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Best Credit Cards of 2013

By Joe Taylor Jr.

Credit card issuers have emerged from a quiet restructuring period with some of the most competitive deals we've seen in years. Balance transfers are back, along with generous cash rewards and bonus offers. However, credit cards that earns the best ranking in its category isn't always a guaranteed fit with your household budget. Use the advice on this page to narrow down your choices.

Choosing the best credit card features for your lifestyle

Even the best credit card rewards programs in the world won't save you money if you're not able to maximize your benefits. When comparing credit cards, level they playing field by thinking about both costs and rewards:

  • Annual fees and finance charges. Will the costs of maintaining an account or carrying a balance cancel out the value of a card's rewards?
  • Alignment with your lifestyle. Do you spend enough money on gas and groceries to trigger bonus rewards? Will you remember to opt in to special promotions that multiply cash rebates?
  • Consolidated benefits. Can a credit card replace services, like roadside assistance and rental car insurance, that you pay another vendor to provide? Do you get a better rate on your home loan or checking account by bundling your credit card?

Choosing your favorite credit card offer becomes even easier when you focus on the types of rewards you want the most. Zero interest credit cards, travel cards, gas cards and cash back rebates all tend to rank highly on our list of the best credit card deals.

Zero interest credit cards

Since the passage of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, banks have relied even more on zero percent credit card deals to lure new customers. Under the revised rules, the end of a promotional period is really the only time a bank can change your interest rate without a 45 day notification period. The "go-to rate" at the end of the period will apply to any balance you carry from that date forward. Therefore, make sure you're comfortable with those terms, in case you're unable to qualify for a better deal later.

Credit cards with miles promotions

Free airline credit cards have mirrored the hot competition among travel companies. Discount airlines have launched their own affinity credit cards, attracting bargain-seekers who want access to the lowest fares. Legacy carriers countered those attacks with some of the most lavish signup offers in recent history, such as gifting enough miles to cover two round trip tickets.

Gas rebate credit cards

According to industry research, American credit card users spend almost one out of every ten dollars on gasoline. Therefore, lenders love using gas cards with rewards to encourage regular "pay at the pump" transactions. While some gas cards require loyalty to a single retailer, many banks now offer bonus rewards on all your gasoline purchases.

Credit cards with no foreign transaction fee

If you travel overseas at least once each year, hunt for a little-known perk that can save you as much as 3 percent more on every dollar you spend while abroad. Most banks charge foreign transaction fees, presumably to cover the cost of converting euros, pounds, or yen into U.S. dollars. However, a handful of credit card issuers, such as Capital One, have dropped these service charges on some or all of their cards, making their accounts immediately more valuable.

Balancing great credit card offers with a solid credit score

Selecting the right credit card gets tougher when you consider how opening new accounts and completing applications impacts your credit score. Banks save their very best offers for consumers with high credit scores. However, a flurry of instant approval offers can sink your FICO score by dozens of points. Likewise, closing an unused account can drop your credit score almost as much as opening a new account. That's why it's important to compare the offers on this page before making a commitment to a banking relationship you'll have for at least the next few years.

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