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All Contents © 2018The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor
| May 9, 2018
If you're not taking advantage of a rewards credit card, you could be leaving a heap of money on the table.
The total value of points or miles earned in the first year with a travel rewards card is $901, on average (taking into account both initial bonuses and rewards for each dollar spent and subtracting any first-year annual fees), according to a study from personal finance site NerdWallet. From the second year on, annual rewards average $277.
Whether you choose to play the travel rewards game or stick with a simple cash-back card, your own payback could be even more lucrative, depending on how much you spend and how dedicated you are to maximizing your rewards. To help you sort through the many options, we've divided the universe of rewards cards into categories and selected winners and honorable mentions in each.
To give you an idea of how much you may earn in rewards, we've calculated a typical annual rebate for each card, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey to determine average spending patterns. Except where otherwise noted, the typical annual rebate assumes total spending of $22,000 on the card each year. We exclude sign-up bonuses from the rebate total, and with one exception we subtract annual fees from the rebate if they're not waived the first year. Also, unless noted otherwise, rewards do not have caps or expiration dates, and the travel cards do not have foreign-transaction fees.
Winner: Citi Double Cash Mastercard
Interest rate: 14.99% to 24.99%
Annual fee: None
Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first three months and get $100 back
Typical annual rebate: $440
This card's strength is its straightforward payback on all purchases. And because it carries no annual fee, it's a great choice even if you don't spend much. You'll earn 1% cash back each time you make a purchase and 1% when you pay the bill, for a total of 2% on everything you buy. When you accumulate at least $25 in cash back, you can redeem it as an account credit, a check, or a deposit into a Citi checking or savings account or any checking account from which you've paid a Citi credit card bill at least twice. Rewards expire if you don't use the card for a year.
Honorable mention: For the first year, Alliant Cashback Visa Signature (interest rate: 11.49% to 14.49%) hands out a hefty 3% cash back on all spending with no annual fee. From the second year on, the rewards rate drops to 2.5%–still a generous payback–and a $59 annual fee kicks in. For our sample cardholder, the typical annual rebate the second year is $491. (That beats the typical rebate on Citi Double Cash, but you would need to spend nearly $20,000 annually from the second year on to come out ahead with this card–and in this basic category we favor Citi's no-fee structure, which suits spending at all levels.) Redeem cash rewards–which expire about four to five years after you earn them–as a statement credit or deposit into an Alliant Credit Union checking or savings account. You must join Alliant to get the card, which you can do by making a one-time, $10 donation to the charity Foster Care to Success and opening a savings account with a complimentary $5 deposit from Alliant.
Winner: Chase Freedom Visa
Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 16.49% to 25.24%
Sign-up bonus: Make your first purchase and add an authorized user in the first three months and get $25 back; in addition, spend $500 in the first three months and get $150 back
Typical annual rebate: $363
The Chase Freedom Visa offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that change each quarter (1% on everything else). In the first quarter of 2018, the 5% category included gas station purchases; phone, internet and cable bills; and purchases made with certain mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay.
In the second quarter, spending at grocery stores and transactions through PayPal and Chase Pay (a mobile wallet) captured the maximum rebate. Third- and fourth-quarter 5% categories had not been announced at press time, but restaurant and retail purchases (such as at department stores) have been featured in recent years. Rewards are tracked as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can redeem for an account credit or bank account deposit, gift cards, or travel bookings at a rate of 1 cent per point.
Winner: Discover It
Interest rate: 0% for 14 months, then 13.49% to 24.49%
Sign-up bonus: A match of the cash back you've earned after one year, doubling your rewards for the year
Typical annual rebate: $341
The Discover It card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that change each quarter (1% on everything else). The card provided the 5% rebate at gas stations and wholesale clubs in the first quarter of 2018 and grocery stores in the second quarter. You get 5% at restaurants in the third quarter and at Amazon.com and wholesale clubs in the fourth quarter. (Keep in mind that Costco Wholesale accepts only credit cards issued by Visa at its registers.) You can redeem cash back in any amount for a statement credit, bank account deposit, charitable donation or purchases with participating merchants.
