on hotel rooms booked via hotels.com/venture. Since the 10X miles offer is only valid through January 2020, we assumed 5X miles for hotel purchases for years 2 through 5. You may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel spending habits.
3X points on dining out and ordering in; gas, rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services. 1X points on all other purchases
30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months — worth $300
0% APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
15.74% to 27.74%
Introductory fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater, for 120 days from account opening. After that, up to 5% for each balance transfer, with a minimum of $5
Who's this for? This card offers a strong rewards program whether you're a frequent traveler or someone who spends most of their time closer to home (or, like many of us, are a combination of the two). The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is a well-rounded card that offers unlimited 3X points per dollar spent on dining out, ordering in, travel, and a number of streaming services, including Apple Music, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Sirius XM Radio Inc. and Spotify Premium.
Frequent travelers will like this card because it gives you points not just on flights and hotels but also car rentals, homestays and ridesharing services. There are no blackout dates on flights booked through Go Far® Rewards, and there are no foreign transaction fees.
There's also an impressive welcome bonus for a no-annual-fee card: Earn 30,000 points after you spend $3,000 within the first three months. That's the equivalent to $300 in cash.
The additional perks geared toward travelers are also worth noting. Cardholders can take advantage of lost luggage reimbursement, car rental loss and damage insurance, roadside assistance and 24/7 travel and emergency assistance.
This card also provides a year of no interest on purchases and balance transfers. (After the introductory period there's a 15.74% to 27.74% variable APR.) If you have expected upcoming expenses that you want to pay for over time, or you're looking to consolidate debt, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card can help you finance debt without incurring interest charges.
*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus
2% cash back: 1% on all purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill
0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers
15.49% to 25.49%
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Who's this for? The Citi® Double Cash Card is a straightforward rewards card that continues to offer one of the best flat-rate cash-back programs since it launched in 2014. Cardholders earn 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay your credit card bill.
There is no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn and you don't have to worry about activating bonus categories. Cash back can be redeemed for a statement credit or direct deposit.
This card is also a good choice for debt consolidation. There's a 0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers (then 15.49% to 25.49% variable APR). Just make sure you transfer balances within four months from account opening. There is a 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5), which can be outweighed by the amount you save on interest. (See more on how to make the most of a balance transfer.)
2X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1X), 1X Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent on all other purchases
Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months
0% for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
14.49% to 25.49%
Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening
Who's this for? If you want to maximize savings with a balance transfer, consider a card that has no balance transfer fee, such as the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card. Unlike many balance transfer cards that charge a 3% to 5% fee per transfer, this card has no fee. If you transfer $5,000 to this card, you'd avoid a $150 fee that you'd pay if you had a card with a 3% balance transfer fee.
You can also benefit from no interest for the first 15 months on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR). This is a longer-than-average intro period, providing extra time for you to pay off debt when you make sizeable, monthly payments toward your balance. All balance transfers must take place within the first 60 days from account opening to qualify for the introductory period.
This card also has no annual fee and a rewards program: Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1X) and 1X Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent on all other purchases. And when you make 20 or more purchases in a billing period you receive 20% extra points.
Cardholders can also take advantage of premium Amex perks, including discounts at select merchants via Amex Offers, car rental loss and damage insurance, free two-day shipping at select online retailers with ShopRunner and cell phone protection.
3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases
Earn 7,500 points after you spend $500 within the first 90 days
0% for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date
7.99% to 18.00%
1.50%, $50 minimum
Who's this for? The Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union tops our list thanks to the low interest rates, special intro financing, strong rewards program and no foreign transaction fees — all at no annual fee.
There is no interest on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months your account is open. After, this card offers a variable APR of 7.99% to 18.00%. If you carry a balance after the first 12 months, you can benefit from low interest charges compared to other balance transfer cards that have high interest rates. Balance transfers do incur a 1.50% fee per transfer, with a $50 minimum.
Beyond interest rates, the Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card offers a generous rewards program: Earn 3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases. Plus, there's a welcome bonus of 7,500 points after you spend $500 within the first 90 days.
