After paying your dues with credit-building cards, you’ve achieved an enviable credit score. Your FICO score has climbed into the upper-700s, and the preapproved offers in your mailbox are no longer for subprime offers but for cards that require “excellent credit.”
Yet this new world can be daunting. As frustrating as bad credit was, your game plan was simple: Get approved for whichever secured card would take you and celebrate the small victory of getting approved for an unsecured cards with no or limited rewards. Now, you have options — many, many options.
Because your decision should be based on your needs (and only you know what those needs are), we’re not going to recommend the “best cards for excellent credit” or anything like that. What we can suggest are some of the perks and benefits now within your reach – and what you shouldn’t settle for.
You don’t have to pay for the card unless you want to
Generally, secured cards cost you money in some way, either via an annual fee, or a required deposit to secure the credit line. Cards for excellent credit, meanwhile, don’t have to cost you anything – although you may opt for an annual-fee card that brings you additional benefits.
In some cases, cards designed for prime customers offer two versions of the product – one with an annual fee and one without. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival is available as a no-annual-fee version and as an $89-a-year “Plus” version. American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), meanwhile, offers the Blue Cash Everyday card as a no-annual-fee counterpart to the Blue Cash Preferred card. Its “EveryDay” cards also offer annual-fee and no-annual-fee versions.
Cards with annual fees generally offer higher rewards rates and additional benefits. If you’re not sure that you’ll get your money’s worth, consider trying a no-annual-fee card first and then then exploring the more lucrative perks that cards with annual fees provide.
Expect a sign-up bonus
Now that your credit is in better shape, expect a reward for giving an issuer your business. And, no, just approving your application is no longer enough.
Often, issuers targeting prime customers will give bonus points or cash back if you spend a certain amount in the first several months of cardmembership. In other cases, the issuer may double the rewards you earned over a certain period.
Make sure you research sign-up bonuses before applying to make sure it’s the best offer out there. For example, you might see an offer for $100 cash back (after meeting a spending target) advertised somehwere — but then find a limited-time offer for even more (for the same spending target) in your mailbox or on a card-comparison site.
Insist on accelerated rewards and higher point value
Even some cards for fair credit give rewards – albeit modest ones. In the big leagues, though, you no longer have to be grateful for whatever you can get. That might mean elevated cash back (more than 1 percent back) across the board. It might mean even more cash back in certain categories (5 percent back in rotating categories, for example, or 2 percent back year-round on dining and travel). Or, it might mean benefits that allow you to transfer points into other programs where they’ll fetch a superior value.
Seek out premium perks and protections
Issuers seeking prime customers market their cards toward those who will use them for expensive purchases (including travel) – and who want to protect those purchases. Certain basic perks come with even fair-credit cards nowadays, but cards for those with excellent credit may offer higher coverage limits and enhanced protections.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card provides primary rental car insurance, which pays out before your regular car insurance. Most other cards, in contrast, provide secondary insurance, meaning you have to first file a claim under your regular insurance. The Platinum Card from American Express, meanwhile, offers higher coverage limits (compared to most other cards) when it comes to coverage for stolen items and for lost or stolen baggage. A few cards (including the American Express Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold) give complimentary roadside assistance for certain services up to four times per year.
Also, because excellent credit is more likely to land you a Visa Signature, World MasterCard or World Elite MasterCard — you’ll have access to those cards’ suites of benefits, including travel insurance, as well.
Get reimbursed for travel expenses
It’s becoming a trend for travel cards to offer statement credits against incidental travel purchases. Now that your credit puts such cards within reach, you can be reimbursed to the tune of $100 to $200 a year for things like baggage fees, in-flight food, hotel spa visits and drink and lounge access. Check out our table that shows cards providing this perk. And don’t forget the travel cards that provide complimentary lounge access.
Not all premium credit cards provide all the perks above. But, if any of these benefits are important to you, you should have an easier time qualifying for a card that provides them. While card terms and benefits differ, with excellent credit, you should seek out a card that combines solid protections with generous perks and lucrative rewards redemptions.