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Credit Cards

Best Mastercard credit cards of May 2021

Select analyzed Mastercard credit cards using the average spending budget and digging into pros and cons of each to find the best based on your consumer habits.

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Mastercard is a 50-plus year-old credit card network that facilitates transactions between merchants and card issuers, while providing extensive benefits to its cardholders, including Priceless dining and entertainment experiences.

Well-known Mastercards are primarily issued by Citi, with some offered by other major banks, such as Capital One. There are also dozens of Mastercards issued by credit unions, such as Navy Federal Credit Union, and smaller banks like Commerce Bank.

All Mastercards are designated a certain tier — Standard, World and World Elite — that provide various added perks that range from $0 liability protection to free two-day shipping with ShopRunner. The tier you receive varies by credit card, but you'll typically need to pay a higher annual fee to benefit from a higher tier.

Beyond tiers, Mastercard holders can earn competitive rewards, benefit from no annual fees and even pay off debt with an intro 0% APR depending on which card you have.

Below, Select breaks down the best Mastercard credit cards in six categories, so you can choose the best card for your needs.

Best Mastercard credit cards

Best no-annual-fee Mastercard

Citi Rewards+® Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 2X ThankYou® points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X ThankYou® points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases from date of account opening; 0% APR for 15 months on balance transfer from date of first transfer

  • Regular APR

    13.49% - 23.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • All purchases automatically round up to the nearest 10 points — with no cap
  • Get 10% points back on all of your redemptions for the first 100,000 ThankYou® Points you redeem each year
  • Special financing offer for new purchases and balance transfers

Cons

  • 3% fee on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $431
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,556

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Citi Rewards+® Card is one of the most unique no-annual-fee cards around. Cardholders who frequently make small purchases can benefit from this card's "round up" feature that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase — with no cap. That means a $1 bag of chips earns 10 points, compared to only earning one point without this benefit.

The Citi Rewards+® Card also gives you 10% of your points back for the first 100,000 ThankYou® Points you redeem per year. For instance, if you redeem 25,000 points in a year, you get 2,500 of those points back, which is enough for a $25 gift card. Likewise, if you redeem150,000 points in your first year, you'll get 10,000 points back, equating to $100.

Beyond unique perks, cardholders earn 2X ThankYou® points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X points thereafter. Plus, you earn 1X points on all other purchases.

This card offers a competitive 0% APR for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and no interest for 15 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer (after 13.49% to 23.49% variable APR). Take note, there's a 3% balance transfer; $5 minimum.

Best cash-back Mastercard

Citi® Double Cash Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% - 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2% cash back on all purchases
  • Simple cash-back program that doesn't require activation or spending caps
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers at 18 months

Cons

  • No welcome bonus, so you can’t maximize rewards during the first few months of card opening
  • Minimum cash-back redemption of $25
  • 3% fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $443
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,213

Who's this for? The Citi® Double Cash Card is one of the best cash-back credit cards, and it has been since it launched in 2014. Cardholders earn 2% cash back on every purchase: unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

This is a simple way to earn generous rewards on everyday spending without the hassle of keeping track of bonus categories.

Plus this card offers a long 18-month 0% APR on balance transfers (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). While you'll have to pay a 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5), it's similar to other cards.

This card also has no annual fee, and Citi will waive your first late fee — but you'll still want to set up autopay so you avoid interest charges and future late fees. You'll also receive access to Citi® Identity Theft Solutions, a service that will help you if you're a victim of identity theft.

Best travel Mastercard

Citi Premier® Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    3X points per $1 spent at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and on hotels and air travel, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 23.99% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Unlimited 3 points per $1 spent at gas stations
  • Points are worth 25% more on airfare when booked at thankyou.com
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No special financing offers
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $858
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,125

Rewards totals incorporate the rewards earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Frequent travelers can benefit from the Citi Premier® Card with 3X points per $1 spent on air travel and hotels and at gas stations. Plus this card recently got a revamp and cardholders now earn 3X points per $1 spent at restaurants and supermarkets (up from 2X and 1X, respectively).

Cardholders can qualify to receive $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) once per calendar year on bookings through thankyou.com.

