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The Best Credit Cards of 2015: A Collaboration With Money Magazine

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The Best Credit Cards of 2015: A Collaboration With Money Magazine

NerdWallet has teamed up with Money Magazine for the third year in a row to identify the best credit cards of 2015. The Nerds reviewed our database of more than 1,200 cards to find the leading credit cards based on their main features. So no matter your needs — cash back, travel perks and more — we’ve got you covered.

In this article

Best cash-back credit cards
Best low-interest credit cards
Best travel credit cards
Best small-business credit cards
Best student credit cards

Best cash-back credit cards

Easy choice: Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Great for people who:

  • Want a simple cash-back card with a high rewards rate
  • Would like to transfer an existing balance
  • Dislike annual fees

Not ideal for people who:

  • Are looking for a card with lucrative rotating spending rewards categories
  • Want a sign-up bonus
  • Want airline miles, hotel points or travel perks

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is one of the only credit cards that rewards you for spending and paying off your balance. You’ll earn 1% cash back per dollar spent and another 1% back per dollar when you make a payment. The card also comes with a solid introductory APR promotion: 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.49% - 24.49% Variable APR — not bad for a $0 annual fee.

Best for online shopping: Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Great for people who:

  • Shop online frequently
  • Typically spend in line with the card’s rotating bonus categories
  • Want extra time to pay off a large purchase
  • Dislike annual fees

Not ideal for people who:

  • Want a simple cash-back card
  • Travel internationally

The Discover it® - Cashback Match™ isn’t just a great card because of its 5% cash-back rotating categories, which in 2015 include Amazon.com, department stores, restaurants, movies, gas and more (non-bonus category spending nets you 1% back). Where the card adds the most value is through Discover’s online shopping portal, Discover Deals. There you can score an extra 5% to 20% cash back on purchases from a wide array of retailers. Plus, you can count on a $0 annual fee and 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. It has a promotion for new cardholders: Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. One of the major downsides to the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ is that Discover isn’t as widely accepted internationally as Visa or MasterCard, so you might want a backup card if you travel overseas.

Best for maximizers: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Great for people who:

  • Spend a lot at grocery stores or on gas
  • Want a sign-up bonus
  • Need extra time to pay off a big-ticket item

Not ideal for people who:

  • Dislike annual fees
  • Don’t spend much at grocery stores or on gas
  • Travel overseas frequently

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers the highest earn-burn rate (the average value of the rewards you’ll receive on every dollar you spend) out of all the credit cards listed in NerdWallet’s database. The card’s 6% rewards rate for shopping at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in spending annually, then 1%) and 3% rate for gasoline purchases make it a standout. You’ll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. Not to be outdone by other top cash-back cards, the card offers 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 24.99% Variable APR. Plus, you can look forward to a decent sign-up bonus: $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. These stellar rewards and perks aren’t free, though. The card comes with a $95 annual fee, although you’ll make up for the fee by spending just $31 per week at supermarkets. The rest is gravy.

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Best low-interest credit cards

Easy choice: Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa

Great for people who:

  • Plan on carrying a balance
  • Want to avoid an annual fee

Not ideal for people who:

  • Want rewards
  • Don’t have excellent credit

The Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa is a great option if you’re looking for a low ongoing interest rate: The ongoing APR is 7.00% Variable. The card’s annual fee is $0 and it doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee, in case you need to consolidate your high-interest credit card debt. A couple things to consider: The card doesn’t offer rewards, so if you aren’t planning on carrying a balance, it doesn’t provide much benefit. Also, you have to join Lake Michigan Credit Union to get the card. Eligibility requirements include living, working, worshiping or attending school in Lower Michigan; having an immediate family member who is an LMCU member; or making a one-time $5 donation to the ALS Association.

Best for balance transfers: Chase Slate®

Great for people who:

  • Have high-interest credit card debt
  • Need some time to pay off a large purchase

Not ideal for people who:

  • Want rewards

The best thing about the Chase Slate® isn’t its introductory APR offer (although that’s certainly nice.) The offer is: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.74% - 24.49% Variable APR. Its best feature for people who want to tackle high credit card debt is that introductory 0% APR combined with a $0 balance-transfer fee for the first 60 days. With most balance-transfer cards, the 3% to 4% fee can wipe out a big chunk of the savings you gain from switching to a lower-interest card. Plus, the annual fee is $0. The Chase Slate® offers free access to your FICO score, but it doesn’t come with rewards. Also keep in mind that you can’t transfer a balance from another Chase card to the Chase Slate®.

Best for large purchases: Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Great for people who:

  • Need almost two years to pay off a large purchase
  • Want to avoid an annual fee

Not ideal for people who:

  • Need to transfer a balance
  • Want rewards

As 0% interest cards go, the Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever is the cream of the crop. The card offers 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 21 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.49% - 24.49% Variable APR — that’s more than enough time to pay off most big-ticket items. The card also doesn’t charge a late fee or penalty APR, and its annual fee is $0. If you’re looking to move a balance, though, the card charges a 3% or $5 balance-transfer fee, whichever is greater. It doesn’t offer rewards.

