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As the pandemic continues to disrupt both the economy and daily life, many people are struggling to get their personal finances in order. And while it may seem counterintuitive to think about credit cards if you’re having money issues, the right card can be a useful tool in your financial arsenal.
How? Well, a new credit card could help by temporarily letting you finance the things you need to buy at 0% interest, or consolidating debt at a lower interest rate. Or perhaps you just want to make sure you’re earning as many rewards as possible when you’re ordering online or having food delivered to your home, or booking that long-needed vacation as travel springs back to life.
Our comprehensive methodology compares every aspect of each credit card to our “benchmark credit card” to determine which cards can potentially help you the most. So give yourself a few minutes to take a look at our list of the best credit cards for September and see if one might be useful to you right now.
The best credit cards of September 2021
Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best sign-up bonus
Chase Freedom Flex: Best for flexible rewards
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for U.S. supermarkets
American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining
Citi Premier® Card: Best for gas stations
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Best for balance transfers
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: Best introductory rate on purchases
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for easy travel redemptions
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Best for small businesses
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business: Best for larger businesses
Why did we select these cards as our best credit cards for August? Dive into the details of each card with us, and see how they stack up.
Citi Double Cash Card
Best for flat-rate cash back
Why it’s great in one sentence: The Citi Double Cash Card is both simple and lucrative, offering a market-leading 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay your statement — for no annual fee.
This card is right for: People who want a card that will work for them but don’t have the time, patience or interest to chase bonus categories or figure out complicated travel loyalty programs.
- Earn 2% cash back on all purchases with no limit.
- 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers made in the first four months after you open the card (13.99%-23.99% variable afterward).
- Cash back can be converted to Citi ThankYou travel points at a ratio of 1 cent per point when combined with the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier.
- No annual fee.
Sign-up bonus: None.
What we like about the Citi Double Cash: Life is complicated enough — not everyone wants to make their credit card complicated as well. If you don’t want to deal with bonus categories, transfer partners or spending caps, you can’t get much simpler than the Citi Double Cash.
But “simple” doesn’t have to mean “weak.” In fact, you’ll get 2% cash back on practically everything you buy with this card, which is the best ongoing flat-rate return you’ll find on any no-annual-fee credit card out there.
Yes, if you want to put in extra effort to maximize bonus categories or if you’re willing to pay an annual fee, you can absolutely get more in overall rewards or perks. But if you don’t want to make your credit card another thing in your life to worry about, you can put the Citi Double Cash in your purse or wallet, and set it and forget it.
What could be better: The Citi Double Cash is a no-frills credit card, so you won’t find any fancy travel or dining perks on it, nor are there any significant travel or purchase protections. You also won’t want to use this card for overseas purchases, as the 3% foreign transaction fee will offset the rewards you earn.
Having the option to convert the card’s cash back to Citi ThankYou points when you have other premium Citi cards is useful to points and miles experts, but the ThankYou program’s airline transfer partners can be challenging to leverage for beginners, who might want to just stick with the card’s cash back rewards.
The balance transfer offer does come with a 3% fee, though that’s comparable to other credit cards with similar balance transfer features. And the Citi Double Cash doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus, which means other cards might be more rewarding right out of the gate, though the Double Cash will catch up with long-term use.
Why it’s our “benchmark” credit card: The ease of use and straightforward top-of-market cash-back earning rate of the Citi Double Cash are why CNN Underscored uses the Double Cash as our “benchmark” credit card to compare the features of other credit cards and determine if they’re better or worse overall.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Best sign-up bonus
Why it’s great in one sentence: The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 100,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after you open the account, and the points can be redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards, or in other eligible categories using the card’s “Pay Yourself Back tool for 1.25 cents per point through September 30, 2021.
This card is right for: People with larger than average travel and/or dining expenses who want to redeem their credit card rewards for travel.
- Earn 3 points for every dollar spent on dining, select streaming services and select online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs).
- Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on travel, or 5 total points if purchased through Ultimate Rewards.
- Earn 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022.
- Points can be redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.
- Now through September 30, 2021, points can also be redeemed for purchases at grocery stores, dining establishments and home improvement stores at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.
- Points can also be transferred to any of Chase’s 14 airline and hotel partners.
- 10% anniversary point bonus on all your yearly spending,
- $50 annual hotel credit that can be used for any booking made via the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- $95 annual fee.
Sign-up bonus: Earn a record-high 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.