Honorable mention: With the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature card (interest rate: 15.49% to 24.49%; no annual fee; typical annual rebate: $330), pick two categories in which you'll earn 5% cash back on up to $2,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Among the 12 choices recently were cell-phone bills, ground transportation (such as bus and train fares), department stores and home utilities. You'll also get 2% cash back in one category of choice (gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores) and 1% on everything else. Rewards redemption options include a statement credit or a deposit into a U.S. Bank checking or savings account, and rewards expire after three years.
Winner: Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature
Interest rate: 15.49%
Get 2% back on everything you charge with the Fidelity card. The catch: You exchange points you earn for deposits into an eligible Fidelity Investments account, including brokerage, cash management, retirement, charitable giving and 529 college-savings accounts. You can divide rewards among up to five accounts and even contribute to a family member's or friend's eligible account–say, funding your grandchild's 529 plan. Once you have at least 5,000 points, you can exchange them for a cash deposit into your Fidelity account. You can also redeem points for items such as gift cards and merchandise, but points are typically worth only about half the value.
Honorable mention: Some cards are more rewarding if you deposit cash back into an account with the issuing bank. For example, Bank of America Cash Rewards Mastercard (interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 14.49% to 24.49%; no annual fee; typical annual rebate: $309) offers 3% on gas purchases and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on up to $2,500 in combined spending per quarter in those categories) and 1% on everything else. If you deposit your rewards into a BofA checking or savings account, you'll get a 10% bonus on the cash back. Or, if you're a Preferred Rewards client, you'll get a bonus of 25%, 50% or 75%, depending on your Preferred Rewards balance. (To qualify for Preferred Rewards, you must have an eligible Bank of America checking account and at least $20,000 in combined balances among checking, savings, and Merrill Lynch and Merrill Edge investment accounts.)
Winner: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express
Interest rate: 12.24% to 17.99%
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $2,500 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 39,000 points, worth about $460 in certain travel redemptions through PenFed
This new card shines because it offers two benefits that often come only on cards with hefty annual fees: a reimbursement of up to $100 for a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee every five years, and a $100 annual credit toward incidental fees with 11 airlines (including American, Delta, Southwest and United), such as charges for baggage, in-flight food and drinks, and day passes to enter airport lounges. You'll get three points per dollar spent on a wide range of travel purchases (or four points per dollar if you're a military member or have an Access America checking account with Pentagon Federal Credit Union) and 1.5 points on all other spending.
Watch out for a couple of caveats. When you book a hotel room through PenFed's redemption portal using points, they are usually worth a healthy 1.18 cents or more each. But the value dips to only about 0.85 cent per point for gift cards, and the same rate or a slightly higher one applies for merchandise and airline tickets. And when you buy airline tickets with points, you'll pay a fee of $15 to book online or $25 over the phone. Points expire after five years. Join PenFed by paying one-time dues of $17 to a qualifying organization and depositing $5 into a savings account.
Honorable mention: Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa (interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 16.49% to 24.49%; no annual fee; typical annual rebate: 33,000 points, worth $330 in statement credit for travel purchases) keeps it simple. You'll get 1.5 points per dollar on all spending–or three points per dollar for purchases through the Bank of America Travel Center. Points are worth a penny apiece when you redeem them for statement credits on travel purchases (0.6 cent each for non-travel credits; gift card redemption values vary). This card qualifies for a rewards bonus if you have more of a relationship with Bank of America.
Winner: Capital One Venture Visa
Interest rate: 14.49% to 24.49%
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles if you spend 3,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 52,000 miles, worth $520 in statement credits on travel purchases
Capital One Venture is still appealing despite raising its annual fee from $59 to $95. The card skips the complex formulas: It pays out two miles per dollar on all purchases. Besides the 50,000-mile sign-up bonus, you'll earn a whopping 10 miles per dollar on eligible prepaid hotel reservations through Hotels.com (through January 2020). Redeem miles at a value of a penny per point for statement credit on travel purchases you've made with the card in the past 90 days (on non-travel statement credits, miles are worth 0.5 cent apiece). Or book travel with miles through the Capital One Rewards Center.
