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CNBC Select wants to help you find the right credit card for your life. To determine which cards will give
you the most value, our journalists evaluate a wide array of credit cards offered by banks, financial
companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join. While we aim to include as many cards in the
marketplace as possible, we may not examine all card companies or available card offers.
We compare cards based on a range of features, including rewards (e.g., cash back, travel perks), annual
fees, welcome bonuses, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fees and foreign transaction
fees, as well as factors such as required credit score.
To compare cards that reward specific purchases, we use consumer spending data provided by the
location intelligence firm Esri to create a sample annual budget of approximately $21,800 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.
In many of our credit card reviews, we use this sample budget to help determine each card’s reward
potential. For example, $5,019 spent on groceries x 6% cash-back rate = $301 in rewards.
We then estimate how much the average consumer will gain over the course of a year, two years and
five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all bonuses
offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the
highest five-year return, since it is common to hold onto a credit card for several years. This method also
avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.
It's worth noting that while the five-year estimates 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. We
seek to provide comprehensive information to make a decision that is right for you.