Is it a good time to apply for a credit cardPerhaps the COVID-19 pandemic had you on the fence about applying for a new credit card in 2020. It was a year of unknowns, after all, and adding a new credit card to your wallet possibly felt like a risky financial move.

With (hopefully) brighter days ahead in 2021, you may be starting off the year researching new credit card options. If you’re wondering if now is a good time to apply for a credit card, we’re happy to report that yes, it is. That’s because there are a number of credit card offers that are better right now than they were this time last year.

Our team searched our archives to see where credit card offers stood in January 2020 and found that a number of our favorite cards have even better welcome offers for new cardholders now than they did early last year. We were also reminded of some of the positive changes some issuers made throughout the year to help customers cope with the pandemic, such as extending the window cardholders have to earn a bonus, or revamping a card altogether by upping the welcome bonus plus adding new bonus categories, as was the case for the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

If you held off on applying for a new card last year, you may be glad that you did. We don’t recommend applying for a credit card based solely on its welcome bonus, but if you like, and will utilize, the other perks of the card, a good new-cardholder welcome bonus is always a nice incentive. Here’s how the welcome offers compare for some of our favorite cards:

2020 vs. 2021 credit card welcome bonus offers

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn $150 once spending $1,500 in the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn $200 once spending $500 in the first three months of card membership.

Not only did Chase improve this card’s welcome bonus to new cardholders, but it also made the card more appealing overall by adding new bonus categories so that cardholders can earn more rewards on an ongoing basis. This time last year the Freedom Unlimited offered 1.5% cash back on all purchases, but now it offers this plus 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 3% back at restaurants, and 3% at drugstores.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn 50,000 miles once spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn 60,000 miles by spending $3,000 with the card within the first three months of card membership.

The Venture’s welcome bonus is worth as much as $600 in travel, plus, through April 2021 cardholders can redeem miles to cover recent streaming service and food delivery purchases, in addition to travel purchases. This is a great option for anyone without immediate travel plans on the horizon. Or, save those miles and put them towards a belated blowout 2021 vacation!

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points once spending $5,000 in the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points by spending $5,000 with the card within the first six months of card membership.

The points increased, plus the time frame to meet the spend threshold was extended, making this a great offer.  Terms apply.

American Express® Gold Card

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points once spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points by spending $4,000 with the card within the first six months of card membership.

This welcome offer is almost double what it was this time last year, plus new cardholders have double the time to earn it. Terms apply.

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn 80,000 points once spending $5,000 in the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn 100,000 points once spending $15,000 in the first three months of card membership.  

The welcome offer increased, but so did the spend threshold required to spend it. Don’t let this scare you off though. Those 100,000 points are worth as much as $1,250 in travel, so it’s definitely worth planning ahead in order to earn this bonus. If you have some big business purchases to make in 2021, try making them within your first three months of opening an account. Even little things add up like office supplies, ink cartridges, and new computer software. Or handle big-ticket items like office furniture, new computers or printers, etc. Think ahead on what you need to buy this year, and try and make some of those purchases once receiving your new card if it’s within your budget to do so. That $1,250 bonus is sure to come in handy in the long run, especially once you start rescheduling business travel.

Ink Business Cash® Credit Card

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn $500 once spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn $750 once spending $7,500 in the first three months of card membership. 

Again, there’s a bit of a trade off here with the higher spend threshold, but an average spend of $2,500 a month for a business, at least for three months, doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. If you know you have some bigger expenses on the horizon, if you can, plan accordingly and knock them out within the first three months of receiving your new card. An added bonus here is that the Chase Ink Business Cash offers introductory 0% APR on purchases for the first 12 months (then 13.24% - 19.24% Variable), giving you extra time to pay off any new purchases you might put on the card within that first year.

Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn $500 once spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn $750 once spending $7,500 in the first three months of card membership. 

What we said about the Ink Business Cash® card stands true here as well. The Ink Business Unlimited® has the same welcome offer (including 0% intro APR on new purchases for the first 12 months, then 13.24% - 19.24% Variable), but it earns rewards on an ongoing basis a bit differently. The Ink Unlimited® earns unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, whereas the Ink Cash® earns 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year; 2% back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year; and unlimited 1% cash back on everything else. So, if deciding between these two cards, it’s not so much about the welcome bonuses, but more so how your business spends money.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

  • 2020 expired offer – New cardholders could earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points once spending $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of card membership.
  • 2021 current offer – New cardholders can earn 85,000 Membership Rewards points once spending $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn 5X points in five select business categories, up to 80,000 points per category, for the first three months. That's an additional 400,000 points that could be earned!

At first glance it may look like this welcome offer was only raised by 10,000 points, which is nice, but nothing to jump at. However, new cardholders actually have the opportunity to earn up to 485,000 points as welcome bonus, which is an intro offer unlike any we've ever seen before. You can earn 85,000 points once spending $15,000 in the first three months of card membership, which is easy enough to understand, but here's where things get a little complicated (but also where the welcome offer gets really lucrative): during your first three months as a cardholder you can earn 5X points on eligible U.S. purchases on shipping, wireless telephone services, advertising in select media, office supplies and at gas stations, up to 80,000 bonus points per category. On an ongoing basis (after your first three months) you'll only earn 1X point per dollar spent in these categories, so if you have upcoming purchases to make in these categories, it's best to make them during this intro period to benefit from that extra reward potential. For the average cardholder, the likelihood that you'll max out this bonus is slim, but even if you have just a few thousand dollars to spend in these categories you could really benefit from this offer. For example, say you spend $15,000 (the spend threshold required to earn the 85,000 point welcome bonus) in these categories in the first three months, you'll pocket an extra 75,000 points and bring your welcome bonus offer up to 160,000 points. Terms apply; See Rates and Fees

Bottom line

As you can see these offers are subject to change, so if applying for a new credit card is on your 2021 to-do list, now is the time to act. These welcome offers are a great way to start the year anew, and could go a long way towards rescheduled travel plans, bill pay, small business purchases, and more.

To see more great options, check out our full list of the best credit card welcome bonuses of 2021.

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links:  The Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees); American Express® Gold Card (See Rates and Fees): The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees)

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