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By Taylor Tepper
September 23, 2015
Shutterstock

Money and NerdWallet have picked the best credit cards in five different categories: cash back, borrowing, travel rewards, student, and small business cards. Most of our picks assume you are using cards strategically to maximize rewards, and paying off your bill each month to avoid fees and finance charges. Money also went one step further this year to add an “easy choice”—the best no-muss, no-fuss, no-annual-fee option.

Easy Choice: Citi Double Cash Card

  • APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 13% to 23% after that, depending on creditworthiness
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards: 2% cash back on all purchases, with no limit
  • Why its a winner: Double Cash offers a top rewards rate for a flat-rate card, with no strings attached; you simply get 2% back on everything you buy. That adds up: If you spend $2,000 a month, you’d earn nearly $1,000 in two years. Other bonuses: The card offers a 15-month 0% introductory APR and a waived late fee on your first missed payment. You also get your credit score (from Equifax) on each statement or your online account.
  • Caveat: You don’t get the cash back all at once. You get 1% when you swipe and the other 1% after you pay your bill.

Best for Online Shopping: Discover It

  • APR: 0% on purchases and transfers for the first 12 months, then 11% to 23%
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards:
    • 5% cash back in categories that change every quarter, online and off, up to $1,500 per quarter
    • 1% back on all other purchases
    • Extra cash back on purchases made via Discover’s online portal
  • Why it’s a winner: Discover’s online mall sets it apart from its cash-back rivals. The Discover Deals portal lets cardholders earn 5% to 20% in extra cash back from hundreds of retailers, including 5% at Home Depot, the Apple Store, and Walmart. Meanwhile, the rotating 5% rebate categories—such as gas stations, restaurants, or specific retailers, like Amazon.com—apply on up to $1,500 total spent quarterly. (Beyond that, you get 1% back.) Other benefits include access to up to a year’s worth of FICO scores. Plus, if you lose your card, you can freeze your account without canceling all your automatic payments.
  • Caveat: Discover is accepted less widely than Visa and MasterCard.
  • 5% cash back in categories that change every quarter, online and off, up to $1,500 per quarter
  • 1% back on all other purchases
  • Extra cash back on purchases made via Discover’s online portal

Best for Maximizers: American Express Blue Cash Preferred

  • APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 13% to 22% thereafter
  • Annual fee: $75
  • Sign-up bonus: $150 after spending $1,000 in 90 days
  • Rewards:
    • 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent at supermarkets annually; 1% cash back after that
    • 3% at gas stations and certain department stores
    • 1% everywhere else
  • Why it’s a winner: It’s tops among its peers for cash back on everyday purchases. Spend $5,600 on groceries a year (what a typical family doles out), and you earn $336 annually. Another $200 a month at the gas pump gets you $70 a year; that alone will cover most of the annual fee. Meanwhile, the card’s sign-up bonus is lucrative and relatively easy to obtain. And the introductory 0% rate gives you some wiggle room if you need to make a big purchase.
  • Caveat: Grocery perks are for supermarkets only; specialty food shops and Costco don’t count.
  • 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent at supermarkets annually; 1% cash back after that
  • 3% at gas stations and certain department stores
  • 1% everywhere else

See all of Money’s picks:

Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

EDIT POST