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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor
| April 30, 2020From Kiplinger's Personal Finance
In these uncertain times, picking a rewards credit card may not be the financial task at the top of your to-do list. But especially now that most households have new spending priorities, you may be able to get more value out of the plastic in your wallet. Depending on how much you spend, you may accumulate cash-back rewards totaling hundreds of dollars each year to put toward everyday expenses, your rainy-day fund or any other place you'd like to direct some extra bucks.
When choosing a card, you'll want to consider what you've typically spent the most on in the past, as well as what purchases you expect to make in the coming three to six months or more, says Brooklyn Lowery, senior manager for CardRatings.com. If groceries and gas are a big part of your budget, for example, look for a card that heaps on more rewards in those categories. Many cards offer an initial bonus of extra points or cash back if you spend a certain amount (typically ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars) in the first few months of card membership, so you may want to open a card when you're ready to make a big purchase. Also think about how much effort you're willing to put into monitoring spending categories or hunting for the best point redemptions; if simplicity is more your style, you may want a card that provides a flat cash-back rate on all purchases.
We've selected outstanding rewards cards in each of 16 categories -- bestowing them with gold, silver or bronze medals. To help determine our winners, we calculated a typical annual rebate for each card, assuming $23,000 charged to the card per year (unless otherwise noted) and using spending patterns listed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey. We subtracted any annual fee from the cash value of the rebate if the fee is not waived the first year. We also weighed factors such as ease of earning and redeeming rewards, how widely useful or available a card is (for example, whether the cardholder has to be a member of a club or financial institution to use the card), and any other features that are important to a specific category. For example, in the "Flexible Travel Redemptions" category, the value and usefulness of points for redemptions play a big role. Except where noted, rewards do not expire or have limits, and the travel-focused cards do not charge foreign-transaction fees. Take a look.
These cards provide simple and strong rewards on all purchases.
Interest rate: 13.99% to 23.99%
Annual fee: None
Typical annual rebate: $460
Skip the hassle of tracking spending categories and earn a solid 2% cash back on everything you buy -- 1% when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay the bill. With a rewards balance of at least $25, you can redeem cash back as a check, statement credit or deposit into an eligible bank account. Or convert cash back into Citi ThankYou rewards points. Your cash rewards balance expires if you haven't earned cash back for 12 months.
Interest rate: 13.74% to 23.74%
Annual fee: $99, waived the first year
Typical annual rebate: $575
This card provides an outstanding 2.5% cash back on all purchases -- an enticing prospect if you accumulate enough rewards to make the annual fee worth paying. (This card has a higher annual rebate than the gold medalist, Citi Double Cash, but the no-fee Citi card is friendly to spenders at all levels in this basic category.) Cash-back earnings are limited to $250 a month, and rewards expire from four to five years after you earn them. You must be a member of Alliant Credit Union to use the card; Alliant will donate $5 to the Foster Care to Success charity on your behalf and make a complimentary $5 deposit into an Alliant savings account.
Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 14.99% to 23.74%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first three months and get $200 back
Typical annual rebate: $359
Earn 1.5% back on all purchases in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can redeem for cash back, gift cards or travel bookings. Plus, through March 2022, earn 5% back on Lyft rides. And for the first three months you have the card, you can activate a free membership to DashPass, which waives the delivery fee on food orders of more than $12 through DoorDash. After that, you're automatically enrolled in a DashPass subscription for nine months at 50% off the standard $9.99 fee; if you don't want to pay the subscription fee, be sure to cancel the membership.
Capture a 5% rebate in categories that may change each quarter.
Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first 90 days and get $150 back
Typical annual rebate: $375
Each quarter, you pick two categories that earn 5% cash back on up to $2,000 spent in combined purchases -- recent choices included TV, internet and streaming services; cell-phone bills; home utilities; and fast food. You also choose one category -- gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores -- that earns 2%; all other spending earns 1%. Redeem rewards as a statement credit, a deposit into a U.S. Bank account, or a U.S. Bank prepaid debit card. Cash back expires after three years.
