Editor's Choice Awards 2013: The Year's Best Credit Cards

Share Article releases its annual Editor's Choice Awards, highlighting the year's best credit cards across a number of categories.

The cards in this latest survey truly stand apart from the rest of the pack. Strong competition in the card industry and oversight from consumer protection groups has helped create an environment where consumer-friendly card offers are flourishing.

Competition has crept back into the credit card marketplace, with major brands squaring off against upstarts from unusual places. This year, banks and payment platforms worked even harder to give consumers reasons to remain loyal to their brands.

"The cards in this latest survey truly stand apart from the rest of the pack. Strong competition in the card industry and oversight from consumer protection groups has helped create an environment where consumer-friendly card offers are flourishing,” Editor-in-Chief Curtis Arnold said. “If your current card doesn't match up, it's a great time to be shopping for a better card- particularly as we enter the holiday season.”

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Best cash-back credit cards:

Although cash-back cards with rotating bonus categories technically offer higher rebate rates, consumers keep demanding cards that don't require a spreadsheet or a slide rule to figure out.

  • Fidelity Rewards American Express Cards. Customers of Fidelity's brokerage, IRA, and college savings accounts can qualify for automatic 2 percent rebates on every purchase.
  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card. Instead of waiting for an annual bonus, cardholders earn 1.5 percent rebates on every purchase with no limits and easy redemption options.

What our editors love: Die-hard bargain hunters may still love to track multipliers and promotions, but rising cash-back rebate rates point to a less confusing future.

Best airline and travel rewards credit cards:

Today's shifting travel market rewards hunting for cheap fares more than building elite status.

  • Barclaycard ArrivalTM World MasterCard®. Last year, Barclaycard took on no-frills cards with Ring. This year, Barclaycard tackles the travel rewards market with a 2 percent rebate on all purchases that climbs as high as 2.2 percent when you redeem your points for travel.
  • Capital One® VentureSM Card. The pioneer of flexible travel rewards cards remains as strong as ever, with a reliable, 2 percent rebate redeemable toward eligible travel transactions.

What our editors love: Consumers love the flexibility of earning and redeeming rewards at market rates with no restrictions. Barclaycard Arrival took Venture Card's feature set and upped the ante, leaving most airline credit cards stranded at the gate.

Best balance transfer credit cards:

This year's winners illustrate what can happen when banks build long-term partnerships with customers who want to become debt-free.

  • Slate® from Chase. Access to Chase's clever Blueprint budgeting tool and outstanding balance transfer offers give cardholders a clear path to consolidating and paying off debt.
  • Citi Simplicity® Card. Low intro APR deals and the promise of no fees or penalties make this card ideal for someone who wants to knock down a balance, but occasionally needs a little wiggle room.

What our editors love: Both of these cards offer easy solutions for consumers who think that managing credit cards has to be confusing or difficult.

Best low-interest credit cards:

Cards issued by small banks can help you extend your credit (and boost your credit score) with no annual fee and no risk of hefty finance charges.

  • Simmons First Visa Platinum. A friendly, regional bank in Arkansas offers one of the lowest APRs in the country to folks with excellent credit.
  • First Command Visa Platinum. Barring a change to the prime rate or to their APR spread, this offshoot of a financial planning and wealth management bank in Fort Worth, Tex., offers the lowest possible variable APR on a major card (not counting zero APR promotions).

What our editors love: These might not be the flashiest cards on the market, but they indicate that you're managing your credit really well.

Best rewards credit cards:

When you value experiences more than cash, the market's best rewards cards can connect you with discounted travel and dining.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred®. Cardholders get extra rewards points when booking travel through Chase, along with an annual loyalty dividend, chip-and-PIN cards for trips to Europe, and no foreign transaction fees.
  • Citi ThankYou® Premier Card. Frequent fliers can rack up significant bonus points on airfare, along with multipliers for purchases at restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues.

What our editors love: If your employer reimburses you for frequent business travel instead of issuing you a corporate card, these accounts offer tremendous incentives without locking you into a single airline.

Best credit cards for poor credit:

Credit scores now influence everything from mortgage rates to insurance, making secured credit cards an important part of building or rebuilding a solid credit history.

  • USAA Secured Credit Card. A competitive annual fee and a very low APR make this a solid secured card for members of military families.
  • DCU Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card. Members of participating nonprofit organizations can open this secured card with no annual fee, perfect for rebuilding credit.

What our editors love: Credit unions and other membership-based financial institutions continue to drive down costs for secured cards. Online banking and smartphone apps are making it easier than ever for consumers to find alternative sources for money-saving financial products.

Most innovative credit cards:

If picking up the phone when someone calls and designing products that add value to customers' lives are "innovative," then we can't wait to see the rest of the industry follow this trend.

  • Discover it®. A strong marketing campaign heralded the launch of Discover's newest cash-back card, promising direct access to helpful customer service agents, generous rebates, and world-class fraud detection. They backed up this promise with a pledge to equip home offices for members of military families, who can now keep their Discover jobs after a transfer or deployment.
  • PenFed Defender American Express® Card. Recent investigations by the FTC and CFPB uncovered how predatory lenders targeted military families with high-priced payday loans. PenFed operates at the opposite end of the lending spectrum, offering an exclusive card for military personnel that carries no fees, no penalties, a generous cash-back rebate and one of the lowest APRs on the market.

What our editors love: A renewed focus on hiring and serving members of military families highlights the challenges veterans face when returning home from active duty.

Most innovative exclusive offers:

Every major bank and credit card platform seems to be getting in on the "exclusive experience" angle. Visa and American Express have battled over the rights to concert ticket pre-sales, while Discover has locked up major college sporting events. And while Chase and Bank of America have both beefed up their roster of private cardholder events over the past year, Citi Private Pass has done the most impressive job of scaling its program to fit the needs of customers in multiple demographic groups across the country.

We're used to seeing luxury experiences designed for well-heeled cardholders, and Citi Private Pass offers plenty of those. For instance, cardholders willing to spend $1,600 could reserve a private voyage on an America's Cup-winning yacht during that event's return to the West Coast. Meanwhile, hockey fans (and baseball-loving skaters) can spend just $20 with their Citi credit cards to skate on the ice at Fenway Park during Citi's Frozen Fenway event. Culinary events, film festivals, and access to private art collections across the country round out a slate of experiences that hit every interest and price point, differentiating Citi from its competitors.

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