What is a Charge Card? (Charge Card Definition + 3 Card Options)

credit card advice

Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Posted: April 21, 2017
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Site may be compensated through the issuer affiliate programs.

Most Americans shop using cash alternatives. Carrying cash around is inconvenient and risky, and paying by check is often a hassle. Furthermore, cash and checks will do you no good for your online purchases, as you will need some kind of account that allows you to pay for your items electronically.

One option is a charge card, which primarily differs from other card types in a number of ways. Below we’ll take you through the ways and show you a few of the top charge cards available, as well as some of the best alternatives.

Definition | How It Differs | Charge Card Options | Alternatives

Definition of a Charge Card

A charge card is defined by Investopedia as a card that charges no interest but requires the user to pay his/her balance in full upon receipt of the statement. You typically need a good-to-excellent credit rating to obtain a charge card, and using it responsibly can help burnish your credit history. The following is a summary of a charge card’s main characteristics:

  • You are expected to pay the balance in full on the monthly payment date.
  • There is no interest rate with a charge card, although annual fees and late charges apply.
  • There is no credit limit on a charge card, but that doesn’t give you unlimited spending.

Since there are no credit limits, charge card balances are not included in your credit utilization percentage and therefore don’t affect your credit score unless you fail to make timely payments.

How It Differs from Credit, Debit & Prepaid Cards

As mentioned, charge cards don’t extend credit beyond the monthly payment date and have no credit limit. Credit cards, by contrast, allow you to pay off your balance over many months, although you’ll have to pay interest on the unpaid amounts. Credit cards have a preset credit limit, and will decline purchases and/or apply penalty fees if you exceed the limit.

Debit cards are tied to your checking account, and will trigger overdraft charges or rejected transactions if you spend more than your balance. Prepaid cards link to cash accounts, and much like gift cards, only allow spending up to the amount credited to the card.

3 Popular Charge Cards

American Express dominates the charge card market, and you need to have a good-to-excellent credit score to qualify for these cards. Check out the following three Amex charge cards popular among consumers who qualify for them. All carry no interest charges, can earn rewards, and provide a number of premium services, such as extended warranties, travel accident insurance, and much more.

1. The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum CardAmex Platinum Card provides 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 on purchases during the first three months. The annual fee is $550, and the card earns up to 5X Membership Rewards points. One of the more notable perks of this card is its annual $200 Airline Fee Credit when you fly on select airlines.

2. Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Amex Gold CardThe Premier Rewards Gold Card provides 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 on purchases during the first three months. The annual fee is $0 for the first year and $195 thereafter. The card earns up to 3X Membership Rewards points, and includes an annual Airline Fee Credit of $100 on select airlines.

3. American Express Green Card

Amex Green CardThe Green Card provides 25,000 points when you spend $1,000 on purchases during the first three months. The annual fee is $0 for the first year and $95 thereafter. The card earns 1X and 2X Membership Rewards points, and offers all of the purchase protections associated with being an Amex member.

Alternatives to Charge Cards

Credit cards offer certain benefits not available with charge cards. They allow you to space out your payments over a number of months, can be obtained by folks with credit scores less than good (see our card reviews for poor credit), and generally offer a wider variety of targeted rewards for air miles, cash back, balance transfers, and business rewards.

Discover it® - Cashback Match™ Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

  • Our Take: "One of our favorite cards, with long 0% intro APRs, low ongoing APRs, awesome cash back rewards, and lots more.
  • 5% cash back in categories that rotate quarterly, up to $1,500 per quarter when you sign up for the quarterly bonus
  • 1% cash back on all your other purchases
  • With Cashback Match you could turn $200 into $400, as the card matches the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year (only for new cardmembers)
  • No limit to the amount of cash back that can be matched"
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
11.99% – 23.99% Variable
$0
Excellent, Good

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase — it's automatic
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.99-24.74%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Redeem for cash — any amount, anytime
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
15.99% - 24.74% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter like gas stations, restaurants and drugstores
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.99-24.74%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
15.99% - 24.74% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • New! Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on virtually every purchase
  • Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Android Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
  • No category restrictions or sign ups and cash rewards don't expire as long as your account remains open
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a 13.99%-25.99% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
13.99%-25.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good
Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Our Take: "With a ridiculously good deal on balance transfers, low APR's, and a generous cash-back program, we can see why this card is so popular.
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months
  • 5% cash back in rotating categories that rotate quarterly, up to $1,500 per quarter when you sign up for the quarterly bonus
  • 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Matches the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year (only for new cardmembers)
  • No limit to the amount of cash back that can be matched"
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
0% for 18 months
11.99% – 23.99% Variable
$0
Excellent, Good

If you’re looking for payment flexibility, the ability to earn rewards in specific categories, and no annual fee — a credit card is the way to go.

Can You Afford to Pay the Balance Each Month?

Charge cards offer a convenient way for consumers with good or excellent credit scores to pay for purchases without using cash or checks. They have high annual fees, but you don’t have to worry about interest since you have to pay the balance each month. Of course, this means charge cards aren’t for everyone.

Credit cards, on the other hand, offer convenient financing, have lower annual fees, and offer more targeted rewards programs. If the idea of being responsible for paying your balance off each month makes you nervous, a traditional credit card may be the better option.