Interest rate: 0% for 14 months, then 11.99% to 22.99%
Sign-up bonus: A match of cash back earned after one year, doubling your rewards
Typical annual rebate: $369
Discover It offers 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in different categories each quarter, and all other purchases earn 1%. Categories capturing the maximum rebate in 2020 are grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS in quarter one; gas stations, Uber, Lyft and wholesale clubs in quarter two; restaurants and PayPal in quarter three; and Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com in quarter four.
Much like the Discover It card, Chase Freedom provides 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in rotating quarterly categories and 1% back on other spending. In the first quarter of 2020, the card offered 5% on gas-station purchases; internet, cable and phone services; and select video and music streaming services. Second-quarter 5% categories are grocery stores, gym memberships and select streaming services. Categories for the third and fourth quarters hadn't been announced as of late April. Rewards are earned as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can trade at a rate of a penny each for cash back, gift cards or travel bookings.
As a bonus, through March 2022, Lyft rides charged to your Chase Freedom card earn 5% back. And cardholders can also get a free or discounted DashPass membership for a limited time.
Need a little incentive to turn your rewards into savings? These cards have your back.
Interest rate: 13.99%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and get $100 back
For every dollar spent with this card, you earn two points. Points are worth a penny each -- equaling a 2% rebate on spending -- if you exchange them for a cash deposit into an eligible Fidelity Investments brokerage account, 529, IRA, health savings account, or charitable-giving or cash-management account. You can even direct rewards to someone else's qualifying account -- say, your grandchild's 529 college-savings plan. Points are also redeemable for travel, gift cards, merchandise or statement credits, but only at about half the value.
Interest rate: 15.99% to 22.99%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first 90 days and get $100 back
Typical annual rebate: $380
This card offers 1.5 points per dollar on all spending, and points are worth a penny each (equaling a 1.5% cash-back rate). If you exchange them for a cash deposit into a TD Ameritrade account, you get a 10% bonus. Charles Schwab's buyout of TD Ameritrade is expected to close in the second half of 2020, and the card may be altered or replaced. The American Express Schwab Investor card offers 1.5% cash back, automatically deposited into your eligible Schwab account.
Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 13.99% to 23.99%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and get $200 back
Typical annual rebate: $365
Choose one category that earns 3% cash back -- the options are gas, online shopping, dining out, travel, drugstores, or home improvements and furnishings. You can change the category once per calendar month. You also get 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% on everything else. If combined spending in the 3% and 2% categories surpasses $2,500 in a quarter, purchases above the cap earn 1%.
Here's the appeal for savers: If you are a Bank of America Preferred Rewards customer, which requires a total three-month average balance of at least $20,000 in Bank of America deposit accounts and Merrill investment accounts, you get a bonus of 25%, 50% or 75% on cash back earned with the card, depending on your Preferred Rewards balance. A $100,000 balance qualifies you for the 75% boost, for an effective rate of 5.25% in the standard 3% category, 3.5% in the 2% category and 1.75% in the 1% category.
Collect points or miles to put toward travel purchases -- no annual fee required.
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 13.99% to 25.99%
Sign-up bonus: 20,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 42,448 points, worth $424
Rack up extra points in a broad range of categories that are attractive to frequent travelers. You'll earn three points per dollar spent on dining, gas, transit (including taxis and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft) and travel bookings. Plus, earn three points per dollar on subscriptions to a handful of streaming services, including Apple Music, Hulu and Netflix. All other purchases earn one point per dollar. Points are redeemable at a rate of 1 cent each for travel bookings, gift cards, a deposit into a Wells Fargo bank account, a check or a charitable donation.
