This month’s issue of SmartMoney magazine has a section all about credit cards and their picks and runner ups depending on what you’re spending on. As usual, I disagreed with some of their picks, you’ll probably disagree with their picks too, and I have pretty good reasons why they’re off-target. They broke their picks up into what you get as rewards from the card: Rewards (products), Travel, Cash-Back, and Low-Interest cards; which I think the wrong way to go about it. However, I’ll follow their paradigm in countering their picks.
SmartMoney Pick: American Express Preferred Rewards (Green)
SmartMoney Runner-Up: Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards
They picked the AMEX Preferred Rewards because the award values work out to be 1% of spending, so if you spend $10,000 then you’ll essentially get enough points to get a product worth $100 (that’s $100 retail by the way). The runner up is a card that my girlfriend uses, the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards where you get rewards at a rate higher than 1%, there isn’t an annual fee and you get 5x that at supermarkets, gas stations, and drugstores. With the AMEX’s annual fee of $110, I don’t understand why they received top billing. I don’t see the point of a rewards card when there are cash-back cards available. It’s as if someone forced you to spend your cash-back, so you don’t actually get… cash… back.
Blueprint Pick: Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards
SmartMoney Pick: Citi PremierPass Mastercard
SmartMoney Runner-Up: MBNA WorldPoints Visa
This category is for cards that let you convert points into generic airline frequent flyer miles you can apply to any airline. It’s a step above airline-branded reward cards but again you are dinged an annual fee and the rewards are still around 1%, with 3% on travel related expenses. Their runner up has no reward fee and earns a little more than 1%, but I suspect the manner in which you spend the points is more restricted.
Blueprint Pick: Bleach, no pick, I think these are worse than the rewards cards because you have to spend it on travel.
Category: Cash Back
SmartMoney Pick: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Mastercard
SmartMoney Runner-Up: Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards Visa
These are the moneymakers – cashback! With the Citi Platinum Select, you get a minimum 1% with 5% at supermarkets, gas stations, and drugstores. The only downer is that there’s an annual cap of $300 in rewards (which is really $30,000 anywhere or $6,000 at supermarkets/gas/drugstores) but there isn’t an annual fee. This is the card that I use for my gasoline purchases which is crucial these days with skyrocketing prices, 5% back is a solid amount.
Blueprint Pick: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Mastercard
I skipped the Low-Interest category because I know nothing about it (I never carry a balance, never ever). However, if you’re interested their top pick is MBNA Motley Fool Low Purchase APR and the runner up is the Pulaski Bank of Little Rock Visa Classic. Check those out if you need a low interest credit card but you can usually find a 0% balance transfer if you’re lucky elsewhere, can’t beat 0%.
One of these days they should do an analysis of credit cards from the other side – what card to use on what kind of spending to get the maximum cashback. For me, that’s using an American Express True Earnings card for all travel expenses (3%) and at Costco (1%, but the only card other than a debit card that they accept); Citi Dividend Platinum Select card at supermarkets, gas stations and drugstores (5%), and my Southwest Rapid Rewards (read my analysis of it’s value here)  for everything else.