In order to open this card, you need to join Andrews Federal Credit Union, but anyone can join. If you don't meet the qualification requirements, you can opt to join the American Consumer Council (ACC) for free with the promo code "Andrews."
*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus
2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%); unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned
Who's this for: The Discover it® Secured is a well-rounded secured card that offers many benefits that are typically found with unsecured cards. Cardholders can earn cash back, receive a generous welcome bonus, use the card overseas without incurring added fees and more — all for no annual fee.
Cardholders earn a competitive 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%). Plus, you can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. The welcome bonus is also unique: Discover will match any cash back you've earned during the first 12 billing cycles. So, if you earn $50 cash back at the end of the first year, Discover will give you an additional $50.
This card requires a $200 security deposit, which is fairly standard for secured credit cards. It stands out from the crowd because it gives users a clear path to upgrading to an unsecured card (and getting their deposit back). Starting at eight months from account opening, Discover will review your account to see if you can get your security deposit back, which takes the guesswork out of wondering when you'll qualify for an unsecured card.
1% cash back on all purchases and 1.5% after you make 12 on-time monthly payments
14.74% to 25.74%
Who's this for? The Petal Visa® Credit Card issued by WebBank is a unique card that takes a different approach to the credit card application process. Instead of judging your creditworthiness solely based on credit history, Petal may ask you to link bank accounts during the application process. Then, WebBank uses Petal's technology to analyze your bank statements and other data, such as bill payments and earnings, to determine your eligibility.
This is especially beneficial for applicants who may not have any credit history. However, if you do have a credit history, that does factor into the credit decision.
The Petal Visa® is one of the few cards that charge zero fees: no annual fee, no late payment fee and no foreign transaction fees. And it stands out for consumers trying to build credit because there's no security deposit required.
It also offers a rewards program with 1% cash back on all purchases, which can increase to 1.5% cash back after you make 12 on-time monthly payments. This is not only a nice perk, but a great way to encourage responsible behavior.
5% cash back in different categories each quarter (gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon and more), up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned at the end of your first year
0% APR for the first 6 months on purchases; 10.99% APR for the first 6 months on balance transfers
14.49% to 23.49%
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Who's this for? The Discover it® Student Cash Back card is a well-rounded card that offers college students enrolled in a two- or four-year college the chance to build credit, while earning rewards and receiving student-centric benefits. You must be over 18 and a U.S. citizen to apply.
Cardholders can earn up to 5% cash back on rotating categories (such as Amazon, gas stations, or restaurants), up to a $1,500 maximum each quarter (then 1%). All other purchases earn 1% cash back.
This card encourages you to maintain good grades by offering an annual $20 statement credit when you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA (valid for up to five consecutive years).
There's also an introductory 0% APR for six months on new purchases — perfect for financing dorm room essentials or textbooks. After the intro period, there's a 14.49% to 23.49% variable APR.
4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then it drops to 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases
35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
See rates and fees
Up to $100 credit in airline fees, up to $120 in dining credits at participating partners and up to $100 hotel credit
Who's this for? If you love food and travel, the American Express® Gold Card could be the ideal rewards card for you. Whether you dine out or cook at home, this card earns a competitive 4X points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Plus, travelers can benefit from the 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
The value of Membership Rewards® points varies depending on how cardholders redeem them. You can use them in a variety of ways, from paying with points at checkout at sites like Amazon to redeeming for gift cards or a statement credit to booking travel. See more on how points are calculated.
Cardholders also receive an annual dining credit of up to $120 ($10 a month) at participating partners, including Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations. Travelers can take advantage of an annual airline fee credit of up to $100 to cover the cost of in-flight food and beverages, seat upgrades and baggage fees. There are also no foreign transaction fees.
This card does have a $250 annual fee, but it can easily be offset if you take advantage of all the added card benefits. Just using the $120 dining credit and $100 airline fee credit each year effectively reduces the fee to $30. Then, the rewards you earn help further "pay" for the card.
