Consumer Reports Picks Top 3 Credit Cards for Your Needs


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Figuring out which credit card works best for your lifestyle and spending habits can feel like a financial Where's Waldo, leaving you scanning over a sea of card offers, hoping that the one you're looking for will pop up in your vision.

Consumer Reports — the non-profit organization that rates everything from airlines to air conditioners — recently put their Money Lab to task on the credit card problem, evaluating 53 cards to come up with the top options in three categories: cash back rewards, travel rewards, and balance transfer / low-rate cards. We’ve featured the highlights of their findings below, along with some commentary and additional information.

Please note that the rates and rewards for these cards are based on creditworthy users. If your credit is poor or you can't pay off your card entirely every month, there is nothing wrong with not using credit cards. It's always much better to avoid debt than to start carrying a balance, trying to chase rewards. (Although if you do have an existing balance, it might be worth it to check out the balance transfer / low rate category below.)

Best Cash Rewards Cards

These picks from Consumer Reports are based on a family spending $400 a month on gas, $600 on groceries, and $1,000 elsewhere.

Top 3 Cash Rewards Credit Cards Rewards Earned After
1 Year 2 Years 3 Years
Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express
APR: 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 12.99%-21.99%, with the flexibility to pay over time.

Key Features: 6% cash back at US supermarkets up to $6,000/year, 1% after that. Also get 3% at US gas stations and select US department stores, and 1% on other purchases. Cash back comes in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. Terms and restrictions apply.
$770 $1,390 $2,010
Fidelity Rewards American Express
APR: 13.99%

Key Features: 2% cash back on all purchases is highest available rate; must be linked to a Fidelity IRA, brokerage account, or 529 savings plan. Terms and restrictions apply.
$480 $960 $1,440
Capital One Cash Rewards
APR: 0% for 12 months; 12.9-20.9% after

Key Features: No foreign transaction fee. Get a 50% bonus at the end of the year on your cash back earned throughout the year. (So keep the card for at least until the end of the year to turn your 1% cash back into the equivalent of 1.5% cash back.) Currently unavailable.
$460 $820 $1,180

Key Features About Cash Back Cards

Cash back cards are a good option for many people. Consumer Reports quotes Tim Winship, editor of FrequentFlier.com — "Before you even think about an airline card or other points card, consider what you’d get from a cash-rebate card — it’s cash in hand with no restrictions."

If you are thinking about getting a cash-back card, take some time first to look at your budget and financial goals. Since many cards do offer different levels of cash back on different categories, there is no one-size-fits-all best cash-back card; what works best for a person who commutes two hours each way to work might not work best for someone who spends more at the grocery store.

Best Travel Rewards Cards

Again, these picks from Consumer Reports are based on a family spending $400 a month on gas, $600 on groceries, and $1,000 elsewhere:

Top 3 Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Best cards for frequent travellers.
Rewards Earned After
1 Year 2 Years 3 Years

Chase Sapphire Preferred
APR: 15.24% variable

Key Features: 7% annual bonus on points. 2 points per dollar on dining and travel; 1 point elsewhere. 40,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months ($500 value if used at Chase's travel site). $95 annual fee; waived first year. No foreign transaction fees.

$850 $1,200 $1,560
Blue Sky Preferred® Card from American Express
APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 17.24-22.24% after

Key Features: $100 annual allowance on checked baggage fees, leg-room upgrades, and in-flight meals and purchases. Earn 2X points at US restaurants, for hotel rooms purchased directly from hotels and with car rentals purchased directly with select car rental companies. Earn 1X point on other purchases. $75 annual fee. 15,000 bonus points (worth $200) after spending $1,000 in first 3 months. Terms and restrictions apply.
$760 $1,320 $1,880
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
APR: 13.9-20.9%

Key Features: 40,000 bonus points ($400 value) after spending $3,000 first 3 months. Earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase; miles don't expire. $59 annual fee; waived first year. No foreign transaction fee.
$580 $1,000 $1,420

Key Features About Travel Rewards Cards

Consumer Reports points out that travel rewards cards often offer big sign-up bonuses for new customers — sometimes enough to get one or more round-trip tickets. These cards do often have annual fees, but perks like free checked baggage, travel insurance, and lounge access more than make up for the fee. These fancy freebies used to be only available to business travelers, but thanks to the competitiveness of the market they are now offered to regular consumers as well.

Best Balance Transfer / Low Rate Cards

According to Consumer Reports, these cards are great for consumers who want to transfer a balance of $10,000.

Top 3 Cards for Balance Transfers
Costs columns assume $10,000 balance remains constant over the 1/2/3 years.
Transfer Fees & Interest Costs After
1 Year 2 Years 3 Years
Slate by Chase
APR: 0% on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months; 11.99-21.99% variable after

Key Features: No transfer fee if balance is transferred within 60 days of opening card; 3% fee after. Cheapest card for balance transfers.
$0 $910 $2,110
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
APR: 0% for balance transfers and purchases for 18 months; 11.99-21.99% regular APR after

Key Features: 18 month 0% introductory rate on balance transfers and purchases is longest in industry. 3% balance transfer fee.
$300 $910 $2,110
PenFed Promise Visa
APR: 4.99% on balance transfers; 7.49% on purchases for 36 months, then switches to prime rate (currently 9.99%)

Key Features: 4.99% lifetime APR on balance transfers, plus no balance transfer fees, makes this card the best deal if it will take you more than 2 years to pay off the balance. Requires membership in Pentagon Federal Credit Union.
$500 $1,000 $1,500

Key Features About Balance Transfer Cards

If you’re trying to pay down credit card debt, the only card you should consider getting is a balance-transfer card. You have two options here:

Balance-transfer cards are a great option if you can pay your debt off within the introductory rate period (usually a year to a year-and-a-half). After paying the transfer fee of 3 or 4% required by most cards, you’ll enjoy a 0% rate for that introductory period. After that, the rate jumps up.

Low-rate cards, Consumer Reports points out, are better for those with longer-term debt — instead of possibly jumping up to a rate over 20%, these will stay at a lower-than normal rate for a longer period — for example, the low-rate card they picked stays at a rate of 4.99% on balance transfers for 36 months, where the balance-transfer cards are 0% for 15-18 months, then jump to a rate between 11.99% to 21.99%.

We’re proud to note that our credit card experts independently came up with pretty much the exact same list of cards. Consumer Reports' top choice for each category has been recommended by Wise Bread for months!

Check out our credit card guides for the best:

If you found this information helpful, we recommend subscribing to Consumer Reports — it’s a great resource, especially if you’re planning to make big purchases soon.

Do you agree with the cards selected? What cards would you put on the list?

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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Will Chen's picture

I guess great minds think alike! Congratulations to our credit card writers for independently coming up with the same recommendations as the venerable Consumer Reports.