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Credit Cards

Types of Credit Cards

Updated Sep 08, 2023   |   11-min read

At first glance, the sheer number of credit cards can be overwhelming. From rewards credit cards to airline-branded cards, it can take time to make sense of each card’s features and benefits.

Understanding what every credit card offers is essential for several reasons. With the proper selection, you could reap the benefits of an excellent credit score while enjoying exclusive membership rewards and bonuses. However, if you select the wrong option, you could face high fees and costs that outweigh the benefits.

To help you make an informed choice, we’ve created a comparison guide outlining the different types of credit cards available.

In this guide:

Why do companies offer so many types of credit cards?

Companies offer a variety of credit cards to meet different customer needs. Some are designed for those with excellent credit and offer rewards programs, low interest rates, and high credit limits.

Other cards are geared toward borrowers who may have had trouble managing their finances, such as students or those with poor credit. These cards may offer lower credit limits and higher interest rates but are an effective way to build credit.

Many competing banks and credit unions issue cards. They release new cards with different benefits to appear more attractive than their competitors.

Many cards also offer perks, such as: 

  • Cash-back rewards
  • Travel points
  • No foreign transaction fees

By offering a wide variety of cards based on different customer needs, companies can capture more customers and provide incentives for regular card use.

Rewards credit cards

Rewards credit cards offer cash back or other rewards when you make purchases. Many cards have different levels or tiers of rewards based on the amount you spend. Some even offer additional rewards when you use the card at specific retailers or for certain purchase categories.

With a rewards credit card, cardholders can take advantage of the following features:

  • Earn rewards points. Depending on the card, users can earn rewards points for every dollar spent or when making specific purchases.
  • Redeem rewards points. Redeem points for cash back, statement credits, travel, and more.
  • Additional benefits. Some rewards cards offer additional benefits, such as travel insurance and extended warranties.

The two main types of rewards credit cards are cash-back rewards cards and travel rewards cards.

Cash-back rewards cards

This type of rewards credit card lets users earn a percentage of cash back on their purchases. Based on our research of the best cash-back credit cards, the rewards percentages range from 1% to 6% of your spending.

Many cash-back credit cards offer bonus cash back when you use the card at specific retailers or for certain purchases, such as groceries and gas. 

This card is best suited for people who want to earn cash back on their everyday purchases. 

Find out our top cash-back rewards cards.

Travel rewards cards

Get more from your travels with travel rewards cards. 

These cards provide unique benefits, such as the following:

  • Travel discounts
  • Airport lounge access
  • Complimentary upgrades

Some also offer traveler-specific insurance benefits, including trip delay insurance, lost baggage insurance, and rental car insurance.

Some cards offer airline miles when you make purchases with the card. You can redeem these miles or points for free travel, exclusive discounts, or other perks. 

These cards could be a wise choice if you’re a regular traveler looking to cash in on the airline miles you fly and hotel nights you book. 

We researched the top travel rewards cards.

Business credit cards

Business credit cards are designed for business owners and entrepreneurs. These cards offer business-specific features, such as reward points for business-related purchases, including office supplies and internet, as well as higher credit limits. 

With a business credit card, business owners can easily make purchases and track expenses. Business owners can get additional cards for their employees to track spending and make purchasing business supplies easier. 

View our top business credit cards.

Balance transfer credit cards

Balance transfer credit cards offer a way to pay down debt, such as other credit card debt. These cards often feature an introductory 0% APR period, allowing consumers to transfer their balances and pay them off without incurring additional interest.

These cards can be a terrific way to save money on interest and pay down debt faster. However, it’s essential to understand the card’s terms and conditions before applying because some may have transfer fees or other restrictions.

See our research on the best balance transfer credit cards.

Low-interest credit cards

Low-interest credit cards offer a fixed interest rate much lower than the standard rate. Like balance transfer credit cards, many low-interest credit cards offer 0% APR

If you’re planning for a large purchase you can’t pay all at once or plan to carry a balance on your credit card, you’ll save money with a low-interest credit card. 

We researched the best low-interest credit cards.

Student credit cards

Student credit cards are often for college students who want to build their credit. Generally, a student must be at least 18 years old and have an income or creditworthy cosigner to get approved.

Student credit cards might offer benefits such as the following:

  • Low interest rates
  • No annual fees
  • No credit score requirement

Student cards can also offer rewards on common student spending categories such as food and gas or on all purchases with the card.

Find out the best student credit cards.

Secured credit cards

A secured credit card might appeal to consumers with poor or no credit scores. These are also a good choice for those wanting to build a good credit score without debt.

With a secured card, users must deposit cash to obtain the card. The deposit becomes the credit limit, which the bank uses to cover unpaid balances if necessary. Because of this collateral, secured credit cards are often easier to obtain than traditional cards.

We’ve researched the best secured credit cards.

Cobranded credit cards

As the term suggests, cobranded credit cards are tied to a particular retailer, airline, hotel chain, or another brand. The brand name is on the card, along with the issuing bank. These cards offer exclusive brand discounts and rewards to customers when they make purchases with the card.