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 14.99% to 22.99%
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
Typical annual rebate: 37,500 points, worth $375
Earn three points per dollar spent on travel bookings through the Bank of America Travel Center and 1.5 points per dollar on other spending. Points are worth a penny each if you trade them for statement credits on travel purchases (point values are lower for cash-back redemptions). If you are a Bank of America Preferred Rewards customer, which requires a total three-month average balance of at least $20,000 in Bank of America deposit accounts and Merrill investment accounts, you get a bonus of 25%, 50% or 75% on cash back earned with the card, depending on your Preferred Rewards balance.
Sign-up bonus: A match of miles earned after one year, doubling your rewards
Typical annual rebate: 34,500 miles, worth $345
This card provides 1.5 miles for every dollar spent. Miles are worth a penny each not just for statement credits on travel purchases but for an electronic deposit into a bank account or to make purchases with select merchants.
These cards charge an annual fee, but generous rebates on purchases plus extra perks make up for it.
Interest rate: 17.24% to 24.49%
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 52,000 miles, worth $425 in statement credits on travel purchases after subtracting the annual fee
This card's rewards program takes the gold because it's both simple and lucrative. You earn five miles per dollar spent on hotel and car-rental bookings through Capital One Travel and a standard two miles for every dollar spent on everything else, and you can trade miles at a rate of 1 cent each for statement credits on travel purchases or travel bookings through Capital One's Rewards Center (0.5 cent each for non-travel statement credits). You can transfer miles earned to more than 15 partner airline and hotel loyalty programs, including those from Air France KLM, Alitalia, JetBlue and Wyndham (the transfer ratio for most programs is two Venture miles to 1.5 airline or hotel points). And every four years, Capital One will reimburse you for an application fee charged to the card for the TSA Precheck ($85) or Global Entry ($100) program for expedited security screening at the airport.
Interest rate: 14.49% to 24.49%
Annual fee: $85
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 points if you spend $2,000 in the first four months
Typical annual rebate: 42,027 points, worth $545 in travel redemptions after subtracting the annual fee
Get five points per dollar spent on prepaid hotel and car-rental bookings through the bank's FlexPerks Rewards Center, three points at restaurants, two points on airline and gas-station purchases, and one point on everything else. Points are worth 1.5 cents each if you use them to book travel through the bank's portal (the value is generally 1 cent per point for non-travel redemptions, such as cash back). Points expire five years from the quarter in which they are earned.
The card comes with other benefits: reimbursement of up to $100 for a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee, a $25 allowance for airline incidentals (such as baggage and in-flight refreshments) when you book a ticket with rewards points, and free use of Boingo Wireless Wi-Fi hotspots.
Interest rate: 15.99% to 23.99%
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 39,443 points, worth $398 in travel redemptions after subtracting the annual fee
Citi Premier currently offers three Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent on travel and gas-station purchases, two points on dining and entertainment (such as concerts, movie theaters and sporting events) and one point on other spending. For those who apply for the card April 10, 2020, or later, the points-earning categories undergo changes that become effective August 23 of this year: Restaurant and supermarket purchases will earn three points per dollar, but only airline and hotel purchases get three points in the travel category (car rentals, parking fees, tolls and other items that previously earned three points will no longer qualify). Gas-station spending will still earn three points per dollar, but entertainment purchases will get one point per dollar. (If you had the card before April 10, the timeline for these changes differs -- for details, see this page.) Starting August 23, cardholders also get a $100 annual discount for a single prepaid hotel stay of at least $500 booked through the Citi ThankYou program.
For now, points are worth 1.25 cents each when you redeem them for travel bookings through the ThankYou program. But starting April 10, 2021, points will be worth 1 cent apiece for such redemptions. You can transfer points to partner airline loyalty programs, including those from JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic (both at a 1:1 transfer ratio).
With these cards, trade your points for travel bookings or transfer them to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Typical annual rebate: 32,059 points, worth $306 in travel redemptions after subtracting the annual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred wins top flexibility marks for a few reasons. The Ultimate Rewards points that you earn with it are worth a healthy 1.25 cents each when you use them to book travel through Chase, or a value of 1 cent apiece when redeemed for cash back or gift cards. What's more, you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to a strong set of partner airline and hotel loyalty programs, including World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards and United MileagePlus. And if you have other cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points -- including Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Reserve -- you can pool your points to redeem them.
