The Credit Karma guide to the best credit cards of 2017

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The Credit Karma guide to the best credit cards of 2017

By ANNA TRINH

The new year brings the opportunity to start fresh and put new plans in motion for meeting your goals. To help you reach your financial goals, we've rounded up some great credit cards that might fit your needs for the year ahead.

Before applying for any cards, though, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Would you be tempted to overspend in order to earn the sign-up bonus?
  • Are you at risk of overspending just to earn rewards?
  • How will you keep to a budget if you end up with a large credit limit?
  • What category of credit card is most in line with your goals for the year?

With these in mind, we can explore different types of cards that may benefit you this year, whether you're looking for travel rewards, cashback on everyday spending or saving on interest charges.

Travel cards

Looking to carve out more time for travel this year? Choosing the right travel card can get you free nights at hotels, free or discounted flights, and overall travel perks that can help make traveling more enjoyable or easier for you.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® may be a great option for those who travel fairly frequently. It comes with an annual fee of $95 ($0 your first year), but when used the right way, it can reap great benefits.

What we like:

  • Earn a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Your points can be worth 25 percent more in value if you redeem the points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; this means that 50,000 points can be worth $625.
  • Earn an even larger bonus with an additional 5,000 bonus points after adding an authorized user who makes a purchase within the first three months.
  • The annual fee is waived for the first year.
  • Travel and dining can earn you two points per dollar spent; this includes airfare, hotels, restaurants and maybe even your favorite coffee shop. All other purchases will earn one point per dollar spent.
  • No foreign-transaction fees means that you can use your card when you travel outside of the country without having to worry about additional fees on your overseas purchases.
  • Travel and purchase perks include car rental insurance, trip cancellation insurance, purchase protection, price and return protection, and more.
  • You can transfer your points to some airlines' frequent-flier programs.

The fine print:

  • The $4,000 spending requirement for the sign-up bonus is a bit more than some other spending requirements for travel cards.
  • Low spenders may not make up the $95 annual fee in rewards. If you were to only use the card for travel and dining, you would need to spend about $5,000 to break even with the annual fee.

Roger Ma, a Certified Financial Planner™ mentions that in addition to the sign-up bonus of 50,000 points, a great perk about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® is the waived annual fee for the first year, "[It] allows new cardholders to not only get $500 of value upfront, but try the card out without a fee for the first year."

Discover it® Miles

The Discover it® Miles card can be a great no-annual-fee option if you want to earn travel rewards.

What we like:

  • Earn 1.5 times the miles for every $1 spent -- no need to keep track of rotating bonus categories.
  • No foreign-transaction fees allow you to use your card outside of the U.S. without having to worry about additional fees on your overseas purchases.
  • You can receive up to $30 in in-flight Wi-Fi credit each year.
  • Discover will match all the rewards you earn after the first 14 consecutive billing periods that your new account is open. This means that if you earn $200 in rewards your first year, Discover will match your $200.
  • Perks include price protection, purchase protection, extended warranties and return guarantees.

The fine print:

  • No sign-up bonus.
  • Miles earned don't transfer to any frequent-flier program and can only be redeemed as credit toward travel purchases or as a direct deposit into a bank account.
  • If you spend a lot on travel, the rewards are less robust than other travel cards that offer 2 or more points for every dollar spent on travel purchases.

Simple cash back cards

If you're looking to simplify things in 2017, credit cards with a flat reward rate can be a great way to get back some of the money you spend. It can be tiresome to keep track of rewards categories not to mention that you may need to manually enroll in some programs; simple cash back cards may be a great way to earn without fuss.

Here are some basic rewards cards that could earn you a great cash back rate -- no enrolling in bonus categories required.

Citi® Double Cash Card

The Citi® Double Cash Card has one of the highest cash back rates among its competitors. It can also encourage you to pay off debt since you maximize on the double cash back rate only when you pay down your balance, which is a great goal to set for 2017.

What we like:

  • You can earn cash back twice; you'll receive 1 percent unlimited cash back on every purchase you make and another 1 percent cash back as you pay for those purchases (as long as you pay the minimum due).
  • Even with such a great cash back rate, the Citi® Double Cash Card has no annual fee.
  • There's no reward limit.
  • There are no rewards categories to keep track of.
  • Your first late-payment penalty can be waived.

The fine print:

  • There are no bonus categories so you don't have the opportunity to earn more on certain purchases.
  • There's no sign-up bonus offered.
  • Your rewards can expire if you don't use the card for 12 months or more.
  • It's not a great card to use for foreign travel since there's a 3 percent foreign-transaction fee.

Capital One® QuicksilverOne®

Capital One® offers two versions of this credit card: the Capital One® Quicksilver® and the Capital One® QuicksilverOne®. One difference is the QuicksilverOne® charges an annual fee while the Quicksilver® doesn't.

However, the QuicksilverOne® can be a good option for those who are working to build credit because you may get approved if you have what Capital One® considers average credit, whereas the Quicksilver® typically requires what Capital One® considers excellent credit.

