The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Friday, September 30, 2022

“How Do Credit Cards Work?” 2022 Guide to APR, Payments & Rewards

How Do Credit Cards Work

credit card advice

Mike Randall

Written by: Mike Randall

Mike Randall

Mike Randall is an expert in the areas of credit scores and credit cards, having written on those topics for nationa publications for more than a decade. He graduated from California State University with a degree in English literature, and he has an extensive background in personal finance studies. Aside from credit cards and scores, Mike enjoys writing about changes in the subprime market and how they directly impact financial decisions.

Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience. 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 instructor at the University of Florida. Today, she edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

See full bio »
Advertiser Disclosure

Credit cards have become such an ingrained part of our modern society that most of us don’t give them much thought. But how many of us could really provide a thorough answer to someone who asks, “How do credit cards work?”

Credit cards are easy to use, widely accepted for making purchases, and as long as we pay at least the minimum amount owed when the bill comes due, they’re ours to use as we please. It’s a convenient way for us to buy things now and pay for them at a later time. Of course, this convenience isn’t free.

Banks and other lending institutions issue credit cards to consumers as a type of revolving credit line (more on that in a bit). The banks make money by charging interest on the balance we carry on our cards, and in some cases, by charging fees. So with credit cards, the banks can lend us money without needing to be involved in every purchase. In this way, we as cardholders are able to borrow from the bank every time we use our card. Let’s dive into this topic with a breakdown of the various types of credit cards and reward programs available. We’ll also look at some of our top picks for rewards cards in a number of categories.

Card Types | Rewards Programs | Account Management Apps

Understanding APR, Interest, Fees & Payments

Since banks earn their money by charging interest and fees on what they lend to us, it is in a consumer’s best interest to understand exactly how these things work. While very few of us has read all of the legal jargon and fine print within our credit card agreement, there are a few easy things we can understand that can help save us some money.

The amount of interest charged by credit card issuers is almost always represented as APR, or Annual Percentage Rate. While this term might indicate interest calculated on a yearly basis, we all know credit card interest is not charged annually. In fact, a credit card’s APR is actually a representation of interest that is accumulated daily.

Screenshot of credit card terms

Of course most cards have a grace period, usually around 25 days, during which time if you pay your balance in full, no interest will be charged. However, if you do carry a balance into your next credit card billing cycle, expect to pay interest that’s calculated on a daily basis. This means the interest you accrue during the previous month will actually be charged interest in this month too. That’s called compound interest, and it’s how many people end up paying a lot more in credit card costs than they expected.

Fees are another way that banks and credit card issuers earn money. Late payments, balance transfers, exceeding your credit limit — all of these things will typically incur fees. And if you’re not careful, these fees can add up to even more than you pay in interest charges. This is why it is so important to make on-time payments, and if possible, to not carry a balance.

Secured, Unsecured, Debit & Prepaid Card Differences

Although almost all credit cards look and feel the same, there are different kinds of cards for different purposes. The Federal Trade Commission defines these card types in an excellent tutorial on the FTC website. A person’s credit history, credit score, and perceived creditworthiness by the banks will all help to determine the type of cards that are available. The vast majority of credit cards issued in the US are unsecured, meaning they don’t require a deposit or any collateral in order to get one. However, they do require a good or at least decent credit score.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the different types of cards and how they work.

How Secured Cards Work

As the name implies, secured credit cards are cards that require a deposit be made into an account at the bank issuing the card. This deposit then becomes the credit line of the secured card. This type of credit card is intended to help build or rebuild credit, and is issued by banks to people who have poor credit or a limited credit history.

A secured card works just like any other credit card, although typically they have a much lower credit limit (the deposit amount). One nice thing about a secured credit card is that payments and usage are reported to the three major credit bureaus just like a standard card, helping to build or rebuild credit for the user.

If you’re interested in a secured card, we recommend visiting our secured credit card comparison before applying. Card offers vary in terms of annual fee, APR, and other criteria.

