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Best MasterCard Credit Cards of 2021
If you’re looking for a MasterCard, you have plenty of options. There are MasterCards available at numerous banks and credit unions, as well as at major retailers — I’ve had a LOVELOFT MasterCard® since 2010, and have earned plenty of Ann Taylor Loft rewards (which translates into free clothes).
But I don’t know where you shop, where your local banks are, or what airlines you prefer, so I’ve pulled together a list of the best MasterCards for nearly everyone. Check out my top picks for rewards, balance transfers, low APR, and more — and then see if a new MasterCard is in your future.
Best for Travel Rewards
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
There are plenty of airline-specific MasterCards, like the JetBlue Plus Card (currently unavailable) and the United MileagePlus® Credit Card – and train fans shouldn’t ignore the Amtrak Guest Rewards® World MasterCard® — but if you’re looking for a general travel card, check out the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® gets you 2x miles on all purchases, plus a 70,000-mile bonus if you spend $5,000 in the first 90 days of opening your account. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® also includes a 5% redemption bonus.
One thing to note: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® comes with an $89 annual fee (waived first year).
Best for Cash Back Rewards
The Citi® Double Cash Card is exactly what the name implies. You get 1% cash back on every purchase, plus an extra 1% cash back when you pay that purchase off. That adds up to double cash!
Let’s see it in action: If you spent $3,500 with the Citi® Double Cash Card, you’d get 1% cash back, or $35, when you made the purchases. You’d get another $35 when you paid the $3,500 off, bringing your total cash back to $70. Use your cash back as a statement credit, send it to a linked Citi checking or savings account (or to the checking account you use to pay your Citi credit card bills), turn it into a gift card, or — if you’re feeling old-fashioned — get a check.
The Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard® is also a good pick, but a little more complicated. You get 1.5% cash back on every purchase, but you also get a 5% redemption bonus every time you redeem your cash back — plus an extra $200 if you spend $1000 within the first 90 days of opening your account.
With the Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®, if you spend that same $3,500 in one month, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back, or $52.50. That’s just above the $50 minimum Barclays requires for you to redeem your cash back, so you can redeem the $52.50 and get a 5% redemption bonus, or $2.63, to apply to your next redemption.
So you spend another $3,500, get $52.50 cash back, and redeem it. Your $2.63 bonus gets added to the $52.50 you’re redeeming, turning it into $55.13.
You can definitely get more cash back with the Citi® Double Cash Card, but remember you’ll only earn that cash when you pay off your account balances! If you aren’t a big spender, however, the Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard® might give you more for your money, and faster — you’ll get that $200 bonus if you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days, but you’d have to spend $5,000 (and pay it off) to get $100 in cash back from Citi.
Best to Transfer a Balance
If you want to transfer a balance and pay it off interest-free, the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card gives you 0% for 18 months to get that taken care of.
The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card 0% for 18 months intro APR applies to all balances transferred within the first four months of opening your account then an ongoing 14.74%–24.74% variable APR. You do pay a 3% fee on balance transfers — so, for example, you’d pay an extra $75 for the privilege of transferring a $2,500 balance — but since you get 0% for 18 months to pay that balance off interest-free, the 3% fee will probably be worth it.
This 0% for 18 months intro APR also applies to all purchases (then an ongoing 14.74%–24.74% variable APR), which means you could use this card to pay off a balance interest-free, but you could also use it to finance a large purchase such as a vacation or a new computer.
Since the 0% intro APR applies to balances transferred during the first 4 months, you could even spend some time racking up balances on your rewards credit cards, claiming the cash back or travel rewards, and then transferring those balances to the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card within the four-month cutoff to pay those balances without paying interest.
Best for Low APR
I’ve never seen a credit card like the Barclaycard Ring® Mastercard®. The variable APR is low — and unlike other credit cards with APR ranges, you know exactly what you’re getting when you apply.
The most interesting aspect of the Barclaycard Ring® Mastercard® is its online community, where users vote on the features they’d like to see Barclays add to the card. Recently, they elected to remove foreign transaction fees. You can also use the online community to discuss personal finance or read blog posts designed to help you make smart spending decisions.
How committed is Barclaycard Ring® Mastercard® to this idea of community? So committed that it’s introduced Giveback™, a program that gives card users a share of the Barclaycard Ring® Mastercard®’s estimated profits. As the community blog notes, you won’t earn Giveback™ if the card doesn’t make a profit (and if it does, it’s only going to be around five bucks or so), but it’s still a nice gesture.
If you need to rebuild your credit, the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card is designed to help you grow your credit limit and build a solid credit history.
As with all secured credit cards, the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card requires a deposit to “secure” the account. Unlike other secured credit cards, Capital One does not require your deposit to equal your credit limit. Make more than the minimum deposit and you can become eligible for a higher credit limit.
Another nice gesture: Capital One will automatically consider you for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed. That’s a huge benefit that many other secured cards don’t offer, and it can have a significant effect on your credit score. (Credit bureaus look at what is called “credit utilization,” which means “the percentage of total credit you are currently using.” If you have a Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card with a $3,000 credit limit, but you’re only using a small portion of that available credit, that makes you look like a responsible borrower.)
The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card also differs from other secured cards in that it doesn’t charge an annual fee, which means you’re not paying for the privilege of building your credit.
The Perks of Using a MasterCard
As I mentioned in my review of the best Visa cards, I’ve been highlighting perks specific to each individual MasterCard — that is, perks handed out by the card issuer. But now that we’ve looked at the perks that Barclays or Citi or Capital One include, what about the perks you’ll get from MasterCard itself?
To know your perks level, take a look at the MasterCard logo on your credit card. If you just see a plain yellow-and-red MasterCard logo, you’re at the bottom of the perks ladder — but that isn’t bad. Here are just two of your perks: Your MasterCard entitles you to double the manufacturer or store brand warranty on products purchased (for up to one year), and MasterCard’s Price Protection program might pay out a reimbursement if an item’s price drops within 60 days of the original purchase.
If you see the word “World” printed above the logo, you’re entitled to even more perks, like identity theft protection, complimentary hotel room upgrades, and concierge services.
If the logo is silver, that means you’re “World Elite.” You get additional benefits like a personal travel advisor, trip-cancellation insurance, and access to MasterCard’s chauffeured car service and private jet program.
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