Illustration by Janice Chang
By Martha C. White
October 7, 2019

With the U.S. economy still chugging, credit card companies have spent 2019 locked in fierce competition for borrowers. That means if you take the time to look, there are some pretty sweet deals out there. What’s more, the types of rewards you can earn has expanded too, with more perks tailored to match American’s new digital spending habits.

If you have a card and haven’t shopped around in a while, you could be surprised at just how generous rewards have become — especially since lean times in the wake of the financial crisis. “The average introductory bonus on travel rewards cards more than doubled” since the start of decade, says Brian Karimzad, co-founder of MagnifyMoney.com.

Illustration by Tim Boelaars

The spending categories that help you earn top rewards are also evolving. Issuers have long offered accelerated rewards that let you earn multiples of miles, points or cash back on certain spending categories like airplane tickets or groceries. While those deals are still around, card companies have gotten more generous with the definitions of some of the categories, especially when it comes to shopping online.

Whether you’re a seasoned perk-earner looking for the best rewards credit card or just getting your feet wet and seeking the best first credit card, rest assured that there is a good option out there for you. Indeed, with the help of MagnifyMoney’s extensive credit card database, MONEY combed through the top credit cards to find the best credit card deals no matter what kind of card you are looking for.

 

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New Ways to Earn Accelerated Rewards

The best travel credit cards have long offered beefed-up rewards on travel-related expenses such as flights and hotel bookings. Now, cards like the Wells Fargo Propel American Express and the Uber Visa cards are expanding what counts as travel-related to include home- and ride-sharing. It’s happening in dining too. A growing number of cards give enhanced rewards for pickup or takeout orders as well as meals eaten out.

“Opening up the definition of dining to takeout, opening up the definition of taxi expenses to rideshares and transit — they’re really trying to capture the millennial,” Karimzad says. “With millennials, it’s more about doing things on demand.”

Today’s best credit cards also recognize the increasingly digital, mobile lives their customers have, with cellphone protection cropping up as a new benefit in cards across a host of categories. And although Apple made news earlier this year with the introduction of the Apple Card, it isn’t the only issuer incentivizing digital purchases. A number of rewards cards now offer accelerated rewards earning for purchases of streaming media services or subscriptions, online purchases or digital wallet usage.

The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa offers a higher rewards rate for digital wallet purchases made in the first year, and Apple is going all in with extra rewards for Apple App Store and Apple Wallet purchases, for instance. The Amazon Business Prime American Express offers accelerated rewards not just for purchases on Amazon.com, but also on AWS, Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud-based services division.

“Credit card companies are trying to reach the next generation and every generation has a change in habits,” Karimzad says. “Same strategy, different preferences.”

The Best Credit Cards of 2019

So how did MONEY choose the Best Credit Cards of 2019? We evaluated key terms like APRs and fees along with rewards and current promotions for new customers. Here are our picks:

The Best for Travel Rewards

Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Best for Cash Back

Winner: Alliant Cashback Visa Signature

The Best for Balance Transfer

Winner: Citi Double Cash

The Best for Weak Credit

Winner: Affinity Secured Visa

The Best for Small Business

Winner: Capital One Spark Cash

The Best for Store Rewards

Winner: Amazon Prime Rewards Signature Visa

The Best for Students

Winner: Capital One Journey Student Rewards

The Best for Low Interest

Winner: Visa Titanium Signature Rewards from Andrews Federal Credit Union

The Best for No Annual Fee

Winner: Wells Fargo Propel American Express

MONEY worked with MagnifyMoney to narrow down credit card options in each category to a set of finalists. MONEY’s editorial staff was solely responsible for choosing the winners, focusing on interest rates, fees, and perks of each card.

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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