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How to choose the best credit card in 3 easy steps

Select reviews three simple steps you can follow to choose the best credit card that provides you with the most benefit.

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We earn a commission from affiliate partners on many offers, but not all offers on Select are from affiliate partners.

If you're in the market for a new credit card, you may be overwhelmed by the hundreds of options available. There are seemingly endless varieties of cards offering rewards, no-interest periods and the chance to build credit, which can make it hard to settle on the right one for your wallet.

There's no one-size-fits-all credit card, so the best credit card for you may differ from your friend. However, there are some steps you can take to help narrow down your options when you're looking to get a new card.

Below, Select reviews three simple steps you can follow to choose the credit card that provides you with the most benefit.

Are you a small business owner? Check out how to choose a business credit card.

How to choose the best credit card

  1. Check your credit score and credit report
  2. Decide which type of credit card suits your needs
  3. Shop around for the best credit card offers

1. Check you credit score and credit report

The first step is to check your credit score and credit report. There are numerous free resources available, such as CreditWise from Capital One and Discover Credit Scorecard, where you can check your credit score. Plus many of these services offer insight into factors that affect your credit and offer advice on how to improve it. You don't have to be a customer of Discover or Capital One to use these services.

Credit score ranges vary by credit scoring model (FICO or VantageScore), but creditors use FICO Scores in 90% of U.S. lending decisions, so we listed those ranges below.

FICO Score ranges

  • Very poor: 300 to 579
  • Fair: 580 to 669
  • Good: 670 to 739
  • Very good: 740 to 799
  • Excellent: 800 to 850

Once you know what range you fall in, you can use that information to fine-tune your credit card search. Consider cards that require credit equal to or less than yours. If you have good credit, consider cards that state good or fair credit requirements.

Even if your credit score falls within the good range that doesn't guarantee you'll be approved for a credit card requiring good credit. Card issuers look at more factors than just your credit score, including income and monthly housing payments.

2. Decide which type of credit card suits your needs

Credit cards can be separated into three main types: rewards, 0% APR and building credit.

Below we list which consumer each type of credit card is best for.

Rewards

If you have no debt and have already established good credit, rewards credit cards can help you offset the cost of purchases and pay for upcoming travel (by redeeming points or miles). Rewards cards come in all shapes and sizes with cards offering cash back, points or miles in common spending categories (travel, gas, groceries and dining out) that can be redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, airfare, hotels and more.

Depending on the rewards card you open, you may receive added perks. Here are some of our favorites:

Terms apply for all benefits.

Learn more: Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card review: The best no annual fee travel credit card for your next vacation

Intro 0% APR

If you want to get out of debt or finance new purchases, a 0% APR credit card can be a good tool that offers no interest on purchases, balance transfers or both. The Citi Simplicity® Card offers a 0% intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer and 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening (after 15.49% to 25.49% variable APR). Balance transfers must be completed within four months of account opening.

During the interest-free period, you can benefit from substantial savings versus carrying a balance on a high interest credit card, where a portion of your payment goes toward interest charges.

The best balance transfer credit cards offer no interest periods of at least a year, and some cards also offer hard-to-find $0 balance transfer fees

If you have a large purchase coming up, consider putting it on an intro 0% APR card and benefit from no interest charges while you repay debt. Just make sure to pay off your balance before the intro period ends.

Take note that the best 0% APR credit cards typically require good or excellent credit.

Building credit

If you don't have much credit history or have a less than stellar score (669 and lower), you should make building credit your top priority over rewards or special financing offers. A good credit score is key to unlocking the best interest rates and increasing approval odds for credit cards, mortgages and loans.

There are credit cards specially designed for building credit or for people with fair or average credit that can help you improve your score. Secured cards tend to be a popular choice for credit newbies and people with bad credit. Simply provide a security deposit, usually $200, and receive a credit limit equal to the deposit. Then you can use a secured card just like a traditional unsecured card.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a great choice in part because it also offers cash back: Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%, and earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases automatically.

Learn more: How secured credit cards work

3. Shop around for the best credit card offers

Once you've decided which type of credit card meets your needs, it's time to shop around for the best credit card offers. Consider bonus categories for rewards cards, length of intro period for 0% APR cards and credit tools for cards that help you build credit.

Plus don't forget to factor in fees and interest rates into your decision. That includes annual fees, foreign transaction fees late payment fees and APRs.

If you have trouble choosing one card, consider submitting a pre-qualification form online to see whether you may qualify. You can submit multiple pre-qualification requests without any damage to your credit score, since it involves a soft pull of your credit — which doesn't hurt your credit score. Be aware that pre-qualification isn't a guarantee you'll be approved for the card and submitting an application affects your credit score.

If you pre-qualify for one credit card and not another, that can be a good indication of which card to apply for.

Learn more: 5 questions to ask yourself if you're unsure about applying for a new credit card

Take Select's quiz to find the right card

Information about the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card, and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

For rates and fees of the Discover it® Cash Back, click here.

For rates and fees of the Discover it® Secured Card, click here.

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.