Best Credit Cards of 2016

Look for 2x or higher points and a big sign up bonus if you have great credit. If you don't, look for a card to help build your credit.

The best credit cards generally offer low interest rates, great perks, and no hidden fees. However, that doesn’t mean the “right” card is the same for each person. Because each credit card offer is as different as we are, the best card for your needs depends on your spending habits, credit score, and personal credit goals. Use this post as your guide to match up your needs with the benefits you desire most.

Apply Now on Chase.com’s secure website

But, if you want to avoid analysis paralysis, here’s the CliffsNotes version: According to our readers, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the single best credit card with the best rewards and perks for nearly every type of spender.

How do we know? Because, over time, more of our readers have signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card than any other rewards card we have seen. Add onto that the myriad feedback we receive on this card’s benefits, such as no foreign transaction fee and the flexibility of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points, and it’s easy to see why the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the top cards on the market.

I can attest to its greatness as well. I have been writing about the credit card landscape for the last three years now, and this is the card I use for the bulk of my family’s everyday spending because I find the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform to be the most flexible for earning and redeeming travel. I even use the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card from Chase for my business as well to combine my business and personal Ultimate Rewards points to take my family of four on a free vacation.

The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for 2016

The best credit cards on the market come with plenty of perks that include things like cash back rewards, travel insurance, and price protection. They can also help you travel for free, or score heavily discounted travel perks. Other types of cards offer a lower interest rate, which can lead to huge savings over the long term. To help you get started, we created a list of our top cards in each of the main categories:

How Should I Choose the Right Credit Card?

While the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the clear winner for my family, that doesn’t mean it’s the best card for yours. In reality, the best card for your needs depends on your spending style and personal credit goals. Below are a few scenarios to help you narrow down the right card for you.

“I want free travel and perks.”

Travel credit cards are notorious for their amazing perks and travel-related benefits. Not only can you earn points or miles good for free travel, but also many travel credit cards let you earn special status with a hotel or airline, and also let you transfer your points to numerous hotel and airline loyalty programs.

What to look for: If travel is your number one goal, you’ll want a credit card that earns at least 2x points on travel, and has tons of flexibility, including allowing you to transfer points to hotel and airline loyalty programs. Also, many of the best travel credit cards offer additional travel benefits like trip cancellation coverage, primary and secondary auto rental coverage, and emergency travel assistance.

Beware: Most travel cards have annual fees, which are well worth the price if you earn enough points each year to justify the fee. You will also need excellent credit for most top travel cards.

Check out our picks for the top travel cards below.

“I’m looking for the best sign-up bonus right now.”

While it’s smart to think about the ongoing rewards you can earn, scoring a huge sign-up bonus doesn’t hurt, either. Fortunately, a ton of credit cards offer huge bonuses to people who are able to meet a minimum spending requirement within the first few months. While these sign-up bonuses can come in the form of cash back, you can also earn gift cards, airline miles, free hotel stays, and hotel points as well.

What to look for: Credit card sign-up bonuses are often cyclical with a peak season generally in the summer months, although some top travel cards offer healthy bonuses all year round. Sign-up bonuses are highest on rewards cards and travel cards, but make sure the one-time bonus is worth it. Often the largest point bonuses are on hotel cards, which offer little long-term value unless you travel frequently or only stay at one hotel chain. If you only travel one to two times per year, you will probably not earn enough points to justify the annual fee.

Beware: Since most cards with big bonuses come with a minimum spending requirement, you’ll need to make sure you can hit that requirement without hurting your finances. Also make sure the “bonus” you earn is something you can actually use. For example, a sign-up bonus made up of airline miles will only be useful if you plan to travel and can actually fly that airline.

Check out our picks for the top cards with sign-up bonuses below.

“I want to earn cash back on my spending.”

Cash back credit cards let you earn cash back, statement credits, or gift cards for every purchase you make. The best credit cards allow you to accumulate two or more points per dollar or more. Cash back cards are great second credit cards to own and work best when paired with a more general 2x points per purchase rewards card. And since many cash back credit cards are also considered “beginner credit cards,” they offer a great opportunity to build credit while you earn rewards.

What to look for: A cash back card is ideal when used as either your first credit card, or a complement to a higher-earning rewards card. Use cash back cards to maximize rewards on groceries, gas, and other categories where your rewards card might not earn bonus points. I use the Blue Cash Preferred Card® by American Express to earn 6% back on groceries for my family — up to $6,000 per year, for example. You also, generally do not need excellent credit like with a rewards card, but this can vary by issuer.

