A credit card can be a useful tool or it can be a dangerous weapon. Most of this depends on you — the best credit card in the world won't help if you spend beyond your means. American adults carry thousands of dollars in average credit card debt. I lived a decade mired in it and I don't recommend it to anyone. If you're responsible, however, a credit card can be both convenient and efficient. In the first part of this series, I noted that I save 1% on my utilities by paying with my cash-back credit card. These are expenditures I'd make anyhow, but the card saves me money. (As a bonus, using the credit card helps with my quest for a paperless personal finance system.) But there are hundreds (thousands?) of different credit cards to choose from. You can compare each card against the average credit card rates , but beyond that how can you tell which is best? How to choose a credit card When readers have asked me for credit card recommendations in the past. I've always declined. First, I'm still not completely convinced that credit cards are a good idea. Second, I don't have the resources to judge which cards are best. I do know, however, that it's important to choose the right card for your lifestyle:
  • If you are are someone who revolves a balance credit card debt, focus on cards that offer low interest rates (especially on balance transfers) — and put a stop to new charges.
  • If you pay your balance in full every month, find a cash back credit card with no annual fees and a solid cash rewards program.
  • Some credit card users have special needs. If you spend a lot on gas, consider a gas credit card that gives added rewards on auto expenses. If you travel a lot, look for a card with rewards for flights and lodging.
When choosing a credit card, Money magazine recommends you pay special attention to the Schumer Box, a prominent table in every credit card application. In general it's important that you understand the different aspects of the credit card application. Look for: Don't choose a card just because it offers a signup bonus or because it gives you a discount at your favorite store. Read the terms and conditions. Understand the card's limitations. Remember: your goal is to pick a tool, like a vacuum cleaner. You're not looking for a one-time bonus, but a long-term relationship you can live with. The Best Credit Cards Consumer Reports wrote an article about using credit cards sensibly without falling prey to their traps. The folks at CardRatings.com have compiled their featured credit cards in the table below. Below the table, the CardRatings research staff provide their top picks for the best credit card offers for 2014 by category, breaking out many of the card details so you can compare things like interest rates, bonus rewards and balance transfer promotions on the best credit cards out there.
Credit Needed
Excellent
X

  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months--then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%. A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months. Then the variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%.
  • Over 5,000 cardmembers rated 4.8 out of 5 stars* and now Discover "Ranked Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Credit Card Companies in a Tie" by J.D. Power*.
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Credit Needed
Average/Fair
X

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on gas, grocery, and utility purchases and 1 point per $1 everywhere else
  • Use the points you earn like cash to pay for almost any purchases you've made.
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Credit Needed
Excellent
X

  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days - that's enough to redeem for a $200 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on travel and dining and 1X miles on all other purchases
  • Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
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Credit Needed
Excellent
X

  • 0% intro APR on purchases & balance transfers for 14 months--then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%. A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance.
  • Over 5,000 cardmembers rated 4.8 out of 5 stars* and now Discover "Ranked Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Credit Card Companies in a Tie" by J.D. Power*.
  • 5% cash back for online shopping and department store purchases on up to $1,500 - Oct. through Dec. 2014 when you sign up*. 1% cash back on all other purchases.
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Credit Needed
Average/Fair
X

  • Get Pre-Qualified for a Platinum Visa credit card
  • Choose your card design from our premium gallery
  • Keep an eye on your credit information with free online monthly credit score tracking
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Credit Needed
Excellent
X

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days - that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases - Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Get 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits
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Credit Needed
Poor
X

  • Unlimited 1% cash back gas rewards
  • No limit to the gas rewards you can earn
  • Get Pre-Qualified without affecting your credit score
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Disclaimer:*These quotes are from credit card issuers which have paid for a link to their website. Offers are subject to change without notice and may not be the same for all consumers.

