So there are literally hundreds of credit cards out there and you’re probably seeing dozens of ads every day on TV, online, or even in the mail about which ones to apply for. And with so many options, I know it’s tough to choose what cards make the most sense for you, which is why in this blog, I decided to make it easy by listing out the seven best credit cards of 2023 based on everything that I’m seeing in the overall credit card market. I tried to make this list as simple as possible to follow as I go through the main features and benefits that each one of these cards has, and this is also going to be more of a high-level overview of these cards just to tell you why exactly I like them and why some of these cards might be a good fit for you. So as always, let’s get right into it here.
1. Citi Custom Cash
But the first credit card on this list is a new favorite of mine over the past year since it was released, and I think it’s going to be worth it for absolutely anyone to have in their wallet. And that is the Citi Custom Cash Now, first of all, Citi Custom Cash has no annual fee, which is a great feature for anyone who hates paying for a credit card. And the reason I had to include it on this list is largely due to its extremely unique earning structure. So the custom cash card gets 5% back each monthly billing cycle on whatever your highest spend category is across one of 10 categories, which includes restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drug stores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs, and live entertainment.
Now, the three categories that stick out the most to me that I think people might want to get this card for are restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations, since those are kind of higher spending areas. So the trick to using this credit card most effectively is to actually think of it as a dedicated one-category card that you won’t use on anything else because you’re only getting 1% back on any other purchases outside of your high-spend category.
That means that if you only use it for groceries, then automatically that’s going to be where you’ll get 5% back. Or you could use it only for gas and then get 5% back on gas, which makes this a great option to have right now with all these prices that are extremely high. It’s all up to you if you want to change up the category that’s used with this card throughout the year. So you have a lot of options for how you can earn 5% back in different billing cycles. Now that 5% back is only effective for up to $500 of spending each monthly cycle, which means that you can basically earn up to $25 of cash back per cycle.
Currently, Citi is offering a $200 signup bonus for the custom cash after spending $750 in the first three months of account opening, which is a pretty solid offer and pretty easy for most people to reach. And by the way, all these earnings on the custom cash are earned in the form of Citi thankyou points that can be easily converted to cash back. Unfortunately, there is a 3% foreign transaction fee on the custom cash. So it’s not a great option to use internationally, but I am going to cover some other options in this blog that have no foreign transaction fees that I’ll get into just a bit.
2. Chase Freedom Flex
Now for a credit card number two on this list, we’re going to stick with no annual fees and move over to another 5%-back card that I think is also a no-brainer for most people. And that is the Chase Freedom Flex. I think it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card out there because it does give you a lot of value with several earning categories and benefits. Now to start off with this card, it has a welcome bonus right now that’s available where you’re going to get $200 after spending only $500 in the first three months of account opening, so a little less spending is required with the Citi Custom Cash. And that $200 bonus is received in the form of 20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be redeemed for cash back at a value of one cent per point for $200, or you can turn those 20,000 points into upwards of $400 worth of travel or more by combining the Freedom Flex with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which I’ll quickly touch on next year, but a lot of you are probably already familiar with this.
Also for the Freedom Flex welcome bonus, right now Chase is currently offering 5% back on gas for your first year on up to $6,000 of spending, which is really good additional value for anyone. Alright, now outside of the welcome bonus, the Freedom Flex is also going to be a solid card for everyday spending since it gets 5% back on up to $1,500 of spending each quarter in rotating categories that are going to change every three months. Now, these categories are decided by Chase, but right now, for Q2 of 2023, they include Amazon purchases, and for Q1, they include grocery store purchases, so usually Chase gives you some good ways to earn 5% back. And you can also get 5% back on the Freedom Flex for travel booked in the Chase Portal, 3% back on dining, 3% back at drugstores, and then 1% back on all other purchases. Now there are plenty of other smaller benefits on the Freedom Flex, like a cell phone protection benefit, but unfortunately, like the custom cash, there is going to be a 3% foreign transaction fee.
3. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Since I included the Freedom Flex on this list as the third credit card here, I also have to include its sibling that pairs really well with the Freedom Flex as more of a catch-all card, and that is the Chase Freedom Unlimited. So Chase Freedom Unlimited also has no annual fee and earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and along with that, its welcome bonus right now is the exact same as the Freedom Flex’s: $200 or 20,000 Chase points after spending $500 in the first 3 months, as well as 5% back on gas for your first year. But again, that offer is probably going to change sometime soon, so just be aware of that if you don’t see it. Now on top of that similar welcome bonus, Unlimited is also similar in that it gets the same 5% back on travel books through Chase, 3% back on dining, and 3% back at drugstores. And then additionally, it’s important to know that there’s no cell phone protection benefit like there is on the Freedom Flex, and there’s also going to be that same 3% foreign transaction fee.
