You should resolve this year to make your credit cards work for you. That is, if you’re responsible with credit and pay your balance in full each month, you should be using cards that earn you cash back on purchases or points for travel.
This good news is that 2015 is an especially opportune time to get a rewards card if you don’t already have one. That’s because card issuers are offering bigger sign-up bonuses (more rewards points) for new accounts, increasing the value of rewards and making rewards easier to redeem, says Matthew Goldman, the CEO and co-founder of Wallaby Financial, which helps consumers get the most out of their credit cards. Competition among card issuers for new credit accounts is the driving force behind the improvement in rewards programs, he says.
We asked Goldman and several other credit card experts to pick the most rewarding new credit cards. All of these rewards cards were introduced over the past year and are notable for the value they provide cardholders. If you already have a rewards card or two and plan to apply for more this year, the free Wallaby mobile app can help you figure out which card to use for each purchase to maximize rewards. If you’re interested in a travel rewards card, in particular, MileCards.com’s CardFinder tool can help you figure out which card is best for you based on your spending habits and where you want to travel.
Best for cash back
Citi Double Cash. Most of the card experts we spoke with said this was the best new rewards card. You receive 1% cash back on all purchases, and an additional 1% once you have paid your balance. Until this card was launched, only Fidelity American Express offered double cash back on everything with no annual fee, says Nick Clements, co-founder of consumer finance education site MagnifyMoney.com. The interest rate, after a 0% introductory rate expires, is 12.99% to 22.99%.
Best for travel rewards
Amex EveryDay Preferred. Amex EveryDay Preferred has a $95 annual fee, but Brian Karimzad, director of MileCards.com and co-founder of MagnifyMoney.com, says it’s one of the strongest-earning cards on the market offering three points for every dollar spent on groceries; two points on gas purchases; and one point on all other purchases. Plus, you'll get an extra 50% worth of points when you use the card 30 or more times in a billing period. So a family spending $2,000 a month could net more than 50,000 points a year, he says, and that's without introductory offers. If you don't want to pay an annual fee, opt instead for the Amex Everyday card. The rewards points are less generous but you won't be locked in to paying the $95 fee every year. Amex Everyday is the first no-annual-fee card that earns points that can be transferred to airline miles programs one for one, Karimzad says. The interest rate on both cards is between 12.99% and 21.99% after the 0% introductory rate expires.
Wells Fargo Propel World American Express. This card is a top pick from LowCards.com CEO Bill Hardekopf and NerdWallet because it provides a rewards rate of 3% on ticket purchases made with any airline, 2% on hotel bookings and 1% on other purchases. Cardholders also are reimbursed up to $100 a year to cover incidental travel charges. There's no foreign currency conversion fee. The drawback is the card’s hefty annual fee: $175 (which is waived the first year). The interest rate is 13.99% to 21.99% after a 0% introductory rate.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. This card is not new, but it got a major facelift in 2014 that made it one of the most flexible, high-earning, consumer-friendly travel cards on the market, according to NerdWallet. It’s also a CardHub pick for best rewards card. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus card now has an extra layer of security with a newly added EMV chip with PIN capabilities. And cardholders have a longer window to redeem their travel miles (two miles per $1 spent) and an expanded list of redemption options, which include campgrounds, timeshares and more. There are no foreign transaction fees, and the $89 annual fee is waived the first year. The interest rate is 14.99% to 18.99% after an introductory rate of 0%.
Best for hotel rewards
Orbitz Rewards Visa. Both Hardekopf and NerdWallet like this card offering from discount travel site Orbitz. You receive what NerdWallet calls a “mind-boggling” 10% back in "Orbucks" when you book eligible hotels on the Orbitz mobile app, or 8% on desktop. Orbucks can be used toward hotel bookings on Orbitz. You also get 6% back in Orbucks on all flights and 2% back in Orbucks on all other purchases. You also receive a $50 statement credit when you spend $200 in the first 90 days of becoming a cardholder. There is no annual fee, and the interest rate is 15.98% to 24.99%.
Best for airline rewards
Virgin America Visa Signature. If you live in or near a city serviced by Virgin America airlines, Goldman and Karimzad recommend the new Virgin America Visa. You can earn three points for every $1 spent with Virgin America and one point on all other purchases. And Goldman says Virgin America makes it easy to redeem flights with points, which don’t expire and aren't subject to blackout dates. Plus, it has the lowest annual fee ($49) of any card that offers a free checked bag and offers a $150 discount on a companion airfare each year, Karimzad says. The interest rate is between 15.98% and 24.99%.
Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.
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