The CreditShout team meets regularly to to find the top credit card deals available, whether you are looking for cash back, travel rewards, balance transfer offers, or a recommendation to help you build up your credit profile. Below is a list of our editor's pick for the best credit cards for 2016 - including a new card taking the overall top spot.
For every good deal available, there may be 20 not-so-good deals. This makes it important to do your research before applying.
We have literally spent hundreds of hours sifting through new cards and researching this stuff so you don't have to.
What do we look for when compiling our list of best credit cards?
- Generous rewards programs without hidden rewards caps, fees, or other fine print.
- Attractive sign up incentives such as bonus cash back or points that are easy to redeem.
- Simplicity - clear and concise terms and conditions and easy to use rewards programs. This includes no hidden fees or "gotchas".
Top Overall Card of 2016: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Generally, we prefer cash back credit cards because their offerings usually are the simplest to take advantage of and offer the most value.
This year, however, is different because we found that Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® provided not only more value than any other travel rewards card, it provided more value than any other credit card. (Click here to learn more about our analysis and to see other top travel rewards programs.)
The great advantage of this card is that it is simple to use: you get 2% cash back on all spending and a 5% bonus each time you redeem your reward points for travel. This makes each $1 you spend worth up to $.021 (or a flat 2.1%).
Program Highlights Include:
- Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit.
- Earn 2X miles on all purchases.
- Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem.
- Chip card technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad.
- No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country.
- 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, currently 16.24% or 20.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.
- Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers.
FYI, this card does come with an annual fee of $89 -- but it is waived for the first year. And the fee is a bargain for all the benefits you get.
For Cash Back: Discover it® Cash Rewards Card
Thanks to Discover generously offering to double your cash back for the first year (if you are a new cardmember), Discover was able to retain its title as the King of Cash Back Credit Cards.
The pros for Discover are a generous rewards program, great cardholder perks, and top rates customer service.
However, this title is tenuous for the following reasons:
- It is based on a crazy generous sign up bonus.
- We still don't like that spending caps on the 5% bonus categories. Or that rotating rewards encourage spending.
- Many people will do better with simple 2% cash back cards or bonus rewards that do not rotate.
Before applying, you may also want to review our Guide to Cash Back Credit Cards to see our recommended cash back strategies and spending assumptions. As well as check out some great alternatives.
Best Card for Average Credit: Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard®
The Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® is an amazing card for people with average credit who are looking to earn rewards. With this card you'll receive 2 points per $1 spent on gas, utility, and grocery purchases (excluding Target® and Walmart®) and 1 point per $1 everywhere else. There are no limits to the rewards you can earn, and no blackout dates when redeeming points for travel.
This card also has no annual fee and the rewards system overall is very simple and easy to understand.
Cardholders also receive their complementary monthly FICO scores on their statement or online through the Barclaycard website.
We also found that the Barclaycard Rewards card held up fairly well when compared to other cash back cards.
- 2X points on gas, utility and grocery store (excluding Target® and Walmart®) purchases. 1x points on all other purchases
- No annual fee
- Points don't expire as long as account is open, active and in good standing
- Redeem points for deposits to a U.S. checking or savings account, statement credits or gift cards, starting at 1,000 points for $10
- No limit on the number of points you can earn or redeem
- Free online access to FICO® Credit Score lets you keep an eye on your credit and get alerts when we learn that your score has changed
- Use your card with confidence, $0 Fraud Liability protection means you're not responsible for unauthorized charges you report to us
- Chip card technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
Top Card for Poor Credit: Milestone® MasterCard® with Free Choice of Card Image
The Milestone® MasterCard® with Free Choice of Card Image is a new card for people with no credit or poor credit. The Milestone® card allows you to see if you're pre-qualified online before you apply for the card without impacting your credit score.
What we really like about this card is that unlike most cards for those with below average credit is that this card is an actual MasterCard® -- not just a catalog card. This means it can be used at over 35 million locations worldwide.
This is also one of the few cards that you can apply for with a previous bankruptcy or other past credit issues.
