Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available or the benefits and terms have changed. View the issuer’s site for current information.
When shopping for a credit card, the only thing you won’t find is a shortage of options. That’s because different people need different cards with different rewards at different stages of their lives and financial journeys. Here’s a look at how the top cards on the market work better for some people than others depending on where they are in terms of finances.
For Your First Card: Petal 2 Visa
The second of Petal’s two specialty cards offers impressive perks for a starter card designed for people with limited or no credit history. If you’re just starting out, Petal 2 delivers up to 1.5% cash back — good even for a mainstream flat-rate card — and credit limits between $300-$10,000. Plus, you can earn 2-10% cash back at select merchants. There are no fees at all, including annual and international fees. There’s not even a fee for returned or late payments — another feature that would be impressive even on a card for people with good credit.
For Your College Years: Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students
The student segment is packed with many options, but Capital One’s SavorOne line offers a student card that is not like the rest.
SavorOne Rewards for Students delivers an unrivaled 3% cash back on dining, streaming and entertainment — key categories for students — and 1% on everything else. This makes it a top choice for a student-centric card.
For the Hustle and Bustle of Young Adulthood: Citi Double Cash
Some cards deliver 5% and even 6% cash back — but you have to keep up with rotating bonus categories that change every quarter and remember which card you’re supposed to use when and where. For young adults whose lives, careers and finances tend to play out at a fast pace on uneven ground, the surer bet might be a simple, easy flat-rate card.
Citi Double Cash delivers 2% unlimited cash back on every purchase with no annual fee. No flat-rate card can beat it, but a new kid on the block — the Wells Fargo Active Cash card, brand new as of 2021 — now packs the exact same punch.
For When You Have a Family: American Express Blue Cash Preferred
If having a family forced you to get organized and budget more tightly, Amex Blue Cash Preferred delivers market-leading cash back where it counts — all without quarterly activation requirements or rotating categories. Your family gets a sky-high 6% back on groceries — up to $6,000 a year, then 1% after that — and another 6% back on streaming subscriptions.
Another family-centric perk is 3% cash back on transit, which includes gas, rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, public transportation and taxis. You get 1% cash back on everything else. There’s a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year.
For When That Family Needs a Vacation: Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred has been one of the most flexible, simple and popular travel cards since its debut in 2009, when it became known for delivering premium rewards for a sub-$100 annual fee. The fee is still $95, but the card offers a solid sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after $4,000 spent within the first 3 months.
Good for $1,000 in travel spending, it’s the biggest bonus in the card’s history, and many industry watchers have said it’s the biggest they’ve seen, period. You have to spend $4,000 in three months, which is not a particularly heavy lift. Beyond that, you get up to 5x points on select travel purchases and 3x points dining.
For When You Become an Entrepreneur: Chase Ink Business Unlimited
If you decide to strike out on your own and open a small business, the Chase Ink lineup offers different cards for different kinds of entrepreneurs. None are simpler and more direct than Ink Business Unlimited. It comes with a hefty $750 sign-up bonus after a $7,500 minimum spend in the first three months. You get 1.5% unlimited cash back on every single purchase and the card’s 0% introductory APR lasts for 12 months. As an added perk, your employees get cards for no additional fee.
For When You Hit a Rough Patch: Petal 1 Visa
Anyone can fall behind on payments, charge too many purchases in times of need, experience a job loss or emergency or otherwise stumble into financial trouble. If this sounds familiar, look back to where your credit journey first began — the Petal suite of cards. Unlike Petal 2, which is meant to build credit for the first time, Petal 1 is for people with damaged credit.
It has a lower limit and a higher APR than Petal 2, but there are still no annual or international fees — although late and returned payment fees might apply — and you still get generous cash back at select merchants.
What really sets this card apart, however, is that it considers banking history and other factors beyond just your credit history when determining your APR and your $500-$5,000 credit limit. Whatever limit you get, six on-time payments in six months land you a credit building increase to that line.
Disclaimer: This content is not provided by the companies mentioned. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the companies.