Visa is a credit card network that's been around for over 60 years, but it wasn't always called Visa. The company was originally known as BankAmericard, after Bank of America's first credit card launched in 1958, and it didn't become Visa until 1976.
Today, Visa provides the infrastructure to process transactions between merchants and card issuers and backs credit cards from dozens of issuers, notably Bank of America, Capital One and Chase.
Visa cards are grouped into one of three tiers — Traditional, Signature and Infinite — and the tier determines the benefits you receive. Typically, the higher the card's annual fee, the higher the tier. All Visa cardholders receive standard perks, such as $0 liability protection, while higher tiers can also enjoy purchase protection and travel insurance.
Depending on the card you have, you also can benefit from lucrative rewards programs, introductory interest-free financing and more, just by having a Visa card.
Below, CNBC Select breaks down the best Visa credit cards in six categories so you can choose the best card for your needs.
5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 1% cash back on all other purchases
$200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
0% for the first 15 months on purchases
14.99% to 23.74% variable on purchases
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Who's this for? If you're looking to avoid an annual fee and maximize cash-back in a variety of rotating categories, the Chase Freedom® credit card is a great choice. This card has no annual fee and provides 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%) and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
The cash-back calendar changes quarterly and currently includes grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart), select streaming services, gym memberships and fitness clubs from April to June. (Learn how Chase classifies bonus category purchases.)
This card can also be a resource for financing new purchases or getting out of debt. There's a competitive 0% APR for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR).
The Freedom card also offers Lyft and DoorDash benefits, including 5% cash back on Lyft purchases through March 2022 and a complimentary three months of DashPass (free delivery on DoorDash orders over $12 and lower service fees), plus 50% off for the next nine months when you activate by December 31, 2021.
2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)
$99, waived the first year
12.24% to 22.24% variable
Who's this for? The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card offers an industry-leading 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle), which is ideal for anyone looking for a high-earning, yet easy-to-use card. There are no bonus categories to keep track of so you can easily maximize cash back on everyday purchases.
While this card has a strong cash-back program, it does come with a $99 annual fee, waived the first year. This is considered average compared to other rewards cards, but you can find cash-back cards with no annual fees, such as the Chase Freedom® card mentioned above.
In order to qualify for this card, you'll need to be a member of Alliant Credit Union and open an Alliant bank account. If you don't qualify for membership based on location, job or family member, you can join Alliant for free by supporting Alliant's partner charity, Foster Care to Success, since Alliant pays the $5 membership fee on your behalf.
10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit), 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
50,000 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®
16.99% to 23.99% variable
5%, minimum $5
Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a standout travel card with unique rewards and luxury perks. Most notably, points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel via the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 redeemed toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Cardholders earn points at a rate of 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit), 3X on dining at restaurants worldwide and 1X point per $1 on all other purchases. Plus 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022.
Additional Lyft and DoorDash perks include a complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership, which provides 15% off car rides, priority airport pickups and more, as well as an annual $60 credit for DoorDash in 2020 and 2021, plus a free DashPass subscription when you activate by December 31, 2021.
This card also comes with an annual $300 travel credit, which can cover everything from airfare and hotels to parking and tolls. Chase also expanded eligible purchases to include gas station and grocery store purchases made now through December 31, 2020.
Take note that this card has a steep $550 annual fee, but all the card's added credits and benefits can help offset the cost. If you're not willing to pay that much for a card, consider the lower-cost Chase Sapphire Preferred®, which has a $95 annual fee (see how the Reserve and Preferred cards compare).
The Sapphire Reserve card is one of few Visa Infinite credit cards, which provide access to premium perks, such as Priority Pass™ Lounge membership and discounts on car rentals, compared to Visa Signature cards.
0% for the first 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases
13.99% to 23.99% variable
3%, minimum $5
2% to 3%
Who's this for? The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card offers the longest 0% APR intro period for a Visa card at 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (then a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). This is a longer than average intro period for a balance transfer card and can provide you with a low-cost way to finance large purchases.
The balance transfer fee is 3% (minimum $5). That can be a worthwhile expense when you calculate how much you'll save on interest. There are no-fee balance transfer cards that can save you more money, but these cards often come with less time to pay off your balance at 0% interest.
Keep in mind that you'll have 60 days to complete your balance transfer, starting from the day you open your account, so it's a good idea to transfer it as soon as possible.
While this card doesn't have a rewards program or welcome bonus, you can benefit from no annual fee and cell phone protection against damage or theft.
Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month.
Who's this for? The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is a good choice for college students who are learning to use credit for the first time. Cardholders earn 1% cash back on all purchases, which is increased to 1.25% for every billing cycle that your account is in good standing (meaning you've made at least your minimum payment on time). This is a great incentive to keep up with your monthly payments, which is important for having a good credit score.
Upon account opening, you'll receive a minimum credit limit of $300, which can automatically increase in as little as six months when you use your card responsibly. This card also has no foreign transaction fees, travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and more.
While most college student credit cards require you to be a student, the Journey Student Rewards card doesn't. However, you'll need to show that you meet the income requirements.
No credit history
Who's this for? Many credit cards for bad credit charge high fees, but the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card is an exception. There's no annual fee and a reasonable 13.00% variable APR (though you should aim to pay your bill in full every month).
While there are low fees, you'll be required to make a higher-than-average $500 minimum security deposit to receive an equivalent credit limit. That's compared to other secured cards that typically require $200 deposits. You can use this card to make purchases just like a traditional card and by making on time-payments, you can build or rebuild your credit score and work your way toward qualifying for the best cards for fair/average or good credit.
This card does offer some helpful perks, including travel insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and extended warranty protection.
Since this card is issued by a credit union, membership to the Digital Federal Credit Union is required. However, anyone can join in one of several ways: if you're a family member of a DCU member, live in select communities, work for select employers or make a one-time contribution (as low as $10) to a participating organization.
To determine which credit cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed popular Visa 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.
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.
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.