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Having excellent credit can make your life easier in numerous ways, but this is especially true when it comes to getting a credit card. With a credit score that’s considered “excellent” or “exceptional,” you can have your pick of the top rewards and travel credit card options. Cards in this niche tend to offer generous sign-up bonuses that can easily be worth $1,000 or more, and some even come with VIP perks you can’t get anywhere else.
Still, it’s important to think about what you hope to gain with a credit card before you apply. Do you want a travel credit card that makes your trips more comfortable and rewarding? Would you prefer to earn as much cash back as you possibly can? Maybe what you want is the chance to save money with a limited-time 0% interest offer? Or do you need travel insurance along with purchase and cell phone protections so that you’re covered in the event of disaster?
All of these options are a possibility when you have an excellent credit score, so it’s vital that you compare card offerings and current promotions to find the right fit.
Before you hit the “apply” button on a credit card application, you should first find out if you really have excellent credit. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to check your credit score for free. Some credit cards you already have may offer a free FICO score, or you can create an account with a credit monitoring service that lets you peek at your score for free.
Just keep in mind that there are many types of credit scores, and free credit monitoring services may not show you a true FICO credit score, which is the credit score that’s most widely used by lenders. Credit scores within this system range from 300 to 850, and scores fall into the following tiers:
- Excellent: 800 and higher
- Very good: 740 to 799
- Good: 670 to 739
- Fair: 580 to 669
- Poor: 579 and lower
FICO — or the Fair Isaac Corporation — considers scores between 740 and 799 to be “very good” and scores over 800 to be “exceptional.” So if your goal is to have “excellent credit,” you should shoot for any score over 740, which should open the door to the full spectrum of different types of credit cards.
With excellent credit, you may be able to qualify for any credit card you want, including the top offers on the market today. However, there are many different types of credit cards to choose from, and some offer very unique benefits you may or may not care about.
Generally speaking, the types of credit cards you’ll want to consider when you have excellent credit include:
Note that your credit score is just one factor card that issuers will consider when you apply for a credit card. In addition to your credit score, they’ll also consider your income, your ability to repay and potentially even other debts you have.
If you want to boost your chances at approval, you should know that Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regulations allow you to list your entire household income on your application and not just your own. So if you have a spouse or partner who earns a significant income but your personal income is low or nonexistent, include their income when you apply to make it easier to get approved.
Premium credit cards can provide VIP perks such as complimentary airport lounge access when you’re traveling.
As you pore over the best credit card offers and options, you’ll probably notice that many provide a wide array of benefits. These perks can vary from card to card, but they’re definitely worth considering. Just remember that credit cards with the best benefits tend to charge high annual fees, which can run between $95 and a whopping $695.
Which benefits should you care the most about? Here are some of the top perks offered on the most popular premium credit cards:
- Airport lounge access: Several top travel credit cards come with a complimentary Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits: Certain credit cards will cover the cost of Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership when you pay with your card. This benefit can help you avoid lengthy lines before you depart from US airports or after you arrive back in the United States from an international destination.
- Elite hotel status: Some travel credit cards offer automatic hotel elite status, which can help you score benefits like room upgrades, early check-in, late checkout, bonus points on paid stays and more.
- Annual travel credits: Other credit cards offer annual travel credits that you can apply to any travel purchase, or more specific credits that apply to certain types of travel (i.e. incidental purchases with a select airline). You can even find cards with monthly credits on dining purchases at select restaurants or with some food delivery services.
- Travel insurance benefits: The best travel credit cards on the market come with complimentary travel protections such as trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage delay coverage, trip delay coverage and lost luggage reimbursement.
- Exceptional bonus categories: Finally, the best rewards credit cards offer card holders the chance to earn considerably more points in some categories than you would get with an average credit card, which can mean accumulating rewards more quickly on the items you buy regularly.
