8 Best Rewards Credit Cards You Should Have in Your Wallet in 2018

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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 benefits, some of the best credit card offers 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 CardBest For
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardGeneral travel rewards
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Premium benefits
United℠ Explorer CardAir travel
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® CardHotel stays
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit CardNo 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.

You’ll earn:

  • Earn a 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 – $95

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.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for premium benefits

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a steep $550 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 immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

United℠ Explorer Card: Best for air travel

Among airline-specific cards, the United℠ Explorer Card is the only one that offers a taste of elite benefits. The annual fee is $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95.

Here are some other details you should consider:

  • 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 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.

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.

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 annual 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 16.49% - 24.49% Variable APR applies.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees.

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 CardBest For
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offerFlat-rate rewards
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressU.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% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

Because of its high rewards rate, the card doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus. Here are some other details to know:

  • Get an intro APR of 0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers, then a 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable) APR applies
  • Pay a $0 annual fee.

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 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 1% Cash Back on other purchases.

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 an intro APR of 0% on purchases for 12 months on both purchases and balance transfers, then a 13.99%-23.99% Variable APR applies.
  • You’ll pay an annual fee of $95
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

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 $200 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 14.99% to 23.74% Variable APR applies
  • Get a 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months, then a 14.99% to 23.74% 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 offers 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.

The information related to the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, United℠ Explorer Card, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card, Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer and Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has been independently collected by Student Loan Hero and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.99% – 5.64%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.89% – 5.90%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.25% – 6.28%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 6.77%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

1.99% – 5.61%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

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 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% 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 July 31, 2020, 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 7/31/2020. 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 protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 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 Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

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.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.28% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.28% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.18% plus 2.32% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

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. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of September 10, 2020.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. 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 0.16% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.