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9 Types of Credit Cards — Which Is Right for You?

6 min read
By Susan Shain Sep 12, 2019 | Updated Oct 08, 2020

Interested in getting a credit card, but overwhelmed by all the options?

It’s not your imagination. According to my very non-scientific research, there are approximately one zillion different types of credit cards available.

And the best type of credit card for you will depend on several factors: your previous experience with credit, your reasons for getting a credit card, and where and how you plan to use your new plastic.

Here are nine basic types of credit cards, plus how to choose the right one for you.

Insider tip

Before going further, it’s wise to check your credit reports and scores. That will help you quickly see which types of credit cards you’re eligible for. If you have poor or limited credit, for example, the best rewards cards will probably be out of reach until you build your credit with another type of card.

Credit Card Issuers and Networks

One of the first things you’ll encounter when getting a credit card is a jumble of words you’ve probably seen on store windows for years: Visa, Amex, Mastercard, Discover. And then there are banks, too: Chase, Capital One, Citi, etc. What’s the difference?

  • Credit card networks, like Visa and Mastercard, are the companies that process your payment every time you swipe.
  • Credit card issuers, like Chase and Citi, are the banks that loan you money when you make a purchase. They determine your card’s rates and features, and provide the online platform where you pay your bill.

Networks, in other words, are the middlemen between you and the issuing bank. That’s why you’ll see hundreds of types of Visa cards, all with different features and logos. The same goes for Mastercards. Amex and Discover, on the other hand, are unique in that they act as both a network and an issuer.

Insider tip

Credit card types also vary depending on who you are: a small business owner? A student? Or just a regular Jane seeking convenience? The majority of people will apply for “personal credit cards,” which are for everyday consumers. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, might be interested in business credit cards, and students in — surprise, surprise — student cards.

Cards for Poor or Limited Credit

Now that you’ve got the issuer vs. network thing down, let’s move on to types of cards. First up: cards for people who are new to the world of credit (or have made a few mistakes in the past).

Starter Cards

If you’ve never taken out credit before, these first-time cards are what you’re looking for. Aimed at new credit users, they have less stringent application requirements and low credit limits.

Each month, your card issuer will report your behavior to the credit bureaus, helping you build good credit as time goes by.

Our pick: Capital One Platinum Credit Card (Review), for its $0 annual fee, accessibility for credit newcomers, and backing by Capital One (a reputable major card issuer)

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR26.99% (Variable)

The information related to Capital One Platinum Credit Card has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Read more about starter credit cards here.

Student Cards

Like the previous category, student cards are meant for individuals who haven’t yet had experience with credit. (Some even come with bonuses for getting good grades!)

Just be sure to pay your bills on time, as youthful credit mistakes can haunt you for years to come.

Our pick: Journey Student Rewards from Capital One (Review), for its $0 annual fee and flat-rate cash rewards

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Our rating
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR26.99% (Variable)

The information related to Journey Student Rewards from Capital One has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Read more about student credit cards here.

Secured Cards

Unlike “unsecured” credit cards, which give you a mini loan each time you swipe, secured cards require you to pay a security deposit that usually serves as your credit line. Because of this additional precaution, they’re generally targeted at people with bad credit.

Since most secured cards will still report your behavior to the credit bureaus, they provide a smart pathway toward repairing your credit.

Our pick: Discover it® Secured (Review) for its $0 annual fee, cash back rewards, and easy upgrade to an unsecured card

Discover it® Secured

Our rating
Min. credit levelBad
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APRSee Terms

The information related to Discover it® Secured has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Read more about secured credit cards here.

Insider tip

Even though they require a deposit, secured cards are still credit cards. Alternatively, debit cards, which are issued by your bank, and prepaid cards, which you can buy from the store, are not — and thus will not help you build credit.

Cards for Carrying a Balance

We don’t recommend making a habit of carrying a balance on your credit cards. That’s because, if you pay your statement balance in full each month, you’ll typically never owe interest on purchases.

That said, if you plan to carry a credit card balance — whether you’re making a big purchase you’d like to pay off over several months, or whether you just need a little breathing room — these cards are a good choice.

Balance Transfer Cards

If you already have credit card debt, chances are your interest rates are sky high. To tackle the mounting pile of charges, you can consider transferring your balance to a new credit card.

If you couldn’t tell from the name, balance transfer cards are designed specifically for this purpose. They usually have a 0% interest rate for a limited period, which allows you to make payments toward your debt’s principal, rather than just the interest. Many, however, charge balance transfer fees — often 3% of whatever you transfer ($30 on a $1,000 balance, for example).

Our pick: Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card (Review), for its long 0% APR for 18 months. After that your rate will be 14.74% – 24.74% (Variable).

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.74% – 24.74% (Variable)
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 0% Intro APR for 18 months on purchases from date of account opening and 0% Intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer. After that the variable APR will be 14.74% – 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Get free access to your FICO® Score online.
  • With Citi Entertainment®, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
  • Shop with confidence knowing that you have dependable protection benefits, including $0 Liability on Unauthorized Purchases and Citi® Identity Theft Solutions.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 14.74% – 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

Read more about balance transfer credit cards here.

