Cards I’ve Recommended To Friends

You know those topics that can prompt your friend to talk your ear off at a mere mention? For me, it’s my favorite books, feminism, Baldur’s Gate 3 — and credit cards.

I’ve been writing about credit cards since 2019. I’ve written about more than 100 credit cards over the last five years, and used 10 different cards myself.  Apparently, writing about cards for eight hours a day isn’t enough because I give out free consultations whenever someone in my proximity brings up the subject. I’m afraid I can’t help it. Credit cards have been a key part of my financial life, from helping me build credit to allowing me to book travel I wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. It brings me joy to help others achieve the same results.

Several of my friends have asked me for credit card advice in the past few months, and I’ve been thrilled to help. These women all come from different backgrounds and had different goals for the cards they wanted. Here are the card recommendations I offered them, and which could be helpful for others in similar circumstances.

A simple credit card for a credit newbie

My friend Cat, 21, is an army logistics officer in Tacoma, Washington. She has no credit history as she never got around to getting a credit card in college. Cat found the number of options to be overwhelming and didn’t understand how the process worked. With credit being such a vital part of a person’s financial health, she soon saw the consequences of neglecting it. When she applied for an apartment, what could be a $500 deposit became $2,000 because she had no credit history.

Now that she was considering moving from her current apartment, Cat decided she was ready for her first credit card. Naturally, I had a few suggestions ready.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Lack of credit history can be a barrier to a successful credit card application. A card issuer can’t peek at your credit habits and determine how much of a borrowing risk you are.

With a secured card, you can minimize that risk for the issuer. This type of card requires a refundable deposit which then becomes your credit line. Essentially, you’re borrowing against the money you give the bank. For that reason, it’s easier to qualify for a secured card even if your credit leaves a lot to be desired—or if you have no credit score. In every other way, a secured card works just like any other credit card, including the impact on your credit. Plus, you can get the deposit back when you upgrade to an unsecured card or close the account.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is always a go-to recommendation in this category. It charges no annual fee or any hidden fees (unlike some of its competitors) and earns cash back rewards. Namely, you get 2 percent back on up to $1,000 in combined gas station and restaurant spending each quarter (then 1 percent) and 1 percent back on other purchases. Like other Discover cards, it has a generous welcome offer: the issuer matches all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year.

After seven months with the card, Discover begins to automatically review your account every month to see if you qualify to upgrade to an unsecured card. If you do, the issuer will refund your deposit.

Finally, Discover offers free access to your FICO credit score from TransUnion, one of the credit bureaus. This can be handy for someone building credit but not looking to sign up for a credit monitoring service.

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

I started my own credit-rebuilding journey with Capital One, an issuer that still dominates my wallet with three Capital One cards to my name. Needless to say, I feel confident recommending the bank’s products.

A deposit isn’t something people get excited about, so I wanted to give Cat an option that doesn’t require one. I suggested the Capital One Platinum Credit Card, a no-frills card with no annual fees. Sure, it doesn’t offer any rewards, and the perks are minimal. But for someone so new to credit, this simplicity might be just the thing.

I also like that the Capital One Platinum provides automatic credit line reviews after six months with the card. A higher credit line makes it easier to keep your credit utilization ratio low, which is great news for your credit. Credit utilization is how much of your average credit you’re using, expressed as a percentage.

Additionally, Capital One lets you track your VantageScore from TransUnion with CreditWise. The service is available to everyone, not just Capital One cardholders. However, I believe it’s more likely that a person will regularly check their credit if it’s accessible right in their credit card app.

Ultimately, Cat decided the Capital One Platinum was the right choice — exactly because it was very “bare-bones” and highly accessible. Let her journey to good credit be swift and easy!

A starter travel card for a casual traveler

Katrina is a 22-year-old immigrant. She’s been building her credit for one and a half years now and already has a good credit score (a FICO score of 670 to 739). Katrina works at a coffee shop in the Detroit area and travels two to three times a year, often within Michigan. While she and her husband typically drive, they do hop on an occasional flight from time to time. On their trips, they stay in hotels.

Katrina reached out to me contemplating her first travel credit card. She asked me about cards that would allow her to redeem rewards for hotels and flights and possibly offer hotel benefits or discounted rates.

While hotel credit cards are the best for free nights and upgrades, many of them are co-branded, meaning they tie you to a single hotel loyalty program. I wanted to suggest something that’d give Katrina the flexibility to choose properties based on her budget and other factors rather than the brand name.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent travel credit card for beginners and frequent travelers alike. With its rewards system, you can earn points quickly. You’ll get 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services), 3X points on online grocery purchases (except for those at Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs) and 3X points on select streaming services. Plus, the card earns 5x total points on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2025), 5X points on travel purchases you make through the Chase Travel online portal and 2X points on all other travel purchases. All other purchases earn 1X points.

The issuer’s definition of “travel” is rather broad — which presents more opportunities to earn rewards. It includes over a dozen types of merchants, from airlines, hotels and car rental agencies to campgrounds, certain public transport and even parking lots and garages.

But what I like most of all is how easy it is to get value out of these rewards. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can redeem your points at 1.25 cents apiece through Chase Travel. This is an outstanding value no other issuer portal offers, and it applies to air travel, hotels, car rentals and cruises. That means Katrina could earn and redeem rewards on hotels, as well as on airfare when she flies. She could also stretch that value by moving her points to certain transfer partners. However, the latter isn’t something I’d expect a new travel cardholder to get into immediately.