What we like about the Chase Sapphire Preferred: It may not seem like it, but at over 10 years old, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is practically the granddaddy of travel rewards credit cards. But to Chase’s credit, it’s keeping the card fresh by recently introducing new features that make the card even more useful.
WIth classic travel and dining bonus categories, newly-added bonus points on streaming services and online groceries, 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022 and a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (which is the highest we’ve ever seen on this card), you should be able to score plenty of points even if you can’t fly much at the moment, since Chase defines “travel” very broadly to include purchases like mass transit, tolls, parking and even ride-shares.
But the real power of the Chase Sapphire Preferred is in its redemptions. You’ll get 1.25 cents per point in value when you redeem your points through Chase’s travel portal. And last year, Chase added a new “Pay Yourself Back” tool to the Sapphire Preferred, which allows you to redeem points on purchases beyond just travel. The current eligible categories are grocery stores, dining establishments (including delivery and takeout) and home improvement stores, and through September 30, 2021, you’ll get 1.25 cents per point when redeeming this way.
Plus, you can get potentially even more value when you transfer your points to one of Chase’s 14 travel partners. In fact, the Ultimate Rewards program still features some of the best transfer partners around, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Hyatt Hotels, and all partners transfer at a 1-to-1 ratio (meaning you’ll get 1 point in the partner program for every 1 point you transfer from Chase).
To top it off, you can safely use the Chase Sapphire Preferred overseas, since it has no foreign transaction fees on international purchases. It even provides primary car rental insurance, so you don’t have to look to your own auto policy first if you have an accident with your rental car.
What could be better: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a classic, but in some ways, it’s starting to get a little long in the tooth. Other credit cards offer even higher bonus points on travel purchases (though usually accompanied by higher annual fees), though if you book travel through Ultimate Rewards with the Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 5 total points for every dollar you spend.
Even our benchmark Citi Double Cash card earns 2% cash back -— 1% when you make a purchase, and 1% when you pay it off — on everything you buy, including travel, though you can get more value when redeeming your Sapphire Preferred points than you can with simple cash back.
For many people, the Sapphire Preferred isn’t as flashy as its big brother, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with travel perks and a $300 annual travel credit (but also a significantly higher annual fee). But if you don’t need or won’t use all those extra perks, you may be better off with this significantly less-expensive version.
Where it beats our benchmark card: Travel, dining, streaming services and online grocery bonus categories, excellent travel protections, solid airline and hotel partners, sign-up bonus.
Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.
Chase Freedom Flex
Best for flexible rewards
Why it’s great in one sentence: If you’re on the fence about whether you’d prefer to rack up cash back or travel points, the Chase Freedom Flex allows you to do both when paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
This card is right for: People who want maximum flexibility in a no-annual-fee credit card.
- Earn 5% cash back on travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and 3% at drugstores.
- Earn 5% cash back in bonus categories that rotate, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter.
- Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Expert users can convert the cash back to flexible travel points when pairing the Freedom Flex with a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card.
- 0% introductory APR on all purchases for the first 15 months (14.99% to 23.74% variable afterward).
- No annual fee.
Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 in bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months after opening the account, plus 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
What we like about the Chase Freedom Flex: If you prefer cash back now but think that a dose of adventure is in your future, the Chase Freedom Flex can give you the best of both worlds.
The Chase Freedom Flex starts by earning cash back in three permanent bonus categories: 5% cash back on travel purchases made via Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining — including takeout and delivery — and 3% cash back at drugstores.
Then you’ll also earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in bonus categories that rotate each quarter. The categories for July through September 2021 are grocery stores and select streaming services, but each quarter’s categories are different. And if you’re a new card holder, you’ll get 5% cash back on grocery purchases for the first 12 months you have the card, up to $12,000 in total purchases.
That’s a pretty great package already for a cash back credit card. But when you pair the Chase Freedom Flex with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your cash back to points at a rate of 1 cent per point. Then you’re able to redeem those points for travel at an increased value of 1.25 to 1.5 cents apiece via the Chase travel portal, or in other categories using the “Pay Yourself Back” tool.
Even better, once you’ve converted your cash back to points, you can transfer them to any of Chase’s 14 airline and hotel loyalty partners. This amazing flexibility is why frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece. At that rate, since you’re earning 1.5% cash back on the Freedom Flex, you could effectively end up with a 3% return on your purchases.
Other benefits of the Chase Freedom Flex include cell phone protection, purchase protection, extended warranty protection and a three-month complimentary subscription to DashPass.
