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NerdWallet’s 2019 Best-Of Awards

Each year, NerdWallet's editorial team spends hundreds of hours selecting the 'best of the best' financial products for consumers. Here's how we landed on this year's winners.
Jan. 15, 2019
Personal Finance
nerdwallet-awards
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

After hundreds of hours of comparing rates, fees and rewards, we’re proud to bring you the winners of NerdWallet’s 2019 Best-Of Awards. From credit cards to mortgage lenders to personal loans and more, these financial companies and products have earned our editorial team’s top ratings.

Our winners list is effective as of Dec. 1, 2018, except where noted. Winners in each category are listed alphabetically.

Auto insurance

Best budget pick
NerdWallet analyzes sample auto insurance rates generated from Quadrant Information Services in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Some companies were ineligible for ranking because they're available only to a subset of consumers.
State Farm: The largest auto insurance company in the United States stands out for its competitive rates. This year State Farm has the cheapest rates, on average, in 15 states.

Banking

Best for savings
Savings-account providers are rated based on the following factors, in order of importance: interest rate, monthly fees, distinguishing features, minimum opening deposit. A 5% extra credit is given for a good sign-up bonus.
Alliant Credit Union: Along with an above-par digital experience and inclusive membership, Alliant has top-notch rates on its savings account and share certificates.
Ally Bank: Ally is consistently among financial institutions offering top APYs for savings accounts and short- and long-term CDs. In addition, Ally has no maintenance fees, and no minimum balance to earn those top rates.
Barclays: This online offshoot of the global financial services company offers customers in the United States a high-yield savings account accessible through a streamlined website, with no monthly fee or minimum-balance requirement. The overdraft policy is great.
Discover Bank: Discover pairs solid customer service with highly competitive rates on its money market account and online savings, as well as its certificates of deposit.
Marcus: Marcus' high-rate savings account is a terrific option for parking your emergency fund and earning top interest. Its five-year CD, with a rate over 3%, is among the best.

Best for checking
Checking-account providers are rated on the following factors, in order of importance: monthly fees, domestic ATMs, interest rate, minimum opening deposit.
Alliant Credit Union: Alliant has a trio of great checking options with no fees or minimum balance requirement, plus tens of thousands of ATMs and rebates on out-of-network ATM use. Both the Teen and High-Rate checking accounts come with a competitive interest rate.
Aspiration: The Aspiration Summit Account is one of the best checking options on the market. The account earns interest and doesn’t have monthly fees. Aspiration reimburses all ATM fees, worldwide. And the bank has a tool that measures the social and environmental impact of your spending.
Capital One 360: Capital One offers fee-free checking with a little interest, plus no initial deposit requirement. The bank has high-quality digital tools and doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.
Charles Schwab Bank: Schwab has an informative website and well-rated apps, and its High Yield Investor checking offers customers the chance to earn interest. The bank offers unlimited fee rebates at ATMs worldwide, and it doesn’t charge currency conversion fees for debit card transactions made overseas.
Fidelity: Fidelity's Cash Management Account has extensive ATM access, consumer-friendly overdraft policies and unlimited domestic ATM reimbursements.

Best banks and credit unions
Banks chosen for this award are standouts for both checking and savings accounts.
Alliant Credit Union: Alliant has high-rate checking and savings accounts, plus good accounts for teens and a savings account for parents who want to teach their kids money management. Its membership is inclusive: You can apply by indicating your support for a nonprofit, and then the credit union will make a donation on your behalf.
Ally Bank: An online-only bank, Ally Bank has become popular among people seeking strong savings account rates and robust customer service. There are plenty of ways to get your questions answered — by phone, email, snail mail, or live chat, in addition to a stellar help center that answers many FAQs. No maintenance fees or minimum balances are required.
Discover Bank: Discover stands out with its cash-back rewards checking and competitive savings rate. In addition, customers may qualify for a bonus.