How Unsecured Cards Work

An unsecured card is what we all think of when we use the term credit card. It is true credit, meaning there is no deposit or collateral requirement in order to get one. These cards are issued based on a person’s credit score and perceived creditworthiness. An applicant with a higher score and better credit history will usually be offered better terms, a lower APR, and a higher credit limit.

They also usually come with various perks such as cash back rewards, airline miles, bonus points, and other incentives. An unsecured credit card offers savvy holders the opportunity to earn extra rewards for purchases they would be making already.

To obtain an unsecured credit card, apply directly with issuers like AmEx, Capital One, Chase, and Discover. Each is known to offer unsecured credit cards with top-notch perks to applicants with good-to-excellent credit ratings.

How Debit Cards Work

Debit cards may look similar to a credit card, but they are a very different animal. For one thing, a debit card is tied to a banking or investment account and draws money from that account. There is no credit involved since the banks are simply processing a withdrawal of your own funds. As such, there is no reporting to the credit agencies and no impact on credit scores.

However, debit cards can be used almost anywhere a credit card is accepted. As long as you don’t overdraw the account associated with your debit card, this is an inexpensive way to use plastic instead of cash. To open a debit card, you’d simply visit your local bank branch or your bank’s website to request one.

How Prepaid Cards Work

Prepaid cards are similar to secured cards, in that they use your own money rather than borrowing from a bank. They’re also similar to debit cards, although they don’t pull from a bank account. In fact, prepaid cards may seem similar, but they really are different than either of those two.

First, unlike secured cards, prepaid card use isn’t reported to the credit bureaus. And unlike debit cards, a prepaid card isn’t backed by a bank account. Prepaid cards can be purchased at retail locations, at your local bank, or even online. They can also be “reloaded” with cash at many locations.

One thing to be aware of with prepaid cards is the fees they charge, including transaction fees, activation fees, cash withdrawal fees, and more. Be sure to check our prepaid credit card comparison to review these fees before applying.

The Various Rewards Programs Explained

Among the cards we’ve mentioned here, standard credit cards are used for the vast majority of all card purchases, at more than 50%. They are also the most diverse, offering consumers the greatest choices of any other card type. Depending on whether you use your card primarily for travel, business purchases, or everyday use, there are cards specifically designed to meet almost any need. There are also bonus and incentive programs that make using your card that much more rewarding. Some of the various credit card types and reward programs include:

Travel & Air Mile Cards

Frequent flyers and business travelers can take advantage of a wide range of credit cards aimed directly at rewarding their patronage. How these cards work is by offering points toward air travel, usually at a 1:1 ratio, for every dollar spent on the card. Often you’ll find 2:1 and 3:1 air mile rewards for certain purchases or expenditures. There are also signup bonuses that can offer up to 50,000 bonus points or more if you spend a minimum amount during the initial signup period. Points can then be converted for travel vouchers.

AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X 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
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Enjoy two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through our Partner Lounge Network
  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good
Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover gives you an unlimited match of all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles.  There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
  • Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
  • Redeem Miles to pay any part of your monthly bill, including your minimum payment.
  • Turn Miles into cash in any amount, any time. Or redeem as a statement credit for travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more with no blackout dates. However you redeem, Miles keep the same value. And Miles never expire.
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases. Then 14.24% to 25.24% Standard Variable Purchase APR will apply.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 months
0% Intro APR for 15 months
14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR
$0
Excellent/Good
AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.7/5.0
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$395
Excellent

+ See More Travel Rewards Cards

Travel and air mile cards are not to be confused with frequent flyer programs, as these are usually offered by a specific airline.

Cash Back Cards

Credit cards that offer cash back rewards are aimed at people who may use credit cards for everyday purchases, and who seldom carry a balance from month to month. That’s because cash back rewards are usually paid at a 1% rate, meaning if you carry a balance, it will outweigh what cash is coming back to you. Certain purchases — like for gas, groceries, or specific categories of items — can earn two, three, or even five times the points under certain conditions.

