Canada’s best credit cards 2020
Find credit cards that offer you more cash back and more rewards, based on the way you spend.
Find credit cards that offer you more cash back and more rewards, based on the way you spend.
Finding the right credit card could save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year. Whether you’re looking for lower fees, more rewards or simply valuable perks like travel medical insurance or rental car savings, every dollar counts. If you use your credit card wisely, pay off your balance monthly and find the right rewards program for you, you’re sure to come out ahead. There’s a slew of credit card options out there, and it can be challenging to find the best deal—but MoneySense is here to help. We’ve highlighted the best credit cards in 11 different categories so that you can zero in on the ones that fit your spending habits, and offer features you truly value. Remember, this ranking is only a starting point; the final decision is up to you.
With a high earn rate, generous welcome bonus and easy-to-use Points, the American Express Cobalt Card is our top pick as the best travel credit card for everyday spending.
The Points you earn can be redeemed for travel at a rate of 1,000 Points for $10 for any flight on any airline with no blackout dates, or used towards the American Express Fixed Points Travel Program, which lets you unlock even better value on round-trip flights. If you prefer to use your rewards for accommodations, you can transfer your points to one of the American Express Hotel partners including Marriott Bonvoy.
Get more details about the AMEX Cobalt*
The Scotiabank Gold American Express has been a longtime favourite for Canadians, especially those who travel. The first thing you’ll notice about this card is the Scotia Rewards earn rate is a very healthy 5 Points per dollar on groceries, dining and entertainment. Gas gets 3 Points per dollar, as do spends in two other categories: public transit and eligible streaming services. All other purchases earn you 1 Point per dollar spent. Since 5,000 Scotia Rewards Points works out to $50 in travel, the 20,000-Point welcome bonus is worth up to $200 and gives you a big head start on saving for your next big trip. This card also doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee—it’s one of the very few Canadian cards to offer this perk. Consider it a 2.5% bonus (the amount usually charged) on all foreign currency transactions, including online purchases.
Some people want to earn points when they travel, as well as on an ongoing basis. If this sounds like you, then the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card is our top choice. You can rack up TD Rewards Points throughout the year and then easily make a redemption through Expedia for TD. With this card, you’ll get 3 Points per $1 spent on all your everyday purchases and 9 Points per $1 spent when you make online purchases through Expedia for TD. That means you’re earning a 1.5% and 4.5% return respectively in travel Points. Expedia For TD is just like the regular Expedia platform so you’ll have no problem finding ways to redeem your Points.
With the annual fee of $120 rebated for the first year and a welcome bonus of up to 20,000 Points—which has a travel value of up to $100—this is one of the best travel credit card offers available right now.
Get more details about the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card*
When it comes to cash back cards, you want a high percentage back across the largest number of categories. That’s why the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite gets our nod. With this card, you’ll receive 4% cash back on groceries and recurring bill payments charged to your card, 2% on gas and public transit spends, and 1% on all other purchases. Together, these make up some of the highest earn rates in the country—across some of the most common purchases.
This card’s package of perks like concierge services, the Visa Infinite Dining and Wine Country program and like travel insurance round out the offering. You’ll also get mobile device insurance, something that could come in handy as you wine and dine on your travels.
If you’re looking for a no fee cash back option, then the Tangerine Money-Back card needs to be on your radar. With 2% cash back on up to three spending categories of your choice (such as groceries, gas and dining) and 0.5% back on everything else, this card is an excellent choice in the no fee category. When you sign up, instead of having the bank set categories for you, you can customize your cash back. You choose two categories where you earn 2% right away, but if you set your cash back to deposit directly into your Tangerine account, then you get to add a third category—meaning you can reap some considerable rewards.
If you meet the $60,000 annual income requirement you’ll automatically be considered for the Tangerine World Mastercard, which comes with additional perks such as mobile device and rental car insurance.
Get more details about the Tangerine Money-Back Card*
The MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard offers a strong sign-up bonus for a no fee card, and the 10,000 Points on offer are easy to earn. All you need to do is make $500 in gas, grocery and restaurant purchases within 90 days of getting your card to receive the first 5,000 Points, and sign up for paperless e-statements to receive the remainder. MBNA points are flexible and easy to redeem for a variety of things including travel, where you get the most bang for your buck at 100 Points to claim $1 in travel. For reference, it takes 200 Points to claim $1 in cash back.
