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There are a lot of ways to classify credit cards, but the simplest breakdown is probably this:
Credit cards that earn rewards.
Credit cards that save you money on interest.
Credit cards that help you build or rebuild your credit.
Cards that earn rewards
Rewards credit cards give you a little something back with each purchase you make. For example, a cash back card might give you 1.5% back on purchases — meaning that for every $100 you spend, the card returns $1.50 to you. A travel rewards credit card might give you 2 points per dollar spent. An airline card might give you 1 to 3 miles per dollar, depending on where you use the card.
The best rewards cards generally require good to excellent credit, although there are rewards options for people with fair and even bad credit. Rewards cards tend to charge high interest rates, though. If you carry a balance from month to month, the interest can easily offset the value of the rewards.
Cards that save on interest
If you pay your credit card bill in full every month, then the interest rate on your card doesn't really matter. That's because interest is charged only when you roll debt over from one month to the next. But not everyone can pay in full, and there are cards specifically designed for people who are carrying debt. A low-interest or 0% card saves you money by reducing the amount of interest charged on your purchases. A balance-transfer card lets you move high-interest debt onto a card with a lower interest rate, often 0% for a year or more.
The best 0% offers are available only to people with good to excellent credit. You also generally need good credit to qualify for a balance-transfer card.
Cards that build credit
NerdWallet recommends secured cards for people with bad credit. These cards require a security deposit, which usually matches your credit limit. The deposit makes the card less difficult to get, since it reduces the risk to the credit card company. Getting a secured card and using it responsibly is one of the quickest and easiest ways to build credit. Once your credit climbs out of the "bad" range, look at cards for fair credit.
College students looking to get started with credit can apply for student credit cards. And a number of issuers have begun offering cards that look beyond credit scores during their approval process.
» MORE: Best starter cards for no credit