How many credit cards do you use? Don’t worry, there’s no right or wrong answer; as long as you aren’t using 10 different cards to transfer balances and stay in debt forever. Depending on your limits and business expenses, having a half dozen pieces of plastic in your wallet isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The real question is: when was the last time you thought about the benefits you get from the cards you use? Many of us sign up for a card with a specific intention, like getting airline miles or a low rate while building up credit, and then continue using that same card year after year without reassessing its usefulness. I used a basic, boring Visa for a while after I got out of college, and if I’d switched things up a little earlier I probably could have saved/earned thousands of dollars. Let’s try to avoid you making that same mistake.
Once you prove yourself to Chase, Bank of America, Discover or whoever provides your financing, you should take advantage of your good credit and earn the best rewards available. Very few budgeting tricks and saving techniques provide as much financial windfall as strategic credit card use, and you can’t make good on your credit cards if you stick with the same no-frills account you opened when you were 19 and didn’t even have a credit score.
It’s time to upgrade those old cards and get some plastic with purpose. If your credit is fair to excellent and you pay off the balance promptly to avoid interest charges, the following cards could have you living large without really changing how you live.
1. Capital One SaveOne
Cash back makes a big difference if it gets earned via your most prominent spending habits. If you don’t dine out very often, this card makes less sense for you. If you are either a terrible chef or have a job that leads to lots of work meals, the SaveOne card could turn your questionable eating habits into financial gain.
1% cash back is pretty standard. 2% might get your attention and have you doing some quick math to calculate the savings. 3%, which this card delivers for all dining and entertainment purchases, will almost certainly have a noteworthy effect on your monthly funds. When I take my office out for a meal, the tab gets pretty long, pretty fast. Once those dinner bills creep into the multiple hundreds of dollars, 3% becomes another meal. Enjoy that expensive work dinner and then go home knowing you’ve already paid for the next day’s lunch.
This could work adversely for anyone who dines out more than they should, but if your life already consists of frequent restaurant visits, you might as well see some returns.
● No annual fee
● No foreign transaction fee
● 0% intro APR for 15 months
2. American Express Cash Magnet
American Express has a great track record of offering strong incentives to cardholders. The knock on this company is typically the limited number of businesses willing to pay AMEX fees, but with nearly two million establishments adding this card to their list of acceptable payment options in 2018, it’s worth taking a fresh look at what American Express might get you.
1.5% cash back on everything is nothing to scoff at. For the versatile spender who drops $15,000 entertainment, $20,000 on travel, and $2,000 on gas every year (or more frequently), those rewards will make a big splash when you cash out. That cash back also comes in different shapes and sizes, with balance credits, gift cards and merchandise. Unlike some of the more exclusive AMEX cards, this one doesn’t have any annual fee.
● Plan It membership, allowing single item payments to be split over multiple months without standard APR fees
● $150 credit after spending $1,000 in first 3 months as a cardholder
● 0% APR for 15 months
3. Chase Saffire Reserve
Looking for a travel card that might be the travel card? According to many a user and reviewer, nothing delivers more miles for your dollar than the Saffire Reserve.
You will spend $450 per year to keep this card. I want to mention that up front in case it’s a deal-breaker, and it should be for some people since so many cards have no annual fee. If you’re in the position to make that commitment, you end up with a lot of travel perks most of the competition can’t match.
This card presents a series of benchmarks, starting with 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 in the first three months after opening your account. On each anniversary of your account activation, you get a $300 credit toward travel reimbursement. After the first anniversary, you’ll get 3X points on travel.
As you accrue these points, you’ll see a 1:1 transfer to the major loyalty travel programs, a perk that’s among the best Saffire has to offer. And when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you get a 50% boost on your points, which turns 50,000 points into $750. As long as you swipe frequently enough, you’ll see extensive travel benefits with very few restrictions.
● Access to airport lounges with Priority Pass Select
● $100 application credit for TSA Pre
● 3x points on a variety of expenses
4. Capital One Spark
In my experience, business owners are drawn to business cards that offer travel rewards. If you fly on company time, that makes a lot of sense, but some people just end up with zillions of unused miles. If you don’t board too many planes but you still have plenty of business spending, Spark might be an appealing option for you.
My favorite feature with these accounts is the free employee cards. After the first year, Capital One charges a $95 annual fee. However, employee cards come at no extra cost and earn the same 2% cash back as the primary holder. For every secretary, assistant and partner, your company can get money back on all their work-related expenses.
Instead of hoarding travel points until the end of time, think about a reward you’ll actually use. Since the points won’t expire for the life of your account, you’ll always be able to cash in on your cash back.
● $500 cash bonus after spending $4,500 in the first 3 months
● $0 liability for fraudulent charges on lost or stolen cards
● 2% cash back on every purchase
5. Capital One Venture
With a much more manageable annual fee ($95 after the first year free), the Venture card from Capital One still offers enough travel benefits to give the Saffire Reserve card a little competition.
Like with Chase, you get 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months after opening your account. You also can redeem points for travel on any airline at any time, with rewards transferring directly to 12 major loyalty programs. There’s no cap on your rewards, so you can keep building up mileage until they name an airport after you.
