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Credit Card Debt Calculator”

Best credit cards for 2016

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This week, I’m sharing my favorite accounts with you.

Let’s get to it.

When my book was originally published, I named names. This is why some banks will never, ever partner with me. Oh well!!

My old favorite credit card: Citi PremierPass card

Anyway, in the first chapter on credit cards, I shared the details of my favorite credit card at the time: the Citi PremierPass card. In fact, I had used it as my primary credit card for several years and recommended it to hundreds of thousands of people.

That’s changed now.

Citi tightened up on its credit-card lineup, dropping several of their most compelling rewards. This was highlighted in a devastating column in the New York Times.

Hilariously, Citi actually mailed out a note to cardholders trying to spin the reduction of benefits into something like ‘exciting new features’ — but it was obvious to anyone with a pulse that the most compelling rewards were being removed.

And so I began an exhaustive search for a new credit card. Because I spend a significant amount on my credit card, I expect significant rewards. Also, I consider it a fun game to find the 99.99999th percentile best card in the world. This is why women find me irresistible.

Today, I’ll share my new favorite credit card. I consider it the best card on the market — even better than my Citi card — and in addition to using it myself, it’s the  card I’m recommending to my readers.

First, 6 rules about credit cards

  1. Interest rate doesn’t matter if you don’t carry a balance. The interest rate is irrelevant as long as you’re paying off your entire balance each month. Don’t keep a balance, please – if you are, stop reading now and use my credit card payment calculator to pay it down quick.
  2. Use a rewards card. The vast majority of people should use a rewards card. If you’re already spending money, you should be rewarded for it. Exceptions are people who can’t qualify, who should instead use a secured credit card.
  3. I prefer travel cards over cash back. Most people would benefit more from travel rewards than from cash-back. I describe the details of why in my book. For some reason, people get really mad when I make this recommendation, but I don’t care.
  4. I prefer general rewards cards, not airline-specific cards. Unless you fly a majority of flights on the SAME airline, I prefer a general travel card instead of an airline-specific card (like a United card). For example, I fly Jetblue and Virgin a lot, so I want a travel card that I can redeem on multiple airlines, not just one.
  5. Annual fees are not Satan’s spawn. I know it may be blasphemy to personal-finance “experts,” but I’m willing to pay an annual fee! OMG! This is why you can call me RTR: Ramit The Rebel. In some cases, there are no-fee versions of the card, so you should always calculate if you spend enough to justify it. Still, $65/year is just not that significant to my financial situation any more.
  6. I am merciless about using my credit card perks, which can easily be worth $1,000/year. DO THIS.

Bonus: You can now get the full first chapter of my bestselling book, called “Optimize Your Credit Cards.” for free, because I want you to have the tools and word-for-word scripts to fight back against the huge credit card companies. Download it free now.

What I want from the best credit card

My bottom line is I want to get free flights and free hotels. For example, when I go on vacation, travel for friends’ weddings, or travel between NYC and SF.

Alternatively, I want to upgrade to business class when I travel abroad.

And I don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed for idiotic things like blackout dates, penalties, and fees.

So with that in mind, here is…

The best credit card for 2016 is…

It’s the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

When I first discovered this card, I actually wasn’t sure how many places accept AMEX. But after using the card for nearly a year, I’m happy to report that I use my AMEX 95% of the time. (I always carry a Mastercard or VISA backup, just in case.)

This is the best travel card on the market. Here’s why:

4 Starwood perks that matter most

  1. Flights + hotel points: Whenever you spend money, you earn points, which you can redeem for flights (on virtually airline) and hotels (in the Starwood program)
  2. Flights: The Magical 25% bonus. Let’s say you redeem 20,000 Starwood points to your American Airlines frequent-flier program. Starwood will give you a 25% bonus — that’s 5,000 points — which is a HUGE bonus to get free flights faster. This is worth a ton in free flights.
  3. Hotels: You can stay at hotels for just 2,000 points, which is great if you just need a basic place to stay. But if you want ultra-luxury, Starwood has top-of-the-line properties (including the St. Regis and even higher-end resorts) that will accept your Starwood points. Here are the cheapest hotels and most expensive.
  4. Customer service: I fanatically test the customer service of companies I work with. My goal is for them to call me a diva in writing. I opened a second Starwood card (biz + personal) and somehow, they didn’t connect the card to my Starwood account. That meant that I had lost something like 15,000 points over the last few months. I sent them an email and a few hours later, they said, “We’ve retroactively applied your points.” Done. I love it.

Other perks:

  • Starpoints® bonus: earn up to 25K bonus points — 10K with your first purchase and another 15K when you spend $5K within the first 6 months of Card membership – enough for a weekend getaway to a Category 4 hotel like the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
  • Free Hotel Nights: redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels in over 100 countries worldwide — with no blackout dates
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with hotels and resorts participating in the SPG® program
  • Earn 1 Starpoint® for each dollar of eligible purchases
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
  • Terms and Restrictions Apply.

My final test was this: The world’s best consumers of credit cards are management consultants at firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. That’s because basically the only thing these consultants care about is points. Many of my friends have over a million points and are anal — even more than I am — about their choice of cards.