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Best travel credit cards

Easy choice: Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®

Great for people who:

  • Travel, but don’t want to be tied down to a specific airline or hotel
  • Are modest spenders
  • Dislike annual fees

Not ideal for people who:

  • Want a big sign-up bonus
  • Want better rewards, even at the expense of an annual fee

The Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® is a perfect choice for your first travel credit card. It rewards you with 2 Arrival miles per dollar spent on travel, 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere and a decent sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $200 travel statement credit — all with a $0 annual fee. The card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, and you’ll get a 5% miles bonus when you redeem your miles for travel. If you’re a big spender, though, you might be better off with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

Best for frequent fliers (TIE): Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Great for people who:

  • Travel, but don’t want to be tied down to a specific airline or hotel
  • Want big rewards for all spending
  • Travel internationally

Not ideal for people who:

  • Dislike annual fees
  • Don’t spend a lot

If you travel frequently and spend a lot, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is the card for you. It offers 2 Arrival miles per dollar spent, regardless of where you spend it. It also comes with a stellar sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit. For the extra rewards and bigger sign-up bonus, however, you’ll pay an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $89. If you’re a regular globetrotter, the card charges no foreign transaction fees and is equipped with chip-and-PIN, ready for overseas purchases. Like its sister card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® gives you a 5% miles bonus when you redeem your miles. If you’re looking for a card that lets you transfer your points to other rewards programs, however, this isn’t the best choice.

Best for frequent fliers (TIE): Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Great for people who:

  • Spend a lot on travel and dining out
  • Want the flexibility to transfer points to other travel programs

Not ideal for people who:

  • Dislike annual fees
  • Don’t spend a lot on travel

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a perennial favorite at NerdWallet. The card offers 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. You’ll also get a killer sign-up bonus: 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®. Get an extra 5,000 points when you add an authorized user to your account and make a purchase in the first three months. What makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card so special, however, isn’t how you earn rewards, but how you redeem them. When you use your points to book travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel site, you’ll get a 20% discount on your trip. You can also transfer your points to one or more of Chase’s 11 partners. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges no foreign transaction fees, but it does have an $0 for the first year, then $95.

Best for hotel aficionados: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Great for people who:

  • Are loyal to SPG hotels
  • Want the flexibility to transfer points to airline programs

Not ideal for people who:

  • Don’t stay at SPG hotels
  • Dislike annual fees
  • Travel overseas

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is the Nerds’ favorite hotel credit card and for good reason. Though you’ll only earn up to 5 Starpoints per dollar on purchases at participating SPG hotels, 2 Starpoints per dollar at Marriott Rewards properties, and 1 Starpoint per dollar on all other purchases, the Nerds value Starpoints at 2.3 cents apiece, making them far more valuable than most travel rewards points. You can also look forward to a nice sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but American Express isn’t as widely accepted internationally as Visa and MasterCard, so keep a backup ready if you plan to use this card overseas. Its annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95.

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Best small-business credit cards

Easy choice: Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business

Great for people who:

  • Want a straightforward cash-back card
  • Dislike annual fees
  • Need some time to pay off a large business expense

Not ideal for readers who:

  • Have a lot of office-related expenses
  • Spend a lot in general

The Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business is as simple as it gets. Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase and get a decent sign-up bonus: Plus, a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. You’ll also receive 0% on Purchases for 9 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 21.99% Variable APR. And if extra fees don’t fit in your budget, the card’s $0 annual fee will help keep your costs down. There aren’t many downsides to the Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business, unless your business spends a lot in general. For example, the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business offers 2% cash back on every purchase and a higher sign-up bonus with an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $59.

Best for borrowing: U.S. Bank Business Edge™ Platinum

Great for people who:

  • Care more about interest rates than rewards
  • Dislike annual fees

Not ideal for people who:

  • Don’t plan on carrying a balance
  • Want rewards

If you’re just starting out with your business and need quick capital, the U.S. Bank Business Edge™ Platinum isn’t a bad choice. Its annual fee is annual fee is $0 and it offers 0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 10.74% - 18.74% Variable. Most business credit cards that offer a 0% introductory APR period have a much higher APR after that period is over. This card doesn’t offer any rewards, so it might not be useful when you can pay off your balance in full every month.

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Best student credit cards

Easy choice: Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

Great for people who:

  • Spend a lot on entertainment and dining out
  • Want to build credit and earn rewards
  • Dislike annual fees

Not ideal for people who:

  • Plan to study abroad

If you’re looking to get your first credit card, the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students is worth considering. It offers 2 Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants and entertainment and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Its annual fee is $0 and it’s one of the few student cards that offers a sign-up bonus: Earn 2,500 bonus points after spending $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening* You can redeem your ThankYou points for gift cards, charitable donations, mortgage or student loan payments, and travel certificates. However, if you plan to study abroad, the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students might not be the best for you, since its 3% foreign transaction fee can add up if you’re overseas for a few months. Instead, check out the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®.

Best for cash back: Discover it® for Students

Great for people who:

  • Prefer cash-back rewards
  • Spend in line with the card’s rotating bonus categories
  • Want access to their FICO score

Not ideal for readers who:

  • Plan to study abroad

For a student credit card, the Discover it® for Students offers a surprising number of opportunities to earn rewards. For starters, you’ll earn 5% cash back in rotating categories, which in 2015 include Amazon.com, department stores, restaurants, movies, gas and more (non-bonus category spending nets you 1% back). Plus, you’ll have access to Discover’s online shopping portal, Discover Deals, where you can earn an extra 5% to 20% cash back on purchases from a wide array of retailers. The card has a $0 annual fee and offers 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 22.99% Variable APR. The Discover it® for Students might seem like a good choice for studying abroad because it doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. But Discover isn’t as widely accepted internationally as Visa or MasterCard, so it might not be a good choice if Discover isn’t readily accepted in the country you’re visiting.

›› MORE: NerdWallet’s Best Credit Cards of 2016

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Last updated April 6, 2017.

Information related to the Chase Slate® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

Ben Luthi is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:bluthi@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @benluthi.


Image via iStock.