Top Choices for Cash Back…Travel Rewards…More

Choosing the best credit card can be tricky. It depends on which features and rewards are most useful for you…how easy it is to qualify for those rewards…and what fees and interest rates apply. So we asked card expert Odysseas Papadimitriou to sort through all the available cards and pick the ones that are the best of 2015. There’s a card that makes it easy to get 2% back on all purchases. Another card offers 6% back at supermarkets. And one can deliver 8% back on gas. If you carry a balance on your credit card accounts, there are cards with variable interest rates as low as 6.25%…and cards with introductory rates of 0% valid for more than a year.

The best credit cards of 2015 (with no annual fee unless otherwise indicated)…*

Cash-Back Cards

Best for straightforward cash back: Citi Double Cash Visa/MasterCard offers 2% back on all purchases, without any spending caps. You do not need to keep track of rotating rewards categories or other confusing rules. There is one unusual twist. Just half of the card’s 2% reward is earned when you make a purchase. The other half is triggered when you make payments, whether you pay in full or over time. Your unredeemed rewards balance expires if you don’t earn new rewards for 12 months. Rewards can be redeemed in the form of checks, statement credits or gift cards each time the $25 threshold is met. Annual percentage rate (APR): 12.99% to 22.99%.

Alternative: Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express also offers 2% cash back on all purchases—but those rewards are automatically deposited into a Fidelity account, which might make this rewards program less convenient for some consumers. APR: 13.99%. ­

Best cash-back card for groceries: American Express Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in supermarket purchases each year. The card charges a $75 annual fee, but that is more than offset in the first year by a $100 bonus you receive for spending at least $1,000 on the card in the first three months. (Reaching this spending threshold also will earn you a free year of Amazon Prime, which normally costs $99 and includes free shipping.) A 6% discount on $6,000 in annual grocery purchases equals a $360 savings—$240 more than a 2% cash-back card would get you. Blue Cash Preferred also provides 3% cash back on gas and on purchases at specified department stores and 1% back on all other purchases, including supermarket purchases, in excess of $6,000 a year. Rewards can be redeemed as a ­statement credit whenever you reach the $25 threshold. APR: 12.99% to 21.99% after a 15-month 0% introductory ­period.

Best cash-back card if you would like to choose shopping categories: U.S. Bank Cash Plus Visa offers 5% back on up to $2,000 in purchases per quarter in two spending categories that you choose each quarter. The categories recently included electronics stores, department stores and cell-phone service, among other options. In addition, you get 2% back at gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores—you choose one of these categories each quarter—plus 1% on all other purchases. This card is appropriate only if you are willing to select rewards categories every quarter. Rewards can be redeemed as a statement credit or a deposit to a U.S. Bank account. You can apply at U.S. Bank branches located in 25 midwestern and western states or by invitation through the mail. APR: 13.99% to 23.99%.

Best cash-back card for small businesses: Capital One Spark Cash for Business Visa provides a straightforward 2% cash back on all purchases without any spending caps. You can earn an additional $250 bonus by making at least $5,000 in purchases with the card in the first three months. Rewards checks are sent automatically each year, or you can request them anytime. The card charges a $59 annual fee, but it’s waived in the first year. APR: 13.9% to 20.9%.

Best student cash-back card: Journey Student Rewards Visa by Capital One offers 1.25% cash back on all purchases without any caps—1% when the purchase is made plus an additional 0.25% when the credit card bill is paid on time (even if the student doesn’t pay off the balance in full). That’s an excellent rewards program for a student credit card—most students have very limited credit histories and will not qualify for the more appealing rewards cards listed above.

Travel and Gas Cards

Best travel card: Capital One Venture Visa provides two “miles” per dollar spent for any kind of purchase, and each mile is worth one cent toward travel purchases such as airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals and more. It’s the equivalent of earning 2% cash back that you can spend only on travel. You also can get a 40,000-mile bonus by spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months—that equals an extra $400 worth of free travel. Unlike with many travel-rewards programs, miles do not expire…are not subject to blackout periods or seat restrictions…and can be redeemed with any airline, hotel or car-rental company or with certain other travel-related businesses. There is a $59 annual fee, which is waived in the first year. A reasonable strategy with this card is to use it for a year, earning the 40,000-mile bonus and avoiding the annual fee, and then switch to a different card. APR: 13.9% to 20.9%.

Best gas card for all gas stations: PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Plus Visa offers 5% cash back for gas purchases that are paid at the pump. Cash rewards are not capped, and the rewards you earn are automatically applied to your account each month. There are two catches, however. First, you must be a member of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union to be eligible—though anyone can become a member by making a onetime contribution of as little as $14 to one of two nonprofits that support American military personnel and their families (see PenFed’s website for details). And second, you must have a PenFed checking account, money-­market ­account, loan or another qualifying financial product to be eligible for the card. APR: 9.99%.

Best single-brand gas card: Marathon Visa offers 25 cents back per gallon of gas purchased at Marathon stations if you spend at least $1,000 on the card during a month, equal to 9% cash back with gas prices at $2.75. You get 15 cents back per gallon (equal to 5.5%) if you spend between $500 and $999 on the card during the month…or five cents (1.8%) if your spending is less than $500. You’ll receive a Marathon Prepaid Card automatically whenever your rewards balance reaches $25. Non-Marathon purchases do not earn any rewards. APR: 16.99% to 24.99%.

Runner up: Chevron and Texaco Visa offers 20 cents back per gallon of gas bought at those stations during months you spend more than $1,000 in monthly qualifying purchases and 10 cents per gallon during months you spend between $300 and $1,000. Cash-back point balances expire if no fuel purchase is made for six months. Total rewards are capped at $300 per calendar year. APR: 26.99%.

Cards With Low Interest Rates

Best card for low ongoing interest rates: First Command Bank Platinum Visa has an ultralow 6.25% rate that applies to purchases, cash advances and balance transfers. Other credit cards may advertise lower initial rates, but those “teaser” rates soon expire. ­

Best card for low initial rates: Citi Diamond Preferred Visa offers a 0% interest rate on new purchases for the first 18 months—that’s the longest 0% introductory rate currently available. After that, it charges a variable rate of 11.99% to 21.99%.

Best card for balance transfers: Chase Slate Visa has no balance-­transfer fee and offers a 0% interest rate on balance transfers (as well as new purchases) for the first 15 months. After that, the interest rates climb to between 12.99% and 22.99% variable, depending on your creditworthiness.

* Details of credit card offers often change without warning. Interest rates change based on changes in an index, and your rate may depend, in part, on your creditworthiness. Eligibility for a card may depend on your credit score.