Beware: Cash back cards often rotate their bonus categories on a quarterly schedule. This means that you might earn 5% back on gas for the first three months of the year, and then groceries in the second quarter. Also, despite the allure of high earnings, cash back cards often cap the points you can earn in a given quarter.

Check out our picks for the top cash back cards below.

“I need to reduce my interest rate.”

One way to avoid high-interest credit card payments is to transfer your balance to a new credit card. When you do this, make sure it’s a credit card that will either accept your balance without charging a fee or offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for over a year. This gives you time to pay off your large balance.

What to look for: If you’re carrying credit card debt at a high interest rate, look for a card with a low interest rate or 0% introductory APR for anywhere between 12 to 21 months. Depending on how much you owe and your current rate, the interest you save could add up quick. And when you’re not paying huge interest payments every month, you may be able to get out of debt faster.

Beware: Most 0% introductory APR cards carry a fee for transferring your balance to the new card. This fee is usually between 3% and 5% of your total balance. The Chase Slate® card waives this fee if the balance is transferred within 60 days from a non-Chase credit card.

Check out our picks for the top balance transfer cards below.

“I need to build credit.”

Building credit is an important step in your financial journey, and using a credit card responsibly is the quickest way to build credit. However, when you do not have credit history, it can be difficult to obtain a card. There are two types of credit cards for building credit: unsecured and secured. Most credit cards are unsecured and do not require a cash deposit to use. A secured credit card is needed in more extreme circumstances where you need to “secure” your line of credit by depositing a cash amount equal to what you want to borrow.

What to look for: If your goal is building credit, rewards should take a back seat for the time being. Instead of looking for the top rewards credit cards, you should home in on cards geared to people with poor or evolving credit. If you can, you’ll want to get an unsecured credit card that doesn’t require a deposit.

Beware: You might have to apply for a secured credit card if your credit score is extremely low or if your credit history is limited. With a secured credit card, you would need to deposit $200-$500 with the credit card company in order to receive a $200-$500 line of credit. This sounds like a big barrier, but with a few months of on-time payments, you can reasonably expect to have the deposit requirement lifted.

Read our reviews for Best Credit Cards for Average Credit, Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit, and Best Student Credit Cards to find one that’s right for you.

“I don’t know what I need.”

If you’re still unsure which type of card would benefit you the most, browsing them all can help you compare and contrast. Take a look at our credit card database below.

Best Travel Credit Cards

Best Flexible Travel Credit Card

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Highlights

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gets high marks for both its earning structure and its flexibility. With this card, you’ll earn 2x points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1x points for all other purchases. The points you earn accrue in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which is one of the largest and most flexible rewards platforms available.

With this program, you can redeem your points for cash back or gift cards at a rate of one cent per point (50,000 points = $500), use them to book any type of travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal with a 20% discount, or transfer your points to popular loyalty programs like Southwest Airlines, British Airways Executive Club, United MileagePlus Explorer, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt, and IHG Rewards. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • Frequent travelers who want flexibility in how they use their points
  • People who spend a lot on dining and travel
  • Anyone who travels with Chase travel partners frequently

How to Use It:

  • Pair this card with a co-branded hotel or airline travel card in the Chase portfolio to earn even more points.
  • Use your card for all dining and travel purchases to earn 2x points for every dollar you spend.
  • Shop through the Chase shopping portal to rack up points even faster.

Best Airline Credit Card

Apply Now on Southwest Airlines' secure website

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card Highlights

The best airline credit card depends on a variety of factors including which airports you fly out of, but if Southwest Airlines is an option for you, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is the best airline credit card for domestic travel and travel to the Caribbean. With this card, you’ll earn 2x points on all Southwest® purchases plus 1x points for every other purchase you make. As an added bonus, you can earn even more points by clicking through the Southwest shopping portal before buying anything online or by booking hotels and rental cars with Southwest.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program comes with no blackout dates, which makes this card an even better option. Since you can book any seat on any flight, you never have to worry about finding award availability on the flight you want. And, your first two checked bags are also free on any Southwest Airlines flight, so you’ll be saving yourself that expense too. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card:

  • Anyone who can fly with Southwest Airlines
  • Someone who wants to travel within the US and to the Caribbean
  • People who hate searching for award availability

How to Use It:

  • Pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card in order to rack up even more miles.
  • Use your card for all Southwest Airlines purchases in order to rack up more points.
  • Use the Southwest shopping portal to earn even more points on purchases, hotel stays, and car rentals.