What we like:

  • The QuicksilverOne® offers 1.5 percent cash back on all purhcases.
  • There are no rotating categories to keep track of.
  • It has no foreign-transaction fees, which means it can be a good card to keep in your wallet when you're traveling outside the U.S.
  • You receive an automatic credit line increase after five months of on-time payments. This is great news for your spending power and can help keep your credit card utilization low.

The fine print:

  • There's an annual fee of $39, which is lower than some rewards cards, but may compare unfavorably with the fact that its sister card, the Quicksilver®, is annual-fee free.
  • The card comes with a very high APR of 24.99 percent compared to the current credit card national average APR of 15.44 percent.
  • There's no sign-up bonus.

Overall, the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® is a great card to consider if you're new to credit or if you're working on rebuilding your credit in the new year.

Everyday cards

A credit card that can maximize your everyday purchases such as groceries or gas should be a staple in your wallet. If one of your New Year goals is to eat out less, then you may benefit the most from a credit card with a high cash back rate at supermarkets. Check out these two solid options to help you earn great rewards on everyday purchases.

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™

For a card with no annual fee, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card is a good competitor to similar cards in this category.

What we like:

  • Earn 3 percent cash back on gas and 2 percent at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (good news, Costco fans!) on the first $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter. Earn 1 percent cash back on everything else.
  • There's no annual fee.
  • The introductory APR is 0 percent for the first 12 months.
  • You can get a $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in your first three months.
  • If you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® savings or checking account, you'll receive an additional 10 percent bonus.

The fine print:

  • There's a foreign transaction fee of 3 percent, making this a less appealing card to take with you on trips outside of the U.S.
  • You can't take advantage of the bonus rewards points if you're not a Bank of America® banking customer.
  • You only get 3 percent and 2 percent cash back for the first $2,500 you spend on gas and groceries per quarter. So if you normally spend more than $833 per month on gas and groceries, you may want to look elsewhere for an everyday rewards card.

Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred® stands out as one of the best rewards cards for people who do a lot of grocery shopping, with its 6 percent cash back at supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent). If this sounds like you, this card may be a good fit.

What we like:

  • The Amex Blue Cash Preferred® offers a whopping 6 percent cash back on up to $6,000 in purchases made at U.S. supermarkets per year (then 1 percent) and 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores.
  • Sign-up bonus of $150 after spending $1,000 within your first three months.
  • Introductory APR of 0 percent for 12 months.

The fine print:

  • The $95 annual fee is quite high for an everyday cash back card and unlike some of its competitors, this isn't waived for your first year of membership.
  • There's no flexibility in how you redeem your rewards; you can only redeem them as statement credit.
  • There is a foreign transaction fee of 2.7 percent of each transaction after conversion to U.S. dollars.

Balance-transfer cards

If you have good credit, but you often carry a balance and you're looking to save some money in the new year, you may be able to transfer your credit card balances onto a lower interest card.

Chase Slate®

The Chase Slate® is one of the best balance transfer cards out there - but one of its best benefits may rely on how you manage your transfer.

What we like:

  • The Chase Slate® card has a 0 percent APR for the first 15 months.
  • Unlike some of its competitors, you may get approved even with fair credit.
  • There's no annual fee.
  • The intro offer for balance transfers is one of the best we've seen for this type of card: There's no balance-transfer fee for the first 60 days. While other cards typically charge a fee between 3 to 5 percent to transfer your balances, Chase Slate® has a limited window for the waived fee.
  • No penalty APR on this card means that your APR won't go up if you miss a payment - however, be aware that a missed payment may still negatively affect your credit.

The fine print:

  • No sign-up bonus.
  • No rewards - you don't get any cash back or points on this card.
  • You need to move fast to take advantage of the free balance transfer: You have 60 days from when you open your account. After that, every transfer will cost you 5 percent of the amount transferred or $5, whichever is higher.
  • If you're looking to transfer a balance from another Chase account, this card won't work for you: Any requests for balance transfers from another Chase account won't be processed.
  • There's a foreign transaction fee of 3 percent, so this card may not be your first choice if you are traveling out of the country.

Citi Simplicity®

The Citi Simplicity® Card is a no-frills, no-fees balance transfer card with one of the longest potential pay-down periods out there.

So if you're carrying a high-interest balance and you worry that 15 or 18 months isn't long enough to pay it off, the Simplicity® may give you the additional time you need to pay it off in full.

What we like:

  • The Citi Simplicity® has one of the longest intro APR terms of all balance transfer cards: You get 21 months of 0 percent intrest on balance transfers as well as purchases.
  • The card has no annual fee.
  • Like the Chase Slate®, there's no penalty APR on this card.

The fine print:

  • No frills means no-frills: The Simplicity® doesn't offer any rewards or cash back.
  • There's no sign-up bonus
  • There's a balance-transfer fee of 3 percent of the amount of each transfer or $5, whichever is greater.
  • There's a foreign transaction fee of 3 percent of each purchase transaction in U.S. dollars.

About the Author: Anna is a Member Support Specialist at Credit Karma. When she's not communicating with our members about credit, she can be found with her dog either on a long hike or huddled together on the couch watching scary movies.

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