How We Review Credit Cards

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With great spending power comes great financial responsibility.

We’re talking about credit cards, of course.

At NextAdvisor, we believe credit cards can be invaluable financial tools. But we also recognize credit cards come with real risk and serious potential consequences: long-term high-interest debt, impact to your credit score, and the ease of overspending. 

On the other hand, credit card companies offer a suite of products and services that can unlock serious benefits and rewards for many consumers. And competition is fierce among these credit card issuers. Each one is constantly evolving its card offerings to capture your attention — and your spending. Used carefully and responsibly, credit cards can yield big rewards for people. 

Given this, we’re serious about the responsibility we feel at NextAdvisor to provide the most accurate, thorough credit card advice and recommendations we can for our readers. Our purpose is not only to present you with good card options, but to help you determine which ones are best for you and your credit needs.

While we do partner with major credit card issuers to bring you certain offers on our site, our credit card picks are always made independently of and without influence by our partners. Here’s a deeper look into how we determine which cards appear on our site and how we evaluate each card we review.

How We Choose Which Cards to Review

Best Cards Pages

For each credit card category we evaluate — cash back cards, balance transfer cards, travel rewards cards, etc. — we develop a unique evaluation approach that makes sense for that category and the consumers those cards may benefit. Before implementing these category-specific methodologies, we begin by accounting for (to the best of our ability) all offers currently available from issuers on each of the four major credit card networks widely accepted in the United States: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. This analysis includes cards from the top issuers — including Chase, American Express, Citi, Discover, Bank of America, and others — as well as smaller players and regional issuing banks, such as BMO Harris, PNC, and TD Bank.

To make our recommendations most relevant for the biggest number of consumers, we generally eliminate cards targeted to specific cardholder types, such as student credit cards, secured credit cards, and business credit cards, unless those cards are relevant to the category. For the same reason, we typically do not include cards from local community banks and credit unions, or issuers that otherwise require membership before approval.

Card Reviews

For our single-card reviews, we review the cards we believe can be most beneficial for readers and which we see most interest in.

First, we review any card included on our best cards pages. Because these are the cards we see as most rewarding or valuable in their given categories, we make sure our site features detailed reviews so you can better determine whether one is the right choice for you.

While our goal is to ultimately review as many available cards as we can, we prioritize which cards we review largely based on consumer interest and notability. 

We can subjectively gauge interest based on our knowledge of the credit card market and card popularity, but there are a few factors that help base our decisions on data and quantitative measures: which cards consumers are searching for most often online; issuer card volume, or number of open accounts; and purchase volume, or data on the cards consumers are using the most for purchases. 

Notability also factors into our decision to review a card: when a new card enters the market, or significant changes are made to an existing card, for instance. These won’t always lead to full reviews on NextAdvisor, but we use our knowledge of the overall industry and aforementioned measures of interest to determine when notable new card releases warrant reviews.

Our Methodology

Beyond our standard criteria for choosing which cards we review, we develop specific frameworks for each category that make up our best cards pages. Here is a detailed look at NextAdvisor’s methodology for each of our top credit card picks:

Best Credit Cards

Our editorial team has researched and evaluated dozens of credit cards currently available on the market to help you determine the best cards for your needs. We’ve written individual card reviews, issuer and category overviews, and guides for maximizing rewards and paying down debts. We continually monitor new and existing offers, updating these recommendations accordingly. 

Because different credit cards are designed to serve different needs, not all cards can be evaluated using the same criteria. To account for this, our picks represent popular categories which we believe deliver on the most common needs consumers seek in new cards: cash back rewards, travel rewards, 0% interest, building credit, and business.     

To calculate rewards value for cash back credit cards, we use average consumer spending totals from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (you can read more about our cash back valuations above). We base our top cash back picks on these rewards values in addition to factors such as annual fee, welcome bonus, and introductory offers.