Get more details about the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard*
Air Miles collectors, rejoice! The Air Miles World Elite Mastercard from Bank of Montreal pairs one of the most generous Air Miles earn rate available—1 Mile per $10 spent—with an extremely valuable suite of travel-related perks, including travel insurance and airport lounge access. New cardholders get the first year’s annual fee waived, and the welcome offer of 2,000 Miles will give you a substantial start on your Miles collection.
Get more details about the BMO Air Miles World Elite*
People looking to reduce the amount of interest they pay should consider a low-interest credit card like the MBNA True Line Gold card. You won’t earn anything for your spending on the card, but the interest rate is just 8.99%, which is significantly lower than the average of 19.99% most other credit cards charge. If you’re currently carrying a balance on a credit card with a higher interest rate, then you should also consider taking advantage of the optional balance transfer at the time of application. Balances transferred won’t be charged interest for a full six months, which could save you bundles.
Get more details about the True Line Gold Mastercard*
NOTE: this offer is not available for residents of Quebec
The academic year tends to be front-loaded with expenses: text books, lab supplies and, if you’re living off-residence, housewares and the cost of setting up utilities. This is where a rewards card comes in handy, especially with a juicy welcome bonus of 5% cash back on purchases on your first three statements, for those who sign up by Oct. 31, 2020. After the bonus period, you’ll still earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments, and 0.5% on everything else. Fortunately for busy students, this straightforward card doesn’t have a complicated points system or tiered earn rates—it just provides simple cash back.
Get more details about the BMO CashBack Mastercard*
For those who travel frequently and want to make the most of their hotel-stay purchases, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express simply can’t be beat. You can earn Bonvoy points on your credit card purchases that can be redeemed for a variety of perks and bonuses within the Marriott Bonvoy environment, including hotel stays at more than 7,000 properties worldwide, flights and rental cars, or you can exchange them for gift cards, merchandise or event tickets. The earn rate is 5 Points per dollar at Marriott properties and 2 Points per dollar everywhere else—and the 50,000 point welcome bonus (enough for three nights in a Category 2 hotel) gets you started on your way. With an annual free night and travel insurance, this is by far the best hotel card on the market.
Due to its association with Loblaws stores and Shoppers Drug Mart, the PC Optimum program offers members access to a wide variety of ways to earn PC Points, including gas, drug store and grocery purchases. With an earn rate of 30 Points per dollar in Loblaws-owned stores (including No Frills and Real Canadian Superstores), 45 per dollar at Shoppers Drug Mart, and 10 everywhere else, this card is one of the best no fee cards for gas and groceries on the market. It’s simple to redeem your PC Points. You simply show the card at checkout anywhere PC products are sold and get $10 back for every 10,000 Points. There’s even an included package of travel and car rental insurance—and it carries no annual fee.
Get more details about the PC Financial World Elite*
If you’re looking for a premium card with all the perks, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better than the American Express Platinum. The included travel insurance alone is worth a second look, but add to that complimentary airport lounge access with unlimited passes to Priority Pass and Centurion lounges, an annual $200 travel credit, hotel upgrades and Platinum Concierge services, and you’ve got a key to an upgraded experience. The card offers plenty of Membership Rewards Points earning opportunities on dining, travel and everyday purchases, and comes with a 25,000-Point welcome bonus. Another advantage of joining the Amex system is that you’ll gain access to the lucrative Fixed Points Travel program, and you’ll be able to transfer your Points to dozens of other loyalty programs.
You might be new to Canada, have a problematic credit history, or are just starting out. There are many reasons why you might need to build or rebuild your credit—but whatever the case, you’ll want to take steps towards achieving a healthy credit score. That’s where the Home Trust Secured Visa can come in. Unlike with conventional credit cards, it’s easy to be approved for a secured card—you just need to be a resident of Canada (except Quebec) and have a deposit. The Home Trust Secured Visa tops our list for its low minimum deposit (you can start with as little as $500) and $0 annual fee. With this card, building your credit score is simple and affordable.
Get more details about the Home Trust Secured Visa No Fee Card*
Frequent U.S. travellers and cross-border shoppers need a card that won’t break the bank when it comes to the foreign transaction fees that most banks charge (usually 2.5%) when you make purchases in another currency. The Rogers World Elite gets a nod because it offers 3% cash back on purchases in U.S. currency, which works out to a 0.5% return when you factor in foreign transaction fees. Pair that with no annual fee, and 1.5% back on all other purchases, and you have a competitive card.