0% APR Cards

Though balance transfer cards often feature 0% introductory APRs, they are meant for moving a balance from one card to another. Straight 0% purchase APR cards are a better fit if you’re making a big purchase — say a new computer — that you’d like to pay off slowly without incurring interest.

As the 0% intro APR period often ends after 12–15 months, make sure you pay your balance in full before the higher interest rate goes into effect.

Our pick: U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, for its long 0% APR period (20 billing cycles) and $0 annual fee

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelFair
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.99%–24.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 0% introductory APR for 20 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers, then 14.99%–24.99% Variable
  • Savings at various retailers through Visa Discounts
  • Travel and shopping protections
  • Cell Phone Protection
  • Free VantageScore based on your TransUnion credit report
  • No annual fee

Read more about 0% APR credit cards here.

Cards for Earning Rewards

If you’ve got solid credit scores and are ready to get rewarded for the spending you’re already doing, then it’s time to get a rewards credit card.

Before applying, just make sure you’ll pay off what you spend each month. Since these cards have high APRs, interest payments would quickly negate any rewards you earn. If you need to float a balance on a credit card, jump to the previous section and apply for a 0% APR card instead.

Cash Back Cards

With these cards, issuers return a certain percentage of every purchase you make — spend $1,000 on a 1% cash back card, for example, and you’ll get $10 back.

You could then redeem that $10 for statement credits, travel, gift cards, or merchandise. Some cards earn additional cash back when you spend money in certain categories, like groceries or dining; others earn flat-rate cash rewards on all purchases (find more details on how cash back credit cards work here).

Our pick: Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer (Review), for its 2% flat cash back rewards on everything (1% when you shop, plus 1% when you pay your bill as long as you pay at least the minimum due on time) and $0 annual fee

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

Read more about cash back credit cards here.

Travel Rewards Cards

Travel rewards cards allow you to earn points and miles that you can redeem for free flights, hotel stays, car rentals, and more. Many cards also come with travel and car rental insurance that can protect you on the road.

There are two main types of travel rewards cards:

  • General travel cards, which earn points and miles that may be redeemed with a variety of partners
  • Co-branded cards, which are affiliated with one particular airline or hotel chain, and often come with perks like free bags or elite status

Our pick: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review), for its large introductory bonus, high earning ability, solid travel insurance benefits, and 12+ airline and hotel transfer partners

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$95
Regular APR15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards(R).
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.

Read more about travel rewards credit cards here.

Gas and Grocery Cards

These cards earn points or cash back at gas stations or grocery stores — and can either be general or co-branded. For people who aren’t big travelers, and who would rather earn rewards on everyday spending, gas and grocery cards are a good bet.

Our pick: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (Review), for earning 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000, then 1%), 3% at U.S. gas stations, and having a nice bonus: $300 statement credit for spending $3,000 in the first 6 months

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
(Rates & Fees)
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95
Regular APR13.99% - 23.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Limited Time Offer: Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months. Offer Expires 12/10/2020
  • Limited Time Offer: $0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95. Offer Expires 12/10/2020
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee and no interest.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • Terms Apply.

American Express is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

Read more about gas and grocery credit cards here.

Retail Cards

Ever had a retail associate ask you to apply for a store’s credit card as you were checking out? Then you’ve been offered a retail credit card. These cards run on the major networks, are issued by banks, and are co-branded with a particular chain.

Though they often offer decent rewards for loyal shoppers, they sometimes have poor customer service and high APRs — so proceed with caution.

Our pick: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card (Review), for earning 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods, and 2% at restaurants, gas stations, and drug stores

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.24% to 22.24% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Requires active Prime membership
  • Cash back can be redeemed for statement credits or at Amazon.com checkout
  • Earn 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market
  • Earn 2% back at gas stations, restaurants, and drugstores
  • Earn 1% back on all other purchases
  • Get a $70 Amazon.com Gift Card instantly upon credit card approval

Read more about retail credit cards here.

Which Type of Credit Card Is Right for You?

As you can see, there are many types of cards — and the “right one” depends completely on your habits and needs.

No matter which type of card interests you, here’s what you should always check before applying:

  • Credit required: Is the card for people with limited credit history? Poor credit? Excellent credit? There’s more to the application decision than just credit, but since each credit card application (slightly) dings your credit scores, you should only apply for cards you’re likely to qualify for. To make it easier, you can check to see if you have any prequalified credit card offers available.
  • Annual feeOnce you start exploring the world of credit cards, you’ll discover that many charge a yearly fee simply for having the card. Some make up for it with generous rewards and perks; others are less valuable. So make sure your chosen card is worth its annual fee.
  • APR: The “annual percentage rate” is the interest rate you’re charged on your credit card purchases. As noted above, however, you can avoid all interest charges on purchases by paying your statement balance in full each month.

Still stuck? Here’s a list of the best credit cards available.

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For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.

At a glance

Credit cards come in many forms. There are cards designed for different functions (student cards, cash back cards, balance transfer cards) and different credit levels (from no credit to excellent credit). Features can vary even further depending on the issuer and/or network.

Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.

The information related to Capital One Platinum Credit Card, Journey Student Rewards from Capital One, and Discover it® Secured have been collected by Credit Card Insider and have not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of these products.

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The responses below are not provided or commissioned by bank advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers' responsibility to ensure all posts are accurate and/or questions are answered.