We evaluate 0% interest cards for balance transfers by calculating potential savings of a balance transfer (based on introductory period length and balance transfer fee), using average consumer debt and interest rate data from the Federal Reserve. For best credit cards for 0% interest offers on new purchases, we evaluate details including introductory period, fees and penalties, ongoing APR, and any rewards or benefits available after the intro period ends. you can read more about balance transfer calculations and our 0% interest methodology above.

For travel, we know different travelers are looking for different things from their rewards cards, our picks for the best travel cards aren’t based solely on the cards’ rewards value, but it is a factor. We also consider details like whether a card is designed for earning on everyday spending and redeeming for travel versus earning on travel and redeeming for more travel. We believe there is a difference between simple travel card options and premium travel rewards with luxury benefits. To make our final picks between these two categories, we evaluate card details with these different consumer needs in mind.

To choose the best beginner credit card, we determined whether a card’s credit requirement is within range of someone relatively early in their credit journey (those requiring only good to excellent credit are not considered). But we don’t want to limit credit-building cards to only student-focused or secured cards, which often don’t offer as much value as regular consumer credit cards. Many starter cards don’t have any rewards value, and are meant to be used solely as credit-building tools, but we believe as long as consumers pay their balances in full and on time, even a credit-building card should offer some rewards benefit. Instead, we choose cards with more accessible credit entry points and evaluate them based on other factors like annual fee, APR, intro offer and welcome bonus, ongoing rewards, and benefits.

Finally, we recognize that small business owners, sole proprietors, and freelancers have unique needs that cannot be met with a single card. But there are a few types of business credit cards we can narrow down to find those that best suit a broad range of business types. First, we look for the card that offers the most value on everyday business spending — whether that’s office supplies, advertising, or utility payments. For these cards, we evaluate estimated value, APR, attainability, annual fee, and other benefits. The other popular business card type (like with consumer cards) is business travel credit cards. But we also recognize that even frequent business travelers aren’t spending solely on travel. Along with travel rewards value, we evaluate other ongoing rewards, APR, annual fee, and added benefits for the average business owner or freelancer when evaluating these types of cards. 

Throughout these categories, each of our picks is held to the standards we require of all our top card picks. We believe that each card should live up to its marketed purpose — whether rewards or building credit — and be relevant for a broad range of cardholders (co-branded cards and student cards, for example, are more targeted to smaller populations). We also believe that simplicity can be a value add when it comes to rewards, so many of our picks offer simple rewards structures or are designed so they may be the only card you need in your wallet for maximum value.

Cash Back Credit Cards

The biggest selling point of cash back cards is rewards earning potential, so our top picks are based primarily on potential cash back earnings. We evaluate this by calculating average potential cash back earn, estimating an annual first- and subsequent-year rewards value. 

We begin by examining average spending in each of the most common cash back categories: groceries, dining/restaurants, gas, and entertainment. The average American spends $13,258 annually (or $1,104 monthly) across these categories, according to the most recent BLS Consumer Expenditures Report. Of that, she spends $4,464 annually on food at home (groceries), $3,459 on food away from home (restaurants), $2,109 at gas stations, and $3,226 on entertainment.

For each cash back card on the market, we use these averages to calculate earnings on bonus categories. When a card does not offer bonus rewards in one of these categories, we calculate earnings based on a baseline 1% cash-back rate, which is standard across cash back cards.

We determine the overall annual rewards earnings for each card based on these average spending amounts. We also subtract any annual fee from the total earnings sum and include any first-year welcome bonuses offers.

Because we believe consumers should focus on earning credit card rewards only after they have established good credit and eliminated high-interest debt balances or are working through a debt payoff plan, we do not account for introductory balance transfer and purchase offers or variable interest rate. 

Balance Transfer Credit Cards

Based on the current market availability and wider economic environment, our balance transfer framework begins with a few must-haves: introductory period of at least 12 months, 0% interest intro offer, and no annual fee. We then calculate the real value of each balance transfer offer for the average American cardholder.