The Milestone® MasterCard® also comes with online account access and reports to all three major credit bureaus. Making it a great card for those with limited credit history, poor credit, or a prior bankruptcy on their record.
Be advised that this card does come with an annual fee ranging from $35 - $99, depending on your creditworthiness.
The Milestone® MasterCard® also has a version available for those with fair, average or good credit. It has the same specs as detailed above, and also allows for approval with prior bankruptcies. You can learn more about that version of the Milestone card by clicking here.
Best New Credit Card: Costco Anywhere Visa
The Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi is on its way, and will "go live" on June 20, 2016.
We already ranked it against all other cash back cards, and even compared its rewards program to other popular card to demonstrate how the Costco Anywhere Visa can help you save on common household items.
And, frankly, we think its generous rewards program may soon have it ranked among the tops of gas cards and travel rewards cards as well. The new Anywhere Visa is a nice improvement over the old True Earnings card. And not just the best new card of 2016, but one of our overall favorites.
Highlights of the New Costco Card:
- 4% cash back on gas for the first $7,000 per year, and then 1% thereafter (at Costco and stand-alone gas stations)
- 3% cash back on restaurants and travel
- 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
- Rewards from your True Earnings card transferred automatically to your new card
Top Balance Transfer Credit Cards of 2016
If you are really in need of a 0% balance transfer offer, there are a ton out there right now.
Our favorite is the Chase Slate card (read our review) because you can get 0% APR for 15 months on your balance transfers and new purchases, with no balance transfer fee! Be advices, though, that the Chase Slate does not offer any rewards program.
If you do not have excellent credit, you may want to check out the Capital One Quicksilver One cash rewards card. (Read our review.) It is offering 0% APR financing on balance transfers until September 2016, also with a $0 transfer fee.
It does come with a $39 annual fee. But you only need fair credit to qualify.
One last recommendation is the Citi Double Cash Card (read our review) - which offers 0% APR financing on balance transfers and new purchases. It does come with a 3% balance transfer fee. But you might like its excellent rewards program, which allows you to earn 1% cash back at the time of purchase and an additional 1% cash back as you pay for those purchases.*
Instead of a balance transfer, you may want to consider a low interest rate credit card refinance loan.
The Best Student Credit Cards
We love both the Discover it for Students card and the Capital One Journey card.
What's amazing about these cards are that they give college students (i.e., people with limited credit histories) access to the same rewards programs and perks traditionally reserved for people with good or excellent credit.
The advantage of the Discover card is that it offers the exact rewards program as the regular Discover it card (up to 5% cash back on purchases) making this our top card choice for students in 2016. Many student credit cards have watered down rewards program, and high interest rates.
This means that you can earn up to 5% cash back on purchases in popular spending categories that rotate throughout the year, and 1% cash back on all other purchases you make. As with the standard Discover it Card, what really sets this card apart from is the lack of hidden fees and fine print.
Discover it for Students has no annual fee, no over-the-limit fee, no fee the first time you pay late and your APR won't in increased in that situation either.
The advantage of the Journey Student Rewards card is its simple rewards program: Earn 1% cash back on all purchases, plus a 25% bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time, for a total of 1.25% cash back. And there is no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and your rewards will not expire.
Plus, we have spoke to some students who maintain that it is far easier to qualify for the Capital One Journey card.
You can read our Guide to the Best Student Credit Cards to learn more.
Whether you are looking for a card type not listed here (such as a no annual fee travel rewards card or a secured credit card), guides to cards by issuers, or individual card reviews, you may want to check out our Credit Card page.
We recommend knowing your credit score before applying for a new card. It will give you a better of the type of offerings you can qualify for. If you do not know your credit score, you might want to check out our resources for free credit scores.
Lastly, you may want to check out CardMatch by CreditCards.com to see what kind of rewards cards are available for people like you. It is free to use, won't hurt your credit score, and - best of all - you can often find better rewards for the same cards just by using CardMatch. Read our review to learn more.