Our Credit Cards Ratings Methodology


How we rate credit cards

We spent thousands of hours reviewing the attributes of over 350 different credit cards. We know that credit cards serve a range of different purposes, depending on the card type and cardholder’s needs. To that end, we considered how well each card delivers on its primary function compared to other cards in the same category.

We divided all credit cards into one of five primary categories: 

Each category has a unique set of factors with different weightings based on the most important features for people looking for this kind of credit card.

There are many cards that overlap two or more categories — in these cases, we rated the card based on its primary intent. For example, a travel card with a 0% APR offer was rated in the travel category, while a business card that earns travel rewards was grouped with other business credit cards.

We ranked every product on a one-to-five scale and gave it a star rating based on its performance on each ranking factor. We then used star ratings to rank the top-performing cards and determine the best credit cards in each category.

Methodology for best rewards credit cards

How we chose the products we ranked

Credit card rewards can allow you to access things you wouldn’t be willing or able to pay for out of pocket. We considered a wide range of factors since, as a whole, rewards cards are so varied in both their structure and who they target. Typically a rewards card will earn points, miles or some other “currency” named by the issuer. We chose cards that offered some form of rewards on every purchase and then took a deeper dive into the potential values and redemption options available on each card to determine our rankings.

Credit card ranking factors

  • Estimated annual earnings: 50%.
  • Flexibility of rewards earned on the card: 15%.
  • Annual fee: 10%.
  • Sign-up bonus: 10%.
  • Rewards value: 5%.
  • Intro 0% APR offer: 3%.
  • Potential credits: 1%.
  • Cellphone insurance: 1%.
  • Return protection: 1%.
  • Purchase protection: 1%.
  • Extended warranty: 1%.
  • Foreign transaction fees: 1%.
  • Membership/location requirements: 1%.

Estimated annual earnings (50%)

What good is a rewards card that hardly earns rewards? We rated the rewards-earning potential of a card above all other factors. Cards that earn elevated rewards in common everyday spending categories like entertainment or groceries were rated more favorably than cards with higher rewards in less common areas of spending. 

Flexibility of rewards earned on the card (15%)

Another key consideration was the flexibility of the rewards earned. Transferable rewards were rated more favorably than rewards that can only be used in one way. That’s because there’s more utility in, say, a Membership Rewards® point that can be transferred to multiple airline and hotel partners, than you might find with a Best Western point that’s worth the most when used for Best Western hotel redemptions.

Annual fee (10%)

Sometimes it’s worth paying an annual fee to access premium benefits, but it’s often easier to maximize rewards when you don’t have a fee to offset. So we ranked annual fee cards lower, although some still made our list as they still deliver significant value.

Welcome bonus (10%)

When you’re collecting rewards, earning a big stash from a welcome offer can be part of the appeal for a particular card, and in some cases be worth well above the first year’s annual fee. We considered the welcome bonuses as a factor when rating various rewards cards.

Rewards value (5%)

Not all points are created equal — a mile with one program might be worth significantly more or less than a mile with another program. Additionally the value of a mile can fluctuate depending on how it’s used. We used a proprietary data collection system to determine the average values across various rewards programs to develop our points valuations.

Intro 0% APR offer (3%)

Although the main reason to choose a particular rewards card should be to earn the points or miles in your desired program, an intro APR offer is always a plus. There’s no downside to having extra time to pay off your spending without accruing interest. Rewards cards that offer a low intro APR on purchases were noted in our rankings.

Statement credits (1%)

Some rewards cards, particularly premium ones with high annual fees, offer various statement credits towards specific purchase types. They can be as general as a travel statement credit or as specific as a credit for a particular range of products from a brand. We weighed the potential value of statement credits as part of our card rankings.

Cellphone insurance (1%)

Cellphone insurance is an increasingly popular perk on credit cards and if you use the insurance that comes as a credit card perk rather than paying supplemental insurance to your mobile service provider, it can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.

Return protection (1%)

Return protection is a perk that’s nice to have. You should never pick a card solely for this feature but if you run into a scenario where you’re having difficulty returning an item through the vendor you bought it from, you’ll be glad to have this benefit. We included this niche perk in our rankings for that reason.

Purchase protection (1%)

If a card offers purchase protection, that’s a worthwhile benefit as it can provide peace of mind when making a big buy. Although purchase protection shouldn’t be top-of-mind when choosing a rewards card, it’s a worthwhile benefit to have should something go wrong with an item you bought.