According to the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances from the Federal Reserve, the average American carries $5,700 in credit card debt. This is the figure we use to evaluate how much you can save with each balance transfer card versus continued minimum payments on a card earning today’s average credit card interest rate of about 16%.

Minimum payment calculations can vary widely, but for this example we calculate minimum payments at 3% of the overall balance, which is in line with many issuers’ payment structures. In this example, current card minimum payments would be $171 per month, though the exact amount would decrease monthly as you pay down the principal. Paying down this balance at this interest rate in minimum payments would take 189 months (nearly 16 years), and you would pay a total of $10,025.56 — approaching double the amount of your original balance.

With these figures as our standard example, we use Bankrate’s balance transfer calculator to determine the cost of a balance transfer for each card on our list, plus monthly payment required to pay off the balance within the introductory period. 

Secondary factors we consider include balance transfer fee (typically 3% to 5% of each balance), time allowed to transfer a balance, and ongoing APR one the 0% introductory period on balance transfers ends.

0% Interest Credit Cards

The majority of 0% interest offers for new purchases available on the market today range from 12 to 18 months, with the longest offer topping out at 20 months. Throughout our research, we have identified a trend in the cards available at each most common intro period tier — 12 months, 15 months, 18 months.

The cards with the longest introductory 0% interest periods (18 to 20 months) typically offer no additional rewards or benefits. Instead, their biggest perk is the intro offer itself, often accompanied by a similar introductory 0% interest offer on balance transfers. 

Many of the cards offering middling introductory 0% interest periods of 14 to 15 months (not the longest, but still competitive) pair these introductory offers with valuable ongoing rewards, often in the form of cash back. These are the cards which add value throughout an intro period, then continue maximizing your purchases for years to come.

Finally, a number of cards offer comparatively shorter introductory periods of 12 months or less. These are often rewards cards (varying between point, miles, and cash back rewards), which are generally more rewarding for those primary benefits rather than for their intro periods. They are also more likely to carry penalty APRs.

To determine our 0% interest picks, we begin by eliminating cards in the third tier; those with intro periods of 12 months or less. This is in line with the intro period threshold given for our best balance transfer picks as well. Many of these cards can be highly valuable — and you’ll find them across our other best cards pages — but they’re limiting as 0% interest picks due to their shorter intro periods.

We then factor in fees and penalties, ongoing APR, rewards, and additional card- or issuer-specific benefits. We also make a qualitative evaluation, based on how well each card might serve different types of cardholders seeking 0% interest offers. For example, we ask how each card might serve someone simply looking for the longest intro period available versus someone who wants to take advantage of an introductory 0% interest offer now, but also wants a credit card they’ll use long-term.

Each of the cards on our final list not only offer excellent 0% interest offers, but additional unique value that sets them apart from other competitive introductory offers on the market.

No Annual Fee Credit Cards

To make our list of best no annual fee credit cards, we first consider the types of cardholders seeking no annual fee cards and the rewards and benefits that might be most valuable for them. We assume people seeking no annual fee cards are probably looking for simplicity in their card rewards, so we value cash back over complicated points redemptions and straightforward rewards over choice categories that require monthly or quarterly updates.

We limit our picks to cards best suited for the broadest range of cardholders, so we do not consider student, business, or co-branded credit cards that fit within our criteria. And while secured cards often charge no annual fees, we eliminate these from consideration in this category. If someone is looking for a credit card with no annual fee, we think they’re likely not interested in paying a large sum upfront — like the security deposit secured credit cards require.

To determine our final picks, we begin with each of the no annual fee cards from major issuers currently available on the market today. Our main factor is the value a cardholder can reap from each no annual fee card. To determine this, we primarily consider the value of each card’s rewards structure: How much can someone save with this card and how easy rewards are to earn and redeem?

We also look beyond rewards at a few key card details applicants might be looking for in a no annual fee card: welcome bonus, APR, other added benefits, introductory offers, usefulness for cardholders looking to build credit, and how well a card pairs with other credit cards.  