Gold Card members can also participate in Amex Offers, where you can earn statement credits or bonus Membership Rewards® points at select retailers. For example, a recent offer for Wine.com states: "Spend $50 or more, get $10 back." These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.
*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus
5X points on gas, 3X points on groceries and 1X points on all other purchases
$100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in first 90 days from account opening
0% APR for the first 12 months on balance transfers
11.74% to 17.99%
Who's this for? Among the cards we analyzed, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card currently offers the highest rewards rate at gas stations with 5X points per dollar spent. If you want to maximize rewards at gas stations, this card can earn the average American $120 annually.
This card has no annual fee, so road warriors can maximize their savings. In addition to earning high rewards at gas stations, cardholders also benefit from unlimited 3X points at grocery stores.
PenFed is a credit union, so membership is required to open the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card. Anyone can join by completing a few extra steps: You need to apply, open a savings account with a $5 deposit and maintain a $5 account balance.
6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases
$250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases on your new card within the first 3 months
0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
14.49% to 25.49%
3%, $5 minimum
Who's this for? Frequent grocery shoppers will be happy to learn the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers the highest cash-back rate at U.S. supermarkets at 6% (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). The average American can earn $301 in cash back each year when they do their shopping at qualifying supermarkets.
If you want to maximize cash back on groceries, this card is for you. In addition to high grocery rewards, there's an unlimited 6% cash back on select streaming subscriptions, unlimited 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, unlimited 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Cardmembers can also take advantage of Amex Offers, where users earn a statement credit or additional cash back at select retailers. For example, a recent offer gave you $25 back each month (up to three times), if you spent $70 or more a month on Sun Basket meal kit delivery. These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.
This card does come with a $95 annual fee, but it can be offset by the cash back you earn and discounts you can get through the Amex Offers.
4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
$95, waived the first year
0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases
16.24% to 25.24%
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? Sports fans, movie buffs and adventure seekers will all find a common reason to like the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: unlimited 4% cash back on entertainment purchases. Compared to other rewards cards, this is the highest unlimited rewards rate on entertainment spending, whether you're buying movie tickets, taking a family trip to the zoo or spending the evening bowling with friends.
Through May 31, 2020, cardholders who buy tickets through Vivid Seats, a ticket resale site, can take advantage of 8% cash back.
Cardholders can also benefit from exclusive access to entertainment events, such as the iHeartRadio Music Festival and the Capital One JamFest.
Beyond entertainment perks, there's also 4% cash back on dining, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases. And you can benefit from a free Postmates Unlimited membership through December 2019, which gets you free delivery on orders over $15.
This card does come with a $95 annual fee, but it's waived during the first year from account opening and can be offset by the cash back you earn.
To determine which cards offer the best value, 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.
For balance transfer cards, we used a Bankrate calculator to tally the interest rates and fees you could incur if you transferred $6,028, the average balance Americans carry on their credit cards in 2019, according to Experian.
If the average consumer with a $6,028 balance on their credit card pays $200 each month, they will spend $1,911 in additional interest, assuming the average 17.7% APR. And it will take them 40 months — more than three years — to pay off that debt.
With four of the five cards featured on this list, if you take full advantage of the intro APR period and pay $200 per month, you'll pay less than $450 in interest and cut your repayment time in half to 20 months. That's a significant savings.
For the cards that offered a rewards program, we also estimated how much cash back you might earn over a five year period. 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 2018 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 $21,852 in retail spending. This budget is comprised of the most common spending categories, including groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961). 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.)
When choosing the best balance transfer card, we focused on the card that provides consumers with the cheapest way to pay off their debt rather than the number of rewards they could potentially earn. When you're in credit card debt, your primary focus should be repayment. Earning rewards should be seen as a bonus, and you don't want to spend beyond your means in order to earn points.
The five-year rewards total and the interest rate and fees estimates are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending and debt. You may earn a higher or lower return depending on your spending habits.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Everyday® Credit Card, please click here.