Extended warranty (1%)

A card that offers extended warranty coverage means that you’ll be covered against eligible damage for an extra year or more depending on the specific card’s policy. Extra coverage at no additional cost is always good, and we considered this attribute in our rankings.

Foreign transaction fees (1%)

Whether they’re referred to as foreign transaction fees, foreign exchange fees or foreign currency conversion fees, it all means the same thing — the issuer will charge you a fee each time the card is used to make an international transaction. Rewards cards that charge these fees were rated lower than those that don’t.

Membership/location requirements (1%)

Some rewards credit cards require you to live in a specific geographic area or have credit union membership criteria to apply. We viewed cards like these that had an extra hoop to jump through to apply less favorably than those that did not have these potential barriers.

It’s better to receive than give when it comes to credit cards. Get more for your money with our list of the best rewards credit cards

Methodology for best travel credit cards

How we chose the products we ranked

Those who long to see the world can find their stretch goals a little bit closer with travel rewards. We identified a card to be a travel credit card if it earns rewards specifically designed to be redeemed for free nights, free flights or some other form of travel. The best travel credit cards also offer attributes that can enhance the cardholder’s travel experience, whether it’s through elite hotel status, application fee reimbursement credits for a trusted traveler program or a free checked bag perk with an airline.

Credit card ranking factors

  • Estimated annual earnings: 33%.
  • Flexibility of rewards earned on the card: 10%.
  • Booking flexibility with the card: 10%.
  • Hotel earnings: 8%.
  • Airline earnings: 8%.
  • Annual fee: 5%.
  • Free checked bag perk: 3%.
  • Lounge access: 3%.
  • Annual credits: 2%.
  • Potential credits: 2%.
  • Global Entry application fee reimbursement: 2%.
  • TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement: 2%.
  • CLEAR® Plus application fee reimbursement: 2%.
  • Trip delay coverage: 2%.
  • Trip cancellation coverage: 2%.
  • Baggage delay coverage: 2%.
  • Hotel elite status: 2%.
  • Number of travel companions eligible for primary cardholder’s checked bag perk: 1%.
  • Flight companion certificate with card ownership: 1%.

Estimated annual earnings (33%)

Some of the most perk-laden travel cards also have the highest annual fees. We took pains to balance the benefits of an expensive card with any valuable benefits that could offset that price, along with comparing them to cards with low to no annual fees. In other words, a high annual fee didn’t necessarily discount a card from being a strong contender if it came with the benefits to back up the price. 

Flexibility of rewards earned on the card (10%)

We considered cards with multiple options to redeem travel rewards more favorably than cards locked into one redemption option. 

Booking flexibility with the card (10%)

Rewards are only good if you can use them in a way that you want. The ease and practicality of how you can use your rewards was a weighted factor. We gave higher ranking to cards that offered multiple ways to use your rewards, rather than limiting your usage. For example, a card that offered rewards that could be taken as cash back fared better than a card that only allowed you to redeem your rewards with a certain store. And, cards that earned travel rewards that could be used with more than one brand of hotel or airline also were rated more favorably than ones that had more restrictive redemption options.

Hotel earnings (8%)

We considered how much a card could earn in hotel rewards as well as what the estimated value of those hotel rewards might be.

Airline earnings (8%)

We considered what a card might earn in airline miles as well as what the estimated average value of those airline miles might be.

Annual fees (5%)

While not everyone wants or needs a premium travel card with a sky-high annual fee, most people looking for a travel card will get the best value (and perks) by paying an annual fee. So while we still ranked more favorably high annual fees vs. those with lower fees, most of our picks deliver outsize value in other important areas that can more than offset their cost.

Free checked bag perk (3%)

Travel rewards cards that offer a free checked bag perk or a credit for airline incidental fees were given a higher rating than cards without this benefit.

Lounge access (3%)

Airport lounge access is a meaningful extra for many frequent travelers. Some cards offer access to multiple lounge networks, while others offer limited access or a handful of day passes. We considered the lounge access a card had to offer relative to other cards at similar price points. The better the access, the better the rating.

Annual credits (2%)

Some travel cards offer annual bonuses just for renewing your card membership. These can be in the form of points, hotel credits, general travel credits or other extras that can help offset a card’s annual fee. Cards offering annual credits also scored better in our rankings. 