Honorable mention: The Citi ThankYou Premier Mastercard (interest rate: 15.99% to 24.99%; $95 annual fee, waived the first year; typical annual rebate: 37,653 points, worth $471 in travel redemptions) offers three points per dollar on travel purchases, including at gas stations. Plus, get two points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment (such as tickets for concerts, theatrical productions, sporting events and movies) and one point per dollar on everything else. Points are worth a heightened 1.25 cents each when you trade them for travel bookings through Citi's ThankYou Travel Center (points are worth a penny apiece for gift cards; point values may be lower for cash and other redemptions). You can also transfer points to participating frequent-flier programs. That includes JetBlue's TrueBlue (1,000 ThankYou points for 800 JetBlue points) as well as programs from Air France, Turkish Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, but not American, Delta, Southwest or United.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa
Interest rate: 17.49% to 24.49%
Sign-up bonus: Make your first purchase and add an authorized user in the first three months and get 5,000 points; plus, spend $4,000 in the first three months and get 50,000 points
Typical annual rebate: 29,154 points, worth $364 in travel redemptions through Chase Ultimate Rewards
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card pays out two points per dollar spent on dining and travel purchases and one point on all other purchases. You can use the points in multiple ways. One option is to trade them at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece for travel reservations through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Or transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs, including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, IHG Rewards Club and Marriott Rewards. If you use more than one Chase card that yields Ultimate Rewards points, including the Freedom, Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards, you can pool your points to redeem them. And points are worth a penny apiece if you trade them for cash or gift cards.
Honorable mention: With the Amex EveryDay credit card (interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 14.49% to 25.49%; no annual fee; typical annual rebate: 31,259 points, worth $313 for some travel redemptions), you can gather American Express Membership Rewards points: two points per dollar for supermarket purchases (on up to $6,000 spent yearly) and eligible purchases through the American Express Travel shopping portal, plus one point per dollar on everything else. If you make at least 20 purchases in a billing period, you'll get a 20% bonus on points earned. Point values vary; your best bets are redemptions that are worth at least 1 cent per point, including flights booked through American Express Travel and gift cards for certain hotels and car-rental companies. Or transfer points to participating hotel and airline loyalty programs, including Delta SkyMiles (one Amex point equals one SkyMile) and Hilton Honors (one Amex point equals two Hilton points). You'll pay a fee of 0.06 cent per point transferred to a U.S. frequent-flier program and a 2.7% foreign-transaction fee.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa
Annual fee: $450
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Although competition has been heating up in the luxury travel rewards space, Chase Sapphire Reserve still stands out for its well-rounded package of premium benefits. You get reimbursed up to $300 annually for a broad range of travel purchases, plus a refund of up to $100 for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee every four years. The card also includes a free Priority Pass Select membership, with access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide; discounts with Avis and National Car Rental; and extra perks at properties in the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
Cardholders earn three points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and one point on everything else, and points are redeemable at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece for travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. (We did not include a typical annual rebate because a premium card provides much of its value outside of the points it awards for everyday spending, so the calculation does not accurately reflect the card's worth.)
Honorable mention: The Platinum Card from American Express comes with a $550 annual fee but a big bundle of perks to match. Cardholders are reimbursed $200 annually for incidental fees (such as for checked bags or in-flight meals) on one participating airline of choice, get a $15 monthly credit toward Uber rides (plus an extra $20 in December), and are reimbursed up to $100 for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee every four years. You'll also get free entry into a host of airport lounges, including those from Amex's own Centurion and American Express International, Airspace, Escape, Delta Sky Club (with a same-day Delta boarding pass), and Priority Pass Select. The card also comes with free Boingo Wi-Fi access, Gold status with the Hilton and Starwood hotel loyalty programs, and membership in premium car-rental programs. Cardholders earn five Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on qualifying flight and hotel purchases and one point on everything else; point values vary depending on the redemption.
Winner: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa
Annual fee: $99
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 31,000 points, worth about $400 to $500 in airfare (without subtracting the annual fee)
Cardholders rack up two Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent with Southwest Airlines (including plane tickets, gift cards and vacation packages from the airline) and on purchases with hotel and car-rental partners. All other spending earns one point per dollar. You'll also get a bonus of 6,000 points every year on the anniversary of card membership. And for each $10,000 you charge to the card (up to $100,000 yearly), you'll get 1,500 tier-qualifying points toward A-List or A-List Preferred status.
Depending on flight fees and taxes, the 6,000-point yearly bonus is worth about $80 to $100, estimates Brian Karimzad, loyalty analyst at MileCards.com. That's enough to cover most of the annual fee. Plus, says Karimzad, "there's still a hidden value to Southwest points" because Southwest does not charge a fee to change or cancel your ticket. And all passengers can check two bags free.
