Best Credit Cards: CardRatings Announces Its Picks

lady chooses a credit card out of a wallet - best credit cardsDespite banks' dire predictions that new regulations like the CARD Act would force them to batten down the hatches and stop giving customers low rates and decent rewards on credit cards, there are still some good deals out there, especially for consumers with good credit.

We pointed you toward some recently that give you more bang for your buck when it comes to holiday spending. Now, just completed the first half of its annual "best cards" roundup and found several great options out there for Americans who want to apply for a credit card. This edition focuses on the cards that offfer the lowest introductory rates, lowest APRs, best cash back and best travel rewards.At first glance, it's obvious that PenFed (the organization's full name is Pentagon Federal Credit Union) is the credit card equivalent of the movie Titanic; its credit card products swept the awards and were named as top picks in three of the four categories.

While the name might make it sound as if you have to be in the military (or maybe work at the Pentagon) to take advantage of its offers, that's not the case at all, says Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings. Consumers just need to pay a nominal fee to join one of the affiliated organizations if they don't already qualify through membership or enrollment in another organization -- there's a long list on the PenFed website.

Arnold tells WalletPop that an overview of the winning cards reveals some important news about the state of banking and credit today; namely, things are looking up for the issuers.

"2010 was really a year in flux," Arnold says. "We still had the CARD Act kind of hanging over the industry. The vast majority of 'experts' thought the bottom was going to fall out," he says. In reality, none of that happened. The sky didn't fall, banks kept making money -- and they kept competing for customers, which led to some surprisingly good deals. In particular, Arnold talks about "aggressive" teaser and balance transfer rates. Some are as low as 0%, a phenomenon which many of those same experts say would be unheard-of in a new, more tightly-regulated banking market.

There's one caveat to all this good news, though, which is that you need good credit to get most of these deals. "I think the change in credit standards is going to be here for quite some time," Arnold says. "It may never go back to the lax credit standards we had pre-crash." While you don't need a score of 800 to qualify, Arnold says 730+ is the benchmark for many of the most attractive offers.
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