Additionally, the card offers $50 in annual statement credits for hotel stays booked through Chase Travel. Since Katrina mentioned she and her husband stayed at hotels at least a couple times a year, this perk would be easy for them to take advantage of.

That said, the Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, which can be a deterrent for an aspiring travel cardholder. Indeed, in Katrina’s words, I “had” her until I mentioned the cost. She preferred to avoid annual fees, and I didn’t want to insist that the card all but paid for itself. The aversion to annual fees can be strong, and while those are prevalent in the travel credit card space, I knew exactly what to recommend next.

Discover it® Miles

I still wanted to suggest something flexible and with enough rewards-earning potential. The Discover it Miles fit the bill.

The card has no annual fee and earns an unlimited 1.5X miles on all purchases. Like all other Discover cards, it also matches all the rewards you earn in the first year with the card. For instance, if you spend $10,000, you’ll earn 15,000 miles, and the issuer will give you another 15,000 miles after your first account anniversary.

I’m a big fan of the Discover it Miles. I call it a cash back card with a travel twist because the mile value remains at 1 cent apiece across all redemption options. The issuer has no travel portal or transfer partners. Instead, you can use your rewards to reimburse yourself for recent travel purchases — or redeem them for cash back without sacrificing the mile value. Alternatively, you can spend them on purchases you make on or using PayPal.

Not having to worry about annual fees or inconsistent rewards value can make it easier to get into travel credit cards. It seemed to pique Katrina’s interest as well, and she decided to apply for the Discover it Miles.

A premium credit card for comfortable travel

Jennifer, 42, is a communications professional in Seattle. Her credit is in great shape and lives in the “very good” territory (a FICO range of 740 to 799). When she reached out to me, she was looking for a credit card that would allow her to travel internationally in comfort. Another friend had offered to refer her to The Platinum Card® from American Express, but Jennifer wanted to do more research.

Indeed, the Amex Platinum is known for premium travel perks. It offers extensive airport lounge benefits that provide access to more than 1,400 lounges worldwide across multiple networks. These include Centurion and Escape lounges, Priority Pass (enrollment required), Delta Sky Club, Lufthansa and Plaza Premium lounges.

On top of that, cardmembers receive a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or up to $85 for TSA PreCheck after applying. These programs allow for expedited airport security. Global Entry lets you pass U.S. customs screening quicker when entering the U.S. TSA PreCheck is designed to shorten a security screening experience when you travel domestically. Note that Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck by default.

Jennifer was aware of the high annual fee ($695) and the fact she could leverage multiple annual statement credits to offset it. However, I encourage caution when relying on credits to ensure the card is worthwhile. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in using them to make the card pay for itself — and end up regularly making purchases that weren’t a part of your normal budget before. The right card for you compliments your spending habits without altering them.

So, I thought I’d suggest another option for Jennifer to consider.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

As it turned out, Jennifer already had the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. It was her oldest card which she’d been putting all her expenses on for 11 years.

The Venture offers 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases. For a $95 annual fee, the card provides up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and a $50 experience credit on Lifestyle Collection hotel stays.

Naturally, I had to suggest Jennifer look into the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. It’s an obvious upgrade from the Venture — and, coincidentally, my favorite credit card at the moment. It offers 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases. You also get the same Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits you would with the Venture.

As for lounge perks, the Venture X provides access to more than 1,300 lounges internationally. That includes Priority Pass and Plaza Premium Group lounges, as well all three Capital One lounges.

The lounge access coverage isn’t as extensive as what you’d get with the Amex Platinum. However, the annual fee is also only $395 — a whopping $300 less than on the Amex Platinum. Moreover, it’s much easier to offset. The Venture X cardholders receive a $300 annual travel credit for Capital One Travel bookings and 10,000 bonus miles each card anniversary (worth $100 toward travel). With how expensive flying is these days, I tend to take advantage of both credits while paying for a single trip.

Even better, Jennifer wouldn’t have to change her spending habits to get the most out of the Venture X. She’d also be using the same travel portal and list of transfer partners as before.

All that was enough to persuade her. Apologies to her friend who didn’t get to earn their Amex referral bonus.

How to pick the best credit card for you

As you can see, my friends come from different walks of life. They have different goals and priorities when it comes to credit cards. I don’t have a universal card recommendation that I could offer everyone because people’s credit needs and circumstances are as unique as the people themselves.

Generally, you want to ask yourself the following questions as you’re choosing a new card:

  • What’s my credit score? Credit card issuers have score requirements for each of their products. It’s a good idea to check your credit before you start card shopping. This way, you know what you’re likely to qualify for.
  • What do I want from a card? You probably have a goal in mind for your new card — and that should help you narrow your options. For instance, if you want to earn free travel, you need a generous travel credit card. If you’re planning a large purchase, a card with a long 0% APR period is a solid choice. It helps to be intentional in your credit card search.
  • How do I spend my money? Another thing to consider is your spending habits. This can impact your best card options in a few ways. For example, if you think you’ll carry a balance, you might need a low-interest credit card. On the other hand, if you’re choosing a cash back card, its bonus rewards structure should match the top spending categories in your budget.
  • What are the benefits — and fees? Once you have several cards to pick from, it’s time to compare. Consider the rewards and perks but pay attention to the fees as well. These can include annual fees, balance transfer fees and foreign transaction fees, to name a few. Be especially careful with cards for bad credit — some lesser-known issuers like to sneak in high fees that add up quickly.

When you’re looking for a credit card, don’t rush. Dedicate plenty of time to research to make sure your new card checks all the boxes before you apply. Unless you have a credit card expert for a friend. In that case, also ask the friend. I assure you, they’ll be happy to help.

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