With the U.S. economy picking up steam, credit card companies are again wooing consumers with free balance transfers, low-and no-interest charges for months on end, and generous rewards.
"2015 is going to be a fantastic year for consumers," said Kevin Yuann, director of credit cards at rate-shopping site NerdWallet. "Competition between issuers has increased incredibly, and that's going to mean better rates and better rewards for card holders."
Good offers are becoming available to a growing range of consumers, said Jill Gonzalez, spokeswoman for CardHub, another rate-shopping service. The site's latest credit landscape report found that where the best deals were previously reserved for people with perfect credit, consumers with merely good and average credit are now being presented with increasingly attractive offers.
The one caveat is that consumers need to dig more deeply into the terms and conditions of their credit card agreements before they apply, said Bill Hardekopf, chief executive of LowCards.com. All too often, consumers overlook balance transfer fees and the circumstances under which their no-interest deal could be taken away.
"The balance transfer fee can eat up everything you are going to save in interest," he said. "That fee often gets rolled into your balance, too, so you even pay interest on the fee."
Many card issuers also snatch away their zero-interest offers if you make even one payment late. "That can be a huge gotcha," Hardekopf said.
But if you're meticulous about making payments on time and don't mind diving into the details of credit card offers, it's a good time to add a little plastic to your wallet, these experts agree. All three sites recommend cards based on the cardholder's wants, whether that's the lowest rate, best balance transfer offer or the highest reward.
Here are some of the top cards of 2015:
For balance transfers:
Chase Slate is the top card for consumers wanting to transfer a balance because of one key distinction -- the card waives its balance transfer fee for any balance transferred to the card within the first 60 days. Since balance transfer fees typically range from 3 percent to 5 percent of the transferred amount, this feature can save a small fortune for those who overspent over the holidays. Additionally, the card offers zero-percent interest for the first 15 months. After that, cardholders pay between 12.9 percent and 22.9 percent, depending on their credit.
For new purchases:
If you're planning to buy a big-ticket item that you can't pay off right away, the Citi Diamond Preferred Card gets CardHub's top rating. The reason, you get 18 months interest-free on new purchases. After that, this no-fee card charges 11.9 percent to 21.9 percent, depending on credit.
When it comes to rewards, the options are legion and there's no real consensus on the best card. The reason: Attractive rewards are in the eye of the beholder. Some people like getting cash back, while others prefer air miles or statement credits. However, all three sites rate the Barclaycard Arrival highly for rewards -- in the top three offers -- largely because the issuer provides 40,000 bonus points to those who charge at least $3,000 in the first three months of owning the card. That translates to a $400 credit for travel purchases.
NerdWallet gives the Starwood Preferred Guest card by American Express its top ranking, partly because it waives the $65 annual fee in the first year, has a generous reward rate and provides 25,000 in bonus points to those making $5,000 in purchases during the first 6 months. However, the card is only advisable for those who stay at Starwood Hotels, since the rewards are redeemable for free stays and other travel goodies with Starwood partners.
LowCards gives its top reward card rating to Capital One's Quicksilver card, which has no annual fee, a 1.5 point per dollar spent rewards rate and a $100 bonus for those who spend $500 in the first 3 months.
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