Credit cards

Best flat-rate travel card
To be considered, a card generally has to deliver an overall rewards rate in excess of 1%. That usually means either a flat rate of more than 1% or a base rate of 1% with bonus categories at rates of 2% or more.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®: This refreshed travel card scores with a big sign-up bonus and a redemption bonus that pushes the effective rewards rate to 2.1%.

Best bonus rewards travel card
To be considered, a card generally has to deliver an overall rewards rate in excess of 1%. That usually means either a flat rate of more than 1% or a base rate of 1% with bonus categories at rates of 2% or more.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: This card offers high-value rewards, 2x points on travel and dining, a big sign-up bonus and more for a reasonable annual fee.

Best no-fee travel card
To be considered, a card generally has to deliver an overall rewards rate in excess of 1%. That usually means either a flat rate of more than 1% or a base rate of 1% with bonus categories at rates of 2% or more.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: With 3x rewards across a broad range of spending categories, this newly refurbished offering leapfrogs the no-fee competition.

Best flat-rate cash-back card
To be considered, a card generally has to deliver an overall rewards rate in excess of 1%. That usually means either a flat rate of more than 1% or a base rate of 1% with bonus categories at rates of 2% or more.

A card with an overall rate below 1% might be considered if it fills a unique niche in the market, such as a rewards card for bad credit (rare) or a card that's easy for students to get.
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: It's all in the math: 1% when you buy + 1% when you pay = 2% cash back on every purchase.

Best bonus cash-back card
To be considered, a card generally has to deliver an overall rewards rate in excess of 1%. That usually means either a flat rate of more than 1% or a base rate of 1% with bonus categories at rates of 2% or more.

A card with an overall rate below 1% might be considered if it fills a unique niche in the market, such as a rewards card for bad credit (rare) or a card that's easy for students to get.
Discover it® Cash Back: This card offers great rewards in everyday categories and a newcomer bonus in the first year that gets bigger the more you use the card.

Best balance transfer card
To be considered, a product must meet one of these criteria:

  • At least 15 months at 0% APR for balance transfers (preferably 18 or more).

  • A $0 balance transfer fee and at least 12 months at 0%.

  • Some unique feature that will translate into savings for the consumer (e.g., a transfer fee lower than the standard 3% to 5%, or a low ongoing interest rate but not 0%).
  • Amex EveryDay® Credit Card: This card's rare combination of benefits saves you big on fees and interest, allowing you to put more toward paying off debt. There are rewards, too.

    Best 0% intro APR card
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: A long introductory period gives you plenty of time to pay off debt without a penny of interest.

    Best premium card
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Chase Sapphire Reserve®: This card's generous rewards, travel credits and cardholder perks can easily make up for the substantial annual fee.

    Best card for fair credit
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card: For a modest annual fee, this card serves up the same unlimited 1.5% cash back as the version for people with excellent credit.

    Best card for building credit
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Discover it® Secured: This card offers a rewards program with no annual fee, plus a clear path to an upgrade for those who qualify.

    Best small-business cash-back card
    In most cases, these will be cards that offer rewards, but we also look at cards that address a specific niche (e.g., average or bad credit) and/or provide a unique service (e.g., special financing or approval with no personal guarantee).
    Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business: This card gives consumers unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, with no bonus categories or rewards caps to mess around with. Plus, it has a sweet sign-up bonus.

    Best small-business travel card
    In most cases, these will be cards that offer rewards, but we also look at cards that address a specific niche (e.g., average or bad credit) and/or provide a unique service (e.g., special financing or approval with no personal guarantee).
    The Business Platinum® Card from American Express: Generous rewards and outstanding perks make this an invaluable companion for the frequent business traveler, even with its high fee.

    Best card for college students
    Few issuers offer student cards anymore, as the Credit Card Act of 2009 significantly tightened the restrictions on marketing to people under 21. We looked at cards that specifically market to students.
    Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students: This is the rare student card that takes into account the special approval challenges faced by students, including international students.