Honorable mention: United Airlines recently introduced a no-fee credit card, United TravelBank Visa from Chase (interest rate: 17.49% to 24.49%; typical annual rebate: $345). Cardholders get TravelBank cash back to purchase flights directly with United. You earn 2% in TravelBank cash on United flight tickets and 1.5% TravelBank cash on all other spending. You also get a 25% discount (in the form of a statement credit) on in-flight food and beverage purchases. TravelBank cash expires if you have no account activity for 18 months.
Winner: Starwood Preferred Guest From American Express
Interest rate: 16.74% to 20.74%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $100; plus, make one purchase at a Starwood Preferred Guest or Marriott Rewards hotel in the first six months and get $100.
Typical annual rebate: 52,000 points
The Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty programs are merging. That means big changes for the Starwood credit card. On August 1, the point balance for current holders of the card will triple, and corresponding increases will take place when it comes to redeeming points. Both current card members and new applicants will earn six points per dollar spent at SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels. All other spending on the card will earn two points per dollar. (Some details on point redemptions weren't available at press time, so placing a value on points is tricky.)
Although the new card triples the number of points earned on Starwood and Marriott purchases compared with the current card, in line with the current conversion rate of three Marriott points to one Starwood point, it only doubles points on other spending, potentially making the card less attractive for non-hotel purchases. But the new card is also adding perks, including one free hotel night each year and free Boingo Wi-Fi access. Plus, one key benefit remains: You can convert points to airline miles, with the frequent-flier programs of more than 40 airlines participating. Three points will equal one airline mile, and for each 60,000 points you convert, you'll get a 15,000-point bonus. Points will expire if your account is inactive for two years.
Note that Marriott has introduced a credit card through Chase, Marriott Rewards Premier Plus ($95 annual fee), that is very similar to the new Starwood card.
Honorable mention: If you prefer not to pay an annual fee, check out the Hilton Honors Card from American Express (interest rate: 17.24% to 26.24%; typical annual rebate: 92,224 points, worth about $400 to $500 to book hotel rooms). Hilton points are generally worth less than those from some other hotel rewards programs, but the card makes up for it by offering seven points per dollar spent at Hilton properties; five points per dollar on dining, gas and groceries; and three points per dollar on all other purchases. Cardholders get complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status. If you spend $20,000 in a calendar year, you'll earn Gold status through the next calendar year. Points expire if you are inactive in the Hilton Honors program for a year (earning points with the credit card qualifies as activity).
Winner: American Express Blue Cash Preferred
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 14.49% to 25.49%
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $200 back
Typical annual rebate: $384
This card offers an unbeatable 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent per year at the supermarket (superstores, such as Target and Walmart, and wholesale clubs don't count) and 1% thereafter. You'll also earn 3% back on gas at U.S. gas stations (not including those at superstores, supermarkets and wholesale clubs) and select U.S. department stores, plus 1% on all other spending. You can redeem cash back as statement credits in $25 increments.
Honorable mentions: Rather skip the annual fee? Amex offers a no-fee version, Blue Cash Everyday (interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 14.49% to 25.49%; typical annual rebate: $338), that pays 3% on up to $6,000 in supermarket spending yearly, 2% on gas and department store purchases, and 1% on other spending. The no-fee Consumers Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Rebate card (interest rate: 13.24% to 24.24%; typical annual rebate: $320) offers 3% back on up to $6,000 spent yearly on convenience and grocery store purchases–which may include superstore (but not wholesale club) spending, depending on how Visa classifies the purchase–plus 2% on gas you buy at any automated fuel dispenser and 1% on other spending. Total cash-back rewards are capped at $6,000 per year. Join Consumers Credit Union by paying a one-time, $5 fee to the Consumers Cooperative Association and depositing $5 into a savings account.
Winner: PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature
Interest rate: 11.24% to 17.99%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,500 in the first 90 days and get $100 back
Typical annual rebate: 37,734 points, worth about $445 in certain travel redemptions through PenFed
If you burn through a lot of gas, give this card a look. You'll earn five points per dollar spent when you pay for gas purchases at the pump, three points per dollar of supermarket spending and one point on other purchases. Points are redeemed through the same program as with the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards card.