Cobranded credit cards come in different varieties, such as cash-back and store credit cards. Travel credit cards are also cobranded because they offer rewards specific to an airline or hotel chain.

Store credit cards

Store credit cards are cobranded cards for specific retail stores. 

These cards feature benefits such as discounts on purchases and exclusive offers. They often have lower credit limits than traditional credit cards, making them a good choice for those who want to manage their spending. 

We’ve researched the most popular store credit cards.

Virtual credit cards

Virtual credit cards are nonphysical cards for online purchases. They function the same way as regular credit cards but only exist electronically as credit card numbers.

A virtual card masks your credit card number for online shopping safety. Similar to a standard credit card, a virtual card has a credit limit and is connected to your bank account.

Sometimes, virtual credit card numbers are only for one-time use for added security. However, depending on your preference, you can use them for recurring payments or multiple uses.

We’ve researched three top virtual credit cards:

Capital One EnoU.S. UnlockedAmerican Express Virtual Card Numbers
What cards?Available for all Capital One credit cardsThis is a standalone virtual credit cardAvailable for all American Express credit cards 
FeesDepends on which Capital One card you use it withLoad fees for bank transfer: $3 plus 3%

Monthly maintenance fee: $3.50

Transaction fee: $0.50 per transaction
Depends on which AmEx card you use it with
FeaturesEasy signup and setup

Rewards and benefits depend on your associated Capital One credit card
Option between one-time card and merchant-specific card Replace your physical card number with a digital version

Generate a new 4-digit code each time you pay with the virtual card
Best forRegular online shoppers who already have a Capital One credit cardRegular online shoppers who don’t want the commitment of a tied-in credit cardRegular online shoppers who already have an American Express credit card

Several banks offer virtual card options, including Bank of America and Citibank.

Charge cards

Charge cards, or pay-in-full cards, are similar to credit cards, except you must pay off the total balance each month. The main advantage of charge cards is that, like credit cards, users can earn rewards—with no risk of credit card debt.

However, it’s important to note that charge cards may also come with higher annual fees and may be harder to qualify for. They may not be a wise choice for those with poor or no credit.

We’ve researched two top charge cards:

The Plum Card® from American ExpressCapital One Spark Cash Plus Business Credit Card
Annual fee$250$150
Preset spend limitNoneNone
Late fee$39 or 1.5% of past due amount, whichever is greater2.99% of past due amount
Welcome bonus$500 statement credit after spending $15,000 in first 3 months$500 after spending $5,000 in first 3 months

Another $500 after spending $50,000 in first 6 months

$200 annual cash bonus every year you spend $200,000 or more
Benefits1.5% cash back on the portion of your balance you pay within 10 days of statement closing date

Option to carry balance up to 60 days with no interest as long as you make your minimum payment

No foreign transaction fees

Rental car insurance
5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel

2% cash back on all purchases
Best forBig spenders who want to avoid credit card debt and appreciate travel benefitsSmall-business owners who want to avoid credit card debt and earn cash back on travel and all other purchases

All-in-one credit cards

All-in-one cards combine the perks of several types of cards. 

This type of card’s features are programmable, allowing users to choose the ones they prefer. For example, an all-in-one card can include rewards, 0% APR for balance transfers, and even a secured card option. 

This benefits those who want to maximize the advantages of a credit card without applying for multiple cards. However, the all-in-one cards we’ve reviewed, including Stratos, Swyp, Coin, and Plastc, are now defunct, and we couldn’t find one that’s still being offered.

How to know which type of credit card is best for you

The right credit card depends on your circumstances and financial goals. The choice depends on factors including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Spending habits
  • Brand preferences
  • Financial situation
  • Credit score

When choosing a credit card, it’s essential to consider these factors and weigh the pros and cons of each type of card before making a decision.

To summarize, we’ve prepared a table that presents the different types of credit cards available and whom we recommend them for:

Type of credit cardBest for
Rewards credit cardsConsumers who use their cards for everyday expenses, such as gas and groceries and pay their balance in full every month. Interest and fees will cancel out any rewards
Cash-back rewards cardsConsumers who use their cards for frequent purchases
Travel rewards cardsFrequent travelers (personal or business)
Business credit cardsBusiness owners and entrepreneurs
Balance transfer credit cardsConsumers with debts they want to pay off without incurring additional interest
Low-interest credit cardsPeople with debts who want 0% interest rates or who plan to make a large purchase they can’t pay off right away
Student credit cardsCollege students who wish to establish their credit scores
Secured credit cardsConsumers with no credit history or those who want to rebuild their credit scores
Cobranded credit cardsFrequent customers of a specific brand (retail, airline, or hotel chain)
Store credit cardsFrequent shoppers of a retail store
Charge cardsConsumers and business owners who prefer to pay off their balance in full each month
Virtual credit cardsFrequent online shoppers who want to take extra measures for online safety 
All-in-one credit cardsTech-savvy consumers who prefer a versatile card (but we couldn’t find any options as of February 2023)

Whichever card you choose, always read the terms and conditions of the agreement before applying. This will help you get the most from your card and make informed financial choices. 

If you spend on your card and pay it off responsibly, you can also build strong credit while you’re at it and even earn rewards.