If you’re an iOS or Android user, the ability to make a purchase in a store simply by holding your phone up to a reader frees you from having to fumble with your wallet or even carry a physical credit card at all. Although major credit card issuers have mostly lined up to offer Apple Pay or Android Pay to their cardholders, the Nerds do have a few favorite credit cards for use with smartphones.
Best for cash back: Discover it® Cash Back
Earn 5% back on rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in spending each quarter) and 1% back on all other purchases. $0 annual fee. No foreign transaction fees. Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR.
Benefits of the Discover it® Cash Back:
- The card’s introductory 0% APR period is not just for balance transfers — it’s also for purchases, so you can use it to buy some extra time to pay back big expenses.
- The card’s perks include free access to your FICO score, no late fee or penalty APR the first time you miss a payment, and no foreign transaction fees.
- The new cardmember bonus gets bigger the more you use the card. As Discover puts it: “Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.”
Drawbacks of the Discover it® Cash Back:
- The interest-free period is respectable, but it’s not the longest 0% APR period for balance transfers. For transfers, you might be better off with a similar card from Discover, which has an APR of 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR.
- Discover’s 10% Apple Pay bonus was relatively short-lived, with no word on whether there will be additional perks for Apple Pay or Android Pay users.
Even though Discover’s generous 10% cash back offer on Apple Pay purchases expired at the end of 2015, it still says something important: that Discover is committed to attracting customers who want mobile payment convenience. That bodes well for early adopters of new mobile payment technology like the Apple Watch and other smartwatches. Because this is already a great card, this move on Discover’s part wins top marks from the Nerds.
Best sign-up bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and dining, 1 point per dollar on everything else. $0 for the first year, then $95. No foreign transaction fees. Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR.
Benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:
- The sign-up bonus is one of the best in the business: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- This card is more flexible than travel rewards cards dedicated to a single airline or hotel group. You can transfer points to several airlines and hotel chains. See the full list at our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
- Ultimate Rewards Points are worth an impressive 1.25 cents each when redeemed for travel.
Drawbacks of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:
- The annual fee will eat into rewards after the first year, unless you spend enough to make up for it.
- If your favorite airline won’t allow you to exchange your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you’re out of luck. Delta and American airline fans, choose another card.
This card is found in many wallets at NerdWallet headquarters because of the points’ high redemption value, the flexibility and the juicy sign-up bonus. Lately, though, many Nerds are leaving their wallets at home and using their phones to pay with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
» MORE: Chase and Apple Pay
Best for people with fair credit: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. $39 annual fee. No foreign transaction fees. The ongoing APR is 26.96% Variable APR.
Benefits of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card:
- The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is easier to qualify for than its cousin, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, which has a $0 annual fee.
- Because the card targets consumers with fair credit, it’s assumed that you’re actively rebuilding your credit history. So Capital One could raise your credit limit after you make five on-time monthly payments in a row.
- This is a solid cash back card, with no limit to the amount you can earn, no expiration date on your cash rewards and no rotating bonus categories to sign up for.
Drawbacks of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card:
- The card has an annual fee of $39. It’s not super high, but it’s also not $0.
- There’s no sign-up bonus.
Plenty of people with fair credit are savvy about credit card rewards. If that’s you, this is a great card. Capital One offers a very respectable 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. If you want solid rewards and the ability to use Android Pay or Apple Pay while you’re rebuilding your credit, the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great option.
» MORE: Capital One and Apple Pay
This article has been updated. It was originally published March 9, 2016.