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The Best Credit Cards in Canada for 2021

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The Motley Fool Canada’s top credit card picks at a glance:


Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

Best: No fee cashback card

Our Rating:

5.0 stars

Open Account

On Tangerine’s secure website.

Top Perks
  • 6 months 1.95% interest on balance transfers made in the first 30 days (1% fee applies, 19.95% interest after 6 months)
  • Get a 3rd 2% rewards category if transferring rewards into a Tangerine savings account
  • Purchase coverage for the first 90 days

Open Account

On Tangerine’s secure website.

Rewards

2% Money-Back Rewards in two categories of choice
0.5% Money-Back Rewards on everything else

Welcome bonus

None

Learn more

Click here to learn more about the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

Annual fee:

$0

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Good
Minimum income: $12,000


Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

Best: Rewards card

Our Rating:

5.0 stars

Open Account

On Scotiabank’s secure website.

Top Perks
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Additional rewards possibilities with Amex Offers
  • Multiple useful insurances including trip cancellation, flight delay, and rental car
Rewards

5x Scotia Rewards on eligible dining, grocery, and entertainment
3x Scotia Rewards on eligible gas, transit, and streaming services
1x Scotia Rewards on everything else

Welcome bonus

Up to 40,000 Scotia Rewards points (worth up to $400 towards travel)

Learn more

Click here to learn more about the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

Annual fee:

$120

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Good
Minimum income: $12,000


American Express Cobalt Card

Best: Travel rewards card

Our Rating:

5.0 stars


Top Perks
  • Earn accelerated rewards (2x) on flight purchases
  • No annual fee for supplementary cards
  • Up to $100 USD hotel credit to use on amenities like dining, spa or other leisure facilities when charged to the room


Rewards
  • 5x Membership Rewards on eligible food and drink
  • 3x Membership Rewards on eligible travel and transit
  • 1x Membership Rewards on everything else
Welcome bonus

Up to 45,000 Membership Rewards points (worth up to $450 on eligible travel)

Annual fee:

$120 ($10 monthly)

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Very good


SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express

Best: Cashback card

Our Rating:

5.0 stars


Top Perks
  • No annual fee for supplementary cards
  • Valueable insurances including baggage delay, flight delay, and car rental
  • Entertainment and dining perks with American Express Experiences


Rewards

2% cash back on all spending

Welcome bonus

Earn 10% cash back for the first 4 months (up to $400 cashback)

Annual fee:

$99

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Very good


Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card

Best: Cashback on regular grocery spend

Our Rating:

5.0 stars

Open Account

On Scotiabank’s secure website.

Top Perks
  • Save up to 25% off base rates at participating AVIS and Budget locations in Canada and the U.S.
  • Mobile device insurance
  • Valuable insurance including flight delay, lost baggage, and rental car

Open Account

On Scotiabank’s secure website.

Rewards

4% at grocery stores, recurring bill payments, and subscription purchases
2% on gas and daily transit
1% on everything else

Welcome bonus

Earn 10% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months (up to $2,000 in total purchases). No annual fee in the first year, including on supplementary cards. (worth up to $350)

Annual fee:

$120

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Very good
Minimum income: $60,000 (individual), $100,000 (household) or $250,000 assets under management


Home Trust No Fee Secured Visa

Best: Credit building card

Our Rating:

5.0 stars


Top Perks
  • Can help you build or rebuild your credit rating
  • Insures eligible items against theft or damage for 90 days
  • Use online and in stores like any other credit card


Rewards

None

Welcome bonus

None

Annual fee:

$0

Eligibility:

Must pay a security deposit from a Canadian account in your name


PC Financial World Elite Mastercard

Best: Rewards for regular President’s Choice shoppers

Our Rating:

4.5 stars


Top Perks
  • 6 months 0.97% interest on balance transfers made in first 90 days
  • Car rental and travel emergency medical insurance
  • Identity theft assistance service


Rewards

30 PC Optimum points per $1 at President’s Choice grocery stores (like Loblaws, No Frills, and valu-mart)
45 PC Optimum points per $1 at Shoppers Drug Mart
30 PC Optimum points per $1 at Esso, Mobil, and PC Travel
10 PC Optimum points per $1 everywhere else

Welcome bonus

None

Annual fee:

$0

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Very good
Minimum income: $80,000 (individual), $150,000 (household)

 
 

Read more about our top credit card picks


Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

On Tangerine’s secure website


Top features

  • No annual fee
  • 2% Money-Back Rewards in two 2% categories (like Restaurants or Grocery), 0.5% on other everyday purchases
  • 6 months of 1.95% interest on balances transferred in the first 30 days (19.95% after that)

Good to know

  • If you deposit your Money-Back Rewards into a Tangerine Savings Account, you get a 3rd 2% Money-Back Category
  • There’s no cap on the Money-Back Rewards you can earn
  • There is a 1% balance transfer fee with the promotional balance-transfer offer

If you’re choosing a new credit card and want to make a great, but simple choice, look for a card with no annual fee and cashback rewards. Any rewards program can be fine, but cashback-style rewards keeps it nice and easy because you don’t have to worry about how, when, and where to convert your rewards points.

