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Best credit cards for January 2022

From cash back to balance transfers, there's a card for everyone.

The right credit card could serve as the foundation of your financial toolkit, whether building credit is a New Year's resolution or you're looking to add to your rewards arsenal. Credit cards offer a convenient way to pay for things, and they can also help improve your credit score, or earn you cash back or travel rewards with your purchases. Finding the right card depends on your spending habits and goals.

Below, you'll find our current top picks for major card types. We're always on the lookout for changing specs and new cards, and regularly update this list of partner offers based on our ongoing research.

Best cash-back rewards card

Card Highlights
Intro BonusIntro 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!
APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Enjoy 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;
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • 1.5% on all other purchases
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Balance Transfer APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
Penalty APR Up to 29.99%
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Enjoy 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;
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • 1.5% on all other purchases

Our Take

The Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card offers a wide array of benefits, but its cash-back rewards are particularly impressive. You can earn 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on drugstore purchases, restaurants and dining, and a flat rate of 1.5% on all other purchases. You can earn an additional 1.5% cash back on up to $20,000 in purchases for the first year via the welcome bonus, and through March 2022, you can also earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides. 

This Chase credit card also offers no annual fee and a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (14.99% to 23.74% variable APR thereafter), making it well-rounded. We've also evaluated several other cash-back rewards credit cards, as some readers may be looking for different types of reward categories.

Best travel rewards credit card

Card Highlights
Intro BonusEnjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
APR15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended Credit Excellent, Good
Reward Rates
  • 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
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Annual Fee$95
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APRN/A
Balance Transfer Fee $0 at this Transfer APR
Balance Transfer APR15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • 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
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

Our Take

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card* is a straightforward, easy-to-use travel rewards credit card for booking travel with rewards miles. You earn an unlimited 2x miles back per dollar spent on any purchase, period. But you'll earn 5x miles on hotels and car rentals if you book through Capital One Travel. The sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles (after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months) is equal to an estimated $600 in travel.

Many travel rewards cards have annual fees upward of $500, but this Capital One card is accessible to even the budget traveler with an annual fee of just $95. If you're looking for other perks and options, review our full list of the best travel rewards credit cards.

Best card for 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers

See Rates and Fees
Card Highlights
Intro BonusN/A
APR14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
Recommended Credit Good/Excellent
Reward RatesN/A
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% for 20 billing cycles on purchases
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers
Balance Transfer Fee Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater
Balance Transfer APR14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
Foreign Transaction Fees 2% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in U.S. Dollars. 3% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in a Foreign Currency

Our Take

The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card offers a whopping 20 billing cycles at 0% introductory APR for purchases and balance transfers (14.49% to 24.49% variable APR thereafter), crushing the competition. Though there is no sign-up bonus or rewards program, there is also no annual fee, making this a low-maintenance option. 

Not only is this a great card if you're making a large purchase or want to prolong your interest-free payments, but it's an excellent emergency credit card in case you need to cover a large expense unexpectedly. With other 0% APR credit cards for purchases and balance transfers, you will have a shorter period of time with the 0% introductory rate, but you may receive other benefits and rewards.

Best sign-up bonus credit card

See Rates and Fees
Card Highlights
Intro BonusIntro 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.
APR11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • 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.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% for 14 months
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% for 14 months
Balance Transfer Fee 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Balance Transfer APR11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Late Payment Fee None the first time you pay late. After that, up to $40.
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • 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.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our Take

Discover it® Cash Back* offers a unique sign-on bonus: an unlimited cash-back match at the end of your first year. You don't even have to reach a minimum spending threshold, like with most other sign-up bonuses -- but you can out-earn other credit cards with such bonuses if you spend enough. 

You will enjoy 5% cash back up to the quarterly maximums (then 1%) on rotating quarterly categories as you activate them. Some of these quarterly categories include purchases from Amazon.com, grocery stores or gas stations. Discover will also give you 1% cash back on all other purchases. We've also collected a few other credit cards with generous sign-on bonuses.

Card Highlights
Intro BonusIntro 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.
APR12.99% - 21.99% Variable
Recommended Credit Fair/New to Credit
Reward Rates
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% for 6 months
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR10.99% for 6 months
Balance Transfer Fee 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Balance Transfer APR12.99% - 21.99% Variable
Late Payment Fee None the first time you pay late. After that, up to $40.
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our Take

The Discover it® Student chrome* offers a winning combination of incentives as well as lenient terms for first-time credit card holders. You'll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%. You'll also earn an unlimited 1% cash back on other purchases.

Discover will then double your cash back: New cardholders will receive a cash-back match from Discover at the conclusion of their first year. On top of that, an introductory 0% APR on purchases for six months (12.99% to 21.99% variable APR after that) will give you a little wiggle room. You may decide that you like one of our other top picks for student credit cards, also.

FAQs

How should I choose a credit card?

Ultimately, the right credit card is individual to each person and their goals and preferences. Decide what features you're looking for: maximized rewards, spaced-out payments on a large purchase, credit building, an emergency credit card or other benefits. From there, you can decide the type of card you're looking for. You can then use online reviews like those at CNET to further narrow down what terms will work best for you.

How do I qualify for a credit card?

The better the benefits, the more hoops you'll need to jump through to be eligible for certain credit cards. Credit cards with attractive rewards programs or cash-back rewards require better credit than more basic credit card varieties.

If you have poor or fair credit, you might only qualify for credit builder or secured credit cards. If you have good to excellent credit, you may easily qualify for any credit card you want. But if you don't have the right score, you can always work to improve your credit for better odds of approval.

What's the best credit card to get for first-time users?

The best credit card for beginners is one that will help you build credit, so make sure to get a card that reports to the three credit bureaus. You'll also want to determine how you plan to use a credit card. Are you expecting to carry a balance from month to month, or can you reliably pay the credit issuer off? Are you a student who needs to finance a bunch of back-to-school purchases? Depending on what you need, one credit card might be better than another.

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles -- with the understanding that everyone's financial situation is different -- and the designated function of a card. 

For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the "welcome bonus" and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card's respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.

*All information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Discover it Student chrome, and Discover it Cash Back has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.