In the past five years, I’ve earned more than $20,000 in credit card rewards through sign-up bonuses and everyday rewards.
I’ve also learned how the top credit cards outshine the competition. Whether they offer massive sign-up bonuses, valuable rewards programs, or superior perks and fringe benefits, the best credit card deals provide value that can make a difference in your life.
And If you have good or excellent credit, you should have a good chance to qualify for most, if not all, of them.
8 top credit cards you need to have in your wallet
To help you decide which credit card is best for you, we’ve broken them down into two rewards categories: travel and cash back. Depending on your preference, one rewards type might sound better than the other. But keep an open mind to ensure you get the most value.
Top credit cards for travel rewards
There are scores of good credit cards in the travel rewards realm, so it’s important to know what you want. We’ve broken down travel rewards into a few more categories to give you an idea of what’s out there.
|Credit Card||Best For|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||General travel rewards|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Premium perks|
|UnitedSM Explorer Card||Air travel|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card||Hotel stays|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||No annual fee|
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for general travel rewards
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card’s rewards program is its bread and butter. It’s the perfect card for someone who wants to rack up rewards without having to remember bonus categories.
- One-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
- 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
Annual fee – $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Here are some other highlights:
- Use your rewards to book travel on any website or app. You’re not restricted to one airline or hotel chain.
- Get free upgrades and special savings at hotels, resorts, and spas.
- It has no foreign transaction fees.
The information related to the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for premium perks
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a steep $450 annual fee. But if you’re savvy enough, you’ll get the annual fee back and more in rewards and benefits every year.
For starters, the card offers:
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- 3X points on travel and dining
A few other reasons you might want the card in your wallet:
- Get up to $300 in statement credits each year as reimbursement for travel purchases you make with the card.
- Receive a statement credit for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, worth up to $100.
- Travel in comfort with access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.
- Get 50 percent more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Receive special treatment from select car rental companies.
- Pay no foreign transaction fees.
The information related to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
UnitedSM Explorer Card: Best for air travel
Among airline-specific cards, the UnitedSM Explorer Card is the only one that offers a taste of elite perks. The annual fee is $0 Intro for First Year, then $95.
Here are some other details you should consider:
- 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
- Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Get a free checked bag for you and one other person every time you fly.
- Board United-operated flights before general boarding.
- Get primary rental car insurance; most credit cards offer secondary insurance that covers only what your personal insurance policy doesn’t.
- Pay no foreign transaction fees.
The information related to the UnitedSM Explorer Card has been collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for hotel stays
On the surface, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card lets you Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
Here are some other card highlights:
Earn 6X Marriott Bonvoy Points on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. Earn 3X Marriott Bonvoy Points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. Earn 2X Marriott Bonvoy Points on all other eligible purchases.
- Pay no foreign transaction fees.
The information related to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has been collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Best for no annual fee
We’ve mentioned some good credit cards so far, but they all charge annual fees. For the fee-averse crowd, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is a worthy alternative.
The card charges a $0 annual fee but offers a 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
Here’s what else to expect:
- You can use your points to get a statement credit for most travel purchases.
- You’ll get a 0% Introductory APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles, then a 16.99% - 24.99% Variable APR APR applies.
- If you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, you could boost that bonus to up to 75 percent.
- Pay no foreign transaction fees.
The information related to the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card has been collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Top credit cards for cash-back rewards
If you prefer cash in your pocket to miles and points, it’s important to consider how you want to earn rewards. While some of the top credit cards in this category offer great flat-rate rewards, others offer extra cash back on certain purchases.
|Credit Card||Best For|
|Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer||Flat-rate rewards|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||U.S. gas and U.S. supermarket spending|
|Chase Freedom®||Everyday spending|
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: Best for flat-rate rewards
Some cash-back cards require you to keep track of bonus categories. The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer makes it much simpler. You’ll Earn 2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay.
Because of its high rewards rate, the card doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus. Here are some other details to know:
- Get a 0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers, then a 15.99%– 25.99% (Variable) APR applies
- Pay a $0 annual fee.
The information related to the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer has been collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for U.S. gas and U.S. supermarket spending
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has the highest ongoing bonus rate of any card we know.
You’ll earn a whopping NEW 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions & 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more .
Here are some other highlights:
- $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
- Get a 0% for 12 months on both purchases and balance transfers, then a 14.99%-25.99% Variable APR applies.
- You’ll pay an annual fee of $95
The information related to the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has been collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.
Chase Freedom®: Best for everyday spending
If your spending is all over the place, the Chase Freedom® might be a good fit. Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Here’s what else you’ll get with the card:
- Earn a $150 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Get a 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, then a 16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR applies
- Get a 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months, then a 16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR applies
- Pay a $0 annual fee
How to separate the good credit cards from the best ones
Before you start looking at credit card deals to choose the best one for you, it’s important to set a goal for how you want to earn rewards and how you want to use them.
For example, if you have an incurable case of wanderlust or simply want to book your next vacation for less, a travel credit card is a good option.
But if you like the flexibility of cash — you can use it for travel or just about anything else — a cash-back credit card might be a better choice.
Knowing which rewards you want helps you separate good credit cards from top credit cards for your needs.
Next, narrow down it down further. Would you prefer general travel rewards or points with your favorite hotel chain or miles with your favorite airline? Alternatively, would you rather get a high rewards rate on all your purchases or bonus rewards on things you buy frequently?
At the end of the day, it’s important to pick a credit card that fits in perfectly with your spending habits, financial goals, and everyday lifestyle. Doing so will ensure you get more value out of your credit card.
Eric Rosenberg contributed to this article.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 7 lenders of 2019!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.45% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.14% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.79% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of September 6, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 09/06/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.19% effective August 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
7 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Disclosures
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.
2All rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
3$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.
4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 08/01/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
|2.14% – 6.79%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.14% – 7.71%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 6.65%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 7.60%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.14% – 8.01%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.06% – 8.93%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.74% – 7.24%7||Undergrad & Graduate|