Editor's Choice Awards: Best Credit Cards for 2016

By Curtis Arnold, CardRatings contributor
Updated, February 1, 2016

Our credit card reviews and ratings maintain strict editorial integrity and are independent of whether a card is an advertiser; however, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners and get approved. See details on how we make money here.

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    A new year marks a fresh start for nearly anything you can think of – including hitting your financial goals. Credit is a huge part of that, affecting everything from how fast you pay down debt to your ability to maximize rewards. After all, shouldn’t credit cards work for your budgetary needs not against them? To help kick 2016 off right, CardRatings has compiled a comprehensive list of the very best credit cards for your unique situation.  

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    clerk taking credit card

    Editor’s pick for cash back cards

    Question: What’s better than free money back on every purchase?

    Answer: Free money offered at generous proportion.

    CardRatings has identified cash back cards with on-going, high-rewards rates, and unique options to redeem earnings.  

    Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express This card offers some of the highest reward rates on the market: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000), 3% cash back at US gas stations, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

    Citi® Double Cash This cash back rewards card from Citi® (A CardRatings.com advertiser) takes a groundbreaking approach for rewarding cardholders. One percent cash back is earned at time of purchase, and 1 percent is cash back is earned as you pay for those purchases, whether in full or over time. Since there is no cap or category restrictions, cardholders have great potential to earn points and are rewarded by paying off their balance. 

    Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card Any time a credit card promotes wise financial benefits, we’re on board. Any points earned with this Visa Signature® card can be applied toward an eligible Fidelity® account: IRA, 401K, or savings.  Taking advantage of this redemption program means you’re getting cash back on the purchases you make, and letting the power of compound interest further accelerate your earnings.

    Editor’s pick for balance transfer cards

    The Federal Reserve estimates the revolving credit balance for Americans has increased in the lastbalance transfer hacks year by 6-1/2 percent (as of September, 2015).  When it comes time to pay down those balances, consumers might consider the tactic of balance transferring. CardRatings has identified some of the best balance transfer cards on the market.

    Chase Slate® What is a better complement to 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfer than a $0 introductory fee for balance transfers? For 60 days after account opening cardholders can balance transfer with confidence — no fees or interest, and an ongoing promise that paying late won’t raise your interest rate.  The absence of balance transfer fees is a rare and attractive feature.  This card also comes with Chase Blueprint which helps users better manage their accounts.

    M&T Visa Signature Many balance transfer cards focus on the balance transfer deal itself and cash back or other ancillary rewards aren’t addressed. With the M&T Visa® Signature cardholders can enjoy 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 12 months, no balance transfer fee until March 31, 2016 and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all qualifying purchases. New cardholders can also receive 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

    Citi Simplicity® New to our editor’s choice draft this year, Citi Simplicity® shows up with a splash. Cardholders can enjoy a 0% introductory APR for 21 months for all purchases and balance transfers — the longest intro APR offer currently on the market.  Citi Simplicity® also offers Price Rewind®: Citi will keep an eye purchases made with the Simplicity card, and if they find the same item for a lesser price (within 60 days) you can be refunded the price difference.


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    Editor’s pick for longest introductory APR cards

    If you can’t have a credit card that remains at 0% APR forever, finding one that stays at 0% for the longest period of time is the next best thing. CardRatings has identified a handful of credit cards with the lowest ongoing APRs.

    Citi® Diamond Preferred® The Diamond Preferred® has 0% APR on purchase and balance transfers for 21 months, but cardholders are also granted access to Citi® Easy DealsSM which features online deals for brands like Gap and CVS.

    Citi® Simplicity® We just got done bragging about Simplicty® as one of the best cards for balance transfer due to its hyper-long introductory APR, so naturally it’s the perfect fit for the longest intro APR award, too.  A 21-month 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases is a hard deal to beat. Apart from sister Citi® card, Diamond Preferred®, this extended intro offer is unmatched in the market.

    BankAmericard® Credit Card The BankAmericard® is a great choice for the longest intro APR, too. Its introductory APR for balance transfer lasts for 18 billing cycles (just barely shy of the 21 of front-runners Citi® Simplicity®, and Citi® Diamond Preferred®) and applies to any purchases made within the first 60 days of opening your account. 

    Editor’s pick for lowest ongoing interest rate cards

    Credit card interest rates have been mostly unchanged over the last several years, thanks in part, to the Federal Reserve. Now, word on the street is that a rise in interest rates  may be coming. If you The 5 Best Low Interest Credit Cards - 2010 Editionhave a tendency to keep a revolving balance on your credit card, skip on the frills of cash back and rewards and focus on a credit card that offers ongoing low interest. The credit cards CardRatings has chosen for this category all have interest rates starting well below 10% for approved applicants.

    Simmons Visa Platinum 7.50% interest —shall we say more? If you tend to leave a revolving balance on your credit card, paying the least amount of interest will always be important. Simmons Visa offers one the of the lowest ongoing interest cards to hit the market.

    Barclaycard® Ring MasterCard® Not only do cardholders get to enjoy ongoing, low 8% variable APR, but cardholders also get to be a part of a community. Each year cardholders vote on features and fees that mean the most.