A lot of people kind of wonder why Chase even bothers having both of these cards if there are so many similarities, but the main difference is that the Freedom on the Mid gets a flat 1.5% back on everything else, while the Freedom Flex gets that 5% back in the rotating categories like I just talked about. So they work pretty well to complement each other, plus you can also pull together all of your Chase points under one account. But personally, I like the Flex just a little bit more than the Unlimited, just because over the course of a year, I tend to earn slightly more on the Flex by optimizing which card I’m using for different purchases. And also, when we look at Freedom Unlimited, I know it’s only getting you 1.5% back, and there are a lot of other good cards out there that get 2% back on everything, like the SoFi credit card, the Citi Double Cash, and the Wells Fargo Active Cash. So some people might wonder why I’m including Freedom Unlimited on this list over those other options.
There are two major reasons why I decided to do this and why I believe Freedom Unlimited is superior to those 2% back cards. First, the Freedom Unlimited typically has a standard $200 welcome bonus, whereas some of those other 2% back cards like the Citi Double Cash specifically don’t have any welcome bonuses. And I know Wells Fargo Active Cash can give you $200, but I’ve mostly moved on from Wells Fargo over the years. And honestly, I’m just not that big of a fan of them after their recent scandals. But the second reason I really like the Freedom Unlimited is that the 1.5% cash back on this card can actually become much more than that when we pair it with another amazing Chase card that I have to briefly include here in this blog. and that is the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Now as you can probably tell, I really like what Chase credit cards offer for the majority of people out there at any stage in their credit card journey, but I don’t want to make this a Chase hype blog, so I’m actually just including the Sapphire Preferred as a bonus card on this list and I’ll explain why. So the Chase Sapphire Preferred is honestly a no-brainer card to get in terms of getting a lot of easy value, and I could have definitely included it as one of my top cards on this list. It has no foreign transaction fees, but it does come with a $95 annual fee. However, it also has a standard welcome bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months with this card. Those 60,000 points are worth $750 towards a travel book through Chase’s portal thanks to a 25% points boost feature, so $750 in value minus that $95 fee is $655 here, which is great.
And after one year with the card, if you don’t want to pay another $95 annual fee, you can actually go ahead and downgrade it to one of those no-annual-fee Freedom cards. So really, I view the Sapphire Preferred as an easy and sort of risk-free way to get a ton of value upfront, but I choose to keep it open after that first year, mainly for its Chase Points redemption features, like getting that 25% points boost, and also because of the ability to get twice the value or more for your points with the Sapphire Preferred’s 1-to-1 transfer partners. But basically, having the Sapphire Preferred can turn 1.5% back on the Freedom Unlimited into 3% back or more, and it can turn 5% back on the Freedom Flex into 10% back or more if I transfer my points to a partner program like Hyatt, which is personally my favorite choice. Again, that might sound confusing if you’re new to credit cards and travel, now that I’m done basically hyping up the Chase trifecta.
4. Capital One Venture X
Next, we can move on to credit card number 4 on this list, which is going to be an easy-to-use premium travel card that’s another new favorite of mine, and that card is the Capital One Venture X. So the Venture X is more focused on people that like to travel maybe a few times per year, but the cool thing is that it’s actually going to be much easier to justify getting this premium travel card compared to some other options out there. And that’s because, first of all, even though the Venture X comes with an annual fee of $395 per year, which seems pretty high at first, that’s still significantly cheaper than its two main competitors, the $550 Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the $695 Annex Platinum Card. But on top of a cheaper annual fee, Capital One also gives you a $300 annual travel credit that you can use to book things like flights, hotels, and car rentals in the Capital One Travel Portal.
But then, when you keep this card open for each account anniversary, Capital One is going to give you 10,000 miles as a bonus, which is going to be worth a minimum of $100 when you redeem them for travel in the Capital One Portal. So now that effectively brings your annual fee down to a negative $5, which means Capital One is basically paying you $5 per year to have this card. Now $5 isn’t much, but the main idea here is that you’re easily offsetting the cost of that annual fee on this card. That way you can enjoy all the other great travel benefits, features, spending multipliers, and a welcome bonus that you get with it as well. So for the welcome bonus, Capital One is currently offering 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 on this card in the first three months from account opening.
And again, those 75,000 miles are going to be worth a minimum of $750 for travel in the Capital One portal, or potentially more if you use their transfer partners. And then for those spending multipliers, the Venture X card gets you 10x miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked in the portal, 5x miles per dollar on flights booked in the portal, and 2x miles per dollar on all other purchases, which are some really good earning rates. There are also some nice travel benefits, as I said, including a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, no foreign transaction fees, and access to airport lounges from Priority Pass and Capital One, even though there are only three Capital One lounges that are going to be open in 2023 in Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, and Washington Dulles, but there should be plenty more to come in the future. You also get primary auto rental coverage and up to four free authorized user cards that have the same travel benefits as well, which can be very valuable to a lot of people.