Potential credits (2%)

Some cards offer statement credits for certain types of purchase. These can be tricky to value as not every type of credit is useful to every cardholder. We gave a more favorable rating to cards with more general purpose credits — like a travel credit — over potential credits with a specific brand or program that may not be as widely applicable.

Global Entry application fee reimbursement (2%)

Anyone who flies regularly can appreciate the convenience of a Global Entry membership. Ownership can help expedite the airport screening process and with Global Entry comes TSA PreCheck membership too. Cards that offer an application fee reimbursement for this trusted traveler program were generally viewed more favorably than those who did not.

TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement (2%)

Many airports in the United States offer an expedited TSA PreCheck security screening line. For those who only travel domestically, it might make more sense for them to seek this type of trusted traveler access. Most cards that offer an application fee reimbursement for TSA PreCheck offer a choice between this and Global Entry membership. Getting reimbursed for the application fee for paying with your credit card is a perk that we viewed favorably.

CLEAR Plus application fee reimbursement (2%)

Although CLEAR Plus is only in a handful of domestic airports, it can often be an even faster security screening line than TSA PreCheck. It may depend on your airport and/or the time of day you’re flying but if your credit card reimburses you for the cost of applying, it’s a nice benefit to have and we considered that benefit in our ratings.

Trip delay coverage (2%)

Trip delay coverage provides some financial recompense when your trip is delayed for a certain number of hours. This can be extremely helpful if you’re stuck at an airport, train station or elsewhere for hours and need to purchase food or other essentials. Cards that offer this benefit can provide peace of mind to travelers in an otherwise frustrating situation. We gave extra weighting to cards that offer this coverage. 

Trip cancellation coverage (2%)

A canceled trip inevitably comes with major disappointment. But there can be a big financial component at stake too. A credit card that offers trip cancellation coverage can help ease the strain that comes with changing travel plans last minute and we gave extra weighting to cards that offer this coverage.

Baggage delay coverage (2%)

Anyone who has ever traveled a distance only to find out their bag hasn’t made the same journey can appreciate baggage delay coverage. The cards that offer it allow you to file a claim for financial reimbursement up to the issuer’s limit so you can buy the essentials you need while you wait to be reunited with your bag. This benefit factored into our rankings.

Hotel elite status (2%)

Hotel elite status isn’t just about getting a higher floor or a bigger room. It’s often an outright money saver, offering better Wi-Fi access, free breakfast or food and beverage credits. Those who stay often in hotels may place a premium on having upgraded room potential too. A travel card that offers elite hotel status was rated more positively than a travel card without this perk.

Number of travel companions eligible for primary cardholder’s checked bag perk (1%)

A free checked bag perk is a boon for anyone who flies with luggage and some cards extend that benefit to as many as eight additional travel companions. The more people it covered for fee-free bags, the better the card was rated in this category.

Flight companion certificate with card ownership (1%)

Typically a travel credit card will only offer a flight companion certificate if the card itself costs a few hundred dollars or you meet a high annual minimum spending threshold. However, this can be a highly valuable perk if used strategically, and can even be worth more than the cost of owning a particular card. This benefit received favorable weighting in our analysis.

Get out of town faster with travel rewards. See more things with our picks for the best travel credit cards

Methodology for best business credit cards

How we chose the products we ranked

We evaluated all the small business credit cards on the market to determine which are the most beneficial to business owners. We gave extra weighting to cards that offered meaningful benefits to small business owners such as earning rewards back on spending, since that can help reduce the costs associated with running a business, or an introductory APR offer that gives business owners extra time to pay off a big purchase.

Credit card ranking factors

  • Annual earnings: 50%.
  • Rewards flexibility: 10%.
  • Rewards rates: 10%.
  • Welcome bonus: 10%.
  • Intro APR offers: 6%.
  • Annual fee: 5%.
  • Purchase protections and insurances: 5%.
  • Credits for services business owners might find helpful: 2%.
  • Anniversary bonuses: 1%.
  • Foreign transaction fees: 1%.

Annual earnings (50%)

Rewards value was the single most important factor for business credit cards because getting a return on your spending can help offset the cost of running your business. Cards that offer lucrative rewards on common business spending categories can benefit your bottom line. 