Honorable mention: The no-fee Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum card (interest rate: 10.75% to 18%; typical annual rebate: $195) offers a simple 5% cash back on gas purchases paid at the pump. But you'll earn cash back in only one other category: retail merchants, at 1%. Cash back is automatically credited to your account monthly. You can become a member of Fort Knox by joining charitable organization USA Cares (free for Fort Knox customers), paying a one-time, $10 fee to the credit union, and depositing $5 into a savings account.
Winner: Uber Visa
Interest rate: 16.49% to 25.24%
Sign-up bonus: 10,000 points if you spend $500 in the first 90 days
Typical annual rebate: 41,045 points, worth $410
Although the Uber Visa targets millennials, it's a great card for anyone who frequently dines out. The card dishes out an impressive 4% back on restaurant spending (including deliveries through Uber Eats); 3% on airfare and hotel purchases (including Airbnb stays); 2% on a variety of online purchases, including Uber rides, online shopping (Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Macy's are among qualifying retailers), and video and music streaming services, such as Netflix and Pandora; and 1% on everything else. Rewards are earned as points, which you can trade at a rate of a penny per point for credit toward Uber rides (starting at 500 points) or cash back or gift cards (starting at 2,500 points). Each year that you spend at least $5,000 on the card, you'll get a $50 credit toward online subscription services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Spotify or an Amazon Prime subscription. Another nice perk: up to $600 per claim in supplemental insurance for cell-phone theft or damage (up to two claims per year; $25 deductible) if you pay your wireless bill with your card.
Honorable mentions: The Capital One Savor Mastercard (interest rate: 0% for nine months, then 15.99% to 24.74%; typical annual rebate: $324) and the AARP Visa Credit Card from Chase (interest rate: 17.74% to 24.49%; typical annual rebate: $321; AARP membership is not required) both charge no annual fee and offer 3% back on dining purchases. The Savor card also pays 2% back on groceries and 1% on other purchases; you can redeem cash back as a statement credit or check. With the AARP card, for each restaurant purchase you make, 10 cents is donated to the AARP Foundation to support the Drive to End Hunger. The card also pays out 3% on gas purchases and 1% on everything else. Rewards are earned as points, which you can exchange at a rate of a penny each for a deposit into your bank account, a check, gift cards or an AARP membership. Or get a rate of 1.12 cents per point when you use them to book travel through Chase.
Winner: Amazon Rewards Visa Signature
Interest rate: 15.74% to 23.74%
Sign-up bonus: $50 Amazon gift card upon approval
Typical annual rebate: 31,277 points, worth $313 in Amazon purchases
The Amazon Rewards Visa got even better when it recently added Whole Foods Market purchases to its top rewards category. Now cardholders earn three points per dollar at Amazon.com and Whole Foods–or five points with the version of the card available to Amazon Prime members. Restaurant, gas station and drugstore purchases capture two points per dollar spent, and all other spending gets one point per dollar. Points are worth a penny apiece when you exchange them for purchases at Amazon.com or for travel bookings, gift cards or cash back.
Honorable mentions: The Sam's Club Mastercard (interest rate: 16.40% to 24.40%; typical annual rebate: $439; Sam's Club membership fees start at $45 yearly) and Costco Anywhere Visa (interest rate: 16.74%; typical annual rebate: $430; Costco Wholesale membership fees start at $60 yearly) don't offer exceptional in-store rewards, but they do have solid paybacks on a range of other purchases. The Sam's Club card pays out 5% on up to $6,000 spent annually at U.S. gas stations (including those at Sam's Club and Walmart stores), 3% on dining and travel spending, and 1% elsewhere. You'll receive cash back (limited to $5,000 per year) each February as a check with the previous year's earnings, redeemable at Sam's Club; expiration rules are listed on the check. The Costco card yields 4% on up to $7,000 spent yearly at gas stations worldwide (including those at Costco), 3% on travel and dining purchases, 2% at Costco, and 1% on everything else. Cash rewards are distributed as a certificate containing the previous year's earnings (redeemable at Costco) after your February billing statement closes. The certificate expires December 31 of the year it's issued.
Winner: Target REDcard
Interest rate: 24.40%
Typical annual rebate: $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)
You can use this card only at Target stores and Target.com, but Target devotees will find it worthwhile for the 5% discount they get when they pay for purchases with the card–including at Starbucks cafes located in Target stores. (Certain purchases, such as prescriptions and Target Optical eye exams, don't qualify for the discount.) Cardholders also enjoy free two-day shipping on purchases at Target.com and an extra 30 days to return items. If you'd rather not use a credit card, Target also offers REDcard as a debit card that links directly to your checking account.
