Best Credit Cards of October 2019

Our Credit Card Picks and Advice on How to Choose the Best Card for You

Disclosure: We are committed to recommending the best products for our readers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to products, but this never affects our reviews or recommendations.

At The Balance, we name the best credit cards based on the features we think are the most valuable for different sets of needs. Whether you’re looking for travel rewards, cash back on everyday purchases, a way to build credit, or a better way to pay down costly debt, we’ve done the research and crunched numbers to find the very best option for you. These are the best credit cards you can get right now, and we highly recommend giving each offer a second look:

Editors' Picks

Best Overall

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our Rating Among Overall Cards
5.0
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.74% - 25.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 15 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

It’s a no-nonsense, well-rounded card that deserves this top honor and a place in your wallet. It’s also the best card for cash-back rewards and no annual fee. Earning the sign-up bonus and cash back is simple, as there aren’t categories or earning limitations to worry about. If you have a big purchase to make or debt to wipe out with a balance transfer, you’ll have more than a year to finance those transactions interest-free, too. 

Best for Financing Large Purchases

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

Our Rating Among Overall Cards
4.5
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 14.74% - 25.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 points per $1 at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year. Earn 1 point per $1 for other eligible purchases.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 15 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 2.7%

Why We Chose This Card

More than a year to pay off large purchases interest-free is a good deal that gets even better when you also consider the welcome offer rewards. If your big purchase costs more than $1,000, it’s an easy double-whammy: You get about $100 back in points (based on our valuations), and time to pay off that large purchase interest-free. This no-annual-fee card offers ongoing rewards, too, which gives it long-term value after the 0% APR period ends.

Best Sign-Up Bonus

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Our Rating Among Overall Cards
4.3
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.74% - 26.74% variable
Annual Fee $99
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2X miles for every one dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1X miles for every dollar spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

The bonus is worth an astounding $1,770, based on our calculations, making it one of the most valuable offers right now. And it gets better: It’s also easy to earn. You only have to make one purchase and pay the annual fee to earn the bonus. That’s a great deal compared to the typical $3,000 spend requirement that many sign-up bonuses have. This card is best for those who can fly American Airlines at least a couple times each year, but if you can, don’t pass on this offer.

Best for Travelers

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Our Rating Among Overall Cards
4.4
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 18.74% - 25.74% variable
Annual Fee $450
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3x points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit, 3X points on dining at restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

If you’re a commuter, frequent flyer, or cruise lover, this may be the flexible travel card of your dreams. On top of a generous sign-up bonus worth at least $500, plus valuable travel redemption options, it boasts great travel benefits like unlimited airport lounge access, primary rental car insurance, and Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee reimbursement. Yes, the annual fee is high, but if you travel often and enjoy the perks, it’s worth it.

Best for Bad or Fair Credit

Discover it® Secured

Our Rating Among Overall Cards
4.5
Discover it® Secured
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 24.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Minimum Deposit to Activate $200
Allows upgrade to unsecured card Yes

Why We Chose This Card

This is a rare opportunity for you to rebuild less-than-perfect credit while enjoying competitive cash-back rewards and paying an annual fee. Plus, keep the card balance low and make on-time payments and Discover may convert your card to an unsecured account in less than a year. Discover customer service is highly rated, too, so if you have questions or need assistance with your account, we’re confident they won’t let you down.

Best for Students

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Our Rating Among Overall Cards
4.2
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Fair - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 26.46% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases. 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

Busy students need a card that makes using credit worthwhile and educational, and that’s why this one shines. It offers easy rewards and no extra fees, which makes it a great first card. Plus, it encourages smart credit use. Make your first five monthly payments on time and Capital One may increase your credit limit. Plus, each month you pay your bill on time, Capital One gives you a higher rewards-earning rate. The bank’s credit education tool, Credit Wise, can help you track credit score growth, too.