Rewards flexibility (10%)

Cards that earn flexible rewards, meaning they can be redeemed in more than one way, were given a higher rating than those that could only be used for one thing, like a statement credit or future purchases within a brand. An example of a flexible rewards currency is Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which can be redeemed as cash back, gift cards or merchandise, used to book travel or transferred to travel transfer partners. 

Rewards rates (10%)

We considered the earning rates on small business cards that earn rewards, giving higher weighting to cards with higher rewards potential. For example, a card that earns 5 points per dollar on some types of expenses and 1 point on all other spending was ranked more favorably than a card that earns just a flat 1 point on every dollar spent.

Welcome bonus (10%)

Having a lucrative welcome offer isn’t the biggest factor we considered for business credit cards since it’s a one-time bonus and doesn’t guarantee ongoing value. But it’s a great way to kickstart your rewards balance, so cards with better offers earned a higher spot on our list. 

Intro APR offers (6%)

An intro APR offer can be a boon for a business as the extra time to pay down purchases without accruing interest can free up capital for other expenses. Although there are multiple business credit cards that come with introductory APR offers on purchases, few come with balance transfer offers.

Annual fee (5%)

Paying a fee to hold a business card means a greater strain on your bottom line, so cards with an annual fee were rated lower. That said, many great business cards offer more than enough value to offset the cost of carrying the card, so many of our top picks are still annual-fee cards.

Purchase protections and insurances (5%)

Automatic purchase protection or extended warranty when you pay with a card means additional peace of mind for no additional cost. We gave an edge to cards that offer extra coverage on purchases as well as those with cellphone protection and primary rental car coverage.

Credits for services business owners might find helpful (2%)

From credits on new computers or software to reimbursements for trusted traveler programs like CLEAR or PreCheck, business-related statement credits are a benefit that can be well worth the extra work to enroll and utilize. We considered how much value cardholders can reap from complimentary credits and cards with ample credits climbed higher on our list.

Anniversary bonuses (1%)

An anniversary bonus based on account renewal or having spent a certain amount in the preceding year is a cherry on top of a great business credit card, so cards that rewarded loyalty with a little something extra also got a sweet boost in our rankings.

Foreign transaction fees (1%)

For business owners that travel internationally or work with vendors overseas, foreign transaction fees are a no-go for business spending as that small percentage will add up over time. While not a dealbreaker for all business cards as many small business owners may conduct their business solely stateside, we did rank cards with foreign transaction fees lower on our list.

Running a business is hard, but picking the right card for it shouldn’t be. We made it easier for you withour list of the best business credit cards

Methodology for best 0% intro APR credit cards

How we chose the products we ranked

We based our rankings on what is generally most important to people seeking a card with a 0% intro APR offer: The ability to knock out debt in the most cost-efficient manner. We gave some additional weighting to cards that earn rewards as these offer ongoing value long after the intro period ends.

Credit card ranking factors

  • Length of the promotional APR period on purchases and/or balance transfers: 75%.
  • Annual fee: 10%.
  • Rewards: 10%.
  • Introductory balance transfer fees: 5%.

Length of the promotional APR (75%)

The most important factor in our ratings was the length of the promotional period. Cards with longer APR periods scored higher in our methodology.

Annual fee (10%)

Cards with annual fees were rated lower as there are plenty of cards on the market offering 0% APRs on balance transfers without any additional ownership costs.

Rewards (10%)

We gave weight to intro APR cards that also earned rewards. Although it’s not a major factor in determining the best cards to help pay off debt, a card that also earns rewards can be helpful after the intro APR period ends. Otherwise, you’ll likely find that your 0% intro APR card no longer holds much appeal.

Introductory balance transfer fees (5%)

Balance transfer fees are part and parcel of just about every balance transfer card offer, with cards typically charging 3% to 5% of the amount you’re transferring. Cards with lower fees scored higher as the lower the fees, the less you’re adding on to your debt.

We dove deep into the research so you don’t have to. Here’s our list of the best 0% intro APR credit cards

Methodology for credit-builder credit cards

How we choose the products we ranked

Credit-builder cards come in a variety of forms. Some cards are aimed at those just starting out, like students or those with no credit history. Other cards help build credit back up after credit missteps. We ranked more favorably the cards that were low on fees and reported to all three credit bureaus, two attributes that can make it easier to establish good payment behavior and build up a strong credit report. 

Since secured cards can’t easily be compared to unsecured cards, we separated both types of credit-builder cards to rank them separately.