Best Hotel Credit Card

Apply Now on Starwood's secure website

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Highlights

While the best hotel credit card for your needs depends largely on where you travel, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express gets high marks for hotel and resort options, award availability, and its ongoing perks. With this card, you’ll earn up to 5x points per dollar spent at eligible Starwood properties and 1x points on all other purchases.

The annual fee is waived the first year, and the signup bonus alone can be worth several free nights in one of Starwood’s lower tier properties. If Starwood hotels are available in the areas you’re planning to travel, then this is a win-win. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express:

  • Anyone who wants to earn free hotel stays at Starwood Preferred Guest properties
  • Someone who wants a sign-up bonus worth a few free nights
  • People who want the option to book properties with points and cash

How to Use It:

  • Rack up starpoints, then transfer them to your favorite airline transfer partners.
  • Use your card for regular purchases to earn more points over time.
  • Use “points and cash” when you book to stretch your points out even further.

Want to compare even more travel credit cards? Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Travel Credit Cards, Best Hotel Credit Cards, and Best Airline Credit Cards.

Best Sign-up Bonus Right Now

Best Flexible Sign-up Bonus

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Highlights

We hate to be repetitive, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card really does offer the best flexible sign-up bonus on the market. With this card’s 50,000-point bonus, you can redeem those points for $625 in travel, or transfer them to airline or hotel loyalty programs. For comparison, a hotel card like IHG Rewards might offer an 80,000-point sign-up bonus, but that can only be used at IHG hotels and select partners, which severely limits your options.

Because these points are flexible, your sign-up bonus can look however you want it to look. And since this card’s annual fee is waived the first year, you can try this card out without paying a cent. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • Someone who wants points redeemable for travel or cash back
  • People who want a huge sign-up bonus
  • Anyone who is able to spend $4,000 on their card within three months

How to Use It:

  • Pair this card with a co-branded hotel or airline travel card in the Chase portfolio to earn even more points.
  • Use your card for all dining and travel purchases to earn 2x points for every dollar you spend.
  • Shop through the Chase shopping portal to rack up points even faster.

Best Sign-Up Bonus for Travel

Apply Now on Barclaycard's secure website

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® Highlights

If you’re interested in a sign-up bonus that is geared specifically for travel, look no further than the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. With this card, you’ll earn a huge bonus with hundreds of dollars in travel. Plus, you’ll earn 2x points for every dollar you spend in any category, all year long.

And since this comes in the form of a “travel credit,” you can use your bonus for any type of travel with no fear of blackout dates or capacity controls. Use your card to book any hotel stay or a flight with any airline, and then redeem your points to cover the purchase. It’s as simple as that. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®:

  • Someone who wants flexible rewards good for travel
  • Someone who dislikes searching for award availability
  • A person who isn’t loyal to a specific airline or hotel chain

How to Use It:

  • Use your card for all of your everyday purchases to earn 2x points for every dollar you spend.
  • Earn the huge sign-up bonus and then book any travel experience of your choosing.
  • Try this card’s benefits for “free” the first year since the annual fee is waived.

Want to compare even more credit cards with sign-up bonuses? Check out our in-depth review of Best Credit Card Sign-up Bonus Offers.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Best Cash Back Card with Rotating Bonus Categories

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Chase Freedom® Highlights

If you’re looking for a card that lets you earn up to 5x points for every dollar you spend, look no further than the Chase Freedom®. With this card in your wallet, you’ll earn 5x points on your first $1,500 spent in categories such as retail, gas, or groceries that rotate every quarter. In addition, you’ll earn 1x points for every dollar you spend elsewhere — all of this with no annual fee.

With any card that offers cash back on purchases with rotating categories, it’s important to get the one that matches your spending habits at the places you shop frequently in order to reap all of the rewards. Keep in mind that Chase doesn’t count purchases at Target and Walmart, so if you’re a frequent shopper there, you may be better off with the Discover it® Cashback Match™. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get the Chase Freedom®:

  • Someone who wants to score up to 5% back in rotating categories
  • Anyone who also has the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • People who don’t like paying annual fees

How to Use It:

  • Pair it with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for additional travel options and the ability to transfer points.
  • Max out 5% bonus categories when it makes sense.
  • Use your card for all of your purchases to earn more points over time.

