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

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. 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 understand what you are buying, and consult 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. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

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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 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
United MileagePlus Explorer Card Air travel
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit 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 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:

  • 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 in the first three months after you open your account
  • Two miles per dollar spent

The card does have a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year.

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 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:

  • 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months (that’s worth $750 in free travel if you book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards)
  • Three points per dollar spent on travel and dining and one point per dollar spent on everything else

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 Ultimate Rewards.
  • Receive special treatment from select car rental companies.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees.

United MileagePlus Explorer Card: Best for air travel

Among airline-specific cards, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is the only one that offers a taste of elite perks without a premium annual fee.

The card offers two free United Club one-time passes each year. You can use them at any of the airline’s airport lounges. According to Chase, that perk alone is worth more than $100, which is more than the card’s $95 annual fee.

Here are some other details you should consider:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
  • Earn two miles per dollar spent on United ticket purchases and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere.
  • 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.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card: Best for hotel stays

On the surface, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and the 25,000-point sign-up bonus you get after spending $3,000 in the first three months don’t sound exciting.

But The Points Guy values Starpoints at 2.7 cents apiece on average, giving the card’s sign-up bonus a dollar value of $675. You will, however, pay a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.

Here are some other card highlights:

  • You’ll earn up to five points per dollar spent at participating Starwood hotels, two points per dollar spent at participating Marriott hotels, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.
  • Get extra flexibility by redeeming your points for free flights on more than 150 airlines or transfer your points to one of more than 30 airline rewards programs.
  • Get free premium in-room internet access when you stay at participating Starwood hotels.
  • 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 fee-averse crowd, the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card is a worthy alternative.

The card charges no annual fee but offers a 20,000-point bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Plus, you’ll get 1.5 points per dollar spent on every purchase with no limits.

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% APR promotion for 12 billing cycles on new purchases.
  • If you’re a Bank of America banking customer, you’ll get a 10 percent points bonus, giving you a rewards rate of 1.65 percent instead of 1.5 percent.
  • 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.

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 Flat-rate rewards
Blue Cash Preferred Card Gas and groceries
Chase Freedom Everyday spending

Citi Double Cash: Best for flat-rate rewards

Some cash-back cards require you to keep track of bonus categories. The Citi Double Cash card makes it much simpler. You’ll earn 1 percent cash back on every purchase you make and then another 1 percent when you pay your bill.

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% APR promotion for 18 months on balance transfers.
  • Get a pass on your first late fee.
  • Pay no annual fee.

Blue Cash Preferred Card: Best for gas and groceries

If you spend a lot on groceries and gas and can stomach an annual fee, 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 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 spent each year. You’ll also get 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1 percent cash back on everything else.

Here are some other highlights:

  • Earn $250 in bonus cash back after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
  • Get a 0% APR promotion for 12 months on both purchases and balance transfers.
  • You’ll pay an annual fee of $95, and it isn’t waived the first year.

Chase Freedom: Best for everyday spending

If your spending is all over the place, the Chase Freedom might be a good fit. The card offers 5 percent cash back on rotating categories that change every quarter, up to $1,500 spent in combined bonus category purchases.

Historically, these categories have included gas stations, grocery stores, holiday shopping, and more. You’ll earn just 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Here’s what else you’ll get with the card:

  • Earn $150 in bonus cash back after you spend $500 in the first three months.
  • Get another $25 cash bonus when you add an authorized user to your card and make a purchase in the same three-month period.
  • Get a 0% APR promotion on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months.
  • Pay no 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 6 lenders of 2018!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
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 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% 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 Month/Day/Year, 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 08/21/18. 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 hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent 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 Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.899% APR to 8.179% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.570% APR to 6.980% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. SoFi rate ranges are current as of September 14, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.570% APR assumes the current index rate derived from the 1-month LIBOR of 2.08% plus 0.740% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay 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. 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.
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

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.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.57%-8.17% (2.57%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.75%-8.69% (3.75%-8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Estimated average savings amount is based on 14,659 Education Refinance Loan customers who saved on loans between August 1, 2017 and July 31, 2018. The calculation is derived by averaging monthly savings across Education Refinance Loan customers whose payment amounts decreased after refinancing, calculated by taking the monthly payment prior to refinancing minus the monthly payment after refinancing. We excluded monthly savings from customers that exceeded $4,375 and were lower than $20 to minimize risk of data error skewing the savings amounts. Savings will vary based on interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of loans to be refinanced. Borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if monthly payments are lower.

2.57% – 6.98%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 5.87%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.47% – 8.03%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.80% – 6.22%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 6.25%5Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.57% – 8.17%6Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. 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 understand what you are buying, and consult 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. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.