We’ve broken down how we examine each card by type to give you some insight in how our ratings are created and what makes for a great credit card.
We rate credit cards using a system of one to five stars.
★★★★★ — Excellent
★★★★★ — Good
★★★★★ — Average
★★★★★ — Subpar
★★★★★ — Poor
Here’s a breakdown of the major card features we look at when assessing each type of credit card, along with a quick explanation. Following our breakdown, you’ll find an example of a highly ranked credit card in that category, along with a small breakdown of the card features.
Travel credit cards
|Rewards||The ease of earning rewards and the value of those points or miles on travel are a cornerstone of travel cards. The easier to earn and more they’re worth, the better.|
|Features||Card travel features play the second largest role in our travel card assessment. Cards that offer an assortment of valuable perks for a low annual fee are rated high.|
|Welcome offer or signup bonus||Large, easily attainable welcome offers are heavily weighted in our reviews as they can earn you a vacation or travel.|
|Fees||Travel cards with fees that make it hard to use the card in the intended manner, such as foreign transaction fees, can adversely affect our card rating.|
Example of a top-ranked travel credit card
Based on our criteria, the American Express® Gold Card card is among our top-ranked in its category. Check out some of this card’s details to see why.
American Express® Gold Card
- Rose Gold is back. You can now choose between Gold or Rose Gold.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
- $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- Get up to 12 complimentary months of an Uber Eats Pass subscription when you enroll with your Gold Card by 12/31/21.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms Apply.
- See rates & fees.
|Rewards||High cashback rates and a large number of available cash back categories play an important role in a positive card rating.|
|Signup bonus||Similar to travel cards, a generous and easily obtainable signup bonus is a nice freebie for simply spending on everyday purchases using your card.|
|APR||An intro APR on either purchases or balance transfers helps boost the value of the card beyond cash back. This will also boost the rating of the card.|
|Fees||Unusual or high fees can negatively affect the value of the card, particularly if you’re not always careful with your money.|
Example of a top-ranked cashback credit card
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® card is a great example of a top-ranked cashback card. It offers a great cashback rate on several categories and comes with a nice signup bonus to boot.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
- Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
- No annual fee.
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
- No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
|Rewards||A high rewards rate, multiple earning categories, and strong rewards point value all contribute to a high card rating.|
|Signup bonus||Like travel cards, a large signup bonus value that is easily obtained can give you some big value on early card use.|
|APR||An intro APR is always appreciated, though not necessary, on a rewards card. Rewards cards that have it often have an edge over cards that don’t in terms of potential value.|
|Fees||Aside from the traditional card fees that can negatively affect a card rating, such as missed payment fees, we also examine any fees that might come attached to the rewards program.|
Example of a top-ranked rewards credit card
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express card is an example of a top-ranked rewards card. It offers the highest rewards rate at US supermarkets and on select US streaming services. Check out some of the card’s details to learn more.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $200 back.
- Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
- 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
- 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
- 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
- 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
- Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%
- Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
- Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
- Terms Apply.
Balance transfer cards
|Balance transfer period||When it comes to a balance transfer offer, the longer you have to pay off your transferred debt, the better. A long period results in a greater card rating.|
|Balance transfer fees||Not all balance transfer cards omit balance transfer fees. Those that do earn additional points from Finder thanks to the extra money saving potential of a waived fee.|
|Revert APR||A low revert APR after the initial balance transfer offer is appreciated, as it means you can carry a balance on a card afterwards without incurring much interest. It’s also helpful if you can’t pay off your full debt within the allotted intro period.|
|Fees||Annual fees in particular are a bad mark on balance transfer cards, as the ultimate goal of a balance transfer card is saving money. An annual fee gets in the way of that goal.|
Example of a balance transfer credit card
Based on our criteria, the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card card is among our top-ranked balance transfer card picks. It offers a long 0% APR intro period on balance transfers, and it offers other useful perks as well.
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
- 0% Intro APR for 18 months on purchases from date of account opening and 0% Intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer. After that the variable APR will be 13.74% - 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
- There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
- Get free access to your FICO® Score online.