Best Credit Cards by Issuer

For many people, finding a new credit card may begin with a search of banks you’re most familiar with or have a financial relationship with already (like your Bank of America checking account, or loan from Capital One). Though individual card benefits are important, the credit card issuer you choose can have a big impact, too. 

Issuers whose cards are on Visa and Mastercard networks are often more widely-accepted than American Express and Discover cards, for example. And each issuer has its own lending standards, card limits, and card agreement terms which may come into play as you take on multiple card accounts.

Because of the important role an issuer can play over the lifetime of a card, we evaluate each of the major issuing banks and their card portfolios to help you determine which may be best fit for you. But choosing the right credit card among an issuer’s lineup of products is highly subjective. Issuers often design different cards to serve different consumer needs — someone paying off debt, for example, will likely make better use of a different card than someone seeking the best travel rewards. This understanding guides our approach to determining our top picks for each credit card issuer.

We started with the main credit card categories that cut across all issuers — best cash back cards, best travel cards, best balance transfer cards, etc. But not every issuer excels or even offers a product in each one of these categories. For instance, you won’t find a premium travel card with lounge access and travel credits from Discover. 

To account for this, we evaluate each issuer’s card lineup individually to curate a list of cards we believe highlights the best of what that issuer has to offer. This includes details like rewards rate, annual fee, introductory offers and welcome bonuses, APR and other fees, and access to rewards programs. 

We account for the issuer’s strengths based on reputation and popularity (based on purchase volume and number of account holders), as well as some generalizations about who we believe might benefit most from the issuer’s cards. 

For example, American Express cardholders tend to be high spenders. This higher spending positions American Express holders to particularly benefit from high-value redemptions to maximize travel and other discretionary spending. But Discover is popular among first-time cardholders. Those users, unaccustomed to maximizing complex rewards programs, will probably get more value from direct cash back on the things they buy every day. 

We want our issuer recommendations to be applicable for the largest number of people possible, so we exclude student and secured cards from our picks. While we typically exclude business cards as well, we understand business cards make up a significant portion of many issuers’ card lineups, so we do include business cards among our category types when it makes sense.

While not excluded outright, you will also find few co-branded credit card picks among our best cards by issuer. While these cards can add great value for cardholders loyal to a specific airline or hotel brand, they don’t offer as universal benefits as regular consumer cards. Co-branded cards that are included on these pages are those that we believe are most broadly useful for the general consumer and will add value beyond what any of the other consumer cards in an issuer’s portfolio could.

How We Choose the Best American Express Credit Cards

American Express is a unique player in the credit card space. It’s one of two companies that function as both credit card network and issuer (the other is Discover), and while it’s not the most popular card issuer, its cardholders tend to be loyal customers who drive the largest purchase volume of any issuer. 

Amex has the third-largest credit card portfolio worldwide, according to the Nilson Report, but American Express users spent $678.13 billion in 2016 — making it the largest issuer by purchase volume. Amex users are also loyal, and return to Amex because they like it. American Express ranks highest among credit card issuers for customer satisfaction, according to the most recent J.D. Power credit card satisfaction study.

Amex has a reputation for exclusivity and big spending, and its cards are often seen as a luxury spending tool, a claim that has merit. The issuer offers sweeping rewards options, high-value redemptions through Membership Rewards, and a long list of added cardmember benefits and perks. 

But its premium rewards cards are only part of Amex’s portfolio. Alongside more premium card choices, Amex also offers great cards for general consumers and novice rewards-seekers looking to cash in on their everyday spending. The company offers 18 consumer cards and 12 business credit cards designed to match the needs (and price point) for a broad range of credit card consumers. It’s true you’ll pay larger annual fees for top-tier cards, but even American Express’s no annual fee cards come with some valuable perks and that premium American Express customer service that keeps users satisfied.

