How to choose what’s most important to you when it comes to credit cards.
With all kinds of different options out there when it comes to credit cards, choosing what is important to you can be difficult. That’s why we built the creditcardGenius slider system – so finding the right credit card for you is painless and fun.
Let’s take a quick run through popular credit card features and the choices available to you through our sliders, so you can better decide what type of credit card is right for you.
Credit cards have all kinds of rewards but can be boiled down into three main categories:
Therefore the first creditcardGenius slider – the rewards slider – has three options:
Cash back rewards are best when you want simplicity in your rewards. They have a set earning rate so you’ll know what you’ll be earning on all of your spend. Your return on spending is basically calculated for you. A 2% cash back card gives you a 2% return on spending. Simple.
The catch? Even for higher-end cards, cash back cards have lower annual earn rates than their travel card equivalents. Far fewer cash back cards come with sign up bonuses, and those that do are typically worth far less.
Cards with cash back rewards will show up under the ‘Cash’, ‘Flexible’ and ‘Travel+’ slider positions because cash is the most flexible and can be used for anything, including travel. They don’t tend to rank as highly though because their return on spending and extra perks are typically lower than rewards cards.
Here’s a table of pros and cons of cash back cards:
Many travel and rewards cards can redeem your points not only in multiple ways, but also without a lot of restrictions, blackout dates, limited availability, or hoops to jump through. We call this a flex rewards card.
Cards with flexible rewards, will show up in both the ‘Travel+’ and the middle flex categories. And depending on the card can show up the cash back category as well.
These cards will have the same pros and cons as the travel cards, but come with the added flexibility in how you can redeem your rewards.
Having said that, there is usually a varying return in your overall rewards. Take the . You can use your points in many ways:
Our basic table of pros and cons of flex cards:
Rewards cards are broken down into two categories:
Cards that have low-flexibility travel or store rewards will usually only show up under the ‘Travel+’ slider position. However, if you can also redeem your miles for real cash or flexible rewards in some way (typically at a much lower value), then they will also show up under other slider positions.
These two categories will be discussed separately.
Travel cards as a group generally tend to offer the highest overall rewards. But these cards can come at a downside of only being able to redeem your rewards on travel purchases. Sometimes other reward choices are available but they typically have a much lower end value. Depending on how often you travel, you may have to wait a while to redeem your rewards.
Travel cards tend to have the best insurance packages as well ‒ and have the highest annual fees for credit cards to account for the extra perks you get to enjoy. If you have a card that is specific to one company, you sometimes also get specific perks when travelling with that company.
Take the for instance. This card gives you some great Hyatt specific perks:
Then there’s sign up bonuses ‒ these tend to be more valuable with travel rewards cards.
That same Hyatt card has welcome bonuses worth up to 60,000 points. Depending on what your able to get for value from your points, this alone could be worth a $1,000 or more. In comparison, the best cash back cards have bonuses that top out around $200.
Here’s a table of the pros and cons of travel cards:
Another pro for travel is the fun factor. Planning and dreaming what to do – and where to go – with your points...is lots of fun.
If there is particular store or retailer you shop at frequently, it may be worth looking into whether they have a branded credit card.
While retail cards will have an average to below average return rate on spend, the earn rate tends to go up when you use it at the retailer it’s designed for.
Take the . It has some average earn rates on every day spending:
While these are some average earn rates, use this card at amazon.com and get some supercharged rewards:
A 5% return is hard to beat on any card, and you won't be able to come close to this when shopping at amazon.com with any other cash back card.
Another benefit is that sometimes cardholders will be given special discounts, offers, or increased rewards several times throughout the year. These offers are typically above and beyond what the everyday shopper will get, even during a big sale.
They can also have some decent sign up bonuses. The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature will give you a $50 credit at amazon.com when your card application is approved.
These card also typically come with no fee, but generally lack any kind of insurance package.
Our basic table of pros and cons of retail cards:
Depending on what you want in a card, there may be an annual fee associated with it. Credit cards come with annual fee to compensate card issuers for the higher rewards and access to helpful money saving perks – and one of those main perks is insurance.
So, deciding which is more important – no annual fee or comprehensive insurance coverage – is what our second slider is all about.
Our low fee slider heavily prioritizes cards with lower annual fees, but you still might see the odd card with an annual fee show up near the top. That happens when a card is so good that its reasonable annual fee is well worth it for all the extra rewards and benefits you would be getting.
Quite simply these are credit cards that have absolutely no annual fee, which at first glance seems very attractive.
To justify paying an annual fee, you would need to be spending around $1,500 per month to offset the annual fees from the extra rewards value you get from spending on the card.
The one big exception to that is that some cards come with specific perks, companion flights or free checked bags for example, that might be highly valuable to you even if you spend less. If you’re interested in perks, make sure you select ‘Perks’ on the 3rd slider.
An annual fee card will generally also have better sign up bonuses (especially the travel cards as you know).
One way to possibly get the best of both worlds (no fee with high return on spending), is to consider retail or store cards.
(...or you can also pick up the phone and try to get your annual fee waived.)
There is also nothing wrong with going with a straightforward no annual fee card – just know you won’t get the best return possible.
For more accurate and more personalized results and to see if it would make more sense for you to have a no fee card, use our monthly spending calculator in the sidebar.
Many people might not even realize that their credit card comes with insurance coverage. But this is a perk that could end up saving you money.
The best insurance packages often go hand-in-hand with more premium credit cards that carry an annual fee. Here are 12 different types of insurance we track:
While there is no one credit card that comes with all 12 types of insurance, the comes with 11 of those 12 types.
There are a few things to note, however:
If you carry more than trivial balance on your card, you’re much better off forgoing any rewards and getting a reduced interest rate card.
For example, say you have a balance of $2,000 on your card and say a typical card has an interest rate of prime plus 13% – you are paying $395.64 a year in interest alone (with prime assumed to be 5%). You’re wiping out your rewards on a typical $2,000/month spend.
Switching to a low rate card, like the , which has an introductory rate of 0% for 15 months (and a regular rate of prime plus 8.74% after that) – you would pay no in interest for the first 15 months. This would save you $395.64 in just one year.
If you're curious about how much a low interest credit card could save you, use our credit card interest calculator:
Credit cards perks are extra features or bonuses a card has outside of the usual spending rewards. This includes things like:
That means, if you don’t carry a balance, then the added perks that premium cards offer may be the way to go.
Premium cards typically have an annual fee of at least $99 and a typical purchase interest rate of around 17.99%.
If you've been on our compare cards page, you might have noticed that there is a 4th slider there.
This slider breaks down two things that people are often concerned about – acceptance and approval.
How likely are you to be approved when you apply for a specific credit card?
To answer this question we take into account the approximate minimum credit score required for approval.
So, if you think you don't have the best credit score, or you are new to the credit card game, or you don't have a very high income ‒ this might be a setting that is important to you.
How likely is your card accepted whenever you shop, dine, and travel...wherever?
Not only do we take into account retail store acceptance, we also look at mobile payment.
We take into account concerns about Amex & Discover acceptance, and between Mastercard and Visa ‒ Visa has the edge because of Costco.
Deciding what’s most important to you in a card isn’t always straightforward, so we hope this guide is helpful.
In case we missed something, send us a note using our contact form.
Or, check out our answers to Frequently Asked Questions.