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The Best Credit Cards, January 2013

I've mentioned some good sign-up bonuses earlier in this article, but also worth noting is the Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa Card - $100 Cash Back. With this card from Citibank, new members earn a $100 cash back bonus after spending only $500 in the first three months of account opening. This card has a low threshold, making the bonus easier to attain for more consumers. The ongoing cash back rewards include 1% cash back on every purchase as well as categories earning 5% that rotate (and require enrollment) throughout the year.

Other cards worth noting

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card. While the Citi Diamond Preferred Card does not include a rewards program, there is a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for a full 18 months. There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer. The regular APR is 11.99% - 21.99% variable, depending on credit history, and this card includes no annual fee. The Citi Diamond Preferred Card provides cardholders a concierge service, which can be used for just about everything, from booking hotel rooms and flights to purchasing concert tickets and making restaurant reservations.

Fidelity Investment Rewards Visa Signature Card. Consistently a reader favorite, the Fidelity Investment Rewards Visa Signature Card offers a unique reward program. Earn 1.5 points for each $1 spent on the first $15,000 in purchases per year, and if you spend more than $15,000 annually that reward is increased to 2 points per $1 in purchases. When you reach 5,000 points they can be converted into deposits into your eligible Fidelity investment account. The card also participates in the WorldPoints program, so if you do not want cash back in your Fidelity account or if you don't have an investment account, you can redeem for travel on major U.S. airlines with no blackout dates or for purchases from a selection of available merchandise.

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Rewards Card. The cousin of the ThankYou Premier, the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Rewards Card is a scaled-down version of the card with slightly smaller bonuses and rewards. If you spend $1,000 within the first three months of account opening, Citi provides cardholders with 15,000 bonus ThankYou® points, good for a $150 gift card. Customers earn extra points when they shop through the ThankYou® Bonus Center, a network of 600+ retailers. The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Rewards Card does not carry an annual fee.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card. One of the leading credit cards for travel rewards, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card offers up to 25,000 bonus Starpoints. Consumers earn those 25,000 bonus Starpoints as follows - 10,000 Starpoints after their first purchase and an additional 15,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first six months as a cardholder. The card has no annual fee for the first year ($65 thereafter). At the recent Financial Blogger Conference, there was a significant consensus at my dinner with a number of top bloggers that the rewards offered on this card and its business counterpart are the best. And your Starpoints can be redeemed for nearly any travel expense.

TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express. Rounding out the best American Express cards, the TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express offers 3% cash back for gasoline purchases at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, including at Costco, of up to $4,000 per year (1% thereafter), 2% cash back on eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, 2% cash back on eligible travel purchases, and 1% on other purchases, including at Costco. Cash back is earned only on eligible purchases and your cash back reward will be in the form of an annual reward coupon. The card has a low comparable variable APR and an introductory offer of 0% APR on purchases for six months.

Capital One® Venture Rewards Credit Card. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is as straightforward as it gets. Earn two miles for every dollar you spend and an additional one-time bonus of 10,000 miles when you spend $1,000 in your first three months. There is a $59 annual fee, but it is waived the first year you have the card. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a Visa Signature card, so the card offers the Signature set of extended benefits such as complimentary concierge services and travel upgrades.

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Card. The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Card offers 3% cash back on gasoline purchases, 2% on groceries and 1% on all purchases thereafter. Cardholders have the opportunity to earn an additional 10% cash back if they redeem into a Bank of America checking or savings account. The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Card offers an introductory rate of 0% APR on purchases for the first twelve statement closing dates following the opening of the account. This card does not carry an annual fee.

Simmons First Visa Platinum Rewards. The Simmons First Visa Platinum Rewards Card made the list because of its low standard purchase APR. At 9.25% variable, the only card with a lower standard purchase APR we could find was the Simmons First Visa card but that card didn't have a rewards program. With the Simmons First Visa Platinum Rewards Card, you earn one point for every net dollar you spend, and the card carries no annual fee. If you're planning to make a balance transfer onto this card, you'll be happy to know there is no balance transfer fee either.

Note: If you use credit cards as a tool for convenience, pay your bills in full every month, and are otherwise financially self-aware, consider some of these credit cards. If you use credit cards to pay for things you can't afford, paying interest every month, then start thinking about paying off debt.

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