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
  • INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year).
  • After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 17.24% - 25.99%.
  • No annual fee - You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Unlimited® card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
17.24% - 25.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • For a limited time, earn $200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.
  • Balance Transfer Only Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 16.99% - 26.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back. Intro APR does not apply to purchases.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0% Intro APR Period 18 months on Balance Transfers
16.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • 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
  • 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
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 17.99%-27.99% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

+ See More Cash Back Cards

Be careful, however, that you don’t waste that cash back by carrying a balance, or by spending on things you don’t need just to get reward points.

Balance Transfer Cards

People with multiple credit cards acquired over a number of years may find themselves with an array of interest rates. And getting rid of the balance on a card with a particularly high interest rate by transferring it to a lower-interest rate card sounds great, right? Sounds great, right? Well, yes and no. The new balance transfer card will likely have a low, or even 0% interest rate for a set period of time.

However, a balance transfer fee of around 3% may need to be paid up front, adding to what you owe… meaning that you’ve just increased your debt. But, if you’re diligent about making your monthly payment, and not using the card for new purchases, it can mean big savings in interest charges.

Discover it® Balance Transfer Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

0% BALANCE TRANSFER RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • Every $1 you earn in cash back is $1 you can redeem.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "Apply Now" to see terms and conditions.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
0% Intro APR for 18 months
14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR
$0
Excellent/Good
0% BALANCE TRANSFER RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • No Late Fees, No Penalty Rate, and No Annual Fee... Ever
  • 0% Intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer and 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening. After that the variable APR will be 17.74% - 27.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Stay protected with Citi® Quick Lock and $0 liability on unauthorized charges
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR Period 12 months on Purchases
0% Intro APR Period 21 months on Balance Transfers
17.74% - 27.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good Credit

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

0% BALANCE TRANSFER RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • 0% Intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer and 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening. After that the variable APR will be 16.74% - 26.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Get free access to your FICO® Score online.
  • With Citi Entertainment®, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% 12 months on Purchases
0% 21 months on Balance Transfers
16.74% - 26.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

+ See More Balance Transfer Cards

0% Intro APR Cards

Credit cards that offer a 0% introductory APR rate can be a great way to save some money on interest charges. However, there are some precautions to keep in mind when choosing these cards. The first is that your 0% intro rate will eventually end, leaving you with a potentially high APR after that. But for large one-time purchases, this can be a great way to spread out the payments, and get a no-interest loan — as long as you have the proper discipline to pay it off on time.

0% INTRO APR RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • Start off strong with 0% Intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. A variable APR of 17.24% - 25.99% on balance transfers and purchases after the introductory period ends.
  • Lower your interest rate by 2% each year. Automatically be considered for an APR reduction when you pay on time, and spend at least $1000 on your card by your next account anniversary.
  • Raise your credit limit. Get an automatic, one-time review for a higher credit limit when you pay on time, and spend $500 in your first six months.
  • All for no annual fee - You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Slate Edge℠ card
  • Keep tabs on your credit health - Chase Credit Journey helps you monitor your credit with free access to your latest score, real-time alerts, and more
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 18 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 18 months
17.24% - 25.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
0% INTRO APR RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
  • INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year).
  • After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 17.24% - 25.99%.
  • No annual fee - You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Unlimited® card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
17.24% - 25.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
0% INTRO APR RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • 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
  • 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
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 17.99%-27.99% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

+ See More 0% Intro APR Cards

Be aware that with these types of cards, the intro rate can be revoked for making even one late payment, so always pay your bill on time!

Points & Gifts Cards

Points and gifts credit cards offer rewards in the form of redeemable points for a variety of cool products. These cards are meant for folks who don’t have a specific type of incentive goal, but who want to leverage their card use just the same. Points can be redeemed for travel or for gifts found in the issuer’s catalog, exchanged for gift cards, or even be turned into cash.

