Best credit cards for holiday shopping in 2021

This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.

Between supply-chain challenges and the lingering specter of COVID-19, there’s plenty to be anxious about as the 2021 holiday season approaches. Shoppers who hatch a plan, stay under budget and use the power of credit cards can maximize their shopping potential — and harness extras like cash back and purchase protection. All of our picks for the best holiday shopping credit cards have no annual fees, and many feature solid 0% introductory APR periods, competitive welcome bonuses and relevant rewards programs.

Intro Bonus$200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening

APR13.99% – 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for any BTs made in the first 60 days. A 3% fee (min. $10) applies.

Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Balance Transfer APR13.99% – 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Late Payment Fee Up to $40

Foreign Transaction Fees 3%

Penalty APR up to 29.99% APR

  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.

Our Take

The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card* will earn you the most cash back if you do most of your shopping online this holiday season. “Online shopping” is one of the categories you can choose for the card’s 3% cash-back rewards rate. Note that you need to proactively select this rewards category on Bank of America’s app or website. You’ll also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined quarterly purchases on 3% and 2% categories, then 1%), and a 1% cash-back rewards rate on all other purchases, encompassing any other incidental holiday costs.

The introductory bonus of $200 online cash rewards (after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days after account opening) and 0% introductory APR for 15 billing cycles on purchases and on any balance transfers made in the first 60 days (13.99% to 23.99% variable APR thereafter) also make this card competitive with our other picks.

Intro Bonus$200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

APR14.99% – 24.74% Variable

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Balance Transfer APR14.99% – 24.74% Variable

Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

Penalty APR Up to 29.99%

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Our Take

The Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card offers purchase protection against damage or theft of items within 120 days of purchase — issuing refunds for up to $500 per claim at a cap of $50,000 per account. It’s like insurance on your holiday gifts. This card also offers some of the best amenities of the other cards: a low-spend intro bonus and 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases (14.99% to 24.74% variable APR thereafter). And with no annual fee, you can maintain these purchase-protection benefits and rewards year-round. In doing so, you can reap the benefits of the generous rewards rates for nonholiday categories (like grocery stores and drugstores) offered by this card.

Intro BonusN/A

APR14.49% – 24.49%* (Variable)

Recommended Credit Good/Excellent

Reward RatesN/A

Annual Fee$0*

Intro Purchase APR0%* for 20 billing cycles on purchases*

Intro Balance Transfer APR0%* for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers*

Balance Transfer Fee Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater

Balance Transfer APR14.49% – 24.49%* (Variable)

Foreign Transaction Fees 2% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in U.S. Dollars. 3% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in a Foreign Currency

Our Take

While the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum card doesn’t offer an introductory bonus or rewards program, the 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for a whopping 20 billing cycles (14.49% to 24.49% variable APR thereafter) is tough to beat. So if your primary goal with your holiday purchases is to extend your payments as long as possible without consequence, you can apply for this card and make minimum payments for an introductory 20 billing cycles without interest. This type of credit card may be particularly helpful if you plan to make any large purchases this holiday season.

Intro BonusEarn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

APR14.99% – 24.74% Variable

Recommended Credit Excellent, Good

Reward Rates

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
  • 1% on all other purchases.

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Balance Transfer APR14.99% – 24.74% Variable

Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

Penalty APR Up to 29.99%

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
  • 1% on all other purchases.

Our Take

The Chase Freedom Flex offers a 5% cash-back rate on a rotating quarterly category: For Q4 2021, that category is Walmart purchases and purchases made through PayPal. You can enjoy this benefit on up to a combined $1,500 in quarterly purchases (then 1%). You must manually activate this bonus reward category through your account, but the other reward rates for other categories will be applied automatically. This card only offers a blanket 1% cash-back rate, compared to its cousin the Chase Freedom Unlimited at a blanket 1.5% cash-back rate, but it does also offer purchase protection.

Intro BonusN/A

APR12.99% – 26.99% (Variable)

Recommended Credit Limited/Fair/Good/Excellent

Reward Rates

  • Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Foreign Transaction Fees $0

  • Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.

Our Take

With the Petal® 2 Visa® credit card*, you can breathe this holiday season despite fair or limited credit. This card comes with a credit limit between $500 and $10,000. Unlike many credit cards for those with limited credit, it doesn’t have to be secured with cash up front, and it does offer cash-back rewards. In fact, you can earn up to 1.5% cash back across the board on eligible purchases (1% when you make a purchase, and up to 1.5% when you make 12 on-time monthly payments), and a massive 2-10% cash back at select merchants.

With no annual fee, you can keep this card open and continue using it beyond the holidays to help build your credit. This card even offers features to help you control your finances better, such as being able to set a budget and freeze your account.

FAQs

How can I use a credit card to save money while holiday shopping?

Taking advantage of credit card introductory offers and rewards programs are among the best ways to earn while you spend and get the most bang for your buck. Especially when you use a card with no annual fee and pay off your balance each month.

Will prices be more expensive this year?

Supply chain shortages may affect prices and inventories this holiday season. To best avoid the effects of these shortages, do your shopping early and plan your budget ahead of time to make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford due to price increases. If you’re looking to make specific purchases, compare prices at different vendors online to make sure you get the best deals and to make sure items are in stock.

Should I close my credit card after the holidays?

In general, no. Even if you’re opening a credit card specifically for holiday shopping, keeping the account open can help add resiliency to your credit report — your number of open accounts and age of open accounts both factor into your credit score.

*All information about the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card and the Petal 2 Visa Credit Card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

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