Kevin runs the personal finance website Just Start Investing, where he focuses on making investing easy. Just Start Investing has been featured on Business Insider, Forbes, and US News & World Report, among other major publications for his easy-to-follow writing. Check out Just Start Investing to learn the simple strategies to start investing today, as well as ways to optimize your credit cards, banking and budget.
How about we start this article by seeing how many times I can say the same thing?
Not all credit cards are created equal!
No one credit card is right for everyone!
There is a perfect credit card for you!
Repetitiveness aside, I stand behind each point above. Too many people apply for a credit card and then blindly stick with the same card (for years!) for seemingly no reason. In fact, most people are actually leaving money on the table by using the wrong credit card!
Not to worry though, because in this article we’re laying out the three things you need to consider in order to find the perfect credit card for you. This perfect credit card is the card that maximizes your rewards based your unique situation and spending habits.
There is no better time than now to ensure you are maximizing your credit card rewards!
The first step in choosing a credit card is to decide between one with an annual fee and one with no annual fee.
The answer to this question is usually quite simple, but it requires some high level math. In general, low spenders (or someone who does not travel) should use a no annual fee credit card while high spenders (or frequent travelers) can benefit from annual fee credit cards.
You can view a brief example below of the math that is needed to answer this question.
Annual Fee Card: 3% Cash Back; $100 Annual Fee
No Annual Fee Card: 1.5% Cash Back; $0 Annual Fee
Let’s say you spend $500 a month or $6,000 a year:
Annual Fee Card: $180 (cash back) - $100 (annual fee) = $80
No Annual Fee Card: $90 (cash back) - $0 (annual Fee) = $90
Let’s say you spend $1,000 a month or $12,000 a year:
Annual Fee Card: $360 (cash back) - $100 (annual fee) = $260
No Annual Fee Card: $180 (cash back) - $0 (annual Fee) = $180
Above is a very basic example, but it shows how you need to be a “high spender” in order to offset the annual fee associated with credit cards.
In the first example, the $180 earned with the annual fee card was offset by the $100 annual fee. You would have been better off earning 1.5% cash back (or $90) with the no annual fee card.
However, in the second example, you earn enough with the annual fee card ($360) to more than triple the annual fee. In this example, the clear winner is the annual fee credit card.
After deciding between an annual fee or no annual fee credit card, you need to decide on what rewards category you want.
Some cards simply offer cash back, while others offer travel points, hotel points, airline points, and many other types of rewards or points. Obviously, you’ll want to ensure that the rewards category you choose are something that you will use.
If you don’t like to travel, don’t sign up for travel rewards cards!
On the other hand, if you are a frequent flier, then prioritizing an airline card will likely make sense for you.
Here is a list of common rewards categories for reference:
General Travel Points
Once you know what type of credit card you want based on your spending levels (annual fee vs no annual fee) and rewards category, it’s time to find the perfect card for you.
The best way to do that is to take a numbers-based approach.
Luckily, Just Start Investing has created a credit card tool that will take this numbers-based approach for you. This custom tool will automatically choose the best credit card for you based on your spending habits.
Using this tool is extremely easy. At a high level, you simply input your typical monthly spending by major category. Then, the tool will recommend the best credit card for you based on this spending.
In fact, it will even help answer the question from point number one: if you should use an annual fee or no annual fee credit card.
This is what the credit card tool looks like, with an example of someone who spends $1,000 a month:
Once you have the best credit card for you, it’s time to start reaping the rewards of your new card! There is no shortage of credit card benefits, including:
Cash back and point rewards
Builds credit history
Offers consumer protection
Makes it easier to budget
And so on…
With that said, it’s important to use a credit card responsibly. I’ll be the first to tell you that credit cards are a great financial service for consumers, but if they are abused, they can quickly become a burden.
The two things to always do when using a credit card are:
Make your monthly payments on time and in full every single month
Don’t make purchases that don’t fit in your budget
If you use a credit card responsibly and abide by the two rules above, then you can capitalize on the countless benefits that credit cards have to offer and maximize your rewards!