How to choose the best credit card for you

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Melanie Lockert co-runs a women’s finance conference that has been sponsored by Stash and Tip Yourself. Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors' opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about our team.
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We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

These offers are no longer available on our site: Petal Visa Credit Card, Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Choosing the best credit card for you is easy if you know what your priorities are. Whether you’re focused on building credit or earning cash back, here’s what to consider if you’re wondering how to choose a credit card.
  1. Are you working on building credit?
  2. Do you have a big purchase coming up?
  3. Do you have credit card debt you want to pay down?
  4. Which type of rewards do you want: Cash back or travel?
  5. Best credit cards: Editors’ picks for March 2020

1. Are you working on building credit?

Card issuers typically use your credit scores as a factor when deciding whether to offer you a card. Knowing your scores can help you apply for cards that fit your credit profile.

Once you know your scores, you can apply for cards that you may be more likely to get approved for. That can help give you a better chance of avoiding the hard credit inquiry that comes with applying for a card and then being rejected. Hard inquiries could have a negative impact on your scores.

If you’re new to credit, the Petal Visa Credit Card offers a chance to build credit from scratch with no fees to worry about and the opportunity to earn cash back.

From our partner

Petal Visa Credit Card

From cardholders in the last year

Another option, whether you’re brand new to credit or working on building it back up, is a secured card. This type of card can help you build credit as long as you pay off your statement balance in full by the due date. Just make sure the card issuer reports your payments to the three major consumer credit bureaus.

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has a $0 annual fee, will accept a low initial security deposit and reports regularly to the three major credit bureaus.

From our partner

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

From cardholders in the last year

If you’re a student and you’re new to credit, a student credit card could be a good stepping stone as you start to build your credit. The Deserve® Edu Mastercard doesn’t require students to have a credit history to apply or to be approved.

2. Do you have a big purchase coming up?

If you plan to carry a balance on your new card, your top priority should be a low purchase APR. A card with an introductory 0% APR offer on purchases could be a good way to save money on interest.

But pay attention to which APR applies when and for how long. Cards may have an introductory APR offer that expires after a set number of months, different APRs for purchases and balance transfers, or a higher penalty APR that could be triggered by late payments.

The HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card has a long 0% APR offer for purchases (as well as balance transfers) for 18 Months from account opening, and then a separate variable rate of 14.49% - 24.49%* Variable kicks in for both purchases and balance transfers.

Balance transfers, which must be made within the first 60 days your account is open, come with a fee of 4% (minimum $10).

For any new purchases, an intro offer will buy you a considerable amount of time to pay down your balance before you face any new interest charges.

From our partner

HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

3. Do you have credit card debt you want to pay down?

If you have credit card debt, one option for paying it down is a balance transfer card.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing a balance transfer card.

  • The rate you’re currently paying
  • Whether the new card has an introductory APR offer for transferred balances
  • The rate you’ll pay after the balance transfer intro APR offer expires
  • Any fee you’ll have to pay to transfer all or a portion of your balance to the new card (known as a balance transfer fee)

Chase Slate® ($0 annual fee) has an introductory 0% APR offer for balance transfers (as well as purchases) for 15 months from account opening. After that, the variable APR for each will be between 16.49% and 25.24%.

That gives you 15 months to pay off your transferred balance before you start accruing any additional interest on it.

As an extra bonus, Chase Slate® also has an intro $0 balance transfer fee for transfers made within the first 60 days of account opening. After that, the fee will be 5% (with a minimum $5).

It’s a good idea to estimate how much a balance transfer could save you before you apply for an offer — our balance transfer calculator can help you weigh your options.

4. Which type of rewards do you want: Cash back or travel?

If you don’t need to build your credit and don’t plan to carry or transfer a balance, you can prioritize rewards programs or other perks.

If you want cash back

Cash back cards can help you earn money back for your daily purchases. With the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you’ll pay an annual fee of $0 and will earn 3% back on your dining and entertainment purchases, 2% at grocery stores and 1% back on everything else, with no limits to how much you can earn.

From our partner

Depending on where you spend your money already, this could be a good fit for you. Compare cash back credit cards on Credit Karma to see if there are better options for you.

If you want travel rewards

There are lots of options if you prefer to earn travel points or miles.

With the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. If you redeem those miles for travel, that sign-up bonus is worth $500.

You’ll also earn an easy flat rate of two points per $1 spent on all your purchases. But there is an annual fee of $0 intro, $95 after first year.

From our partner

If you’re a frequent traveler who wants lots of perks and you don’t mind paying a high annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with luxury benefits like airport lounge access through Priority Pass Select and a $300 annual travel credit that can partially offset the $550 annual fee.

From our partner

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

From cardholders in the last year

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Best credit cards: Editors’ picks for March 2020

Choosing a new credit card is all about figuring out what your financial needs and priorities are and what type of card will work best for you. Once you’ve made that top-level decision, you’ll be ready to research specific cards, compare offers and benefits, and apply for a card that’s a good fit for you.

We mentioned our top picks above. Here’s a recap to kickstart your search.