Secured credit-builder credit card ranking factors

  • Minimum required security deposit: 40%.
  • Credit check requirement: 10%.
  • Rewards earning and the potential value: 15%.
  • Ability to graduate to an unsecured version: 10%.
  • Ability to receive a higher credit limit over time: 10%.
  • Reports to all three major credit bureaus: 15%.

Minimum required security deposit (40%)

Secured cards require that you front some money in order to open an account. However, some cards require higher amounts than others. We rated cards with a lower opening deposit requirement more favorably than those with higher deposit requirements as the less money you have to keep locked up, the better.

Credit check requirement (10%)

When your credit isn’t great, you need all the help you can get. When a credit card issuer performs a credit check, it can negatively impact your score, making it even harder to see improvement. We gave a better rating to secured cards without a credit check requirement.

Rewards earning and the potential value (15%)

It’s always beneficial to save on your spending. For this reason, secured cards that earn rewards were ranked more favorably than secured cards that didn’t.

Ability to graduate to an unsecured version (10%)

A secured card that lets you eventually convert the account into an unsecured account is the best kind of secured card as it allows you to keep the card even after your credit improves, rather than having to close the account and apply for a new card. Cards that allowed you to graduate received better ratings than those that did not.

Ability to receive a higher credit limit over time (10%)

Your credit utilization ratio, which is how much of your credit you’re using up relative to the amount of credit you have available, is a major factor in your credit score. When you have a low credit limit it can be hard to have low credit utilization. Cards that offer a chance to increase your limit over time received better ratings than those with a static credit limit.

Reports to all three major credit bureaus: 15%

If you’re working to improve your credit, you’ll need a card that reports your on-time payments to the three major credit bureaus. Cards that only reported to one or two bureaus didn’t receive as good of a rating as those that reported to all three.

A secured credit card is one of the best ways to rebuild your credit. Here’s our list of the best secured cards

Unsecured credit-builder credit card ranking factors

  • Annual fee: 40%.
  • Credit check requirement: 15%.
  • Rewards earning and the potential value: 20%.
  • Ability to receive a higher credit limit over time: 10%.
  • Reports to all three major credit bureaus: 15%.

Annual fee (40%)

When you’re trying to rebuild or build credit, you don’t need to pay an exorbitant price to do so. Credit cards that had little or no annual fees ranked better in our analysis than those charged expensive annual fees, account opening fees or other fees just as part of owning the card.

Credit check requirement (15%)

When a credit card issuer performs a credit check, it can cause your score to drop several points, making it even harder to see improvement. We gave a better rating to unsecured cards without a credit check requirement.

Rewards earning and the potential value (20%)

There’s no downside to earning money back on your spending. Cards that earn rewards were ranked more favorably than those that didn’t.

Ability to receive a higher credit limit over time (10%)

The amount of credit you’re using relative to the amount of credit you have available, known as credit utilization, is a major factor in your credit score. When you have a low credit limit it can be hard to avoid bumping up against that limit. Cards that offer a chance to increase your limit over time received better ratings than those with a static credit limit.

Reports to all three major credit bureaus: 15%

If you’re working to improve your credit, you’ll need a card that reports your on-time payments to the three major credit bureaus. Cards that only reported to one or two of the bureaus didn’t receive as high of a rating as those that reported to all three.

When you don’t have great credit, you may think your credit card options aren’t great. You’re wrong. Here’s our list of the best credit cards for rebuilding your credit

How we collect data

Our editorial team, in conjunction with our data team, collects and sorts the data on an ongoing basis. We confirm our credit card data using a multi-step fact-checking process. First, the data is sourced from our data team. Our editors then perform a first round of verification by cross-referencing the data with the issuer’s information. After a rigorous review, we then send the information on to our legal compliance team where they then conduct their own review to confirm all information is correct. After that, we conduct an additional round of editorial review to ensure accuracy.

We keep tabs on card data on an ongoing basis and do a full review of all data at least every six months. We make updates and additions to our database when a new card comes to market or when a card changes its attributes.

USA TODAY Blueprint’s editorial standards

USA TODAY Blueprint strives to be the leading provider of advice, reviews, news and tools for readers. We review and rank credit cards using a data-driven methodology that accounts for a wide variety of factors tailored to the products being rated. Our writers, editors and ratings are not influenced by outside partners, advertisers or business relationships.



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