What credit card should I get?

One of the questions I’m asked the most is, “Which credit card should I get?”

There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, but here’s how to narrow it down:

Which credit card to choose if you carry a balance 

If you’re in credit card debt, then you need to prioritize your interest rate over rewards. The average credit card charges 16.05%. It doesn’t make sense to pay interest just to earn 1%, 2% or 3% in cash back or travel points.

If you have credit card debt, forget about rewards for now. You can avoid interest for up to 18 months with the right balance transfer card. And some card issuers (especially credit unions) charge ongoing (non-promotional) rates as low as the 6%-9% range. Don’t chase rewards if you’re revolving a balance.

If you have credit card debt, I recommend these cards:

  • Citi Simplicity® Card*: 18-month 0% intro balance transfer offer; transfers must be completed in the first four months; 3% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum); 0% introductory purchase APR for 18 months; regular variable APR of 14.74%-24.74%
  • Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card: 15-month 0% intro balance transfer offer; intro balance transfer fee of 3% or $5 (whichever is greater); transfers must be made within 120 days to qualify for intro offer; 0% intro purchase APR for 15 months; regular variable APR of 14.49%-24.99%; regular balance transfer fee of 5% or $5 (whichever is greater)
  • BankAmericard® credit card: 12-billing-cycle 0% intro APR balance transfer offer; must complete the transfer within 60 days of opening the account; 3% or $10 transfer fee, whichever is greater; introductory 0% purchase APR for 12 billing cycles; regular variable APR of 12.99-22.99% on purchases and balance transfers

See related: Balance transfer cards with no transfer fee

Which card to pick if you don’t have any credit card debt 

Now we’re on to the fun stuff! The key questions at this juncture focus on how much effort you want to put in, how you spend your money and what you want to get out of your rewards.

Some people treat credit card rewards like a game. It’s fun for them, and they spend time looking for the best deals and juggling multiple cards. Yet about three-quarters of credit card holders prefer simplicity and would rather use the same card or two as widely as possible, we found in an August 2019 survey.

You won’t get the best rewards with that approach, but you can still do pretty well. Here are my favorite flat-rate cash back cards:

  • Alliant Visa Signature Card: 2.5% cash back on every purchase with a $99 annual fee; in your first year (waived your first year)
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: Essentially 2% cash back on everything (technically 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay it off); no annual fee

If you make more than $20,000 in credit card charges in a typical year, the Alliant Credit Union Visa Signature is a better bet despite the annual fee.

Which card to pick if you’re willing to put in a little work to earn better rewards 

Dividing your spending among multiple cards is the best way to reap higher returns. At this stage, you need to consider how you spend your money. Different cards incentivize different types of spending (e.g., travel, restaurants, groceries, entertainment).

You also need to think about your desired redemption. Cash back has the broadest appeal (after all, who couldn’t use a little more cash?), although travel rewards are usually the most valuable. Some 49% of U.S. adults have at least one cash back card, 20% have an airline or hotel rewards card and 19% have a general travel rewards card, our research shows.

Chase Sapphire Reserve, the American Express® Gold Card, the Citi Premier® Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card).

Each of these issuers has more than a dozen airline and hotel transfer partners, plus you can book an even wider variety of flights and hotels directly through the card companies. These programs provide tons of flexibility, and in terms of cents per point, they generally offer higher returns than cash back cards.

Parting advice

As you can see, picking the right credit card for you is an individual decision. I’ll leave you with two more thoughts:

You’re doing well as long as you’re avoiding credit card debt and redeeming rewards for something that’s valuable to you.

Not everyone wants to fly to the Maldives in first-class and stay in an overwater bungalow. Even if it yields fewer cents per point, a free flight to grandma’s house or cash back on everyday purchases could make more sense for your particular situation.

You should absolutely consider sign-up bonuses when evaluating credit cards, but don’t lose sight of the fact that your credit card strategy should be a long-term pursuit. Especially if you’re new to credit, focus on ongoing value rather than card churning.

* Information about Citi Simplicity has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuers did not provide the details, nor are they responsible for their accuracy.

Source: creditcards.com

My take on Chase Freedom’s Q1 2021 categories

From Jan. 1 through March 31, 2021, the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Flex℠ cards will offer 5% cash back at wholesale clubs; select streaming services; and internet, cable and phone services.

The promotion includes up to $1,500 in combined spending as long as you activate by March 14, 2021. If you wait to activate (but still make the deadline), you’ll retroactively earn 5% back on bonus category purchases made after Jan. 1, 2021. Once you reach $1,500, you’ll earn 1% cash back.

At first glance, I’m not particularly excited about these categories, but your mileage may vary. It’s a big win for people who frequent wholesale clubs (I don’t). These stores haven’t been a Freedom 5% category since Q4 2018. But it makes sense, as many people are stocking up more frequently at warehouse clubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more from our credit card experts.

Ask Ted a question.

Earning at wholesale clubs

Note that Costco, the largest wholesale club, only accepts Visa cards in-store. The original Chase Freedom card was a Visa card, but it stopped accepting applications in Sept. 2020. Cardholders who still have one can take advantage of this 5% promotion in Costco stores. The Freedom Flex essentially replaced the Freedom, with some new perks like enhanced travel, restaurant and drugstore rewards. But it’s a Mastercard, so it’s not accepted in Costco stores. It is accepted at Costco.com. Freedom Flex cardholders can, of course, earn 5% back in Q1 at other warehouse clubs such as Sam’s Club, BJ’s and others.

