How to select the best rewards credit card

By , CardRatings contributor
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With so many great rewards credit cards available, why are you still using a basic card with no benefits? It's time to find a card that pays you for your business.

But choosing the right one can be an overwhelming process if you are new to the world of rewards cards. You have your choice of points, miles or cash back as well as an incentives, sign-on offers and fine print to navigate. Fortunately, we are here to help clear the confusion and help you find a card with the right rewards for you.

Best rewards credit cards: the editor's picks

To start your search, take a look at the cards the experts cite as being the best of the best. However, remember credit card terms can change at any time so be sure to double check the current rewards and terms before applying.

In late 2012, Consumers Reports looked at a number of credit cards and decided Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (American Express is a CardRatings.com advertiser) was the best cash back rewards card. For travel cards, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card got the nod from Consumers Reports.

Closer to home, the CardRatings.com editors have gone through and rated cards in the following categories, among others:

  • Best cash back credit cards
  • Best airline credit cards
  • Best rewards credit cards
  • Best gas cards

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card both received five stars from the site editors. In addition, there are a number of other highly rated cards worth investigating.

Finding a card that is right for you

It is one thing to know what others think are the best credit cards, it is another to find a card that's right for you. Here's how to narrow down the list.

  1. Pick your rewards: Let's start with the fun part: how do you want to be rewarded? Do want cash -- typically awarded as a statement credit -- or do you plan to travel and want to earn miles toward free flights? Other cards may reward you with points that can be redeemed for hotel visits, gift cards or merchandise.
  2. Determine how the rewards are calculated: Next, figure out how you are going to rack up those points, miles or cash. Do you get a flat amount per dollar spent or are there bonuses for certain types of purchases or merchants. Are those bonuses fixed or do they change every month or quarter?
  3. Look for sign-on bonuses or perks: This can be especially important if you are planning to transfer a balance. Some cards have balance transfer offers which can provide an instant boost to your miles or points. Others offer extras such as free checked baggage to all cardholders.
  4. Consider the fees: If you pay off your balance each month, this probably won't be as big a consideration for you. However, if you carry a balance, you need to know the interest rate and whether there is an annual fee or a balance transfer fee. The last thing you want is for the value of your rewards to be eaten up by fees and interest.
  5. Read the fine print: Some cards make you jump through hoops, and you don't want these little details to catch you by surprise. Check if your rewards are capped or if there are limitations on redemption. Also find out if you need to spend a certain amount to get promised bonuses.

A rewards credit card can be a great way to put some extra money in your pocket, but you want to be sure you aren't leaving money or perks on the table by choosing the wrong card.


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