    Best airline card
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: The Companion Fare perk alone makes this card worth the fee. If you fly this West Coast-based airline regularly, this card is a must.

    Best hotel card
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card: Combining the Marriott and Starwood rewards programs makes this card more valuable and versatile than ever.

    Best store card
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card: You need a Prime membership to get this rewards card, but the rewards from the card can easily pay for Prime membership.

    Best card for families
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Outstanding rewards make this card well worth the fee for families who spend a lot on groceries, gas and department store shopping.

    Best gas card
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: With 3x rewards based on how much you pay, not how many gallons you pump, this option easily beats oil company cards.

    Best card for dining and entertainment
    NerdWallet's evaluations take into account the type of card being reviewed (such as cash back, travel or balance transfer) and the card's rates, fees, rewards and other features.
    Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card: This card is an easy choice because of its unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment for no annual fee.

    Investing

    Best brokers for stock trading
    NerdWallet evaluates online brokers that own a notable slice of market share and/or search volume, indicating that consumers are researching the company/product and want to learn more. Evaluations give the most weight to account fees, stock trading costs and trading platforms.

    When evaluating younger companies, we consider the company's financial health, and we sometimes include niche providers to provide a fuller representation of the landscape for these products.
    Ally Invest: Ally Invest does it all, but it's especially good for active traders who can enjoy volume discounts.
    Charles Schwab: Charles Schwab is good for investors of all stripes. Beginners will find the information they need, while sophisticated tools will appeal to active traders.
    E-Trade: E-Trade’s tools, retirement planning resources and array of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds are a great fit for all kinds of investors.
    Fidelity: Fidelity has a fine reputation for mutual funds, but it should be just as well-known for its brokerage, offering a solid experience for beginning investors without sacrificing anything that advanced investors might need.
    Interactive Brokers: Interactive Brokers is a great choice for active traders, especially if they can move into the broker’s cheaper volume-pricing setup.
    TD Ameritrade: TD Ameritrade requires no minimum investment and delivers standout features, including extensive research, quality customer support and portfolio-building guidance.

    Best brokers for beginners
    NerdWallet evaluates online brokers that own a notable slice of market share and/or search volume, indicating that consumers are researching the company/product and want to learn more. Evaluations give the most weight to account fees, stock trading costs and trading platforms.

    When evaluating younger companies, we consider the company's financial health, and we sometimes include niche providers to provide a fuller representation of the landscape for these products.
    Ally Invest: Ally Invest does it all, but it's especially good for active traders who can enjoy volume discounts.
    Charles Schwab: Charles Schwab is good for investors of all stripes. Beginners will find the information they need, while sophisticated tools will appeal to active traders.
    E-Trade: E-Trade’s tools, retirement planning resources and array of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds are a great fit for all kinds of investors.
    Fidelity: Fidelity has a fine reputation for mutual funds, but it should be just as well-known for its brokerage, offering a solid experience for beginning investors without sacrificing anything that advanced investors might need.
    Robinhood: Robinhood's free-trading app is great for investors who want to buy a wide selection of stocks, options and ETFs without paying commissions or fees.
    TD Ameritrade: TD Ameritrade requires no minimum investment and delivers standout features, including extensive — and free — research, quality customer support and portfolio-building guidance.

    Best brokers for IRAs
    NerdWallet evaluates online brokers that own a notable slice of market share and/or search volume, indicating that consumers are researching the company/product and want to learn more. Evaluations give the most weight to account fees, stock trading costs and trading platforms.

    When evaluating younger companies, we consider the company's financial health, and we sometimes include niche providers to provide a fuller representation of the landscape for these products.
    Charles Schwab: Charles Schwab is good for investors of all stripes. Beginners will find the information they need, while sophisticated tools will appeal to active traders.
    Fidelity: Fidelity has a fine reputation for mutual funds, but it should be just as well-known for its brokerage, offering a solid experience for beginning investors without sacrificing anything that advanced investors might need.
    SoFi Wealth: With a broad range of low-cost ETFs and a competitively priced management fee, SoFi has great features for cost-conscious investors, especially those just starting out.
    TD Ameritrade: TD Ameritrade requires no minimum investment and delivers standout features, including extensive — and free — research, quality customer support and portfolio-building guidance.
    Vanguard: Retirement investors, especially those with higher account balances, aren't likely to find anything better than Vanguard's low-cost funds.
    Wealthfront: Wealthfront offers the kind of holistic financial advice and automated investment management that appeals to new and experienced investors alike.

