Best credit cards for May 2021

The best credit cards make for a convenient way to pay for stuff, earn cash or travel rewards and build up your credit score. But with all of those benefits, perils abound. A credit card user who spends beyond their means, pays bills late or gets caught up in onerous interest rates and fees can quickly end up in a quicksand-filled ditch of debt.

Luckily, there are plenty of credit card options out there that will both fit your existing spending habits and let you maximize your credit without falling into debt. To find the right credit card for you, we’ve assembled our picks of the best credit cards by category — from best rewards credit card to best travel credit card — considering credit limits, interest rates and rewards. Note that we continuously monitor these cards and keep our eyes peeled for new ones, too. Our current top picks for the best credit cards are presented below.

Best cash-back card


Reward rates: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back on travel, 3% cash back on dining, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: $200
Bonus redemption threshold: $500 in first three months
Credit requirement: 670 to 850
Intro APR: 0% on purchases (15 months)
APR for purchases: 14.99% to 23.74% variable
APR for balance transfers: 14.99% to 23.74% variable
Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

Most of the best cash-back cards offer a simple, flat rate and no fees. Until recently, the Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card gave you all of that — a flat rate of 1.5% cash back on all purchases, without a spending limit, no annual fee and flexible redemption policies. In September 2020, however, the credit card company improved on that deal, adding a little bit of worthwhile complexity and ratcheting up the reward rates on travel (5%) purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards points, dining (3%), and drugstore purchases (3%). While it’s no longer the simplest, we think it’s the best cash-back card for most people.

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Best credit card for travel rewards

Capital One Venture Card


Reward rates: 2x miles on everyday purchases
Annual fee: $95
Welcome bonus: 100,000 miles
Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $20,000 in the first 12 months (or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months)
APR: 17.24% to 24.49% variable
Foreign transaction fees: None
Credit requirement: 720 to 850

The Capital One Venture is a straightforward, easy-to-use credit card for booking travel with rewards miles. And those rewards miles are generated whenever you spend — so there’s no need to worry whether a particular category is eligible.

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best travel credit cards.

The best credit card for students

Standard APR: 12.99% to 21.99% variable (0% intro APR on purchases for the first 6 months)
Penalty APR: None
Late payment fee: Up to $40
Annual fee: $0
Cash back rewards: 2% on gas stations and restaurants, up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter; 1% on all other purchases
Foreign transaction fee: 0%
Standout feature: No late fee for first late payment (up to $40 thereafter)
Eligibility requirements: No credit history required, proof of income 

The Discover it Student Chrome offers a winning combination of cash back and other rewards as well as lenient terms for first-time credit card holders. You won’t get dinged for a late payment — at least the first one — or have to deal with an exorbitant penalty APR. And getting 1 to 2% back in rewards each month is a welcome bonus. Note that Discover offers another similar card, the Discover it Student Cash Back credit card, but the rotating bonus categories make things overcomplicated, especially for first-time cardholders. 

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best student credit cards.

Best credit card for balance transfers

Introductory APR: 20 months of 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases
Standard APR: 13.99% to 23.99%, variable
Penalty APR: None
Introductory balance transfer fee: N/A
Standard balance transfer fee: 3% or $5, whichever is greater
How long you have to make transfers: 60 days
Credit requirement: 680 to 850
Annual fee: $0

Paying down credit card debt can be exhausting. A balance on an account with a high interest rate can take years to pay off — or worse, balloon out of control. A balance transfer credit card, used properly, can offer you a relatively cost-efficient opportunity to catch up. The US Bank Visa Platinum offers one of the longest zero percent introductory APR periods — 20 months — combined with one of the lowest fees, 3%.

Learn more in CNET’s roundup of the best balance transfer credit cards.

Best credit card for Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers

Reward rates: 5% on Amazon, Whole Foods; 2% at restaurants, gas stations, drugstores; 1% on everything else
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: $100 Amazon Gift Card
Bonus redemption threshold: Card approval
Credit requirement: 580 to 850
Intro APR: None
APR for purchases: 14.24% to 22.24% variable
APR for balance transfers: 14.24% to 22.24% variable
Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

This rewards card is a must-have for anyone who shops regularly on Amazon. And given that you can buy just about anything on Amazon — 5% back on all eligible purchases there is pretty sweet. The rewards card also features 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations and drug stores and 1% on everything else. (Note that Amazon offers a basic, non-Prime member card that features 3% cash back on Amazon purchases; but if you’re spending more than $250 per month at Amazon or Whole Foods, you should be a Prime member.)