    RBC RateAdvantageTM Visa Purchase rate APR starts at prime+4.99% to 8.99%, so cardholders have the opportunity to clench one of the lowest interest rates on the market. Unlike other cards to earn an editor’s award for low ongoing interest, the RBC RateAdvantageTM does have an annual fee, however cardholders have the opportunity to receive a full rebate of the annual fee through monthly statement credits when yo

    woman reading on beach

    Editor's pick for travel credit cards

    Whether you’re a jetlagged businessperson or casual wanderluster, traveling is a luxury that can cost some serious cash. So why not make travel purchases while simultaneously reaping benefits? CardRatings has identified three credit cards that give you, the cardholder, the most bang for your buck.

    PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Rewards to the tune of 5x points on airfare purchases sound pretty good to us. New cardholders can earn 20,000 bonus point by spending $2,500 within 3 months of account opening.

    Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express This card earns a spot as a best travel card because of its great intro offer, 25,000 bonus Starpoints® (after a new cardholders makes $3,000  in purchases within the first 3 months), and it’s high-ongoing rates (5 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases as participating SPG hotels). But the new features of this card truly ice the editor’s choice cake: no foreign transaction fees, free in-room premium internet, and complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices.

    Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® While the rewards rate is slightly lower than the other two cards mentioned in this category, there are other stand out features about this card that pique our interest. The 40,000 intro offer after a cardholder spends $3,000 on purchase in the first 90 days is enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement. Cardholders can also earn 5% miles back every time you redeem your miles.


    Editor’s pick for rewards cards

    Cash back is always nice, but sometimes rewards can take our credit card perks to the next level. These cards, nominated by CardRatings for 2016, offer some of the most exciting perks on the CardRatings.com Monthly Newsletter February 2008market.

    Capital One®  Venture® Rewards Credit Card It’s hard to beat Venture’s amazing intro offer (40,000 points after a cardholder spends $3,000 within the first three months of account opening, and first year annual fee waived), but it’s even more exciting to see this card’s on-going high rewards rate. Spending a mere $1,000 per month on your Venture® card will earn you 24,000 miles each year.  

    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a newly revamped intro offer which makes this card even more desirable than it already was. The new intro, which kicked off November 2015, allows cardholders to redeem 50,000 bonus points (worth $625 in Travel Rewards) after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Sapphire also earns cardholders 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants, and 1:1 point transfer to participating frequent travel programs.

    PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® If you spend at the pump or at grocery stores, pay attention to this: 5x purchases at the pump, 3x points at super markets, and 1x for everything else. Points with this card can be redeemed starting at 2,940 points — Cardholders only need to spend around $600 on gas before they can start collecting rewards. If you’re a commuter or human chauffer, you’ll realize $600 is chump change.   

    military family

    Editor’s pick for secured cards

    Building or rebuilding credit is an important step toward future financial well-being. CardRatings has pinpointed secured credit cards with reasonable interest rates, and additional incentives that make building credit reachable.

    SDFCU EMV Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card Here the APR starts as low as 6.99%, which is a fantastic rate for a secured credit card. The limits start as low as $250 (many secured credit cards start at $500) so this credit card is especially good if you’re just learning the credit card system, and want to take it slow. An unusual perk:  there are no foreign transaction fees assessed with this card. To join this credit union you will need to be an employee of the Department of State (or an eligible organization), with one loophole: consumers can join the credit union through the American Consumer Council.

    DCU Secured DCU potentials must fit within their participating employers, organizations, communities, or condominium association fields. But if you are able to slide in with this group, especially for a secured credit card, you’ll be happy. This no annual secured card has a relatively low APR for a secured credit card (11.50%) and doesn’t require an annual fee. Cardholders also are introduced to a small rewards program: earn up to $30 by shopping with your card.

    Arvest Flex Rewards Secured Card This secured credit card comes with many perks of a non-secured card. Cardholders can enjoy an introductory APR of 4.9% for the first 6 months for balance transfers, purchases, and cash advances. There is no balance transfer fee either, so if you’re trying to cut down on your interest and get back to the credit card basics, this card is a great choice. Cardholders also get $200,000 automatic travel accident insurance as part of the deal. If you live outside of Arkansas, Oklahoma, or Missouri you’ll need to give them a call to apply.

    velvet rope red carpet

    Editor’s pick for most innovative cards

    The definition of innovation can be interpreted many ways, which makes it challenging to find just one card to earn the most innovative award. Cards like QuickSilverOne®, that recognizes the shared economy by offering 20% off Uber rides (until April, 2016), or Discover products that have tested the limits of cash back with double cash back or miles the first year are unique programs to the credit card market, and deserve honorable mentions. But this year, we want to define innovation differently.

    Our award for innovation goes to Capital One for their charitable giving program.

    Capital One’s no Hassle Giving Site enables consumers to donate to charities. The charity site allows cardholders to choose from over 1.2 million public charities in the U.S. —  it easy to pick a cause that matters to you — and after making a donation cardholders immediately receive a receipt for tax documentation purposes. (Donations are 100% tax deductible). Anyone that holds a Capital One credit card has access to the charity program.

    Nothing replaces the feeling of giving back to the community, which is why Capital One wins the most innovative award this year.


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