Best for Balance Transfers

Citi Simplicity®

Our Rating Among Overall Cards
3.8
Citi Simplicity®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 26.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
INTRO BALANCE TRANSFER APR 0% for 21 Months
Intro Balance Transfer Fee This card does not offer an introductory balance transfer fee.

Why We Chose This Card

It’s the longest 0% balance transfer APR offer available right now. Long offers like this are so valuable because to really take advantage of the interest cost savings, balance transfers need to be paid off in full before the offer ends. Having more time to do that will make the process less stressful and easier on your budget. This card also generously gives you four months to make transfers that qualify for the interest rate deal.

Find Your Credit Card Match

We believe it's most important to consider annual fee, interest rate, and rewards when you choose a credit card for everyday use, but we know you might have different priorities. See what suits you best.
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How Do Credit Cards Work?

Credit cards allow you to make purchases without having to immediately pay for them with cash or money from your checking account. Essentially, you’re using the credit card company’s money, and then you pay it back. 

The credit card company (also called a credit card issuer) will send you a bill about once a month telling you how much you owe and when to send your payment by. If you can’t cover the whole bill, the issuer adds interest charges to your account. Those are the basics, but this explainer on how credit cards work will help you understand everything you need to know about the cost of carrying a credit card balance.

6 Tips for Choosing the Best Credit Card for You

Choosing a credit card requires you to take an honest look at your habits and needs, and see how those line up with the products out there. To get started, here are six tips for matching your needs to the right type of credit card. 

  • Building credit? Look at secured credit cards.
  • Travelers: Consider travel rewards cards or cards with no foreign transaction fee. 
  • Thrifty shoppers can save big with cash-back cards.
  • Need to buy something big? Look at cards with low introductory interest rates.
  • Pay off card debt with a balance transfer card.
  • Plan for emergencies with a low-APR credit card.

To help you further understand the credit card selection process, we put together this guide to picking a credit card and an overview specifically for first-time card applicants.

Is a Credit Card Right for You?

Before you can make a decision about opening any credit card, you need to understand the value and drawbacks of credit cards as a whole.

What We Like

  • Allow you to build credit

  • Offer rewards

  • Enable you to make large purchases

What We Don't Like

  • Could lead to debt

  • Charge costly fees

  • Are difficult to fully understand

For a more detailed explanation, check out our guide to the pros and cons of credit cards.

What Credit Score Do You Need?

The better your credit score, the more credit card options you have. And if you want a credit card with the highest rewards earning rate and best perks, you’ll likely need to have a very good credit score. Many of our credit card reviews tell you what kind of credit score (fair, good, very good, etc.) you need to qualify for that card. 

If you don’t know your credit score, read our article on how to check your credit score. These days, there are many options that will cost you nothing. Once you know your score, you can figure out what category it tends to fall into. There are a couple of different credit score models (FICO and VantageScore) and each has its own range. This is all explained in detail in our guide to credit scores. But for a quick overview, here are the ranges of scores for the two different scoring models: 

FICO Score Ranges
Exceptional 800+
Very Good 740-799
Good 670-739
Fair 580-669
Poor Under 580
VantageScore Ranges
Excellent 750-850
Good 700-749
Fair 650-699
Poor 550-649
Very Poor Under 550

Note

Credit score isn’t the only factor credit card issuers look at when evaluating your application, but issuers aren’t transparent about what those factors are.

While credit card companies don’t clearly state what you need to do to get approved, you’ll improve your chances by having a job, a reliable source of income, and a bank account. We describe these best practices in detail in this article on how to qualify for a credit card.

Can You Get a Credit Card With Bad Credit?

You often can get a credit card with bad credit. Secured credit cards are usually available for people with poor credit because you have to put down a deposit that’s typically equal to your credit limit. If you use the card responsibly, over time you’ll build your credit and can apply for a better card.