    Best robo-advisors
    NerdWallet evaluates robo-advisors that own a notable slice of market share and/or search volume, indicating that consumers are researching the company/product and want to learn more. Evaluations give the most weight to account fees and automatic-rebalancing options.

    When evaluating younger companies, we consider the company's financial health, and we sometimes include niche providers to provide a fuller representation of the landscape for these products.
    Betterment: Betterment's goal-oriented tools and features should appeal to retirement investors, and the human advice offering is inexpensive compared with other independent hybrid advisors.
    Ellevest: There's nothing gender-neutral about Ellevest's approach to money management. The service is designed to help women balance short- and long-term goals and understand the tradeoffs, all while taking into account the financial realities they face.
    SoFi Wealth: With a broad range of low-cost ETFs and a competitively priced management fee, SoFi has great features for cost-conscious investors, especially those just starting out.
    Vanguard Personal Advisor Services: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services combines human financial advisors with robo-advisor technology at a reasonable cost.
    Wealthfront: Wealthfront offers the kind of holistic financial advice and automated investment management that appeals to new and experienced investors alike.
    Wealthsimple: Wealthsimple is a clear winner in the values-based investing department thanks to its strong SRI portfolio offerings.

    Mortgages

    Best mortgage lenders for purchase loans
    NerdWallet's evaluations of mortgage lenders take into account loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    New American Funding: New American Funding offers a number of low-down-payment options, a full menu of loan products, an online application and over 100 branches in 48 states. It is an excellent fit for home buyers whose credit history doesn't fit into the traditional mold and who need to be evaluated using nontraditional criteria.
    Quicken Loans: Quicken Loans is great for home buyers with questions. Navigating the homebuying process can be a lot easier using Quicken's online application technology and knowing that mortgage advisors are available with just a tap.

    Best mortgage lenders for refinance loans
    NerdWallet's evaluations of mortgage lenders take into account loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Chase: Chase is stellar for refinancing any way you want: in person, online or over the phone. With branch locations in over 20 states, Chase has a strong face-to-face presence, but refinancers can apply through other channels, too.
    Lenda: Lenda is optimal for tech-savvy home buyers and refinancers in its lending territory. Lenda's automated lending platform offers round-the-clock access to application and loan-management tools. Lenda also offers 24/7 loan tracking, and it doesn't charge origination fees or broker commissions.

    Best mortgage lenders for home equity lines of credit
    NerdWallet's evaluations of mortgage lenders take into account loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    PNC: PNC is perfect for equity borrowers looking for flexibility on loan terms. Its HELOCs have locked fixed-rate terms of five to 30 years.
    US Bank: US Bank is a fit for borrowers who want low fees and options. There are no closing costs, and the annual fee is waived for HELOC borrowers with an eligible checking account. US Bank offers a variable-rate HELOC with up to three fixed-rate options.

    Best online mortgage lenders
    NerdWallet's evaluations of mortgage lenders take into account loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Guaranteed Rate: Guaranteed Rate is first-rate for home buyers and refinancers who would prefer to apply online through their user-friendly digital platform. Guaranteed Rate takes pride in its low loan-default rate, which comes from carefully qualifying borrowers.
    Rocket Mortgage: Rocket is a prime pick for mortgage borrowers looking for an online experience. It provides a high-tech mortgage loan process with on-demand mortgage advisors when you need help.