5. Discover It Cashback
Now, for credit card number five on this list, we’re going to go back to no annual fees and talk about one of the most popular cards for many years now. That would be the Discover It cashback card. So this is a credit card that’s very common for people to get very early on in their credit journey because of how easy Discover makes it to get approved for beginners. And even though this is definitely a beginner-focused credit card, the value you can get from this card, especially in the first year of having it, is pretty tough to beat, which is why I had to include it in this blog. So the Discover It card kind of works like the Chase Freedom Flex because it also gets 5% back and rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 and spending each quarter. Now, like the Freedom Flex, these rotating categories are very useful and normal categories that a lot of people are going to spend money on for everyday expenses like gas, groceries, restaurants and Amazon. So there’s a lot of potentials to get a solid return on spending in those categories throughout the year and getting around 5% back is really what we want to aim for in as many categories as possible with credit cards.
Also, outside of those rotating categories, you’ll still be getting 1% back on everything else, which isn’t great, but it’s pretty standard and it’s better than nothing. Now, the cool thing about the Discover It card is that even though there’s no upfront welcome bonus, like some of the other cards that I’ve mentioned in this blog, there’s still a great cashback match offer where Discover will literally match dollar for dollar whatever cashback you earn in your first year of having this card. So if you maxed out that 5% back on up to $1,500 in spending in those categories each quarter for your first year, that means you would earn $300 of cashback, and Discover would match that and give you an additional $300. Effectively, that means 5% back in those rotating categories becomes 10% back in your first year, and 1% back on everything else becomes 2% back in your first year. There are also no foreign transaction fees on the Discover It card, but Discover might not be as commonly accepted in different countries depending on where you are. So it can be a good option for international travel, but probably not the best option.
6. Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature
Next for card number six in this blog, I have to include a card that many people are going to love for online shopping that sounds like a store credit card, but it’s really not. And that is the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card. So this card technically has no annual fee, but you do need an Amazon Prime membership to get these benefits. So I know that I have Amazon Prime because it’s worth it for me and for millions of other people. So if that’s you, then I’d consider getting this credit card. First, there’s usually some sort of a welcome bonus for an Amazon gift card that you get instantly when you’re approved.
So right now, I’m seeing an offer for a $100 gift card, which is a great deal considering there’s no minimum spend requirement, which many other cards have. And the cool thing about this Amazon Prime Visa card is that it’s not like other Amazon store credit cards you may have seen, in that it can only be used at Amazon. So make sure you get the right version that’s going to come with all the benefits that I’m going to go over here. So you get not only 5% back on Amazon.com and their physical stores, but you also get 5% back at Whole Foods, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drug stores, and then 1% back on all other purchases. Also, there are no foreign transaction fees either, which is really cool because there are not too many no-annual-fee Visa cards out there that also have no foreign transaction fees.
There are also some rotating 10% offers available to Prime Card members that Amazon will change from time to time. So I’m sure every Now and then you can find some stuff that’s going to essentially give you a 10% discount. But outside of some other standard protections and things like that, there’s not much else to the card, which actually can be a good thing for some people that are just looking for a simple option to load into their Amazon account as their default payment method to lock in 5% to 10% back on the entire website.
7. Amex Gold Card
Finally, we are moving on to the seventh credit card on this list, which is one of my personal favorites because of its focus on food spending, and I spend a lot on food myself. which is the Amex Gold Card. So the Gold Card from American Express is one of the most iconic cards when people think of premium credit cards, even though I guess it really is technically more of a charge card since there’s no set credit limit and you have to pay off any of your charges in full every month. It can be somewhat of a travel credit card, so there are no foreign transaction fees, but there are really three important reasons why I love the Amex Gold Card for people that can handle it.
Number one is obviously the signup bonus that you can get, which is currently at least 60,000 membership rewards points, but I’ve been seeing offers lately for up to 75,000 points and even up to 90,000 points. So my advice for people considering this card is to get the highest offer that you can find by going over to the Amex website on different browsers, trying to find offers by using incognito mode, or by using someone else’s referral link. And reason number two why I love the Amex Gold is how it earns membership rewards points: by getting 4x points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, 4x points per dollar on groceries at US supermarkets, and 3x points per dollar on flights.
Now I don’t really use this card for flights because I have other cards that can earn more, but as a credit card that’s focused on food, the Amex Gold is great, especially if you spend a lot on food or even if you’re feeding a family. And, because food is usually our third-highest spending category after housing and transportation, I believe it is critical to try to maximize your spending here. But then the third reason why I love this card is actually what’s most important in deciding whether it’s worth it for you, and that is the $240 in annual credits that you get each year. So, each month, you get $10 in Uber Cash to use for Uber rides or Uber Eats, as well as a $10 dining credit to use at participating restaurants.
These are use-it-or-lose-it credits, so you have to use them each month because they are not going to roll over to the next one, but if you’re someone that already spends money at these places or on these things, then you can get up to $240 back each year. And that’s really important because there is a $250 annual fee on the Amex Gold, but if you’re getting good value from these credits, as I do, then your effective annual fee is much closer to $10. So what do you think of this list? Do you have any of these cards or are you going to apply for any of them this year? Or what credit cards did I not mention in this blog? Let me know in the comment section below.