How Credit Card Rewards Work

Most credit card rewards programs follow the same basic structure: For every dollar you spend on your credit card, you earn a percentage of that purchase in cash back, points, or miles. You can then redeem cash, points, or miles for a variety of things. 

Every credit card rewards program is different, so it’s best to read individual credit card reviews to understand their programs. This overview of rewards cards basics will help you learn about the different rewards programs out there and, most important, whether or not it’s worth signing up for a rewards card.

Common Credit Card Benefits

You know all that fine print you see when you go to a credit card’s website? It includes a lot of details about card benefits you might not realize you have access to. We have a full rundown of credit card perks you should know about, but here’s a quick list of common benefits.

Common Perks on Many Kinds of Credit Cards

  • Car rental insurance
  • Zero fraud liability
  • Roadside assistance hotline

Common Rewards Card Perks

  • Insurance for stolen or damaged purchases
  • Lowest advertised price match
  • Extended warranties on purchases
  • Refund when merchant won’t accept returned item

Common Travel Rewards Card Perks

  • Insurance coverage for lost or delayed luggage
  • Insurance coverage for trip cancellation, interruption, or delay
  • Travel accident insurance

How to Apply For a Credit Card

Follow these steps to apply for a credit card:

  • Check your credit score.
  • Choose which kind of card you want to apply for.
  • Research a few different cards from different companies.
  • Decide on one to apply for.
  • Visit the card application webpage.
  • Enter your personal information, including your Social Security number and annual income. 
  • Be patient. It can take a couple of weeks to receive a final decision. 

This guide will walk you through all the steps of getting ready and actually applying for a credit card.

Methodology

We collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances. We do this because it's our mission to give you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews.

Our reviews are always impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive.

About This List

We reviewed more than 200 credit cards to identify the one with the best combination of low fees, good rewards, and relatively low interest rates—that's what people say is most important to them when choosing a new credit card.

The top card on this list is the outright winner, based on the dozens of card attributes we evaluate in our scoring process. The other cards on this list have the top scores in specific categories, and each category has its own methodology.

Important

While annual fee is a top driver in determining the best credit card overall, it's not as important in our list of the best travel cards. That's because our research and analysis shows that travel cards with no annual fee tend to have little value. To understand how we scored cards in each round-up (i.e., Best Credit Cards for Travel), see the methodology at the bottom of each page.

What We Score

The most important components of a credit card's overall score are the fees, rewards, and interest rates.

Fees

We look at the average cost of a card's annual fee over three years, to account for credit cards that waive the annual fee the first year. The lower the average annual fee, the better the score it receives. The total number of fees a card has also has a significant bearing on a credit card's score, including whether or not the card has foreign transaction fees or waives the first late-payment fee.

Rewards

First, we look at the value of a card's rewards. We determine reward value by researching options for redeeming a credit card's rewards, as well as Americans' travel and spending habits.

Next, we evaluate the rate at which you can earn rewards. If a card has multiple rewards-earning rates (aka tiers), we determine the score based on the highest rate. But we also look at how many rewards tiers the card has, and a card with fewer tiers receives a higher score. We also look at if there are limits on rewards earning, how many options you have for redeeming rewards, whether there's a minimum amount of rewards you must have to redeem them, and if rewards expire. Rewards-earning limits, few redemption options, minimum redemption thresholds, and rewards expiration lead to low scores.

Interest

People don't often start using a credit card with the intention of going into debt, but it happens. That's why it's important to consider a card's annual percentage rate (APR), not only on all purchases but also for balance transfers and cash advances. (The higher the APR, the lower the score.) And if a card offers 0% APR periods on purchases or balance transfers, we consider that a good thing.

Other Things We Consider

While fees, rewards, and interest rates make up the vast majority of our scores, we also consider the overall experience of using a card. Our scoring model favors features like a mobile app, a free credit score, and 24/7 customer service, to name a few. For more information about how The Balance evaluates credit cards, see our full credit card review methodology