Q: Hey found this site and you have a lot of good advice man. The reason I came here was because I want to get a credit card, or maybe a few, that have free money on them. Plus I don’t want an annual fee, at least for the first year. Do you have any recommendations?
A: I can definitely help steer you in the right direction but let me first clarify a couple things.
The “free money” comes with stipulations
It used to be you could apply for a credit card a get the bonus right up front. For the most part, they stopped doing it this way because there would be some people who would apply for a card but not use it.
Now most of the free credit card deals require you to spend a minimum amount before the cash comes. For example, if a card offers $100 bonus it might require you to spend $500 or more before that bonus shows up on your account. So technically you are not getting anything for free. And of course if you carry a balance and pay interest or an annual fee, that’s something else to factor into the equation. Plus, on some you might pay an annual fee after the first year.
Here are my top recommendations for November/December 2013…
#1. Chase Freedom®
This is the best deal you will find right now, if it’s a money bonus you’re after. Why? Because you can convert your reward points to cash (statement credits) at a good conversion of 1 point = 1 cent.
Right now you can earn a $200 Bonus Cash Back after you make $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account (please note this is a limited-time offer). And this is a great card to use for the long haul because of its generous cash back program. There’s no annual fee.
#2. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Next up is another card from Chase which you have also probably heard of before because it’s so popular (I use both this and the Freedom).
If you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of opening your account, you earn 40,000 bonus points. If you redeem those points for cash back, it’s $400 worth! Or you can redeem the points for travel and get even more value out of them.
Spending $3k within 3 months shouldn’t be too difficult to do since that’s an average of $1k per month in spending. Even if you normally don’t spend that much, you can always buy gift cards from grocery stores, gas stations, etc. in order to help you reach that threshold faster – and then use those gift cards later on.
There is an Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95.
#3. Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard®
After you spend $750 in the first 3 months of opening your account, you get 10,000 bonus points (which can be redeemed for $100 cash back). This is an easy requirement to fulfill, since $750 spread over 3 months is only an average of $250 per month.
The card has no annual fee and a good rewards program: 2 points per dollar spent on gas, grocery, and utility purchases, 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
#4. Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard
If you want almost free money to spend on virtually any travel purchase, then check out this offer. If you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account, you earn 20,000 bonus miles. However these are not frequent flyer miles. Rather, each of these “miles” is worth 1 cent in cash back that can be used to offset practically any travel purchase made with the card. That means your bonus is worth $200 towards travel.
For example, redeem 20,000 miles to pay for a $200 hotel room. Or if you buy a $450 airplane ticket, you can still redeem the 20,000 bonus miles to reduce the cost of it by $200.
There’s no annual fee for this credit card and you will earn 2 miles per dollar on travel and dining purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
#5. Discover it® for Students
Are you in college? If so, check out this card. Admittedly the bonus is not that large, but it’s easy to get approved if you are a student (the others above require a good established credit history). After your very first purchase you earn a $20 Cashback Bonus.
And this is card you will want to use for the long haul because it earns 5% cash back on categories when you signup for them, 1% on all other purchases.
And guess what? There is no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, no fee for making payments by phone, no fee for going over your credit limit, and no fee on your first late payment!
Don’t open and close an excessive number of cards
Before you make cashing out free card bonuses your second occupation, understand that your FICO score looks at the average age of your accounts. The higher the average age, the better.
This is why you don’t want to go overboard signing up for credit cards with money/airline/point promotions. So try and stick with a card you will actually want to keep and use.
A bunch of credit checks aren’t good either
Every time you apply for a new card, loan, etc. there is a credit check (a.k.a. credit inquiry) that is done to see if you’re worth your salt.
For 12 months after, a credit check might impact your score. Usually not by much – maybe just a few points, maybe not at all.
At any given time it’s normal to have a few of these on file. But if you start applying for say, 5 or 10 cards over the period of a couple months, then that’s going to be 5 or 10 credit checks… and that high of a number for such a short period of time and therefore it will probably ding your score temporarily (until they are no longer counted – 12 months from date of inquiry).
So don’t go crazy and apply every time you see cards with money on them being offered. Be picky and only go for the best, which I’ve listed here and constantly update.
This post was written or last updated November 18, 2013