Finally, one of the biggest benefits of credit cards for people with excellent credit is that they often come with the most lucrative sign-up bonuses. In fact, some of the best credit cards out there offer sign-up bonuses of 100,000 points or more when you can meet a minimum spending requirement within the first several months of opening the account.
Now that you know which benefits to look for, you need to ask yourself a handful of questions to determine which credit card perks and benefits you want the most, as well as which offers you should go after first.
- How often do you travel? If you travel infrequently or never at all, travel credit cards with the most perks may not be a good value to you. On the other hand, if you do travel often, make sure to compare all the best travel credit cards available along with their rewards and benefits.
- Do you plan to carry a balance? If you plan to carry a balance on your credit card, you’ll want to skip over cards that offer the highest rewards rates. Instead, look for cards that offer a 0% APR on purchases for a limited time. Fortunately, some cards in this niche also earn rewards.
- How much do you spend on a credit card each month? Before you sign up for a rewards credit card that offers a lucrative sign-up bonus, make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirement through regular, organic spending. Never spend more overall with a credit card than you would if you didn’t have a card in the first place.
- What level of annual fee are you comfortable with? Credit card annual fees are all over the map, so make sure you know how much you’re comfortable paying. While there’s nothing wrong with paying an annual fee of $500 or more for a credit card, there are also plenty of great credit cards with no annual fees, so you should make sure the benefits you’re getting are worth it.
- What kind of rewards do you really want the most? Finally, make sure the card you select offers the type of rewards you can use most easily, whether that includes flexible travel rewards, airline miles, hotel loyalty points or cash back.
Just because you can get a lot of great credit cards with excellent credit doesn’t mean you should.
Credit cards for people with excellent credit tend to offer the best of everything, but they still come with the same downsides as any other credit card. Make sure you’re aware of all the things that can go wrong when you use a credit card instead of cash or debit.
- Fees: Annual fees for premium travel credit cards can be as high as $695. Before you pay an annual fee in this range, make sure the benefits you’re getting are worth it.
- High-interest debt: Many top credit cards charge high APRs on purchases, balance transfers or both. If you want to carry a balance on your card, you should opt for a low interest credit card or a card that offers a 0% APR on purchases instead.
- Unused benefits: Credit cards with a ton of benefits can seem enticing, but the perks are only worth it if you use them. Make sure you don’t choose a card with a slew of benefits you can’t actually utilize.
- High minimum spending requirements: Earning a big sign-up bonus on a credit card is a smart move, but make sure you aren’t overextending yourself. Before you pursue a credit card bonus offer that requires a spending requirement, make sure you can easily meet that threshold with regular bills and expenses.
To maintain your excellent credit, you’ll want to keep doing exactly what you’ve done so far to get your credit score to the level it is now. For example, you should make sure you pay your credit card bill and all your other bills early or on time since your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO score.
Also, make sure you keep debt to a minimum, or at least keep your credit utilization below 30% of your available credit. This factor is important since the amounts you owe in relation to your credit limit make up another 30% of your FICO score. For the best results in this category, you’ll want to owe less than $1,000 for every $10,000 in total credit limits available to you at all times, meaning a 10% utilization rate or lower.
Another step you can take to maintain your excellent credit involves lengthening your credit history, since that factor makes up another 15% of your score. This can be done by keeping old credit card accounts open even if you’re not using them, though if you’re paying an annual fee on a card you’re not using, you should convert it to a card with no annual fee if you’re going to keep the account open.
New credit cards you open will automatically shorten your average credit history since they’ll pull down your average when it comes to the length of time your accounts have been open. With that in mind, you should only open new accounts sparingly.
But credit cards as a whole have grown vastly more useful in the last decade, with added perks, benefits and rewards. So if you’ve got excellent credit and you haven’t changed the credit card you’re using in at least a few years, take a few minutes to look at the options and see whether you might be better off with a new card with features that fit your current lifestyle.
Is your credit score good but not quite excellent? Or maybe you don’t have any credit at all? CNN Underscored has you covered with our other stories in this series:
Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best credit cards of 2021.