Best Credit Cards for the Holidays


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With the holidays coming up fast, now is a good time to get a jump on your shopping. It’s easier on your budget when you plan out your holiday spending over a couple of months rather than cramming it all in during December. If you want to make your holiday spending even more effective, consider using a well-chosen credit card to make your purchases. (See also: Early Holiday Shopping: Why I Finish by Thanksgiving)

A card that offers an introductory purchase rate of 0% can make your spending more manageable. Even better? Cards with rewards programs and/or huge signing bonuses. Not only can you complete your holiday shopping, but you can also reduce the overall impact to your budget with the help of cash back and rewards points.

Most of us spend more during this time of year, and it makes sense to use the holiday burst of spending wisely. Each of the cards noted below will help you do just that.

Best Cash Back Rewards

A good cash back rewards card will lower your holiday expenses automatically.

Discover it®

Discover it® offers 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories (up to $1,500 per quarter), and 1% cash back on all other purchases. But the thing that makes this the ideal card for holiday shopping is the 5-20% cash back it offers if you shop via its shopping portal, which includes over 200 online popular retailers like Apple, Macy's and Best Buy. Besides being a great cash rewards credit card, it also offers protection from higher APRs due to late payments and you get a free FICO® Credit Score on your monthly statement so you can keep track of your credit. It currently has a sign-up bonus offer of 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months — then a variable purchase APR applies (currently 10.99% - 22.99%). A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance. There is no annual fee.

Click here to apply for the Discover it® card.

See all our picks for the top cash back rewards credit cards.

Best 0% APR on Purchases

A 0% APR on purchases essentially is a free loan. Right now, the best cards offer up to 18 months of 0% APR. This will allow you to spend what you need to without incurring interest charges. The important thing is that you commit to paying it off within the time period.

Citi Simplicity® Card

credit card

The Citi Simplicity® Card offers 0% APR for 18 months on both balance transfers and new purchases. After that, the regular balance transfer APR will be 12.99%-21.99% (variable), depending on your credit. There is a $5 or 3% balance transfer fee (whichever is greater). This card offers no late fees or penalty interest rates. There is no annual fee.

Click here to apply for the Citi Simplicity® Card

See all our picks for the top 0% APR credit cards.

Best Travel Rewards

You can rack up a ton of miles on your holiday purchases. Give yourself a nice vacation for all the giving you'll be doing for others!

Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard®

The Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard® is a relatively new card that offers a great sign up bonus, double miles on travel and dining purchases, and 10% miles back when redeeming travel statement credits. The card offers a sign up offer of 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months — enough for a $200 travel statement credit, and 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. There is no annual fee.

Click here to apply for the Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard®

*Note: Barclay also offers an Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® with a $89 annual fee (waived the first year) that gives 40,000 bonus miles and 2x miles on all purchases.

See all our picks for the top travel rewards credit cards.

Best 0% Balance Transfer

If you are already carrying a balance, it may not be wise to continue to rack up additional debt. But if you must spend during the holidays, giving yourself some interest-free breathing room can be a life saver. Better yet, use your best rewards credit card for holiday shopping, and then do a balance transfer to a new card.

Discover it® Card

credit card

This link will get you a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 18 months (but only 6 months for purchases) — then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%. This is different from the link from above, which gets you 14 months 0% APR on both purchases and balance transfers. Balance transfers are subject to a 3% fee. In addition to a great 18 month balance transfer rate, the Discover it card is a great cash rewards card, offering 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories, as well as an online shopping portal that boasts 5-20% cash back with their over 200+ retail partners. There is no penalty interest rates, and there is no late fee for your first late payment. Plus, you get a free FICO® Credit Score online and on your monthly statement to help you stay on top of your credit. There is no annual fee.

Click here to apply for the Discover it® Card

See all our picks for the top balance transfer credit cards.

Savvy Credit Card Use During the Holidays

Make sure that you are smart about your credit card use during the holidays. Even though there are some great terms associated with many of these credit cards, you don’t want to fall into the debt trap.

Do Your Best Only to Spend Money That You Already Have

Rewards credit cards are most effective when you make planned purchases, and then pay off the balance each month. That way, you earn the rewards, but you don’t end up having their value eroded by interest charges.

If You're Going to Carry a Balance, Choose Your Card Wisely

If you think that you will need to carry a balance as a result of your holiday shopping, look for a rewards card with a 0% APR on purchases for a few months. Make a plan to pay off the balance before the end of the intro period. In any case, it’s best if you avoid carrying a balance for more than three or four months. Choose a card with an intro period, and you can still earn rewards without paying interest.

With the right plan, you can take advantage of credit cards for the holidays, earning bonuses and rewards that can help you offset your spending, saving you money on purchases now and interest later.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Guest's picture

Great article!! Especially now since it is close to the holidays, this was a perfect read. It’s good to know of the some of the best credit cards for the holidays.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'd suggest to anyone to skip JP Morgan/Chase cards. Unfortunately, I have one. The number escaped into the wild, from a disreputable third party company. I phoned their customer service to get the card stopped and the number changed. I was told that they won't change the number or cancel the card. Their service people claim their systems are down. The service people have said the same thing for three straight days. Their service people also say that there is fraud protection. However, I have read the terms of service and as I understand those terms, the terms say that JPM/Chase can use binding arbitration to force the payment of charges, regardless of whether or not the charges are fraudulent. I now believe that something is going on, possibly nefarious. Please remember, these people recently lost $2,000,000,000.00, they have every reason to find "other" sources of revenue. I'm looking for another card provider. I urge you to find a different provider also.

Guest's picture

After reading the post that was entirely dedicated to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, it definitely seems like a good deal, but especially if you're looking for a card just to make it through gift-buying season. As a very recent post-grad, I'm lucky that I'm not expected to get anyone too expensive this Christmas season.

Guest's picture
Credit Card Rewards Nerd

The Discover More card is also paying 5% cash back on all Internet shopping as well as department store shopping for up to $1500 in spending from October through December.

You might also be interested in the rewards calculator at http://www.creditcardtuneup.com/ . You enter your average monthly spending in categories like restaurants, groceries, gas, airfare, hotels, etc. and it calculates the single best card as well as the best combinations of cards for your spending profile.