Honorable mention: Have a home-improvement project coming up? Consider the Lowe's Advantage card (no annual fee; typical annual rebate: $40). You can choose to get a 5% discount on every Lowe's store purchase with the card. Alternatively, you can choose to pay 0% interest for six months on a purchase of at least $299–but be aware that if you don't pay the full balance within the no-interest window, you'll be charged retroactive interest (recently 26.99%) on the original purchase amount. A third option: Finance a project of $2,000 or more at a reduced interest rate for three years (3.99%), five years (5.99%) or seven years (7.99%).
Winner: Capital One Spark Cash for Business Visa
Interest rate: 18.49%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $4,500 in the first three months and get $500 back
Typical annual rebate: $580 (assuming $29,000 spent annually)
This card doesn't give out heightened rewards in business-related categories, but the 2% cash back that it provides on all spending may prove more lucrative. Collect cash back as a check or statement credit, with the option to get automatic redemptions when your cash-back rewards reach $25, $50, $100 or $200. The card comes with quarterly and year-end summaries to help organize expenses, and you can add employee cards at no additional cost. Plus, there's no foreign-transaction fee.
When you apply for the card, you must provide information including your business's name and location, industry, tax identification number (or Social Security number for a sole proprietor), and annual revenue and monthly spending figures. Keep in mind that issuers of business credit cards are not required to comply with consumer credit card protections such as ceilings on over-limit and late fees.
Honorable mentions: The no-annual-fee Chase Ink Business Cash Visa card (typical annual rebate: $462) comes with a 0% interest rate for the first year (then 14.74% to 20.74%). And it offers higher rewards on certain business expenses: 5% at office-supply stores and on internet, cable and phone bills (on up to $25,000 in combined spending a year); 2% at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $25,000 in combined spending per year); and 1% on other purchases.
Or, especially if you travel a lot, take a look at Chase Ink Business Preferred Visa (interest rate: 17.49% to 22.49%; $95 annual fee; no foreign-transaction fee; typical annual rebate: 50,146 points, worth $532 in travel redemptions through Chase Ultimate Rewards after subtracting the annual fee). You'll earn three points per dollar on up to $150,000 yearly in combined spending on travel; shipping; internet, cable and phone bills; and advertising on social media and search engines. All other spending gets one point per dollar. Points are worth 1.25 cents each when you redeem them for travel bookings through Chase Ultimate Rewards (1 cent per point for cash or gift cards). Or transfer points to partner airline and hotel programs at a 1:1 ratio. The card also includes other nice perks for business owners, including free cards for employees and up to $600 per claim (up to three claims a year; $100 deductible) in cell-phone insurance for you and employees listed on your cell-phone bill when you pay the bill with the card.
When you apply for a Chase Ink card, you must include such details as your business name, type of business, tax identification number and years in operation.
Winner: Discover It Chrome Card for College Students
Interest rate: 0% for six months, then 14.49% to 23.49%
Sign-up bonus: A match of cash back earned after one year, doubling your rewards
Typical annual rebate: $40 (assuming $200 spent monthly)
This student card pays out 2% cash back for gas and restaurant purchases (on up to $1,000 quarterly in combined spending) and 1% on everything else. In addition, the card rewards college students who excel at school by offering a $20 statement credit each academic year that they earn a GPA of at least 3.0. Cash back is redeemable in any amount for an account credit, a bank account deposit, a donation to select charities or purchases at Amazon.com. Students are usually new to using a credit card, so it’s also a plus that Discover does not levy a fee for the first late payment and does not charge a penalty annual percentage rate. There’s no foreign-transaction fee, either—a helpful feature for students studying abroad.
Honorable mention: The no-fee Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One (interest rate: 24.99%; typical annual rebate: $30) encourages responsible credit card usage by boosting the cash-back rate on all spending from the standard 1% to 1.25% for each billing cycle that the student pays at least the minimum balance on time. You also get access to a higher credit line if you make the first five monthly payments on time. Cash back is redeemable as a check or statement credit, with the option of getting an automatic redemption each time you reach a specified threshold in cash back ($25, $50, $100 or $200). The card charges no foreign-transaction fee.
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