    Best online mortgage lenders for jumbo loans
    NerdWallet's evaluations of mortgage lenders take into account loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Better: Better is an excellent option for tech-savvy borrowers who prefer an online experience since they provide a seamless and easy-to-navigate application process. Best of all: Better charges no origination fee and offers 10% down with no mortgage insurance on jumbo loans.
    SoFi: SoFi is a jumbo specialist that was among the first to offer a complete digital platform. SoFi offers a variety of mortgage products, including jumbo and interest-only loans.

    Best mortgage lenders for FHA loans
    NerdWallet's evaluations of mortgage lenders take into account loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Citi: Available in all 50 states, Citi is a top-notch option for borrowers with nontraditional credit. FHA mortgages from CitiMortgage feature low-down-payment options and flexible financial requirements so it's easier for first-time borrowers to obtain a home loan.
    New American Funding: New American is superb for home buyers and refinancers who want an FHA mortgage and need to be evaluated using nontraditional credit criteria. The company offers a full online mortgage application, rate quotes, document upload and loan tracking.

    Best mortgage lenders for VA loans
    NerdWallet's evaluations of mortgage lenders take into account loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Guaranteed Rate: Guaranteed Rate is a great option for well-qualified borrowers who don't have much saved for a down payment, especially VA-eligible borrowers who prefer the online experience.
    Veterans United: Outstanding for military-connected customers looking for VA expertise. Veterans United is the nation's largest VA home purchase lender.

    Personal loans

    Best personal loans for good credit
    NerdWallet reviews unsecured personal loan products for several factors, including origination and late-payment fees, impact on credit scores, transparency of loan terms (including APRs and fees), repayment options and customer support. Lenders' ratings may be lowered if they have faced governmental regulatory action in the past five years, have been accused by a reputable source of predatory practices or have a poor online reputation based on consumer complaints.

    Lists based on credit scores (lenders for good credit, for average credit, etc.) reflect lenders' stated credit ranges but may take into consideration averages if we have that data.
    Laurel Road: Laurel Road stands out for low starting rates and no origination fees. Borrowers can add a co-signer to boost their odds of qualifying.
    LightStream: LightStream's starting rates are among the lowest for online lenders. It charges no fees and has a satisfaction guarantee.
    Marcus: For borrowers with good credit, Marcus offers low rates, zero fees and flexible payments, including an option to skip a payment.
    SoFi: SoFi is one of the only lenders to offer fixed- and variable-rate personal loans. Borrowers can also get perks like career coaching.

    Best personal loans for bad credit
    NerdWallet reviews unsecured personal loan products for several factors, including origination and late-payment fees, impact on credit scores, transparency of loan terms (including APRs and fees), repayment options and customer support. Lenders' ratings may be lowered if they have faced governmental regulatory action in the past five years, have been accused by a reputable source of predatory practices or have a poor online reputation based on consumer complaints.

    Lists based on credit scores (lenders for good credit, for average credit, etc.) reflect lenders' stated credit ranges but may take into consideration averages if we have that data.
    Avant: Loans offered through Avant have among the lowest starting rates for fair-credit borrowers. It also has an app to manage loan payments.
    OneMain: OneMain's starting rates are high, but the lender offers the option to secure a loan, which can lower the rate. Borrowers also get free access to their credit scores.
    Upgrade: Upgrade caters to fair-credit borrowers, offering tools like credit monitoring and free educational content. Its loan options include an installment loan or personal line of credit.
    Upstart: Upstart is an option for young borrowers who are new to credit. It considers factors like education and work history in its approval process.

    Best personal loans for debt consolidation
    NerdWallet reviews unsecured loan products on a handful of account factors, including origination and late-payment fees, impact on credit scores, transparency of loan terms (including APR and fees) on lenders' websites, repayment options and customer support. Lenders' ratings are lowered if they have faced governmental regulatory action in the past five years, have been accused by a reputable source of predatory practices or have a poor online reputation based on consumer complaints.

