woman paying with a credit card

For more than 15 years, I carried around the same two credit cards in my wallet. I had a fixed-rate card through my neighborhood credit union and another low-interest card through my bank. It wasn’t until after years of using my trusty cards that I learned I wasn’t taking full advantage of my credit cards. I’m talking, of course, about credit card rewards and deals.

Gone are the days of plain old credit card points. These days, you can score big with cash back, travel perks, small-business benefits, low interest offers and balance transfer specials. It’s important to be well informed about credit card offers to ensure you’re taking advantage of competitive rates and the best incentives.

After researching current card offers, I’ve selected my top five credit card picks for 2016. My list includes a variety of card companies, incentive types and credit qualification types.

When it comes to card shopping, take your time. A rushed decision can cost you perks and, even worse, money. Familiarize yourself with a card’s introductory interest rate as well as when that rate expires or changes. Don’t forget to pay close attention to the annual fees and your credit limits. Doing your homework makes you a smarter borrower and a more skilled consumer.

Take time to read the fine print and understand how your redeemed points work. Some cards have hidden fees and agreements couched within the details. Consider other factors like security and grace periods when choosing a credit card. A grace period is the time between a purchase and interest accrual. The longer the grace period, the more time you have to pay down your purchase.

And this might go without saying, but never get a credit card to purchase something you want but don’t need. There might be introductory discounts from department or big box retailers, but entering into a borrowing agreement for the purposes of buying something you can’t afford is bad money sense. Instead, work hard to keep a zero balance on your cards, then save for the things you want.

Here are my five credit card picks, in no specific order, in case you’ve recently asked yourself, “What is the best credit card for me?”

BankAmericard Cash Rewards Card

If you want a card with a great cash back offer, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card is definitely worth considering.

Best Thing: You can get a $100 online cash rewards bonus when you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first three months of opening your credit card.

Benefits:

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and 3% on gas up to the first $1,500 in combined grocery and gas purchases every quarter
  • There’s a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first year
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America checking or savings account

Credit Type Needed: Good

Regular APR: 13.24% to 23.24%

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Bank’s Slate Card is probably the bank’s most popular card, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was named Money Magazine’s best credit card for travel rewards in 2016. The card offers more flexibility than other travel perk cards with no blackout dates and relaxed rules when redeeming your points.

Best Thing: If you spend $4,000 in purchases over the first three months from opening your card, you get $625 (50,000 bonus points) toward airfare or hotels.

Benefits:

  • No annual fee for the first year, and then $95 annually afterward
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user to your card and make a purchase within the first three months of opening it
  • Earn double points on travel and restaurant dining; earn one point per dollar spent on all other purchases

Credit Type Needed: Good

Regular APR: 16.24% to 23.24%

Citi Simplicity Card

The Citi Simplicity Card touts one of the longest 0% APR periods available and is a valuable card to have when it comes to a good rate for balance transfers.

Best Things: There are no late fees on this credit card ever! Plus you can enjoy 0% APR for 21 months after opening your card.

Benefits:

  • No annual fees
  • No penalty rates
  • Low balance transfer fee ($5 or 3% of the transfer amount), whichever is greater.

Credit Type Needed: Excellent

Regular APR: 13.24% to 23.24%

Barclaycard Ring MasterCard

The Barclaycard Ring MasterCard is a good option if you’re looking for a card with a low APR. It also offers no balance transfer fees. If you’re a frequent international traveler, you also can take advantage of the card’s no foreign transaction fees.

Best Thing: This card offers a low variable APR of 8.25%.

Benefits:

  • No annual fee
  • The Giveback program allows you to receive a percentage of your card purchase back in the form of points or cash back
  • Get a complimentary FICO credit score as a benefit for active cardholders. You can also opt in to have instant access to your FICO score on your online account

Credit Score Needed: Excellent

Regular APR: 8.25%

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Card

Capital One offers more than funny Samuel L. Jackson commercials! The rewards on this card don’t expire, and you have flexibility on redeeming cash back. This card also has a low annual fee of $39.

Best Thing: Even if you have just average or fair credit, you may still qualify for a Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Card.

Benefits:

  • Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase; no limit to how much you can earn
  • There’s 0% introductory APR until November 2016
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time

Credit Type Needed: Fair

Regular APR: 23.24%

After all of this credit card talk, above all, don’t lose focus on the fact that credit cards aren’t the best option to sustain your finances from day to day. But you can rest a little easier by having a reliable credit card in your wallet to reach for when you need one. Whichever card you decide on, remember to be disciplined and don’t allow it to tempt you into making unnecessary purchases!

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