Earn Double Points Your First Year

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Discover it® Cashback Match™ Highlights

The Discover it® Cashback Match™ is similar to the Chase Freedom®, but its first-year benefits set it apart. Discover not only offers 5x points on your first $1,500 spent in rotating categories and 1x points on all other purchases, also for no annual fee, but also matches your first-year earnings at the end of 12 months.

So, in the categories where you already earn a cool 5% back, you’ll actually end up earning 10%! While all that’s great, you’ll ultimately want to make sure that the spending categories line up with your shopping habits. Keep in mind Discover isn’t accepted at as many places as Visa, so the Chase Freedom® may be the better choice for you. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get the Discover it® Cashback Match™:

  • Someone who doesn’t want to pay an annual fee
  • Anyone who wants to earn up to 10% back over the course of a year
  • Someone who is looking for one general card to meet all their basic needs

How to Use It:

  • Maximize 5% categories to earn 10% back once your bonus doubles.
  • Use your card for all of your everyday spending to maximize rewards.
  • Shop through the Discover shopping portal to rack up rewards even faster.

Want to compare even more cash back credit cards? Check out our in-depth review of the Best Cash Back Credit Cards.

Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards

Best Balance Transfer Credit Card with a No Fee Option

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Chase Slate® Highlights

If you’re looking for a balance transfer credit card that charges minimal fees, the Chase Slate® should be at the top of your list. With this card, you’ll get a 0% introductory APR on transferred balances for a full 15 months. Better yet, if you transfer your balance within the first 60 days, you won’t be charged a balance transfer fee.

Since this card doesn’t charge an annual fee either, you can save a chunk of money on interest by transferring your balance without getting loaded down with charges. Keep in mind though, you can only transfer balances from a non-Chase card. Read our full review of this card here.

Who Should Get the Chase Slate®:

  • Anyone with high interest credit card debt
  • People who don’t want to pay an annual fee
  • Anyone who wants to avoid balance transfer fees

How to Use It:

  • Transfer your high interest balances within the first 60 days to avoid balance transfer fees.
  • Pay down your debt as quickly as you can, preferably within the 15-month 0% introductory offer.
  • Keep your card open to build credit.

Best Balance Transfer Credit Card with Rewards

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Discover it® Cashback Match™ Highlights

While the Discover it® Cashback Match™ is known for its amazing cash back benefits, this card is equally good as a balance transfer card. Once you sign up, you’ll get a 0% introductory APR for a full 18 months. If you have high-interest credit card debt, getting a 0% introductory APR for 18 months can save you a bundle and help you get out of debt faster. On the downside, you will pay a 3% balance transfer fee on the amount you transfer over. As an added bonus, this card also offers 1% to 5% cash back on purchases and a 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first six months. Plus, you’ll never pay an annual fee.

Who Should Get the Discover it® Cashback Match™:

  • Anyone who has credit card debt
  • People who want to earn cash back on each purchase they make
  • Someone who doesn’t want to pay an annual fee

How to Use It:

  • Transfer your high interest credit card debt to the card right away.
  • Pay off your debts as quickly as you can, preferably within the 18-month 0% APR introductory offer.
  • Use your card for purchases to earn rewards, but be careful of interest on new purchases.

Want to compare even more balance transfer credit cards? Check out our in-depth review of the Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards.

Additional Credit Card Research

If you’re looking for any easy way to compare cards, check out our search tool below:

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Did You Know?

How to Make The Right Credit Card Work For You

When used correctly, credit cards are powerful tools to help manage cash flow, and “earn” on your everyday spending. However, used improperly, credit cards can wreak havoc on your finances. Below are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your credit card.

Research your rewards program

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people complain about having trouble redeeming airline miles. The thing is, with a bit of research ahead of time, they would already know that airline miles are incredibly difficult to redeem, especially during peak travel times and within a few months of departure. This is where it pays to educate yourself. If you plan to sign up for a card that is tied to a specific program, such as an airline or hotel chain, you should first have an idea of what you would want to redeem your points for — and if it’s even possible. If you don’t want to be tied down to a specific rewards currency, you can also opt for a cash back card or one that offers flexible rewards. One good option is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Multiple Cards

A huge misconception in the world of credit cards is that it is bad for your credit to have more than one or two cards. Because a large percentage of your credit score is based on your balance-to-limit ratio, having a large credit limit spread over several cards and a zero balance can actually be better for your credit score than just having a few cards. Meanwhile, carrying more than one card can also help you leverage the different benefits and perks that different types of rewards cards have to offer. For example, you could get a hotel card for free hotel stays and a cash-back card to help you pay for the gas to get to your destination.