What could be better: You must remember to activate the rotating bonus categories each quarter in order to earn 5% cash back on them. While you can activate them almost anytime throughout the quarter and still get the bonus cash back retroactively on purchases you’ve already made, it’s important not to miss the deadline or you’ll lose out on an important feature of the card.
Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, cell phone and purchase protections, and introductory rate on purchases for 15 months.
Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash offers a higher overall cash back rate and an introductory rate on balance transfers.
Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express
Best for U.S. supermarkets
Why it’s great in one sentence: The Blue Cash Everyday card earns 3% cash back as a statement credit at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 annually, then 1%) and 2% back at U.S. gas stations, while also offering a generous introductory interest rate on purchases for 15 months, all with no annual fee (see rates and fees).
This card is right for: People who spend a significant amount of their money at U.S. supermarkets each year and don’t want to pay an annual fee for a credit card.
- Earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
- Earn 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores.
- Earn 1% cash back on everything else.
- Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
- 0% introductory APR on all purchases for the first 15 months (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward, see rates and fees).
- Car rental loss and damage insurance included.
- No annual fee.
- Terms apply.
Welcome bonus: Earn $100 back as a statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months after opening the account, plus earn 20% back on Amazon purchases in your first six months of card membership, up to $150 back.
What we like most about the Blue Cash Everyday: For many Americans, a significant portion of the monthly family budget goes to supermarket expenses. The Blue Cash Everyday card dials up the bonus cash back in that category, as well as at gas stations, creating a go-to in your wallet for two routine purchases.
The card also pairs its bonus categories with an introductory 0% APR on purchases for the first 15 months. But you’ll want to make sure your debt is paid off by the end of the intro period, as the APR jumps to a variable 13.99% to 23.99% afterward.
New card members will also find a welcome bonus that should come in handy: $100 cash back as a statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first six months, plus 20% back on Amazon purchases in your first six months of card membership, up to $150 back. That’s a decent chunk of change, especially if you already spend a lot of money at Amazon.
What could be better: Bonus cash back isn’t earned on purchases outside of the US with the Blue Cash Everyday, and there’s a 3% foreign transaction fee on top of that (see rates and fees). Plus, there’s no way to convert your cash back to American Express Membership Rewards points, which are potentially more useful for those who may want maximum flexibility in redeeming credit card rewards for travel down the line.
Also, the more expensive version of the Blue Cash Everyday is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets — double the Blue Cash Everyday — on up to $6,000 in purchases each year (1% thereafter). The Blue Cash Preferred also offers 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit.
In exchange for those higher bonus rates, you’ll normally pay a $95 annual fee each year, but right now the Blue Cash Preferred comes with a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year (see rates and fees). So you’ll need to consider whether the Blue Cash Everyday with no annual fee or the Blue Cash Preferred with a $95 annual fee after the first year is a better choice for your needs.
Where it beats our benchmark card: Welcome bonus, an introductory interest rate on purchases, car rental damage coverage.
Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has an introductory balance transfer offer and its cash back can be converted to Citi ThankYou travel points when combined with the Citi Prestige Card or Citi Premier.
American Express Gold
Best for dining
Why it’s great in one sentence: The American Express Gold Card is a top-notch card when it comes to food, as you’ll not only get a relatively high return at both restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, but also some incredible baked-in benefits.
This card is right for: People who either eat at restaurants or order food for delivery on a regular basis.
- Earn 4 points for every dollar you spend at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1x).
- Earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide.
- Earn 3 points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn 1 point per dollar on everything else.
- Up to $120 in annual dining credits.
- Up to $120 in Uber Cash annually.
- $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Terms apply.
Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months after opening the account.
What we like about the American Express Gold: It’s not a cheap card with a $250 annual fee, but hang on, because the perks on the Amex Gold can quickly outweigh its cost thanks to its numerous statement credits.
Aside from earning a lot of points, you’ll earn up to $10 in statement credits each month with the Amex Gold when you use your card to pay at select food merchants, including Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations (enrollment required).
You’ll also earn up to $10 in Uber Cash each month, which can be used for either Uber rides or Uber Eats orders. So if you’re ordering out regularly these days, you can easily use up both the Uber Cash and the dining credits each month.
If you’re able to utilize all of these credits each year, that’s up to $240 in credits, which means you’re effectively only paying $10 for the card even with its $250 annual fee.