The card offers two points per dollar on dining and travel purchases and one point per dollar on other spending. Through March 2022, you'll also get five points per dollar spent on Lyft rides. And currently, you can sign up for a free 12-month DashPass subscription, with no delivery fee on orders over $12 through DoorDash.
Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 12.99% to 23.99%
Sign-up bonus: 10,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate:32,957 points, worth $330 for certain travel redemptions
If you'd rather skip the annual fee, check out Amex EveryDay, which offers two Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at supermarkets (up to $6,000 spent yearly, then one point per dollar) and one point per dollar on other purchases. If you use the card at least 20 times in a billing period, you get a 20% bonus on points earned. Membership Rewards points are redeemable in a variety of ways, but your best bets include using them to purchase flights through American Express Travel (at a value of 1 cent per point) or transferring them to a partner loyalty program, including Delta SkyMiles (at a 1:1 ratio), Hilton Honors (one Amex point for two Hilton points) and Marriott Bonvoy (1:1). One caveat: The card charges a 2.7% foreign-transaction fee.
Sign-up bonus: 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 54,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, worth about $337 after subtracting the annual fee
Points that you earn with this card can be redeemed for stays at Marriott hotels or transferred to many frequent-flyer programs, including those for American, Delta, Southwest and United airlines (at a ratio of three Marriott points to one mile for most programs). Plus, for each 60,000 points that you transfer, you get a 5,000-mile bonus. The card offers six points per dollar spent at eligible Marriott properties and two points on other purchases.
The annual fees are big on these cards, but so are the benefits. Note that we do not include a typical annual rebate for premium cards because they also provide considerable value outside of the points they award for everyday spending.
Interest rate: 16.99% to 23.99%
Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Chase bumped up the annual fee on its luxury card by a hefty $100. But we think Reserve deserves the gold for the flexibility of the $300 statement credit it offers on travel purchases each year and the rich value of the Chase Ultimate Rewards points you earn with the card. You get three points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and one point on other spending (plus 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022), which you can exchange at an exceptional rate of 1.5 cents apiece for travel bookings through Chase. Plus, as with Chase Sapphire Preferred, our gold medalist in the "Flexible Travel Redemptions" category, you can transfer the points to partner loyalty programs.
Cardholders also get a free Priority Pass Select membership for access to participating airport lounges and reimbursement of up to $100 every four years for a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee. And Chase added some temporary benefits, including up to $120 in statement credits through 2021 for purchases through food-delivery service DoorDash, a free DashPass membership for at least a year and a free year of membership to Lyft Pink, which offers discounted car rides, priority airport pickups and three free 30-minute bike or scooter rides per month, among other perks.
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months
If you love to kick back at airport lounges, Amex Platinum is the premium card for you. It provides access to a host of lounge networks, including Amex's own Centurion and American Express International lounges, as well Delta Sky Club, Priority Pass Select, Airspace and Escape. The card packs in some other compelling perks, too, including credit for up to $15 monthly in Uber rides ($35 in December), up to $200 in statement credits yearly for incidental fees (such as for baggage and in-flight refreshments) with one airline of choice, and reimbursement of the application fee for TSA Precheck (every 4.5 years) or Global Entry (every four years).
You'll earn five Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel, and prepaid hotel bookings through Amex Travel get five points. Other purchases earn one point per dollar. For the best value, exchange them for certain travel redemptions at a rate of a penny each (including flights booked with Amex Travel) or transfer them to partner loyalty programs.
Interest rate: 15.24% to 22.24%
Annual fee: $150
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 points if you spend $2,000 in the first three months
If you can't stomach an annual fee north of $500, check out this card, which offers a couple of interesting perks: $100 in yearly statement credits toward access to airport lounges in the LoungeBuddy network and a $100 yearly credit toward a CLEAR membership for expedited security screening at select airports and stadiums (the CLEAR fee is $179 a year). The card offers three Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining and one point per dollar on other spending.