However, world travellers will want to keep in mind that only the regular 1.5% earn rate will apply on foreign currency purchases outside the U.S., so you won’t come out ahead after being hit with the 2.5% foreign transaction fee.
This card does include travel medical insurance, which covers you for trips up to 10 days. However, it also comes with a $15,000-a-year minimum spend, and a steep annual income requirement, so you’ll want to consider another option if you don’t make $80,000 a year as an individual, or $150,000 as a household.
|Credit Card||Best||Annual Fee|
|1||American Express Cobalt||Travel rewards card for everyday spending||$120|
|2||Scotiabank Gold American Express||Travel rewards card for everyday spending||$120|
|3||TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite||Visa travel card||$120 (waived 1st year)|
|4||Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite||Cash back card||$120 (waived 1st year)|
|5||Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card||No fee cash back card||$0|
|6||Rogers World Elite||No foreign transaction fee card||$0|
|7||BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard||Air Miles credit card||$120 (waived 1st year)|
|8||MBNA True Line Gold Mastercard||Low interest card||$39|
|9||MBNA True Line Mastercard||Balance transfer card||$0|
|10||BMO CashBack Mastercard||Student credit card||$0|
|11||Marriott Bonvoy American Express||Hotel credit card||$120|
|12||PC Financial World Elite||Store or retail card||$0|
|13||American Express Platinum||Premium perks card||$699|
|14||Home Trust Secured Visa||Secured credit card for building credit||$0|
It’s important to understand exactly what credit cards do, so you can use them to maximum advantage without falling into financial trouble. There are lots of benefits that come along with having a credit card. For example, they offer credit that can be used when you make a purchase, for balance transfers and/or cash advances. Essentially, your credit is like a short-term loan with a balance that comes due every month. As you pay down your balance, the credit available to you the following month starts to go back up to the maximum credit limit on your card.
A credit card’s strongest advantage is convenience. Simply pay for your purchase with your credit card and you will be billed for the outstanding balance the following month—no cash in your wallet required. Other benefits include the ability to accrue rewards and points—such as cash back or travel points—based on a percentage of your purchases each month, usually between 1% to 4%, depending on which credit card you choose. You can then redeem those points for gift cards, travel or other items offered through the credit card company’s online rewards catalogue.
Credit cards can also help you build credit. If you always pay on time, that will help you achieve a high credit score (650+points), allowing you to borrow for a mortgage or a car loan in the future at a reasonable interest rate from your local financial institution.
Of course, credit cards need to be used responsibly and work best when you are a disciplined spender. Have only one or two cards in your wallet and make sure they match your spending habits. And of course, make sure you can pay off the balance in full (or at the very least make the minimum payment) every month so you don’t have to pay hefty interest on your unpaid balance. This can result in costly fees as well as getting points knocked off your credit score—a real no-no. But with a bit of diligent oversight and self-control, credit cards become helpful and convenient financial tools that can make everyday purchases easy.
When it comes to rewards credit cards, the name says it all. These are cards that give you something back when you spend with them, whether it’s points, miles or cash. The more you spend, the more rewards you get. For those who pay off their balance in full every month, these cards can really add value. There are four main types of rewards cards:
These cards offer a rebate credited to your balance, usually calculated as a percentage of the dollar value of your purchases. Though most cash back cards have accelerated earn rates in certain categories (groceries and gas, for example), they all also have a minimum base rate for spends outside those categories. Your cash back rewards can help you save on anything you can buy with your card.
These cards offer points or miles to be redeemed towards travel-related purchases such as flights, hotels, cruises or vacation packages. Rewards might not be as straightforward as cash back, but travel points cards can help you save big on upcoming trips, with many offering perks including sign-up bonuses, comprehensive travel insurance, and even airport lounge access.
These cards gift you with points for everyday purchases that can be redeemed for discounts off items from your favourite retailer. The idea is to reward brand loyalty with valuable benefits. The PC Financial Mastercard and the Canadian Tire Mastercard credit cards are great examples.
