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Sunday, May 26, 2024

3 Key Differences: Charge Card vs. Credit Card (May 2024)

Charge Card Vs Credit Card
Eric Bank

Written by: Eric Bank

Eric Bank
Eric Bank

Eric Bank is an M.B.A. who has covered financial and business topics since 1985, appearing regularly on Credible, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Zacks, Chron, BadCredit.org and dozens of other outlets. Eric specializes in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences, particularly in the world of personal finance. Eric holds a Master's in Business Administration from New York University and a Master's in Finance from DePaul University.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Advertiser Disclosure

It’s easy to think that “charge card” is just another way to say “credit card,” but the two actually have very different meanings. Charge cards were once widely used, but the market for them has been largely conceded to American Express (Amex). Nowadays, consumers mainly turn to credit cards for their spending needs, as the rewards and perks can be very similar.

In this article, we’ll discuss the major differences and characteristics of a charge card vs. credit card, and take a close look at three popular cards offered by Amex, as well as some of the top alternatives available with comparable benefits.

Differences (3) | Top Charge Cards (3) | Top Alternatives (10)

1. Charge Cards Don’t Have Pre-Set Spending Limits

Charge cards do have spending limits, it’s just that they aren’t pre-set. In other words, they can easily change over time and to accommodate special requests. You can contact the charge card company at any time (online, by phone, or via a mobile app) to check your current spending limit and to ask for a higher one. That limit is based on your financial resources and history — obviously, if you’ve missed payments in the past, it will count against you.

Credit cards come with less flexible spending limits. They can be increased over time, but not nearly as frequently as for charge cards, and the credit card companies will want to see some improvement in your credit score before it grants a significant increase. Timely payments will help in that regard.

2. You’re Required to Pay the Balance in Full Each Month

Unlike credit cards, charge cards require that you pay the full balance each month. That’s why there is no interest rate associated with a charge card, but there are stiff late fees if you don’t pay your balance on time. For Amex cards, the first late month costs $27, which grows to $38 on the second occurrence within the next six months. Two consecutive late payments will cost you the greater of $38 or 2.99% of the balance. Amex has a hybrid program called Pay Over Time that allows you to spread out the repayment of certain approved purchases, at a set financing rate.

Credit cards also charge late fees (on top of interest), and these fees may be higher than Amex’s. You avoid late fees (but not additional interest) as long as you make the minimum payment each month to the credit card company. Late credit card payments hurt your credit score, and late charge card payments may do so too – that is, if the card company reports it to the credit bureaus.

3. They Typically Have Hefty Annual Fees & Top-Notch Perks

American Express charges annual fees as high as $550. In return, you get generous rewards and money-saving perks, especially for travel-related activities. However, many credit cards now offer perks, and a few of them provide benefits as good or better than those offered by American Express — for example, see our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Many credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, but don’t expect top rewards from them.

Top 3 American Express Charge Cards

American Express remains the only giant charge card issuer in the U.S. Diners Club runs a distant second. American Express also offers credit cards and travelers’ checks. Here are the three popular Amex charge cards:

The Platinum Card® Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CATEGORY RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $8,000 in purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points for flights booked directly through airlines or American Express Travel, on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Also earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels on AmexTravel.com. Earn 1X points on all other purchases.
  • $200 annual hotel credit, $200 annual airline fee credit, $25 monthly Equinox credit, $15 monthly Uber cash credit, $50 bi-annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, and more.
  • Platinum Card Members have unlimited complimentary access to all locations of The Global Lounge Collection, including 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries.
  • Automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status and Hilton Honors Gold Status. Enrollment required.
  • Choose among three card designs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
21.24% - 29.24% Pay Over Time
$695
Excellent
American Express® Gold Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CATEGORY RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 90,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first 6 months of card membership
  • Earn 4X Points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases. Also earn 4X Points at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and 3X points on flights when booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. All other eligible purchases earn 1X point.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Delight your senses when you book The Hotel Collection with American Express Travel. Get a $100 experience credit to use during your stay. Minimum 2-night stay is required.
  • $250 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
21.24% - 29.24% Pay Over Time
$250
Excellent
The Business Platinum Card® Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CATEGORY RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your Card within the first 3 months of card membership
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, 1.5X points on business categories and purchases of $5,000 or more on up to $2 million per calendar year, and 1X point for each dollar you spend on other purchases.
  • Get up to $400 back per year toward U.S. purchases with Dell Technologies, up to $360 back per year for purchases with Indeed, and $120 back per year for wireless telephone service purchases on the Business Platinum Card, plus additional credits. Enrollment is required for all.
  • Access to more than 1,400 lounges across 140 countries and counting with the American Express Global Lounge Collection®
  • Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline to your Business Platinum Card® Account.
  • $695 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.49% - 28.49% Pay Over Time
$695
Excellent

+ See More Amex Cards

5 Charge Card Alternatives

If you’d prefer to be able to carry a balance and avoid the high annual fees assessed by many charge cards, check out our list of popular credit cards below. You’ll find cards with low or no fees, as well as cards with generous rewards, signup bonuses, and plenty of other benefits.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card Review

at Bank Of America'ssecure website

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice, automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases) and unlimited 1% on all other purchases.
  • Choose 3% cash back on gas and EV charging station, online shopping/cable/internet/phone plan/streaming, dining, travel, drug store/pharmacy or home improvement/furnishings purchases.
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards® member, you can earn 25%-75% more cash back on every purchase. That means you could earn 3.75%-5.25% cash back on purchases in your choice category.
  • No annual fee and cash rewards don’t expire as long as your account remains open.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the Intro APR offer ends, a Variable APR that’s currently 19.24% - 29.24% will apply. A 3% Intro balance transfer fee will apply for the first 60 days your account is open. After the Intro balance transfer fee offer ends, the fee for future balance transfers is 4%.
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap.
  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days (Balance Transfer Fee 3% for 60 days from account opening, then 4%)
19.24% - 29.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
$0
Excellent/Good

Additional Disclosure: Bank of America is a CardRates advertiser.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card Review

at Bank Of America'ssecure website

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire as long as your account remains open.
  • 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions.
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the Intro APR offer ends, a Variable APR that’s currently 19.24% - 29.24% will apply. A 3% Intro balance transfer fee will apply for the first 60 days your account is open. After the Intro balance transfer fee offer ends, the fee for future balance transfers is 4%.
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards® member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase. That means instead of earning an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1, you could earn 1.87-2.62 points for every $1 you spend on purchases.
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap.
  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days (Balance Transfer Fee 3% for 60 days from account opening, then 4%)
19.24% - 29.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
$0
Excellent/Good

Additional Disclosure: Bank of America is a CardRates advertiser.

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Enjoy up to 6 months of complimentary Uber One membership statement credits through 11/14/2024
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.
  • Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Travel℠. For example, 75,000 points are worth $937.50 toward travel.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
  • Member FDIC
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
21.49%-28.49% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

+ See More Top Offers

Are You a Good Charge Card Candidate?

A charge card is not likely to be a good fit for you if you like spreading out your payments over several months, or if you don’t want to pay annual fees.  However, if you travel a lot, want top rewards and have the budget for annual fees and full payments each month, a charge card may very well fit the bill.

Although they are not as popular among consumers as they once were, they certainly still have their place in the finance world. You just have to decide if they are a good fit for your situation and needs.

Advertiser Disclosure

CardRates.com is a free online resource that offers valuable content and comparison services to users. To keep this resource 100% free, we receive compensation for referrals for many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across CardRates.com (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include the entire universe of available offers. Editorial opinions expressed on the site are strictly our own and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by advertisers.