If you're devoted to a particular airline, using its credit card can help you more quickly collect miles to put toward future flights.
Interest rate: 15.74% to 24.74%
Sign-up bonus: 35,000 SkyMiles if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 33,923 SkyMiles, worth about $373
This newly revamped card for Delta flyers broadens the everyday spending categories that earn a heightened rebate. You get two miles per dollar spent at restaurants and supermarkets and on Delta purchases, plus one mile per dollar on other spending. Other perks include priority boarding and one free checked bag for up to nine passengers on your flight reservation, a $100 credit for a Delta flight if you spend at least $10,000 on the card in a calendar year, and a 20% statement credit for in-flight purchases of food, drinks and audio headsets.
Annual fee: $149
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 Rapid Rewards points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 26,000 Rapid Rewards points, worth about $215 after subtracting the annual fee
Southwest flyers enjoy a number of benefits with this card: a $75 yearly statement credit for Southwest purchases (excluding upgraded boarding fees and in-flight purchases), a 7,500-point bonus on your account anniversary each year, and reimbursement for purchases of up to four upgrades to seat positions A1 through A15 during the previous year on your account anniversary. Earn two points per dollar on Southwest purchases and one point on other spending.
Interest rate: 15.99% to 24.99%
Annual fee: $99
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 TrueBlue points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
Typical annual rebate: 45,923 TrueBlue points, worth about $498 after subtracting the annual fee
If you fly JetBlue regularly, the airline's Plus credit card is well worth a look. It offers six TrueBlue points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, two points at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point on other spending. Plus, get 5,000 bonus points after each account anniversary, a 10% bonus on points each time you redeem points for a flight, a free checked bag for up to four passengers on your reservation, and a 50% statement credit for in-flight food and drink purchases. Rather not pay an annual fee? The JetBlue Mastercard is an excellent alternative.
If you regularly visit properties from one of these hotel chains, consider opening its credit card to rack up points for future stays.
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 World of Hyatt Bonus points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months, plus an additional 25,000 points if you spend $6,000 in the first six months
Typical annual rebate: 36,877 World of Hyatt Bonus points, worth about $532 after subtracting the annual fee
Points that you earn with this card hold a high value compared with those from many other hotel programs. You get four points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels; two points on dining, airfare, transit and gym memberships; and one point on other spending. Cardholders also enjoy one free night yearly at a Hyatt hotel (in hotel categories one through four), one additional night if you spend at least $15,000 a year on the card, and Discoverist loyalty status, among other perks.
Sign-up bonus: 75,000 Hilton Honors points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 97,064 Hilton Honors points, worth about $485
This card provides a good avenue to build up hotel points without paying an annual fee. You earn seven points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, five points at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and three points on other purchases. Cardholders also get Silver loyalty status and can upgrade to Gold status if they spend at least $20,000 on the card in a calendar year. Points expire if you are inactive in the Hilton Honors program for 15 months, but earning points with the credit card counts as activity.
Interest rate: 13.99% to 22.99%
Annual fee: $75
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after your first purchase, plus an additional 35,000 points if you spend $2,500 in the first 90 days
Typical annual rebate: 125,000 points, worth about $425 after subtracting the annual fee
Radisson's Premier card offers 10 points per dollar spent at participating Radisson hotels and five points per dollar elsewhere. Cardholders also get a 40,000-point bonus each account anniversary, a free hotel night for each $10,000 spent on the card (up to three nights a year) and Gold hotel loyalty status. The card charges a 2% fee for foreign transactions made in U.S. dollars and 3% for those made in foreign currencies.
Capture rebates of 5% or more on gas when you fuel up with these cards.