Similar to travel cards, hotel credit cards reward consumers with points redeemable for hotel stays and perks. These cards are often linked or co-branded with a specific hotel brand or loyalty program, like Marriott Bonvoy or Best Western Rewards
With standard interest rates sitting at anywhere between 19.99% and 22.99%, most rewards credit cards aren’t the right fit for people who carry a balance. That’s where low interest cards come in. These cards, which typically charge between 8.99% and 12.99% interest on purchases, allow cardholders access to credit without high interest charges that quickly add up. They don’t usually have much in the way of extras or perks, but the lower rates help to ensure that you’ll come out ahead in the long run if you generally need more time to pay off your card balance.
Once you accumulate a debt load on an existing credit card, the interest will compound—rapidly. Your best bet is to transfer the debt to a balance transfer credit card, which lets you move debt from a high-interest card to one with a lower rate. These cards often offer promotional interest rates for a specific period—0% interest for the first 10 months, for example—which can buy you time to pay down your balance with little or no interest. Sometimes, even the regular interest rate on a balance transfer card is lower than usual.
Student, or “starter,” cards are credit cards aimed at people with no credit history looking to establish a credit score. These entry-level cards tend to have few qualification criteria, no annual fees and provide little in the way of perks or extras, but some do offer some decent rewards on your everyday spending
People who lack a good credit score or a local credit history often have trouble getting approval for standard credit cards. This can be a real problem for those wanting to build up their credit towards a future purchase or loan—but secured cards can offer a solution. This kind of card is “secured” with a deposit by the applicant and virtually anyone will be approved. The responsible use of a secured card will help build, or rebuild, your credit score.
To decide which credit is the best for you, you need to look at your priorities. If you normally carry a balance or you want to reduce your debt, then a low-interest or balance transfer card should be the only types you consider.
People who always pay off their full balance every month need to decide whether a travel or cash back card makes more sense for them. Travel cards can offer lucrative rewards, but if you don’t like to travel, there’s no point in getting a travel credit card. If this sounds like you, then a cash back card may be the way to go.
Now that you’ve got your category of card selected, take a look at the earn rate, additional, benefits and which type of points you earn for each card. If you happen to spend a lot on gas and groceries, then look for a card that has a high earn rate for those categories.
The annual fee should also be a consideration in your decision making, but if you think you’re getting good value out of your additional benefits and you’re making more back than you paid with the fee, then it shouldn’t be a big deal.
In the end, most decisions will come down to whether a cash back or travel rewards credit card suits your needs and spending habits best. As mentioned, travel rewards can be lucrative, but cash back is simple since you don’t need to worry about any potential travel restrictions. Think about the following for each type of card.
The first thing you want to look at is the earn rate. Take a look at your spending habits and pick a card that will earn you the most rewards. For example, if you spend a lot on gas, then pick a card that earns you more cash back at gas stations. High earn rates are great, but keep in mind that many of the top cards have a high income requirement. Cash back is simple to understand, but some credit cards will only give you what you’ve earned after you reach a minimum amount or once per calendar year. Find out how you’ll get paid and make sure you’re okay with it before you apply. If you’re considering a card with an annual fee, make sure the extra cash back you earn is worth more than the fee. If it’s not, stick to a no fee card.
Generally speaking, cards that earn you points are usually best used for travel redemptions. These cards will likely give you other ways to cash out your points, but the majority of the time, you get the most value for your points when redeeming for travel. Similar to cash back cards, you want to pick a card that gives you the most points on the categories you spend the most money. You also want to figure out what type of travel you prefer; you could get an airline-branded credit card or a hotel-branded one. There are also credit cards that allow you to redeem for any type of travel. Regardless of what you go with, you need to know how the reward programs work so you can maximize your points.
For the best credit cards 2020 ranking we ran the numbers for each of the cards in the seven categories based on $2,000 in monthly spending ($1,000 monthly for the student cards) as well as interest rates and offers. We also made some assumptions on spending—grocery spend of $500, gas of $200, restaurants of $200 and bill payments of $125, travel of $175, entertainment of $225, pharmacy purchases of $75 and other purchases of $500. (These were adjusted lower for student cards).
The end game was a magic number—that is, the annual net reward in dollar terms to identify the top cards in each category, plus an honorary mention. As highlighted above, our methodology also took into consideration other factors, including the value of a credit card’s welcome bonuses, insurance benefits and flexibility.
‡MoneySense.ca and Ratehub.ca are both owned by parent company Ratehub Inc. We may be partnered with some financial institutions, but this does not influence the “Canada’s Best Credit Card” rankings. You can read more about this in our Editorial Code of Conduct.
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