    Lenders are considered for inclusion on the "Best for Debt Consolidation" list if they have features that make sense for consolidation (rates lower than credit cards, direct payment to creditors, etc.).
    Discover: Discover helps borrowers consolidate debt by sending loan funds directly to creditors. Borrowers also get free access to their credit scores.
    Laurel Road: Laurel Road offers rates that are lower than most credit cards, making it a good option for borrowers trying to consolidate credit card debt.
    Marcus: For well-qualified borrowers, Marcus offers rates lower than most credit cards, and borrowers can choose monthly payments that fit their budgets.
    Payoff: Payoff's loans are designed for debt consolidation and include financial guidance to help borrowers stay on track when paying off debt. Features include low starting rates and flexible repayment options.

    Best personal loans for home improvement
    NerdWallet reviews unsecured loan products on a handful of account factors, including origination fees, late-payment fees, impact on credit scores, the clarity of loan terms (including APR and fees) on lenders' websites, repayment options and customer support. Lenders' ratings are lowered if they have faced governmental regulatory action in the past five years, have been accused by a reputable source of predatory practices or have a poor online reputation based on consumer complaints.

    Lenders are considered for inclusion on the "Best for Home Improvement" list if they market loans for home improvement and/or offer loans that we believe make sense for home improvements (low rates, large loans).
    Earnest: Earnest's rigorous underwriting process allows it to offer low rates and no fees for well-qualified borrowers. Borrowers can manage their loan from a mobile app.
    LightStream: LightStream's low rates and high loan amounts make it a good option for funding home improvements. Loan terms extend up to 12 years.
    Marcus: For borrowers with strong credit, Marcus offers low rates, no fees and loan terms up to six years. It also stands out for flexible payment options.
    SoFi: Offering high loan amounts, SoFi can help fund large home improvement projects at competitive rates. Borrowers may also get flexible repayment schedules.

    Student loans

    Best student loans
    NerdWallet evaluates student loan lenders with an origination product and notable search volume, indicating that consumers are researching the company/product and want to learn more. Additionally, we consider niche lenders that serve nontraditional markets.

    Lenders were scored for the presence of 35 features across across multiple categories, including repayment options, customer service, lender transparency, loan eligibility and underwriting criteria. We chose the three lenders with the highest overall ratings.
    Ascent Tuition: Ascent Tuition is the next best alternative to federal direct student loans. Ascent Tuition's loan comes with generous forbearance options and a cash-back graduation reward as long as borrowers meet certain terms and conditions.
    Federal direct student loans: Federal student loans are the best option for borrowers. They offer the most flexible repayment options and the opportunity to receive loan forgiveness depending on the career and repayment plan you choose.

    Best student loan refi
    NerdWallet evaluates student loan lenders with a refinancing product and notable search volume, indicating that consumers are researching the company/product and want to learn more. Additionally, we consider niche lenders that serve nontraditional markets.

    Lenders were scored for the presence of 39 features across across multiple categories, including repayment options, customer service, lender transparency, loan eligibility and underwriting criteria. We chose the three lenders with the highest overall ratings.
    CommonBond: CommonBond stands out for its longer-than-average maximum forbearance period and the fact that it allows borrowers to refinance their parents’ loans with their own.
    Earnest: Earnest stands out for an underwriting approach based on a borrower’s earning potential and the financial accounts he or she connects, not just credit score.
    SoFi: Borrowers who refinance with SoFi get access to unique perks like free career coaching and no-fee investing.

    Best student loan refi for fast payoff
    Lenders were scored for the presence of several fast-repayment features (such as easily arranged or automatic extra payments). Of those that scored the maximum number of points, we chose the three with the highest overall ratings.
    Earnest: Earnest stands out for an underwriting approach based on a borrower’s earning potential and the financial accounts he or she connects, not just credit score. Earnest also lets borrowers schedule multiple extra payments at once.
    SoFi: Borrowers who refinance with SoFi get access to unique perks like free career coaching and no-fee investing. SoFi also lets borrowers make biweekly or greater-than-minimum payments automatically.
    Splash: Splash Financial lets married couples refinance their loans together and lets borrowers make biweekly payments automatically.