Interest rate: 13.49% to 17.99%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,500 in the first 90 days and get $100 back
Typical annual rebate: 40,364 points, worth $472 in certain travel redemptions or $343 for other redemptions
Pick up five points per dollar on gas purchases at the pump, three points per dollar on supermarket spending and one point on other purchases. Points are worth about 1.17 cents apiece when used to book hotels through PenFed's redemption portal. But the value drops to about 0.85 cent each for gift cards, merchandise or airline tickets. (There's a $15 fee to book plane tickets online or $25 by phone.) Points expire after five years. PenFed membership is available to anyone nationwide; you must deposit at least $5 into a PenFed savings account.
Interest rate: 9.25% to 17.99%
Typical annual rebate: $205
This card is a strong and straightforward choice for fuel rebates: You get 5% cash back for gas purchases paid with the card at automated fuel pumps and 1% at retail merchants. You must be a member of Abound Credit Union (formerly Fort Knox Federal Credit Union) to use the card. Anyone can do so by joining nonprofit organization USA Cares (free if you become an Abound member), paying a one-time fee of $10 to the credit union and depositing $5 into a savings account.
Interest rate: 16.40% or 24.40%
Annual fee: None, but you must be a club member (memberships start at $45 yearly)
Sign-up bonus: Get $45 back when you open a new account and on the same day make a purchase of at least $45 at SamsClub.com or through the Sam's Club app
Typical annual rebate: $464
The Sam's Club Mastercard is a great choice for members of the warehouse club who want a solid payback on gas. It provides 5% cash back on up to $6,000 spent yearly at gas stations (1% thereafter), 3% on dining and travel purchases, and 1% on other spending. Rewards accumulate over the course of a calendar year, and starting the following February, they are automatically added to your membership to be used for store purchases. Cash-back earnings are limited to $5,000 a year, and their expiration date is listed on the rewards notification you receive each year.
Earn healthy rebates with these cards when you stock up at the supermarket.
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 12.99% to 23.99%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $250 back
Typical annual rebate: $431
Amex Blue Cash Preferred has long offered an unbeatable 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent yearly at the supermarket (1% thereafter). And last year, the card got a refresh on some of its other rebate categories. It now offers 6% back on nearly 30 streaming services, including HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV and Spotify, and 3% on transit (including taxis and ride-sharing services, parking fees, tolls, and train and bus fares). Plus, you'll get 3% back on gas-station purchases and 1% on other spending. Redeem cash back as a statement credit (minimum $25).
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $150 back
Typical annual rebate: $350
This no-fee card provides 3% cash back on up to $6,000 in supermarket purchases annually (1% thereafter), 2% on gas-station and department-store purchases, and 1% on other spending. As with the Preferred card, cash back is redeemable as a statement credit ($25 minimum).
Interest rate: 11.15% to 18%
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days
Typical annual rebate: 44,700 points, worth $447
Navy Federal More Rewards is a worthy candidate for anyone who qualifies for membership with Navy Federal Credit Union -- and eligibility is fairly broad, open to members and veterans of all military branches and their families (including grandchildren and siblings) as well as Department of Defense civilian employees and contractors. You get three points per dollar (an effective 3% back) at supermarkets as well as on gas, transit and dining out; other spending earns one point per dollar. Exchange points at a rate of a penny apiece for cash back, travel bookings and gift cards.
If you have an appetite for dining out, use one of these cards to earn extra points or cash back on restaurant purchases.
Sign-up bonus: Spend $3,000 in the first three months and get $300 back
Typical annual rebate: $306
Take advantage of the 4% cash back this card offers on restaurant and entertainment purchases. You'll also earn 2% at grocery stores and 1% on other spending. Redeem cash back as a statement credit or check. If you can't justify the annual fee, consider the no-fee version, Capital One SavorOne, with 3% back on dining and entertainment.
