CNBC Select may receive an affiliate commission when you click on the links for products from our partners. Click here to read our full advertiser disclosure.
CNBC Select

Best Visa credit cards of July 2020

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

Visa

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.

Best Visa credit cards

Best no-annual-fee Visa card

Chase Freedom®

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

    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

  • 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

  • Balance transfer fee

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

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

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
  • Opportunity to earn up to 5% cash back in select categories upon activation

Cons

  • Bonus categories must be activated each quarter
  • Cash-back program limits 5% cash-back earnings to $1,500 a quarter
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $539
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,894

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

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.

Best cash-back Visa card

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card
Information about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $99, waived the first year

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%

  • Regular APR

    12.24% to 22.24% variable

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)
  • Annual fee is waived the first year
  • Simple cash-back program that doesn’t require activation or spending caps
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $99 annual fee after the first year
  • No welcome bonus
  • No special financing offers
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $553
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $2,370

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.

Best travel Visa card

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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

    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

  • Welcome bonus

    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®

  • Annual fee

    $550

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    16.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit for travel purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass™ Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • $60 DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership

Cons

  • High $550 annual fee, but it can be offset by taking advantage of all the card’s perks
  • No introductory APR
  • Relatively high balance transfer fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,231
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,755

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

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. 

Best balance transfer Visa card

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
Information about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum 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 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2% to 3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 20 months of no interest on balance transfers and purchases
  • No annual fee
  • Cell phone protection plan

Cons

  • No rewards program
  • 2% to 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening
  • Transfer timeline: Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening
  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment: $388

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.

Best student Visa card

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Information about the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    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.

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    26.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Average

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Access a higher credit limit in as little as 6 months

Cons

  • 26.99% variable APR
  • No special financing offers

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. 

Best Visa card for bad credit

DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card

DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card
Information about the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    13.00% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    No credit history

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 13.00% variable APR
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • $500 minimum security deposit, which is higher than average
  • Credit union membership required, which may cost a minimum of $10 if you don’t qualify
  • No rewards program
  • No clear timeline to upgrade to an unsecured card

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.

Best Visa credit cards

Category No annual fee Cash back Travel Balance transfer Student Bad credit
Credit cardChase Freedom®Chase Freedom®Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit CardAlliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit CardChase Sapphire Reserve®Chase Sapphire Reserve®U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum CardU.S. Bank Visa® Platinum CardJourney® Student Rewards from Capital One®Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit CardDCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card
Rewards5% 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 purchases2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)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 purchasesNoneEarn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that monthNone
See below for our methodologyLearn MoreInformation about the Chase Freedom® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreInformation about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature 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 Chase's secure siteLearn MoreInformation about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreInformation about the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreInformation about the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card 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, 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.

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.