If that sounds good to you, then the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card could be a great match. The card has no annual fee and offers “Money-Back Rewards”. These are basically cashback rewards that you can either credit to your credit-card statement or deposit into a Tangerine Savings Account.

Cardholders get a 2% rewards rate for all purchases within two categories that they choose — categories like groceries, hotels, gas, entertainment, and home improvement. If you choose to deposit your rewards into a Tangerine Savings account, you get to choose a third 2% category. All other spend on the card earns rewards at a 0.5% rate. It’s definitely possible to find better rewards rates than this. But finding a better rate in a cashback-type program and with no-annual-fee is tough… if not impossible.

An interesting added benefit of this card is the promotional balance transfer offer of 1.95% for 6 months. This means that if you make a balance transfer within the first 30 days of taking out the card, you’ll pay only 1.95% interest on that balance for 6 months. Note you’ll also have to pay a 1% balance-transfer fee at the time of the transfer. If you have some high-interest credit card debt currently, this could be a way to reduce the interest you pay while you work on paying down the balance. Paying down the balance during the promotional period is critical though — once that ends, you’ll be charged a 19.95% rate on the remaining balance.

All in all, this is a card with a great value/cost tradeoff. It doesn’t require much of you — no annual fee, no deciphering rewards programs. And at the same time it pays you 2% on the categories you choose (and 0.5% on everything else).


Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

On Scotiabank’s secure website


Top features

  • 5 Scotia Rewards points per $1CAD on eligible grocery, dining, and entertainment spending
  • 3 Scotia Rewards points per $1CAD on eligible gas, transit, and streaming services
  • 1 Scotia Rewards point per $1CAD on everything else
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Welcome bonus: up to 40,000 Scotia Rewards points in the first year (worth up to $400 towards travel, terms apply)

Good to know

  • $120 annual fee ($29/year for supplementary cards)
  • Complimentary concierge services for help booking restaurants or shows
  • Amex Offers program to earn even more from shopping, dining, and travel (registration required)
  • A variety of insurances, including flight delay insurance and rental car collision insurance

If you’re ready to step up your credit card game, then it may be time for the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card. The Scotiabank Gold card comes with a $120 annual fee, but features a rewards program and benefits that, if used correctly, could pay for that annual fee many times over.

The headline benefit of this card is the generous rewards program. The card gives you 5 points per $1 of spending on groceries, restaurants, bars, fast food, food delivery, movie theatres, theatres and ticketing agencies, and other entertainment venues. You then get 3 points per $1 on spending at gas stations; a wide variety of transport including trains, ferries, taxis, and rideshare (though note not flights); and certain streaming services, like Netflix. Basically all other spend earns 1 point.

There are certain things you need to keep in mind with the rewards program. One is you only earn accelerated rewards on spending in Canadian Dollars. This card is a very good choice for spending abroad (more on that in a moment), but if you use it in another currency, note that you won’t earn rewards at the higher 5x or 3x rates. Instead, all spending in a foreign currency earns at a 1 point per $1 rate (after the spending has been converted back to CAD).

Also, you earn those bonus points based on the categorization of the merchant. That’s determined by how a merchant is registered with its merchant account. For instance, a merchant registered with a merchant code 5411 is classified as a grocery store and therefore will qualify for 5x points. A merchant under 5812 is a restaurant — so again, you’d get 5x points.

The “trick” is that if a merchant’s classification doesn’t match the category that pays bonus points, you may end up with 1 point per $1. With large, obvious merchants (Loblaw, Esso, Metro, Tim Horton’s, Mr. Sub) you’re unlikely to run into a problem. Sometimes it gets trickier when shopping online. So if you’re counting on bonus points for a big purchase, it may be a good idea to make sure that the merchant code matches up to one in a bonus category.

On the rewards, it’s also worth noting that bonus rewards can be earned on the first $50,000 in total spent on your account during the calendar year. After $50,000, all spending earns at the 1 point per $1 rate.

Naturally if you’re earning rewards points, you’ll also need to understand how much they’re worth. As with most rewards cards, the most accurate answer is: it varies. With the Scotia Rewards program, the minimum each rewards point is worth is roughly $0.0067, or a rewards rate of 0.67%. We get to this by looking at the rate to convert the smallest number of points a statement credit. It goes up from there. If you wait and convert 37,500 points for a credit rather than 3,000, you get $0.008 per point (0.8%). Convert points to an Amazon gift card and you’ll get around $0.0075 per point (0.75%).