Interest rate: 16.24% to 22.99%
Sign-up bonus: 10,000 points if you spend $500 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 34,136 points, worth $382 in travel redemptions or $341 for other redemptions
This card dishes out three points per dollar on restaurant and gas-station purchases and one point on other spending (you don't have to join AARP to get the card). Redeem points at a rate of a penny each for cash back, gift cards or an AARP membership, or trade them at a rate of 1.12 cents each for travel bookings. For every restaurant purchase you make, 10 cents is donated to the AARP Foundation in support of Drive to End Hunger.
Annual fee: $250
Sign-up bonus: 35,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Frequent travelers who spend significant bucks on food may find a lot to like about the premium Amex Gold card. It provides four Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on purchases at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 spent yearly) and restaurants worldwide (no spending limit), three points per dollar on flights, and one point on other purchases. Plus, you get $10 in monthly statement credits toward purchases with participating restaurants and delivery services, including Cheesecake Factory, Grubhub and Seamless. Other perks include a $100 yearly credit for incidental fees on one airline of choice and a $100 yearly credit toward certain extras (such as dining, spa and resort activities) if you spend two consecutive nights in a property participating in Amex's Hotel Collection.
These cards provide rewards both in and out of the stores that issue them.
Interest rate: 17.99% to 26.99%
Sign-up bonus: 5% back in Walmart stores for the first 12 months if you use the card through Walmart Pay
Typical annual rebate: 35,514 points, worth $355
Last fall, Walmart rolled out this credit card in partnership with Capital One, and its rewards scheme is appealing for Walmart and other retail purchases. To start, you get five points per dollar (for an effective 5% back) on purchases at Walmart.com, including grocery pickup and delivery. Many other credit cards -- including the gold and silver medalists in the "Grocery Rebates" category -- exclude superstore purchases from receiving top rebates on groceries. For the first year, you also get five points on in-store Walmart purchases if you use the card through Walmart Pay, the store's mobile-payment service; after 12 months, in-store purchases get two points per dollar. Plus, you earn two points per dollar at Walmart and Murphy USA gas stations and on dining and travel purchases and one point on other spending. Trade your points at a rate of a penny apiece for statement credits, gift cards and travel bookings.
Interest rate: 14.24% to 22.24%
Sign-up bonus: $50 Amazon gift card upon approval
Typical annual rebate: 33,283 points, worth $333
Frequent Amazon shoppers will appreciate earning three points per dollar on Amazon.com purchases. You also get three points per dollar at Whole Foods Market, two points at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and one point on other spending. If you're an Amazon Prime member ($119 yearly fee), you get a version of the card that provides five points per dollar on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases. Points are worth a penny each and redeemable for purchases at Amazon.com, cash back, gift cards and travel bookings.
Interest rate: 15.24%
Annual fee: None, but you must be a Costco member (memberships start at $60 yearly)
Typical annual rebate: $452
Members of Costco Wholesale get a generous range of rebates on everyday spending with this card. You earn 4% back on up to $7,000 spent yearly on gas (1% thereafter), 3% on travel and dining, 2% at Costco, and 1% on other spending. After your February billing statement closes each year, you'll receive a certificate with your rewards earnings for the previous year, and you can redeem it for cash or merchandise at Costco. It expires at the end of the year it is issued.
You can't use these cards outside the stores that issue them, but they offer attractive rewards for loyal customers.
Interest rate: 24.40%
Typical annual rebate: $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)
Every time you make a purchase at Target.com or Target stores -- including in-store Starbucks locations -- with this card, you'll enjoy a 5% discount. (Prescriptions, eye exams and certain other items and services don't qualify for the discount.) Plus, get free standard shipping on most online Target purchases (or two-day shipping on certain items), an additional 30 days for returns and exchanges, and a 10% purchase discount on your card membership anniversary if you receive Target marketing e-mails. And through the end of 2020, cardholders can use a coupon code to get 10% off Hotels.com purchases.
Interest rate: 26.99%
Sign-up bonus: 10% off your first purchase when you open an account (discount is limited to $100)
If you have a big home project coming up -- or if you tend to have smaller ones in the works at any given time -- the Lowe's Advantage card is worth a look. You can choose one of three benefit options: Get a 5% discount on every purchase; 0% financing for six months on a purchase of at least $299 (the standard interest rate is 26.99%); or a reduced 7.99% rate for 84 months on a purchase of $2,000 or more.