See related: Best credit cards for Costco purchases

The Q1 list in 2020 also rewarded Freedom cardholders for spending money on certain streaming services and internet, cable and phone services, but gas stations were on the list instead of wholesale clubs. Chase included gas stations during Q1 rotating categories each year going back to 2016. Amid the pandemic, it’s likely a favorable trade to wholesale clubs if you have a membership, and many Americans do. Costco has over 100 million members, Sam’s Club has more than 50 million and BJ’s has more than 5 million. There’s some overlap (and some of Costco’s members live in other countries), but it’s reasonable to estimate that about half of U.S. adults have a wholesale club membership.

Spending at gas stations is more universal, but the average gas expenditure is around $175 per month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I think there’s a good chance we’ll see gas on the calendar later this year, probably in the summer when a lot of Americans tend to hit the open road. And don’t fret if you do most of your food shopping at grocery stores rather than warehouse clubs. Groceries tend to be a Q2 Freedom bonus category.

How I’ll use my card in 2021

Since I don’t belong to any wholesale clubs and I spend very little on streaming, my Q1 Freedom Flex strategy will focus on internet, cable and phone services. By paying my April bills a little early, I’ll be able to squeeze four months’ worth of expenses into Q1. I’ll probably end up a little more than halfway to the $1,500 limit for 5% transactions.

Assuming the Freedom calendar follows its typical blueprint, Q1 should be my weakest of the year. As long as groceries are included in Q2, I won’t have any trouble maxing out that quarter. In 2020, Q3 included Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market. I spend a lot at Amazon.com, and if I’m right about gas, that would make the summer quarter even more lucrative. Q4 generally focuses on holiday shopping, and especially if it includes PayPal again, that will be easy to optimize.

Bottom line

Even though I won’t use it a ton in Q1, the Freedom Flex remains a strong player in my overall cash back strategy. Subsequent quarters should be even stronger. This no annual fee card provides a lot of other benefits, too, like purchase protection (which saved me $299 in 2020) and 3% cash back at restaurants and drugstores. I haven’t traveled in a while because of the pandemic. But when I do, I plan to take advantage of 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase portal. The Freedom Flex is a very valuable all-around card, even if your spending doesn’t line up with every rotating category.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

Source: creditcards.com

My 2021 credit card predictions

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought a huge shift in spending as the country shut down. The travel industry specifically took a hit, and many card issuers responded by adding rewards on everyday spending to travel cards.

While I think travel spending will eventually rebound in 2021, it seems likely that the additional perks on everyday spending are here to stay.

Read more from our credit card experts.

Ask Ted a question.

Everyday spending

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, many card issuers pivoted to grocery spending, food delivery and takeout, streaming services, home improvements, and other everyday spending categories out of necessity. In 2021 and beyond, I think they’ll do so by choice.

These perks really seem to be resonating with consumers, whether we’re talking about earning bonus rewards for these types of spending, redeeming points or miles at a higher than normal ratio to offset related purchases, receiving free premium memberships for services such as DoorDash and Instacart, or getting statement credits to defray eligible costs.

It all adds up to cash back with a twist. There’s an experiential component that cardholders love and habitual aspects that appeal to card issuers trying to build loyalty. If you’re more likely to use a card that offers these perks – especially if you’re willing to pay an annual fee – that’s a win all around.

See related: Guide to Chase Pay Yourself Back

Travel

Necessity is the mother of invention, of course, and the fact that the pandemic crippled travel led to many of the aforementioned incentives. I expect travel to bounce back in a big way once we have widespread vaccine availability. Late Q2 or early Q3 seems like a good bet, according to health experts.

This should unleash an incredible amount of pent-up travel demand. People want to see their families and friends, they want to explore bucket list destinations and many will have money (and points and miles) to burn after a year of lockdowns.

I expect the good deals will last for a while because it’s a competitive industry, and business travel should remain depressed longer than leisure travel. Airlines will want to pack planes, hotels will want to fill rooms and cruise lines will be especially desperate for business. We should see favorable prices along with other incentives to liquidate rewards and sign up for travel credit cards.

Approval standards

In 2020, lenders became much more risk-averse as the pandemic created a ton of uncertainty and job losses. In Q2, 72% of credit card issuers tightened their approval standards and 0% eased them, according to the Federal Reserve’s Senior Loan Officer Survey. In Q3, 31% tightened and 4% eased. A similar trend played out with respect to existing cardholders’ credit limits.

This hit balance transfer cards the hardest. According to Mintel Comperemedia, card issuers sent 42% fewer direct mail advertisements for 0% balance transfer cards in the first three quarters of 2020 when compared with the same period in 2019. Card issuers were worried enough that their existing customers wouldn’t pay them back; taking on new customers with existing debt wasn’t particularly appealing.

This will hopefully turn around in the second half of 2021, assuming we have widespread vaccine access and a better economy and job market. I think balance transfer cards will be the last card sector to bounce back, however.

sign-up bonuses. But approval standards will likely remain tight as issuers look for the most creditworthy and affluent applicants. We saw some of this in late 2020, like the 100,000-mile Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card bonus (since expired) which required $20,000 of spending within the new cardholder’s first 12 months.

I think particularly lucrative bonuses will become more widely available and less restrictive in the second half of 2021. Early in the year, the best offers will probably be reserved for those with high credit scores and high incomes.

Final thoughts

A couple of pleasant surprises this year: Credit card debt and delinquencies both fell in 2021. Credit card debt declined 11% between February and October, according to the Fed. This could be due in part to the government stimulus package passed earlier this year or consumers spending less and prioritizing paying down debt.

While we’re all anxious for our lives to return to normal, carrying less credit card debt would be a good habit to hold onto after the pandemic is over.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

Source: creditcards.com