They love their credit cards more than their girlfriends! True.

I know a bunch of friends who work at these places, and every one uses this card. DONE!

Downsides with AMEX credit cards

Few things here.

One negative thing is that AMEX isn’t always accepted (it is about 95% of the time in NYC, less so elsewhere), so I have to carry a backup Mastercard/VISA.

Second, not everyone qualifies for AMEX. They are stringent about who they accept so you may be rejected.

Third, they give you a low credit limit. You can request a credit-limit increase in 60 days, then 6 months later, so if you do get this card, set your Google calendar reminders. (How I got around this: I paid it off multiple times/month so I could spend what I needed to.)

Places to read about this Starwood card

You should always do your own research. Here are 2 places to see what others have said, as well as understand the perks/rewards in great detail.

Other credit cards I recommend

If you are a weirdo and hate traveling, (1) get a life, and (2) the best cashback card is the Fidelity 1.5% cashback card. I have one of these, but only use it as a backup. Starwood is my primary.

Should you keep your old credit card?

My recommendation: If you’re looking for a good credit card, apply for this and if you get accepted, KEEP YOUR OLD CARD (don’t close it, which will negatively affect your credit). But start transitioning your auto-pays to this card and start accumulating miles.

Your goal should be to get at least 3 free hotel stays this year, but most of you will be able to do much more than that.

NEXT STEPS: If you want my favorite credit card

If you’re interested in getting this card, here’s a link to see if you’re approved.

Depending on their offer, you can usually get 10,000-30,000 points upon signup.

Example: Up to 25,000 Starpoints (use, e.g., for 2 free nights at a Category 5 Hotel like the Westin Maui Resort & Spa or Le Parker Méridien New York).

P.S. I have a few special, obscure tools I use with my credit card to optimize the experience. I’ll write about those in the future.

Tomorrow, the best savings account for 2016.

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80 Comments

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  1. My favorite credit card is the Citi Forward card. You get 5 Thank You points for the following categories:
    – Restaurants, bars/clubs, Starbucks (80% of my monthly expenditures)
    – Movie theaters
    – Book and music stores
    You also get the following features:
    – 1 Thank You point on every other purchase
    – 6000 bonus points after $250 purchases in the first 3 months
    – 2500 bonus points for signing up for paperless billing
    The Thank You points can be redeemed generally for $100 gift cards for 10,000 points. So you get 8,500 ($85) pretty easily in the first 3 months. I usually get Bloomingdales, CVS, or gas gift cards.

  2. The “Fidelity 1.5% cashback card” link actually takes us to “Fidelity® Investment Rewards® Visa Signature® Card.” It isn’t a cash-back card at this point.

    Just FYI.

    • Technically, it is a cash-back card and it’s 2%, not 1.5%. You do have to deposit it into a Fidelity account to get the 2% cash back (otherwise it’s 1%), but you can withdraw it as soon as it’s in the account if you don’t want to keep it there. Or you can get the Citi Double Cash, which is a flat 2% without the extra process.

  3. Ramit,
    Boy I wish I had been looking out for this 6 months ago. Just got done paying for a wedding on my Chase Sapphire (paid off in full every month) and going to 3 friends’ weddings (ending this weekend). With this I easily could have stayed on Maui for free.

  4. Any suggestions on a good travel card that is Master Card or Visa? There are not many AMEX vendors in the mid west.

    Thanks!

  5. If you are recommending a Fidelity card as a non-travel card, this one is way better:

    http://personal.fidelity.com/products/checking/content/amex_rewards_card.shtml

    AMEX & 2% cash back (into Fidelity account, not a check, but you have to have a Fidelity account to get the card anyways).

    • That’s the card he recommended (He just wrote 1.5% instead of 2%). It’s not an Amex anymore, though.

  6. Lovely series Ramit, I’ve been looking to switch checking accounts and have been on the look out for a better card than my Discover More. Would you also consider doing a best brokerage account?

  7. I’ve had this card for 5 years and agree, it is great! I just used my points to get the following discounts for my honeymoon: 2 nights free and the rest at half off. Pretty great for a luxury hotel. While there I waived the insurance when renting a car. Most places did accept the card, btw.

    I also paid for most of our wedding with it. So I have tons of points for our next vacation. It’s really like a secondary savings.

    They are also very good about contesting unknown charges (I returned something and was not credited by the retailer). It only happened once, but was impressed with how quickly AMEX handled the situation.

    Well worth the minor annual fee.

  8. So can I ask — just how low is the AMEX “ridiculously low” credit limit? I might get one to pay for wedding deposits etc, but those are in the thousands of dollars… so if it’s only $1000 or so it wouldn’t be feasible for me.

    Love these recommendations, keep them coming!

  9. anyone else having trouble with the survey page not working?

  10. He is right the limit was really low to start. Like $500. It was a real pain to start because I wanted to use it to get points but I would always max it out and I could only pay off the balance online once a month. After 60 days they let me pay it off whenever I wanted so the limit was less of a big deal and they gradually increased it. I will say though that I have made significant use of the free hotels and they are really nice ones. I highly recommend it. Its very useful once you get past the annoying first few months.

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