POINTS & GIFTS RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on air travel and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.24% - 26.24% Variable
$550
Good/Excellent
POINTS & GIFTS RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 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.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent
POINTS & GIFTS RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring
  • With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information
  • Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, travel and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.24% - 23.24% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

+ See More Points & Gifts Cards

As with other cards though, take care not to overspend just to maximize your reward points; i.e. spending a dollar to earn a penny. Doing so only defeats the purpose of earning a reward.

Business Cards

Business credit cards are specifically designed for small business owners and offer benefits that these hard-working entrepreneurs need. Some of these perks include more flexible payment plans, larger credit limits, incentive programs that are geared toward small business spending, and more.

BUSINESS CARD RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
  • Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase made for your business
  • No Annual Fee
  • Redeem rewards for cash back, gift cards, travel and more through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn rewards faster with employee cards at no additional cost. Set individual spending limits for greater control.
  • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 12 months
N/A 12 months
15.49% - 21.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
BUSINESS CARD RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.7/5.0
  • 0% Intro APR for the first 12 months; 18.99% - 26.99% variable APR after that
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back for your business on every purchase, everywhere — with no limits or category restrictions
  • No annual fee
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Redeem your cash back rewards for any amount
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
N/A
18.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$0
Good
BUSINESS CARD RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.7/5.0
  • Earn a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles – equal to $500 in travel – once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions, and miles won't expire for the life of the account
  • Transfer your miles to 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Redeem your miles instantly for any travel-related purchases, from flights and hotels to ride-sharing services
  • Fly through security with one statement credit for either the $85 TSA PreCheck® application fee or the $100 Global Entry application fee
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
23.99% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

+ See More Business Cards

It’s important to be aware that business credit cards aren’t included under the Credit CARD Act of 2009, and therefore don’t offer the same protections. However, many small businesses will benefit from the more personal and closer business services relationship with their bank.

Student Cards

A student credit card is specifically designed to help college-aged students and recent grads establish good credit and develop good spending habits. Many student cards offer more flexibility in making payments, more choices in rewards programs, and even offer online tools to help students manage their spending and budgets. In addition, credit requirements for student cards are often less stringent than those for other cards.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • No credit score required to apply.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 24.24% applies.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit
STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), with 1% on all other purchases
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

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Take Advantage of Mobile Apps to Manage Card Accounts

If you’re serious about maximizing the reward points for each of the cards you carry, it can be pretty tough to do on your own. Remembering which of your cards is offering the best cash back rewards for which purchase type can be daunting. Then you have to remember where you are in the billing cycle for each card. Not to mention managing current APR rates and zero-interest expiration dates. It’s enough to make you switch to cash.

Luckily, some very creative folks have come up with some useful mobile apps to help you in this task. Here are a few:

WallabyWallaby Logo: This app for Android and iPhone will help save you money by telling you which card to use when. You simply tell it what cards you carry, and Wallaby will tell you the best card to use for each online or offline purchase you make. It can also tell you about your upcoming payments, any expiring points, and the maximum rewards points available with each of your cards.


Reward Summit
:
Reward Summit LogoThis is another app that tracks your credit card reward programs, and tells you the best card to use to make a purchase. It is completely secure and keeps your information private, and it’s easy to use. It will also generate reports on your rewards usage and can compare your rewards prowess with that of other Reward Summit users.


Smorecard
:
Smorecard LogoThis free app for Android and iPhone promises to help you get the most out of your credit card programs. It uses a real-time GPS locater to help you get the best pricing based on where you are and then tells you the best card to use. Smorecard tracks changes to your reward programs, as well as your usage. It doesn’t retain your personal card information, so you don’t have to worry about it getting hacked and stolen.

We always say education is a consumer’s best weapon, and the best way to optimize your credit card usage. Now that you know more about how credit card APRs, types, reward programs and incentives work, you’re on your way to becoming a more effective credit card user. You can be among the minority of credit card users who actually take full advantage of what the card issuers offer, while being sure to maintain thoughtful and responsible spending habits.

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