What’s in your wallet? If you’re like a lot of folks, when it comes to the credit cards you carry, the answer is nothing particularly rewarding.
Roughly 20 million Americans have never changed their main credit card, according to a CreditCards.com survey. What they’re missing: a slew of new offerings over the past few years with bigger cash rebates, more valuable travel rewards, and better financing terms.
Older cardholders are particularly likely to stick with a card they’ve had for quite a while: Fewer than one in five consumers between the ages of 50 and 64 switched up their primary credit card in a recent five-year span, the Creditcards.com survey found.
Yet you’re the prime candidate for the best deals.
Americans between the ages of 50 and 69 have an average credit score of 700, compared to 634 for millennials, according to Experian. That means you’re exactly the kind of cardholder that issuers covet—and who get the sweetest terms.
What’s in it for you?
Travel enthusiasts can bank a roundtrip flight to Europe just with a sign-up bonus. Cash-back lovers can easily bump up their rewards by a few hundred bucks a year. And if you’re typical among the four in 10 of those within a decade from retirement who carry a balance, you can save nearly $1,000 in interest charges.
Depending on what you want your credit card to do for you, these are your best options.
Goal No. 1: You want a no-fuss card and cash rewards
Consumers in a separate CreditCards.com survey preferred credit cards that offer cash rebates to those that give you travel rewards by nearly three to one.
It’s not hard to understand why. Unlike travel cards, cash back cards are typically easy to use (no complicated point-redemption rules to master) and don’t charge an annual fee, a universally hated feature.
Your best option is the Citi Double Cash, which gives you a 1% rebate when you charge an item on the
Almost no other general-use card guarantees you as high a return. If you spend $2,000 a month on food, clothes, entertainment and other commonly charged expenses (a reasonable estimate for someone born between 1946 and 1964 based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data), you’d earn more than $1,000 in cash rewards over two years.
Willing to juggle expenses between two cards to earn even more cash back? Add the American Express Blue Cash Preferred.
You’ll earn 6% on the first $6,000 in groceries you charge—a limit that more than covers what the typical 55-to-64-year-old spends, according to the BLS—and 1% after that. Filling up at the pump and shopping at department stores get you another 3%.
There is a $95 annual fee, but that is offset, for the first two years at least, by a $200 sign-up bonus.
Assuming the same $2,000 a month in spending, if you use the Amex for groceries ($6,000 a year), and the Double Cash for everything else, you’d earn nearly $500 more after two years than if you used the Double Cash alone.
Goal No. 2: You want travel freebies
Boomers will shell out an estimated $6,300 on travel in 2018, according to an AARP report. If you’re among them, you’d likely benefit from having a travel card.
Fair warning: More than half of Americans find miles programs confusing, according to NextAdvisor, a financial product review site.
First, there’s the gnarly lingo—a “mile” or “point” on one card most likely means something different on another. You’ll also need to jump through a hoop or two to redeem rewards, typically going through the issuer’s travel portal to book flights and hotels.
Plus, since most travel cards charge an annual fee, you need to be okay with paying money upfront to earn more valuable travel benefits later. The typical fee is around $95, a recent Value Penguin survey found, but can range as high as $550 on some premier cards.
That’s a deal breaker for many people. The number one priority among credit card customers, according to Experian, is no annual fee.
Airline loyalty card or general purpose travel card?
Want to forge ahead? The first question to ask yourself is whether you almost always fly a particular airline. If so, you’d do well to sign up with their credit card.
Take the Gold Delta SkyMiles. Your first bag flies free, meaning you’d save $200 on four round-trip flights a year, more than offsetting the $95 annual fee (waived the first year.) You also earn a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles—enough to qualify for a round-trip cross-country flight—and a $50 statement credit, if you spend $1,000 within three months of receiving the card.
On an ongoing basis, you’ll earn two miles for Delta purchases, and one mile on anything else you charge on the card.
Not a Delta regular? The United Explorer Card ($0 for the first year, then $95) and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus ($69 annual fee) sport similarly attractive terms and make sense if you’re a frequent flyer on those airlines.
If you’re not tied to a particular airline, though, you’re better off with a card that offers equally valuable rewards on all of your travel spending.
Take the new Barclays Arrival Premier ($150 annual fee, waived the first year). You earn two miles on any expenditure, even if it’s not travel related, and each mile is worth one penny when you redeem it against travel spending, which is at the higher end of reward rate.
Where the card really stands out: Rather than the typical one-time bonus if you spend a set amount within the first three months or so of signing up, the Barclay card rewards annual spending. If you charge $25,000 annually, you’ll earn an extra 25,000 miles; $15,000 gets you 15,000 miles; $10,000 gets you 10,000 miles.
That’s the equivalent of 3% back on travel spending, which is an unmatched level of ongoing rewards.
Also appealing if you travel abroad: The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and will reimburse the $100 cost of Global Entry, giving you expedited clearance on airport security and customs lines.
Goal No. 3: You want to pay less interest
Rewards cards are only worth the trouble if you don’t carry a balance.
Households headed by someone 55 to 64 years old who have credit card debt owe $6,700 on average. If you’re making minimum payments on a card with a typical 17% annual percentage rate, financing is running you more than $1,100 a year.
Two card features that can help bring those costs down: a zero-fee balance transfer and lengthy 0% interest period.
Chase Slate and the American Express EveryDay fit the bill. Both allow you to transfer a balance for free if you do so within two months of opening the card, versus the typical 3% charge, and give you 15 months to pay off your debt. (Some balance transfer
By paying $447 a month, you could knock off that $6,700 balance before any interest charges kick in.
If you’re not currently in debt, but want to use a credit card for 0% financing for a major outlay—hello, new deck!—you can find even longer 0% interest periods. For instance, the U.S. Bank Platinum card has a 20-month 0% interest introductory period, while the Citi Simplicity offers 18 months.
You must have the discipline, though, to pay off your bill before interest kicks in.