The Citi Premier Card has a $95 annual fee, but that's in line with other travel cards and cheaper than luxury cards which can cost hundreds, such as the $495 annual fee Citi Prestige® Card. This card has no foreign transaction fee, so you can benefit from using it abroad without the typical 3% fee.

This card has been known for offering 25% more value on points redeemed for airfare, hotels, cruises and car rentals through the ThankYou Travel Center, though this perk will end April 9, 2021.

Best balance transfer Mastercard

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Information about the Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    14.74% to 24.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Balances can be transferred within 4 months from account opening
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers at 18 months

Cons

  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No rewards program

Who's this for? The Citi Simplicity® Card offers one of the longest balance transfer intro periods at 0% for the first 18 months (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR). This intro period can provide you with a year and a half to pay off a large balance.

There is a higher than usual balance transfer fee of 5% (minimum $5), but it can be worthwhile if you're paying high interest charges and need more than the usual 12- or 15-month periods. 

New cardholders have four months to complete their balance transfer (longer than the typical 60 to 90 days), but the intro APR period starts at account opening — so aim to transfer your debt as soon as possible.

Beyond a balance transfer intro period, this card offers a 0% APR for the first 18 months on purchases (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR), has no annual fee and never charges late fees. One thing this card is lacking, however, is a rewards program. But if you're goal is to get out of debt, that shouldn't be an issue.

Best student Mastercard

Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

On Deserve's secure site
  • Rewards

    1% cash back on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    18.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A, balance transfers are not available

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • One year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles (valued up to $59)
  • No social security number needed to apply, perfect for international students
  • No credit history required, great for credit newbies
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • No special financing offers
  • No welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is a rare college student card that offers top-notch perks and lets international students without social security numbers qualify. You earn 1% cash back on all purchases, which is decent for a student card.

Cardholders also receive a year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles with their EDU card — valued at $59 — which is a great money-saving perk that provides free two-day and same-day shipping, discounts at Whole Foods and access to Prime Video.

You can also benefit from cell phone protection, an auto rental collision damage waiver and no foreign transaction fees — which can save you money if you drop your phone or travel.

Similar to most other college student cards, you must be over 18 and enrolled in college to qualify. Plus you'll need a U.S. bank account.

Best Mastercard for bad credit 

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Information about the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    This card doesn't offer cash back, points or miles

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    26.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    No credit history

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • $49, $99 or $200 refundable deposit
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Flexibility to change your payment due date

Cons

  • High 26.99% variable APR
  • No rewards program
  • After you apply and submit your deposit, it takes 2-3 weeks to get your card
  • Capital One periodically reviews your account to see if you can be transitioned to an unsecured card, but unlike the Discover it® Secured Card there’s no clear timeline for when this will occur

Who's this for? If you have bad credit or no credit at all, you should consider a secured card, especially one with a low deposit, like the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®. This card has no annual fee and minimum security deposits of $49, $99 or $200, based on your creditworthiness.

If you qualify for the low $49 or $99 deposits, you'll still receive a $200 credit limit. This is a great feature considering many secured cards require $200 deposits to receive an equivalent line of credit.

Even if you don't qualify for the lower deposits, you may receive access to a higher credit limit in as little as six months based on your payment history and creditworthiness with no additional deposit needed. This is a good incentive to maintain a timely payment history.

Don't miss:

Best Mastercard credit cards

Category No annual fee Cash back Travel Balance transfer College student Bad credit or no credit history
Credit card
Citi Rewards+® Card
Citi® Double Cash Card
Citi Premier® Card
Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
RewardsEarn 2X ThankYou® points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6000 per year and then 1X points thereafter. Plus earn 1X points on all other purchases2% cash back: 1% on all purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill3X points per $1 spent at restaurants; supermarkets; gas stations; and on hotels and air travel; 1X points per $1 spent on all other purchasesNone1% cash back on all purchasesNone
See below for our methodologyLearn MoreOn Citi's secure siteLearn MoreOn Citi's secure siteLearn MoreOn Citi's secure siteLearn MoreInformation about the Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreOn Deserve's secure siteLearn MoreInformation about the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, Select analyzed popular Mastercard 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.

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.

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.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

Information about the Citi Simplicity® Card, Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students, Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

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