In search of the best credit card in America


Looking for the best credit card in America? I’m still standing by a prior recommendation if you’re someone who pays your bill in full every month.

Consumers have been shedding credit card debt at an incredibly fast pace. I read in Barron’s that the outstanding balances at nation’s the biggest credit card issuers are down roughly by 20% to 50% from their peaks 3 years ago. That’s because a small percent of us defaulted to be sure, but the larger majority of us paid down those balances!

We’ve increased what we’re saving too. This is a great trend, this combo of saving more and reducing the risk that debt poses to us by reducing those balances on your credit cards. (I spoke recently about how this is happening with mortgages too.) Of course, it’s not every single person in the country, but the cumulative effect is that people are deciding the anxiety of owing everybody money just isn’t working for them.

The funny thing is the banks now have credit card portfolios that aren’t as profitable for them. So for those with pretty good credit scores to great credit scores, you’re likely having your mailbox bombed with preapproved offers for new credit.

Last year, I told you how the solicitations were up from roughly 4 times the level they were years before. This year, we’re not back to the old days where everybody and their brother would have a minimum of 3 solicitations per day, but the number is still substantially up.

My wife must have a better credit profile than I do. It’s not unusual for her to get those 3 pre-approved offers a day. All the offers I’m seeing sent to her are back to the hysteria from a few years ago, with big type on the envelopes shouting about bonuses, points, miles, etc.

If cash is king for you, Fidelity Investments still is the best card to get. They have 3 different plans that all pay 2% cash-back, no games and no gimmicks. The money can either go into a 529 plan, a Roth or the Fidelity equivalent of a checking account and it’s your money to spend.

Cards that have those teaser intro rates — where you can get 10% cash-back (and then it says “for 90 days” in mice type) or where they constantly change the category of purchase that qualifies for cash back — are a joke. You practically have to make it a part-time job figuring out how to best use them. So if you’re looking for simple, look at Fidelity.

If you carry a balance, I’d instead recommed you look at any credit card that’s issued by a credit union. They typically charge lower interest rates than the big banks do.

One final thought. I discourage cards that offer airline frequent flier miles because those miles are so hard to redeem. The airlines are always raising the number of points it take to redeem a ticket. The only exception is if you are a very frequent flier on a particular airline. Then it might make sense.


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