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Best credit card for Apple Pay super users (and privacy enthusiasts)


Reward rates: 3% on Apple, Uber and Walgreens purchases; 2% on Apple Pay purchases; 1% on everything else
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: $0
Bonus redemption threshold: None
Credit requirement: 580 to 850
Intro APR: None
APR for purchases: 12.49% to 23.49% variable
APR for balance transfers: Not offered
Balance transfer fee: Not offered

The Apple Card is a beautiful but odd duck. Crafted out of sleek titanium, the credit card looks like it was birthed from a slot on a MacBook Pro. But it’s the iPhone that unleashes its true potential: When you use Apple Pay — the company’s digital wallet and touchless payment feature — you get 2% cash back on all purchases. (The Citi Double Cash Card offers up to 2% on everything, no matter how you pay.) Otherwise, the Apple Card’s rewards program is a mish-mash of cash rewards: 3% cash back on eligible purchases of Apple gear and services, Uber and Walgreens purchases and 1% cash rewards on everything else. 

But there are a few other noteworthy features. The Apple Card’s privacy policy states that it will “never share or sell your data to third parties for marketing or advertising” — a commitment that’s rare in an ordinarily mercenary industry. Apple delivers your cash-back rewards at the end of each day, instead of the usual month-long billing cycle. And Apple does not charge late fees, an annual fee or foreign transaction fees.

Check out the full review in CNET’s roundup of the best cash-back credit cards.

Below, we’ve broken down the details of each of our picks for the best credit card so that you can determine which is the right fit for you. We’ve followed it up with answers to some questions you may have about choosing a credit card.

The best credit cards compared

Best cash-back card Best travel credit card Best card for balance transfers Best card for students Best card for Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers Best card for Apple Pay super users (and privacy enthusiasts)
Chase Freedom Unlimited Capital One Venture Card US Bank Visa Platinum Discover it Student Chrome Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Apple Card
Annual fee $0 $95 $0 $0 $0 $0
Credit requirement 670 to 850 720 to 850 680 to 850 No credit history required but you do need proof of income 580 to 850 580 to 850
Purchase APR 14.99% to 23.74% variable 17.24% to 24.49% variable 13.99% to 23.99% variable 12.99% to 21.99% variable (0% intro APR on purchases for the first 6 months) 14.24% to 22.24% variable 12.49% to 23.49% variable

How should I choose a credit card?

Whether you’re opening your first card or you’ve already got excellent credit and are adding to your personal financial arsenal, it’s important to first understand the landscape. You need to know what it means when a card has variable APR and be prepared to deal with credit card interest. Learn about the credit card company and what people like and dislike about working with it. You also need to familiarize yourself with your own personal credit and how your card will affect your standing with the credit bureau. And finally, you need to look at reward points, both how you earn them on everyday purchases and how you can cash them in for either gift cards or statement credit. 

How do I qualify for a credit card?

The better the benefits, the more hoops you’ll need to jump through to be eligible for certain credit cards. Credit cards with attractive rewards programs or cashback rewards require higher credit than more basic credit card varieties.

If you have poor or fair credit, you might only qualify for credit builder or secured credit cards. If you have good to excellent credit, you may easily qualify for any credit card you want. But if you don’t have the right score, you might not be eligible for the card you wish. 

Will having a credit card boost my credit score?

When used wisely, credit cards have the opportunity to give your credit score a boost. But not all credit cards report to credit bureaus.

If you’re looking to build credit, having a card that doesn’t report to credit bureaus means your score won’t go up for responsible use. For instance, the Apple Card doesn’t report to credit bureaus. While this card and others like it might be convenient to use, they’re not helping your credit grow. This might not be a bad thing if you have excellent credit, but if you don’t, it could hold you back from building yours up.

What’s the best credit card to get for first-time users?

The best credit card for beginners is the one that will help you build credit. You’ll also want to determine how you plan to use a credit card. Are you expecting to carry a balance from month to month, or can you reliably pay it off? Are you a student who needs to finance a bunch of back-to-school purchases? Depending on what you need, one credit card issuer might be better than another. But there are some that just tick all the right boxes — offering more generous terms and conditions, more reward points, a lower interest rate, a higher credit limit, a welcome bonus, fewer fees and more consumer-friendly privacy policies. If you don’t yet qualify for a card with the most travel rewards or cash back rates, don’t fret. First you’ll want to focus on building your credit history with a starter card, and then you can move on to a better card later.

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