American Express fills a niche among credit card issuers by offering a variety of credit cards and charge cards for consumers, small business owners and corporate customers. While credit cards allow you to revolve balances, charge cards must be paid off each month. American Express cards for excellent credit offer some phenomenal cash back rewards. American Express cardmembers have access to benefits like roadside assistance, Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance, purchase protection programs and more. And even if you prefer not to carry a credit card or charge card, AmEx's ground-breaking prepaid debit card can connect you to many of the company's cardmember benefits.

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Best-known American Express cards

Most consumers associate American Express with its series of charge cards bearing the familiar centurion logo. Though many of the company's customers start with the "green" charge card, Card Members often graduate to Gold Card or Platinum Card status based on income and annual spending levels.

The company's close ties with large companies often enables employers to put corporate charge cards in the hands of executives, purchasing agents, and managers. Many road warriors aspire to earn a Centurion Card, the invite-only "black card" that comes with a dedicated concierge and access to some of the world's most exclusive events. Its small business credit card lineup includes The Plum Card from American Express OPEN that offers flexible payment options. Terms and restrictions apply.

Other types of American Express cards

While early American Express cards required monthly payments in full, it now offers cards that enable consumers to carry a balance from month to month. Their line of travel credit cards includes co-branded accounts with Delta, JetBlue, and Starwood. Meanwhile, the company markets a collection of cash back credit cards under the "Blue" moniker, offering cash back on everyday purchases for qualifying card members. Terms, limitations and restrictions apply.

American Express has always positioned itself as an elite brand, but a few of its newest products aim to make the company more accessible to younger consumers. A series of prepaid debit cards from American Express carry no service fees, challenging the status quo of more expensive cash management products.

American Express history

The way American Express does business today reflects its long corporate heritage. American Express launched in the middle of the 19th century as one of a few "express" companies that transported bonds, cash, and other valuables from coast to coast. The company invented the travelers cheque and developed new technology to facilitate safe, secure cash transactions across borders. In 1957, American Express responded to the popularity of the Diners Club card by launching its own iconic charge card.

After dabbling for a few decades in other financial services, American Express returned to its roots by focusing on services that add value for consumers, travelers, and merchants. American Express often gets criticized for charging some of the highest credit card transaction fees, but American Express uses those revenues to help fund its fraud detection and purchase protection programs, not to mention its cash back rebates. If you travel frequently, make regular business purchases, or simply want to enjoy some generous membership rewards, an American Express card may be a great match for your needs.