Amex also has few 0% interest offers for new purchases (and no current balance transfer offers) and many cards don’t allow you to carry a balance from month to month. You should always pay your balance in full, but doing so with an Amex card is even more important. Additionally, each of the cards on our list (and the majority of Amex’s portfolio) requires good, if not excellent, credit to qualify. If you have a credit score below 670 or a limited credit history, you may have difficulty getting approval. 

To determine our top picks, we consider Amex cards across categories, from no-fee cash back to the most premium travel options. Many of our top picks are generally popular cards on the market, like the Blue Cash Preferred card and American Express Gold Card. We believe popularity can be a good indicator of a card’s value, and an example of the wide appeal these cards’ rewards structures offer.

While there’s a lot of variation in the type of rewards you can earn with different American Express cards (especially taking co-branded cards into consideration), access to Membership Rewards Points, a valuable rewards currency that can be used to maximize your earning potential with American Express, is a big appeal for many users. But we understand the simplicity of cash back is more valuable for some. Instead of prioritizing cards with access to Membership Rewards, we evaluated each Amex card’s rewards potential individually, taking its target audience and other benefits into account.

Given Amex’s biggest draws are valuable rewards and benefits, and the good-to-excellent credit requirement to qualify, we determined our top picks based largely on features like introductory offers, rewards structure, annual fee, and perks and benefits freebies, among other things  — rather than fees, APRs, or credit requirements (though these are all important factors that should be considered when choosing the best credit card for you).

We applied this criteria to American Express’s business cards as well to determine what options glean the most value for business users, and to co-branded card options. While we don’t include co-branded cards from every issuer, American Express’s partnerships with Delta and Hilton make up a significant portion of their portfolio and are all popular cards with international, wide-reaching brands, which we believe are largely applicable to a broad range of consumers.

How We Choose the Best Bank of America Credit Cards

Bank of America has the fourth largest credit card portfolio by purchase volume in the United States. But with more than 4,000 locations across the country, size and scope is no barrier for the national bank brand. Bank of America also ranks third in customer satisfaction among all national issuers, as of the latest JD Power credit card satisfaction study

When it comes to credit cards, Bank of America’s portfolio of low-cost, high-value cards make a good bet for both credit card novices and seasoned swipers seeking to simplify their rewards. 

Of its 23 cards, many are variations on three main card types: Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card, Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card, and BankAmericard. There are Student versions of each, and Secured versions of Cash Rewards and BankAmericard for building credit. There are even further variations of Cash Rewards, with card designs to support organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and MLB.

Bank of America cards offer the most value when maximized by Preferred Rewards, an added benefit for existing Bank of America customers. If you have a Bank of America checking account and a three-month combined daily average of $20,000 or more in qualifying Bank of America deposit accounts and/or Merrill investing accounts, you can enroll in the program. 

Preferred Rewards offers a significant boost to your credit card earning potential, and other valuable benefits. Not every Bank of America credit card has access to Preferred Rewards. 

To determine our picks for the best Bank of America credit cards, we evaluate each consumer credit card currently available. We further narrow down our selections to cards that will best suit different types of credit card users, whether they’re rewards-seekers with standing Bank of America relationships or first-time credit users. 

As a result, we exclude co-branded cards from our list, which can be valuable for brand loyalists, but not as useful for general cardholders. Because Bank of America offers low or no annual fee cards, annual fee is not a top consideration. We do, however, favor cards within the Preferred Rewards program. For our final picks, we consider specific card details like APR, introductory bonus, rewards potential, and card benefits. 

How We Choose the Best Capital One Credit Cards

To determine our picks for the best Capital One credit cards, we evaluate each of Capital One’s 22 personal and business credit cards currently available. The company offers 16 personal credit cards and 6 business credit cards designed to match the needs of a large range of cardholders. 