    Best student loan refi for customer service
    Lenders were scored for the presence of nine customer service features, such as use of in-house customer service representatives (instead of a third-party call center), number of available help channels (phone, live chat, email, etc.), presence of an ombudsman and website clarity (such as the clear display of interest rates, loan terms and late fees). Of lenders that scored the maximum number of points, we chose the three with the highest overall ratings.
    Education Loan Finance: Education Loan Finance matches each borrower with a personal loan advisor for the length of the refinancing process, walking borrowers through the application procedure and payment scenarios.
    Purefy: Purefy assigns each refinance customer a personal student loan advisor and gives borrowers access to an in-house customer service team.
    Splash: Splash Financial has an in-house customer service team and assigns each refinance customer a dedicated banker to work with.

    Taxes

    Effective as of Jan. 15, 2019.

    Best tax software
    NerdWallet evaluates online tax software for the price of federal and state returns, the breadth of free offerings and the usability of the software, as well as customer-support options.
    H&R Block: H&R Block's software offers a solid, clear experience, and the company's network of brick-and-mortar locations is a warm, fuzzy security blanket for many filers.
    TaxAct: TaxAct brings a revamped user experience to software that remains less expensive than similar products from the competition.
    TurboTax: With its cutting-edge support and comprehensive design, TurboTax is in many ways the standard for the do-it-yourself tax-prep industry.

    Travel rewards

    Best hotel rewards program
    NerdWallet evaluated hotels with major presences in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas (> 300 locations). We looked at the average cost of reward redemption in 15 U.S. cities and 15-25 international cities.
    World of Hyatt: Among all hotel programs, World of Hyatt offers the best return when using points for hotel rooms. Its average value of 1.7 cents per point is higher than all other hotel programs we surveyed.

    Best hotel rewards program for luxury travelers
    NerdWallet evaluated hotels with major presences in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas (> 300 locations). We looked at the average cost of reward redemption in 15 U.S. cities and 15-25 international cities at high-end properties (defined as the upper half of the category spectrum, or upscale hotels when hotels have no defined award categories).
    World of Hyatt: Among luxury hotels, World of Hyatt's points offer the biggest value for travelers compared with other hotel chains. Its points go further at high-end hotels, resulting in serious savings for travelers.

    Best hotel rewards program for families
    NerdWallet evaluated hotels with major presences in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas (> 300 locations). We looked at the average cost of reward redemption in 15 U.S. cities and 15-25 international cities. Factors included the value of points and how quickly travelers could earn one free night (on average) with a hotel credit card.
    Radisson Rewards: For families, there's no cheaper way to get to free nights than through Radisson Rewards. Through regular spending on their Radisson Rewards credit card, budget-conscious travelers can earn free nights faster than with other programs.

    Best domestic airline rewards program
    NerdWallet evaluated eight major airlines headquartered in the continental U.S. We looked at the average cost of award redemptions across each airline's 20-25 busiest routes as determined by data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, plus randomly selected international flights from an airline's network. We did not review airlines that do not have stand-alone loyalty programs or that have flat rewards programs.
    American Airlines AAdvantage: On both domestic and international routes, American AAdvantage can't be beat. Our research shows that on average, AAdvantage points are worth more than other frequent flyer miles when used for flights, especially those that end in other countries.

    Best domestic airline rewards program for families
    NerdWallet evaluated eight major airlines headquartered in the continental U.S. We looked at the average cost of award redemptions across each airline's 20-25 busiest routes as determined by data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, plus randomly selected international flights from an airline's network. We did not review airlines that do not have stand-alone loyalty programs or that have flat rewards programs.
    Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards: Family travelers are best served taking advantage of Southwest Rapid Rewards and its customer-friendly policies. With a solid rate of rewards for frequent flyers, no checked-bag fees and no cancellation fees, families have a lot of flexibility when flying Southwest.