Always treat your credit card like cash

In order to maximize rewards without getting in trouble, you need to treat your credit card like cash. This means only spending amounts you have incoming each month, and not a penny more. The quickest way to enter the credit card downward spiral is to use a credit card to make a large purchase you cannot afford. If you don’t have the cash to pay for something, don’t use credit as an excuse to justify the purchase. Only charge what you can afford to pay off each month — period.

Cash In on Hidden Benefits

Although the best credit cards offer a slew of obvious benefits including cash back and travel rewards, many offer a handful of hidden perks that aren’t always advertised. You might have to dig deeper to find them, but these “extras” can truly come in handy. If used correctly, they can even help you save money, travel safer, and protect yourself from undue risk. Here are a few credit card benefits not everyone knows about, and some information on how each one works:

Benefit #1: Zero Liability

Although consumer liability for fraudulent purchases made on credit is limited to $50, the best cards take that protection a step further and offer zero liability for transactions you didn’t make. If your card is lost or stolen, or if a random charge appears on your bill, you won’t be liable if you report it immediately.

Benefit #2: No Foreign Transaction Fees

Many of the best credit cards on the market charge a foreign transaction fee equal to 3% of your purchase for charges made overseas. However, some waive this fee altogether — a feature that can help you save when you travel out of the country.

Benefit #3: Rental Car Coverage

If you rent cars frequently, you have probably already checked to make sure your personal auto policy provides this type of coverage. However, it’s also important to check with your credit card as well. While some cards only offer a secondary Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), others offer expensive primary auto rental coverage as a free perk to cardholders.

Benefit #4: A Free FICO Score

Although you can pay to get your FICO score at any time, several of the top rewards cards offer a free FICO score on your monthly statement or bill. This can save you the expense of paying to see your credit score, while also helping you monitor fluctuations in your score over time.

Benefit #5: Emergency Travel Assistance

If you find yourself in a bind, it is possible your card issuer could help. That’s because many of the best rewards cards offer emergency travel assistance for individuals traveling at least 100 miles from home. Perks include helping find lost luggage to booking alternative travel plans.

Benefit #6: Free Travel Insurance

Although benefits vary, several of the top rewards cards offer trip delay or trip cancellation insurance that will reimburse you if your itinerary is changed due to issues beyond your control. This type of insurance is most often used when a trip is canceled due to the unexpected death of a family member, an accident occurs, or a natural disaster puts travel plans on the back burner.

Benefit #7: Extended Warranties

Many of the top cards offer extended warranties that kick in if something goes wrong outside of a qualified item’s traditional one-year manufacturer’s warranty. Depending on the circumstances, this type of coverage usually reimburses you or sends you a replacement.

Benefit #8: Price Protection

Some cards offer price protection, which will pay you the difference on a large-ticket item if it goes on sale shortly after you purchase it. The most popular program is Citi’s Price Rewind. With Citi’s service, you will be automatically reimbursed for the price difference if any large item you buy and register is found at a lower price within 60 days.

Benefit #9: Roadside Assistance

If you have a credit card that offers roadside assistance and you experience a breakdown, all you need to do is call the number on the back of your card. You’ll be charged a flat fee depending on what type of service you require, but at least you won’t be left at the mercy of your local tow truck company.

Benefit #10 Access to Cash

While not common, some credit cards give you access to cash at the register similar to your debit card. For example, with Discover’s Cash Over program, you can request cash back at the register and avoid a trip to the ATM — and without paying any fees. This benefit is only available at participating stores.

The Bottom Line

The very best credit card for you depends on your circumstances, spending habits, and personal financial goals. While credit cards have gotten a bad rap over the years, their myriad benefits make them worth considering if you’re able to avoid the allure of overspending. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve learned how to select a great card from thousands of possibilities. You have also learned some basics for using credit cards, seen some pitfalls to avoid, and have been exposed to many hidden benefits credit card pros have been exploiting for years. Now it’s up to you to use your card responsibly, and make sure your card is another tool in your financial tool belt.

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