Interest rate: 27.49%
Sign-up bonus: 15% or 5% off select purchases when you open and use a new account
Typical annual rebate: 800 points, worth $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)
At first glance, JCPenney's card looks underwhelming, offering just one point per dollar spent on JCPenney purchases (you can earn a maximum 2,000 points per transaction). But when you reach 200 points, you're issued a $10 rewards certificate to use for JCPenney purchases, which gives the points a value of 5 cents each. That's a 5% rebate on your spending. You must earn points at least once every 12 months to avoid expiration. Cardholders also get birthday coupons and special discounts on sale days.
Enjoy extra cash back on gas, dining and other purchases that are common for college students.
Interest rate: 0% for six months, then 12.99% to 21.99%
Typical annual rebate: $47 (assuming $220 spent monthly)
This card is especially friendly to students. For starters, the cash-back categories are useful but uncomplicated: You get 2% back on gas-station and restaurant spending (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% on other spending. The card also provides a little extra motivation for academic achievement, with a $20 statement credit each school year that your GPA is at least 3.0. Discover charges no fee the first time you pay a bill late and never imposes a penalty interest rate for late payments -- forgiving features for students who may be using a credit card for the first time. Most cash-back redemption options—including statement credits or deposits into a bank account -- require no minimum rewards balance. And unlike many other credit cards, this one doesn't require you to meet a spending minimum to get a cash-back bonus the first year.
Typical annual rebate: $54 (assuming $220 spent monthly)
This student card has the same rewards structure as the regular version of the card -- for details, see our bronze medalist in the "Cash Back for Savers" category. The $1,000 spending minimum to get a $200 initial bonus may be a heavy lift for some students, so consider opening the card when you have some sizable expenses on the horizon -- say, buying dorm-room furnishings and textbooks.
Typical annual rebate: $33 (assuming $220 spent monthly)
Capital One Journey provides a standard 1% cash back on all purchases but boosts the rate to 1.25% each month that you pay your credit-card bill on time. The card also offers access to a higher credit limit if you make your first five monthly payments on time. Redeem cash back as statement credit or check.
Entrepreneurs can separate their personal spending from business expenses with these cards—and earn ample cash back or points, too. To qualify for a business credit card, owners typically have to share information such as the business name, industry, tax identification number and revenue.
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 13.24% to 19.24%
Typical annual rebate: $580 (assuming $29,000 spent annually)
With a flat rate of 2% cash back on up to $50,000 spent per year (1% thereafter), this card gives business owners a chance to rack up considerable rewards. Cash back is automatically redeemed as a statement credit. If you prefer to earn Amex Membership Rewards points instead -- say, because you can convert them to airline miles -- check out Amex's Blue Business Plus card, which provides two points per dollar on all spending, up to $50,000 a year (one point per dollar thereafter).
Interest rate: 20.99%
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Sign-up bonus: Spend $4,500 in the first three months and get $500 back
Big spenders may get more value out of this card, which charges an annual fee starting the second year of card membership but imposes no limit on the amount of purchases that earn 2% cash-back rewards. Redeem cash back as a statement credit or check. This card may also appeal to international business travelers because it carries no foreign transaction fee (the Amex Blue Business Cash card has a 2.7% fee).
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then then 13.24% to 19.24%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $3,000 in the first three months and get $500 back
Typical annual rebate: $500 (assuming $29,000 spent annually)
This card is a smart choice for businesses with high expenses in certain categories. It provides five Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at office-supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services (after you spend more than $25,000 combined in those categories, purchases earn one point per dollar), two points per dollar on the first $25,000 spent on gas and dining (then one point per dollar), and one point on other spending. Trade points at a value of 1 cent each for cash back, travel or gift cards.