One of the most intriguing offers comes through a partnership between Capital One and Hotels.com, though you only have a few months to make good on it. Through January 2020, a significant number of hotels will land you 10x points. If you have an extensive vacation or a bunch of little trips coming up for the remainder of the year, a Venture card plus Hotels.com could equal a whole lot of free travel.
● $100 application credit for TSA Pre
● 2% cash back on every purchase
● Points don’t expire for the life of the account
6. American Express Blue Cash Preferred
Common purchases deliver the biggest rewards with this card, making the $95 annual fee a worthwhile expense. Whether you use your AMEX to cover business or personal bills, a lot of your swiping will deliver 3-6% cash back.
Everyone eats, so the 6% kickback on money spent at U.S. supermarkets seems very enticing. You only get 6% for the first $6,000 you spend a year and then 1% after that, but that’s not much of a deterrent. You also get 6% back on certain streaming subscriptions and 3% back on all sorts of basic transit, including gas, rideshares, buses, trains, tolls and more. For most Americans, those categories make up a large portion of annual expenditures.
A $250 statement credit is applied after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, so that’s two of your annual fees covered for free. As long as you spend in the appropriate categories, it takes very little effort to make this card work its magic.
● 0% APR for the first 12 months
● Accepted at most major stores and businesses
● 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
7. American Express Platinum
Another costly card with a rewards program that might just merit the high annual fee. For $550 each year, this coveted AMEX can lead to tremendous savings for frequent jet setters.
For starters, the card comes with $550 in complimentary benefits at select hotels and resorts, so your annual fee doesn’t necessarily just go into the coffers of American Express executives. You also get a 60,000 point bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months as a cardholder. When you book hotels or flights through American Express Travel, you get 5x the bonus points.
Your Platinum card also comes with some specific benefits for the modern spender. Each month you receive a free $15 Uber ride, as well as VIP status with Uber. You’ll have access to the Global Lounge Collection, a snazzy waiting area with locations around the world for international travelers. A $200 Airline Fee Credit helps cover the cost of checked luggage and other common flying expenses that add up over the year.
As long as you travel enough and use airlines and hotels that qualify, a Platinum AMEX should help you save thousands of dollars each year while providing a handful of other appealing conveniences.
● $100 in statement credits for spending at Saks Fifth Avenue
● Over $1,000 in potential annual credits
● Points accepted by a variety of airlines and resorts
8. Discover It
Discover was one of the leaders in the cash back movement, and the It card continues to deliver a high percentage on specific quarterly spending. While you get 1% back on everyday purchases, regular expenses like groceries, gas, dining out and Amazon deliveries will frequently earn you a full 5%.
5% makes this card stand out from the other companies offering a respectable 2-3% return. To sweeten the deal even further, Discover will match the cash back earnings in your first year with no limit. If you open an account, enroll in all the 5% percent rewards programs and earn a bundle of cash, Discover will double that bundle. It only works for the first year, but that first year could be incredibly lucrative. With no annual fee negating those earnings, you can get a lot of cash with absolutely no conditions.
● 1% back on all purchases
● Redeem cash at any time, earnings never expire
● Apply Discover rewards points at Amazon.com checkout
● Notification when personal information turns up on questionable websites
9. Wells Fargo Propel American Express
The rewards multiplier isn’t as high as some AMEX cards, but the Propel kickbacks cover a wider range of categories and ensure you’ll see your fair share of rewards points. On top of that, no annual fee means you’ll come out ahead no matter what.
While most cards offer a small reward for most purchase and might go as high as 5x or 10x on a couple categories, this card delivers 3x rewards on almost everything. You can get extra points from spending on restaurants and take out, flights, hotels and rental cars, gas stations and rideshares, and even popular streaming services. Considering how many of us spend our days eating, driving and watching Netflix, this AMEX can bring in substantial travel rewards for the majority of your spending.
Again, no annual fee and you have an introductory 0% APR for the first year. This card embodies low risk, high reward.
● 30,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
● 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months
10. U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature
Most creditors don’t want to give too much in the way of flexibility, and that’s what makes the Cash+ stand out. Instead of searching for a card that meets your needs, you tell U.S. Bank what your needs are and then let the card do the rest.
Not only do you get 5% percent cash back on select eligible purchases, but you also get to determine which two categories have eligibility. So if you’re a big traveler or a foodie or a movie watcher, you can select the appropriate categories for your largest rewards. You also get to choose a third purchase type that earns you 2% back, while the rest of your spending will net 1%.
The 5% earnings only apply to the initial $2,000 between the combined categories, so there is a slight limitation. Nevertheless, you have no limit set on the total amount you can earn. As long as you choose wisely, you can easily get a few hundred dollars each quarter.
● Earn $150 after spending $500 in the first 3 months
● No annual fee
10 cards, 10 different ways to make your good credit count. Since you’ve put in the work to get the credit bureaus on your side, you might as well take advantage of the best rewards programs and see how many airline miles, hotel rooms and cash back bonuses you can earn.