The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

10 Best Major Credit Cards in 2019

10 Best Major Credit Cards in 2019

credit card advice

Adam West
By: Adam West
Posted: November 4, 2019

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Several important factors separate the best major credit cards from several good mid-range options. The most important of these factors is acceptance.

Major credit cards work on networks that most worldwide merchants and service providers accept. They’re also backed by large banks that have long, established histories. They won’t limit where you can use your card or leave you stranded when you’re strapped for cash.

Below we review the best major credit cards and break them down by popular card features.

Overall | Miles | Cash Back | Points | Balance Transfers | 0% APR | Business | Students |
Fair/Limited Credit | Secured

Best Overall Major Credit Card

Discover has the distinction of being both a bank and your card’s processing network. As the issuer continues to grow, you’ll find millions of worldwide locations that accept your Discover card. With the Discover it® Cash Back card, you’ll earn 5% cash back on quarterly category purchases that you activate, up to the quarterly maximum. These categories include gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and Amazon.com, among others. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

What makes this card a real winner is Discover’s Cashback Match program that matches all the cash back you earn in your first year as a cardholder. There’s no limit to the amount of match rewards you can earn, and you’ll receive the bonus in one lump sum shortly after your first anniversary with the card — and you’ll never pay an annual fee.

Best Major Credit Card for Air Miles

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card can get you to your next vacation much faster, thanks to the 2X miles you’ll earn on every dollar you charge to the card. You can redeem those miles for statement credits that reimburse you for travel expenses that include airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, and more.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% - 24.74% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

Capital One typically offers generous signup bonuses with this card that can pay out a large number of miles when you meet specific spending thresholds within the first three months of opening your account. The card also provides up to $100 in application fee credits for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®.

Best Major Credit Card for Cash Back

Cash is king, even in the credit card space. If you like a good cash back credit card, you’ll love the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card. Not only does this card payout an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all of your purchases, but it chips in a 0% APR on new purchases and balance transfers for a promotional period — perfect for a big purchase or to pay off existing debt on a high-interest card.

CASH BACK 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 unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
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
16.74% - 25.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

Chase also pays out a signup bonus when you meet the minimum spending threshold within your first few months with the card. Since you won’t have an annual fee with this card, you’re getting free money if you pay your balance in full each month to avoid interest charges.

Best Major Credit Card for Points

Chase has mastered the points game, thanks to its ever-popular Chase Ultimate Rewards program. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll earn an unlimited 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, and one point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

POINTS & GIFTS RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

What sets Chase apart in the race for the best points program is the flexibility that cardholders have when redeeming their rewards. Through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can use your earned points for travel, cash back, merchandise, statement credits, and several other popular choices.

Best Major Credit Card for Balance Transfers

As a whole, Americans owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt. And since the average card comes with a 19.24% interest rate, that debt isn’t cheap. With a good balance transfer credit card, such as the Discover it® Balance Transfer card, you can move your existing debt over and pay no interest on it for the promotional period.

Discover it® Balance Transfer Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

0% BALANCE TRANSFER RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
0% for 18 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

While you’re enjoying the interest-free balance, you’ll still earn 5% cash back on quarterly categories (up to the quarterly maximum) that include gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and Amazon.com when the category is activated. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back and Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Best Major Credit Card with 0% APR

There’s no better way to make a large purchase or knock out existing high-interest debt, than with a credit card that features a good interest-free introductory rate. New Citi® Diamond Preferred® Credit Card members can take advantage of a long 0% promotional period on both new purchases and balance transfers, which makes this card a winner.

CITI® RATING

★★★★
4.0

OVERALL RATING

0.0/5.0
  • Get 0% intro APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 18 months. Balance transfers must be made within the first 4 months of account opening
  • Citi® Price Rewind searches for lower prices online for 60 days for your registered purchases
  • $0 liability on unauthorized purchases and Citi® Identity Theft Solutions.
  • Experience great benefits like VIP packages to concerts, sporting events and more with access to Citi® Private Pass®
  • No annual fee
  • Free access to FICO® Scores
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 18 months
0% for 18 months
15.99% - 25.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

Keep in mind that you must transfer a balance within the first four months of opening your account to take advantage of the introductory rate. After the promotional period, your APR will revert to a variable rate based on your credit history that is disclosed to you upon approval.

Best Major Credit Card for Businesses

The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card from Chase gives business owners flexibility, competitive interest rates, and access to the best rewards platform in the industry. Every cardholder can earn three points per $1 spent on the first $150,000 used for travel and in select business categories each year. All other purchases earn an unlimited one-point per $1 spent.

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem 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 no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.74% - 22.74% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

You can also obtain employee cards at no additional cost. There are no foreign transaction fees on this card, and it has a very competitive ongoing variable APR.

Best Major Credit Card for Students

College is expensive, and no student should head into the adult world with debt on a high-interest credit card. The Discover it® Student Cash Back card works with students to help them establish a positive credit history without expensive fees.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to Credit

Cardholders can earn 5% cash back on purchases made in quarterly categories (up to the quarterly maximum and only when activated) that include gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and Amazon.com. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back. Discover will match the total amount of cash back you earn in your first year with the card. A good student reward also offers a $20 statement credit each school year the cardholder’s GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years.