The most expensive annual fee you’ll find from a Capital One credit card is $95, which makes its suite of cards more affordable than other issuers. But, as a result, Capital One doesn’t offer as many high-value benefits and perks on its rewards cards, like statement credits, lounge access, and discounts with partner brands. Overall, while rewards offerings are more limited, they’re also simple, flexible and accessible for consumers who aren’t interested in annual fees.

Capital One also has few introductory 0% APR offers on purchases and no balance transfer-specific cards. If you’re looking for a card for either of these purposes, you’ll find better offers elsewhere. 

Capital One puts a strong emphasis on its credit-building and fraud prevention tools, like CreditWise and Eno. It’s also the 5th-largest U.S. credit card company by purchase volume. From all of this, we can infer that Capital One cardholders are fans of straightforward rewards at a low cost, rather than more luxe benefits and perks; many are also new to credit or working on credit repair, which Capital One caters to with several of its card options.

To determine our final picks, we kept these details in mind while evaluating each card. Rewards structure and redemptions accounted for a large part of our analysis, alongside card details like annual fee, APR, introductory offer, and any added benefits.

How We Choose the Best Chase Credit Cards

It’s no stretch to say that Chase is the most popular credit card issuer in the U.S. today.

Chase is the credit card division of the largest bank in America, JP Morgan Chase. It’s also the most common U.S. card issuer by card number; in 2017, Chase card volume totaled 91.8 million, according to the most recent information from the Nilson Report. Chase ranks second among issuers spending totals, with a purchase volume of $739.48 billion in 2018, and fourth among national issuers in customer satisfaction, according to the most recent J.D. Power U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study. And consumer interest in Chase is high; it’s the second most common issuer users look for on search engines. 

With nearly 30 cards in Chase’s portfolio, the breadth of card options can help account for the issuer’s broad consumer appeal. Whether you’re looking for savings on your everyday purchases or want to upgrade your travel experiences, there’s something for nearly everyone among Chase’s lineup.

But rather than easy-access for first-time cardholders or great 0% interest offers, Chase’s reputation largely lies in its high-value rewards and access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. Because much of Chase’s value for cardholders comes from the ability to earn and redeem Ultimate Rewards, we favor cards that either earned Ultimate Rewards points themselves or offered access to the program. 

That also means our criteria was focused more on rewards and value than details like APR, 0% interest offers, or credit requirements.

To determine our top picks, we begin with Chase’s general consumer card options — those most accessible to the largest number of cardholders. These make up the majority of our picks, which we choose based on rewards rate, welcome offer, potential value, annual fee, and other costs. Then, using the same details, we choose one card from Chase’s Ink Business lineup and one co-branded credit card. While these cards do have a more specialized focus, we choose the cards among these more specialized options that maintain the most general appeal without sacrificing any value.

Many of the cards included on our list are also among the most popular cards on the market regardless of issuer — such as the Freedom and Sapphire cards. We believe popularity can be a good indicator of a card’s value, and an example of the wide appeal these cards’ rewards structures offer.

How We Choose the Best Citi Credit Cards

Citibank is one of the largest U.S. retail banks with nearly 700 branches in the U.S. and the third largest purchase volume among U.S. credit card issuers. Citi ranked a middle-of-the-road 6th in customer satisfaction among card issuers in the latest survey by J.D. Power.  

The issuer offers several consumer credit cards designed to meet a wide variety of needs for credit card users, from credit-building options to cards offering exclusive travel benefits. 

Citi also offers a few co-branded card options for specific shoppers, including Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi, AT&T Access Card From Citi, Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp℠ Mastercard®, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, Expedia® Rewards Card from Citi, and the Expedia® Rewards Voyager Card from Citi.

Citi’s co-branded cards offer solid value for people who regularly spend with those brands, but we only include one co-branded option among our top picks to prioritize cards with the most value for general credit card spenders. 

For our final Citi card picks, we narrow down cards based on their individual value propositions — how well each card functions as an everyday rewards card, or balance transfer card, for example — alongside card details such as rewards rate, bonus offer, ongoing APR, additional card benefits, and annual fee.