Best Low Interest Rate Cards If you're more interested in a rock-bottom interest rate than cash back, merchandise, or travel, here are some of the very best low-interest rate credit cards available. The first two are based on straight APRs, the last three are based on introductory rates for new accounts only:
  • Iberiabank Visa® Classic. This credit card issuer was one of the first in the industry to get rid of over-limit fees. The variable Annual Percentage Rate (APR) tiers for purchases this card offers is also one of the lowest in the industry.
  • Simmons First Visa® Platinum. This bank, actually a collection of Arkansas community banks, has one of the lowest variable Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for purchases in the industry.
  • USAA Rate Advantage MasterCard®. The as-low-as 6.9% APR makes this a great card for consumers with excellent credit. And the legendary customer service USAA is known for is an added bonus.
  • Chase Slate®. This no-frills credit card offers 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the introductory period expires the purchase and balance transfer APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. As an introductory offer if you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open you will not be charged a balance transfer fee. Slate also comes with Chase's Blueprint system to help you manage your spending.
Best Cash Back Cards You can't beat cold hard cash, no matter what the state of the economy. Here are the top credit cards that offer the best percentage cash back deals:
  • Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express. This cash back credit card lets you deposit up to 2% cash back of your purchases into your eligible account with Fidelity.
  • Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. Card holders can earn 1.5% cash back on purchases. There is a $39 annual membership fee.
Best Travel Miles Cards If accumulating travel miles to a trip to Europe or anywhere else in the world is a better incentive for you than cash, try these cards:
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. The Venture card allows you to earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase and offers flexibility on what you can redeem your miles for - travel, cash back, merchandise and gift cards. There is a $0 introductory annual membership fee for the first year then a $59 annual membership fee after that.
  • PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card. This flexible travel rewards card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. The card's 5 points per dollar on airfare purchases is one of the best travel rewards programs around. You need to be a member of PenFed Credit Union to apply for this card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred®. Chase is currently offering 40,000 bonus points worth $500 toward airfare or hotel accommodations when you redeem through Ultimate Rewards℠ after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of Cardmembership. You can also earn two points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants. They also recently dropped the foreign transaction fee. There is an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95 after that.
Best Reward Points Cards If you'd rather not have your points limited to airline travel, try these cards:
  • Fidelity® Investment Rewards® Visa Signature® card. Card members get 1.5 points for every dollar they spend on the first $15,000 in purchases per year, and 2 points per dollar in purchases thereafter. The redemption system is online and easy to negotiate: you can convert 5,000 points into a $50 deposit to qualifying Fidelity brokerage accounts. But if you would rather spend the cash on something more frivolous than your retirement, you have that option too--there's a list of travel and luxury retail rewards as well. And there's no hurry to redeem the points; you can take up to five years to turn them in.
  • Amazon.com Rewards Visa® Card from Chase. The Amazon Visa can earn as much as 3 points on your online shopping sprees on Amazon.com and pay with reward points at checkout.
Best "Bad / No Credit" Credit Cards These are not the old subprime lenders of pre-crash era; the new poor/fair credit card lenders are both financially sound and ethical:
  • USAA Secured Credit Card. If you or a family member served in the military, you can get the full benefit of a card secured by an interest-earning CD, for a low annual fee. You have a choice between American Express® or MasterCard® version of the card, both offer the same rate and annual fee however the perks and benefits differ.
Most Innovative Credit Card. Capital One gets kudos from us for being straight forward, using clear language on its website and in monthly statements to explain how to build and maintain good credit, and for finding creative ways to encourage young consumers to develop good credit habits. A higher-than-average APR may encourage card holders to pay their balances in full each month, which would help establish good financial habits. You can research other cards at the following sites:
  • CardRatings.com is part of U.S. Citizens for Fair Credit Card Terms, a consumer advocacy group devoted to educating consumers about credit cards.
  • IndexCreditCards has what is probably the longest list of credit card offers to compare and choose from online, with nearly 2,000 cards. They also have credit card calculators that calculate how long it will take you to pay off your card or how much additional to pay to get it paid off by a certain date.
  • The FatWallet forums have a great what credit card should I get? FAQ.
  • GetRichSlowly has steps to get free online credit report.You can check:how to get free credit report as well as our own credit card comparison tables.
  • In Canada, try Money Tools, a website run by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. It provides an interactive credit-card selection tool.
Please make sure to double-check offer terms at the card issuers website as terms change frequently and the information above may not be up to date by the time you read this. If you choose to use credit cards, make a commitment to use them responsibly. I believe that most of the people who read this site are ready to do so. Like me, you may have had trouble in the past, but the fact that you're willing to learn more about personal finance demonstrates that you have some semblance of discipline. Use it. Finally, here's an infographic from CardRatings on how to choose a credit card.
Looking for the best credit card? Find the one that's right for you at CardRatings.com
For Credit Cards, get expert reviews and ratings at CardRatings.com.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company.