Best Major Credit Card for Fair or No/Limited Credit

Building a credit history is tough. You need a credit history to improve your credit score, but you may be limited in credit offers if you don’t have a well-established credit history. The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card works to help consumers with fair or limited credit get on the right track with a competitive interest rate and no annual fee.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

Capital One regularly monitors cardholders’ accounts to see if they qualify for card upgrades or credit limit increases. You may qualify for one of these perks after you make your first five payments on time.

Best Secured Major Credit Card

Most secured credit cards require a refundable security deposit that acts as your credit limit. So, for example, a $500 deposit would yield a $500 credit limit. But the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers a sliding scale for its deposits that’s based on your credit profile. That means you’ll have to pay either $49, $99, or $200 to get access to an initial $200 credit limit.

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad

Capital One typically offers a credit limit increase to cardholders who make their first five payments on time. You can continue to receive credit limit increases with responsible usage and without having to pay additional deposit money.

What are the Major Credit Card Companies?

When discussing credit card companies, there are two major factors you have to consider — the network and the issuing bank. Both are incredibly important but play very different roles in determining if a card is part of the “Major Credit Card” club.

Your credit card’s issuing bank funds your transactions so you can make purchases with your card. When you apply for your card, this is the company that decides whether to accept your application and issue you a card.

A credit card is essentially an on-demand loan. Any time you use your card to pay for something, the issuing bank facilitates the transaction and sends the money to the merchant on your behalf. You pay the bank back through your monthly payments — with interest.

Major players in the banking space include Capital One, Bank of America, Citi, and Chase. All have long and storied histories and provide rock-solid financial backing. You know that you can trust these companies to be there when you need them.

But these major banks have one small shortcoming. Although they can foot the bill for your credit card transactions, they don’t have the technological backbone to actually process the billions of credit card transactions that take place every year.

For that, they need credit card networks.

Credit card networks are companies you’ve almost certainly heard of — Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. These companies process your transactions and act as a gateway between the merchant and the issuing bank.

Logos for Four Major Credit Card Networks

When you make your payment or apply for a new card, you aren’t transacting with these companies. They’re simply helping the bank process the transaction. Credit card networks get a small fee from the bank every time you swipe, tap, or insert your card.

Discover and American Express are a bit different because they’re both the issuing bank and the network, whereas banks like Chase and Capital one rely on Visa and Mastercard to process its cards’ transactions.

What is Considered a Major Credit Card?

A major credit card is any card offer that combines both a major issuing bank and a major network. For more information on the distinction between the two, see the question above.

A major issuing bank typically has a global presence in just about every major market. These include banks such as Capital One, Discover, Citi, and Chase. They have large operations and can fund transactions quickly and reliably.

But that reliability means nothing if the credit card’s network isn’t equally trustworthy. There’s a reason most consumers recognize the names Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. They’re the top card networks and, combined, process several trillion dollars in worldwide transactions each year.

Both the bank and the network play an important role in every seemingly instant credit card transaction you make. The bank fronts the money and the network processes the transaction. If one of these two facets becomes unstable, the entire process can fall apart.

That’s why it’s important to look at both the issuing bank and the credit card network that processes your transactions. Major credit cards combine the best of both and will provide you with a lifetime of stability and reliable transactions.

Is a Bank Card a Major Credit Card?

Many small and large banks and credit unions issue their own credit cards, but, by definition, a bank card links to a depository account. These are typically known as debit or ATM cards.

While some of these cards feature credit card network logos — most often Visa or Mastercard — they don’t actually act as credit cards.

When you complete a debit or PIN-based transaction, the merchant still uses the credit card processing network to complete the transaction. But instead of the issuing bank paying for your purchase on credit, the money spent is immediately deducted from your checking account balance.

Photo of a Man at an ATM Machine

Bank cards are linked to an associated deposit account. You can use your bank card to make purchases or withdraw money from an ATM, up to the amount available in the account.

This is very different from a major credit card transaction, in which the bank pays for your purchase on credit and you pay the bank back, with interest, via your monthly payments. Although your bank card may pass the majority of the tests required for consideration in the major credit card club (most prominently, the card is issued by a major bank and includes a major credit card network logo), it’s not actually a credit card.

Bank cards also don’t typically require an application for the card. Most cardholders simply need a deposit account — usually a checking account — at a bank or credit union to qualify. These cards rarely rely on your credit score for approval since they only allow you to spend whatever money you have in your account.

Some bank cards do allow a small margin of credit in case you overdraft your account, but that often comes with expensive overdraft fees.

Most Major Networks Are Accepted Everywhere

Convenience is the whole idea behind adding a major credit card to your wallet. What’s the point of applying for a card if it can’t be used when and where you want it to?

When you combine a major bank with one of the world’s top credit card networks, you end up with a card that has solid financial backing and reliable processing you can depend on no matter where life takes you.

And it’s that reliability that will keep you using that card over the years — which is what the banks and issuers want. That’s why they keep adding new rewards, security features, and other perks that other mid-tier cards simply can’t compete with.