- With Citi Entertainment®, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
- Shop with confidence knowing that you have dependable protection benefits, including $0 Liability on Unauthorized Purchases and Citi® Identity Theft Solutions.
- The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.74% - 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.
Credit-building cards and secured cards
|Reports to all 3 major credit bureaus||A secured card that doesn’t report to all three credit bureaus simply doesn’t do its job as well as cards that do.|
|Minimum deposit||We generally rate cards with low minimum deposits higher as this makes them more accessible to a broader swath of cardholders. Still, there are some cards that are rated highly for their ability to hold a very large minimum deposit.|
|APR||Though best practices dictate you pay your balance in full each month, those building credit may not have the best credit habits built yet. For this reason, cards with low APRs receive higher marks than those that do.|
|Additional credit building features||If a secured card offers additional features or perks for helping build credit, like not requiring a credit check or allowing you to graduate with good use, these cards receive higher marks.|
Example of a credit-building and secured credit card
Among our top-rated credit-building and secured cards is the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card card. The card’s details fit our criteria nicely for what makes a strong product in this category.
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
- No credit check necessary to apply. OpenSky believes in giving an opportunity to everyone.
- The refundable* deposit you provide becomes your credit line limit on your Visa card. Choose it yourself, from as low as $200.
- Build credit quickly. OpenSky reports to all 3 major credit bureaus.
- 99% of our customers who started without a credit score earned a credit score record with the credit bureaus in as little as 6 months.
- We have a Facebook community of people just like you; there is a forum for shared experiences, and insights from others on our Facebook Fan page. (Search “OpenSky Card” in Facebook.)
- OpenSky provides credit tips and a dedicated credit education page on our website to support you along the way.
- *View our Cardholder Agreement located at the bottom of the application page for details of the card.
|Rewards||Business cards are treated much like standard rewards cards in this category. However, we do give additional points to cards with a wide range of business-specific perks.|
|Additional features||These features can range from travel perks such as travel insurance, to business perks such as integration with financial software. If the number of perks offered outweighs the annual fee of the card, that plays a factor in the card’s rating.|
|Intro APR||Intro purchase APRs are particularly valuable for business credit cards, as businesses may find the interest-free investment opportunity helpful. The larger the welcome offer period, the better.|
|Fees||Fees play a fairly standard role in our assessment of business cards, though are weighed less heavily than other cards like secured cards or student cards.|
Example of a business credit card
The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business card is among our top-ranked business cards. Check out some of this card’s details to see why.
Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
- Earn 2% cash back on all purchases
- Earn a $500 cash sign up bonus after you spend $4,500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
- $0 annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
- Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
- Free employee cards. Employee cards also earn 2% cash back on all purchases
- Cash back has no expiration date and no redemption requirement
|Rewards||Rewards on a student card are relatively rare, so the presence of rewards gives a student card a sizable boost in rating.|
|Additional features||Like secured cards, student cards may come with handy additional features, such as the ability to graduate to a standard card or mobile account monitoring.|
|Intro APR||Intro purchase APRs and a low revert APR are both important features for a student card, where consumers may be using a credit card for the first time and need some leniency.|
|Fees||Student cards without heavy fees are rated highly since students are just starting off in learning good credit habits.|
Example of a student credit card
We chose the Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students card in our list of top-ranked student cards. Its cashback rate, welcome offer, APR intro offer and other benefits fit our criteria for what makes a great card in this category.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students
- Earn 3% cash back on a category you choose — online shopping, dining, gas, drug stores, travel or home improvements — and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. Your cash back is capped at $2,500 each quarter on combined purchases at the 3% and 2% categories. Once reaching the cap, you earn 1% cash back, which is the same rate you earn on all other purchases.
- Earn a $200 online cash rewards bonus once you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days of account opening.
- Get 0% intro APR period for the first 12 statement closing dates on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 60 days of card membership. A variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99% applies thereafter.
- Every time you use your card online at foreign merchants or abroad, you’ll pay a 3% fee of the amount.
Finder has reviewed more than 300 credit cards to help you choose the best card for your financial needs and this number is constantly growing. To help us properly assess each card’s value, we use a distinct methodology for each card type to isolate their distinct strengths and weaknesses.