But these are just the easiest, and lowest-yielding ways to convert points. Sometimes good conversion offers can come up on merchandise and other deals, but typically the best way to maximize rewards points is to use them for travel. Scotiabank rewards can be redeemed with the Scotia Rewards Travel Service where you can potentially get even more benefits. Or you can simply spend on travel and use points to get a credit to your account against that spending. Doing this you get $0.01 per point (1%). Though note, as we talked about above, the merchant code for where you spent the money has to be a travel-related code (like airline, airport, hotel, rental car agency, etc).

If you travel often, even just over the border into the U.S., this could also be a great card for you. Most cards on the market carry a “foreign transaction fee”. That means that after the currency is converted for a purchase, an additional fee is tacked on. This is typically 2.5%. Which means that all of your purchases while abroad are 2.5% more expensive. The Scotiabank Gold Amex does not have a foreign transaction fee. So while we mentioned that you won’t earn accelerated rewards while spending in a foreign currency, you won’t get whacked with extra fees.

There are almost too many other benefits and insurances that come with this card to cover. Amex Offers allows you to sign up for additional points-earning opportunities. Concierge services can help booking restaurant reservations or show tickets. And there are a variety of mostly travel-focused insurances included with the card — including flight delay insurance, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, and rental car collision loss/damage insurance. It’s worth the time to explore these insurances and benefits in detail. Depending on your lifestyle, some of them could save you quite a bit of money.


American Express Cobalt Card


Top features

  • 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 on eligible grocery, dining, and food delivery service spending
  • 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 on eligible gas, travel, and transportation spending
  • 1 Membership Rewards point per $1 on everything else
  • Welcome bonus: up to 45,000 Membership Rewards points in the first year

Good to know

  • $120 annual fee (charged $10 monthly)
  • Up to $100 USD hotel credit to use on amenities like dining, spa or other leisure facilities when charged to the room
  • A one-category room upgrade at hotel check-in, when available
  • A wide variety of dining, retail, and entertainment benefits via American Express Experiences
  • A variety of insurances, including flight delay insurance and rental car theft and damage insurance

If, at a glance, the American Express Cobalt Card sounds a lot like the Scotiabank Gold American Express, that’s because they are similar in a lot of ways. One notable way they’re alike: both are very good rewards credit cards.

Since there are a lot of similar features between the two cards, we can focus on some of the differences. One notable difference is the rewards themselves. With the Amex Cobalt Card, you get points towards American Express’s Membership Rewards program. The flexibility and value of these points isn’t that much different than the Scotia Rewards points. You can still use them towards a wide variety of travel, shopping, and gift cards, as well as using points to simply credit your card’s balance.

The floor value for Membership Rewards points is slightly higher at $0.007 (0.7%). Once again, this is the rate you’d get for crediting your balance for non-travel spending — crediting travel spending on your card is a more attractive $0.01 (1%) rate. Gift cards, the next easiest way to use points after a statement credit, generally work out to a rate of $0.0077 (0.77%). The best rewards redemption rate though, is typically snagged by those that do a little work to look for the best deals. Flights and other travel often offer good redemption opportunities, and there are usually redemption deals going on that let you get more for your points. At the time of this writing, cardholders could use points to shop directly on Amazon at a rate of $10 per 1,000 points ($0.01, 1%), which is a great redemption rate for something like that.

There are some further slight, but important differences between the Cobalt Card and the Scotiabank. The 5x points for the Scotiabank card include entertainment spending in addition to food and dining, whereas the Cobalt doesn’t. And the 3x points level for Scotiabank includes streaming services. More notable is that there is no 3x points level for Cobalt — instead, the second bonus tier is 2x. However, there is a key benefit of the 2x-points tier for Cobalt: air purchases count for this tier. That means if you plan to buy a bunch of plane tickets, this could really benefit you.

Another difference in rewards is how the rewards caps work for bonus points. With Scotiabank, the cap is $50,000 spend on the entire account. Once that’s hit, rewards are at the 1 point per $1CAD level for all spending. With the Cobalt Card, the 5x bonus points are capped — once you spend $30,000 on those categories additional spending earns at the 1 point per $1 rate. However, there is no cap on the 2x bonus level for the Cobalt card.

There are many overlaps between the extra perks and insurance coverage that these cards offer — for example, flight delay insurance, lost baggage coverage, rental car coverage (though the specifics of coverages vary a bit between cards). The Cobalt Card, however, includes some nice additional travel perks. Cardmembers can get up to $100 USD in hotel credits to use towards things like dining, spa, or other hotel facilities. Cardmembers can also get a one-category room upgrade at check-in, if that’s available.

One final note on the differences is that while the Cobalt Card can be great for those who want to earn points for planning travel and using rewards towards travel, it’s not as good for spending while traveling. That’s because, unlike the Scotiabank card, the Cobalt Card does charge a currency-conversion fee of 2.5%.

In the end, there are good reasons for choosing either card. If you want to earn bonus rewards points for purchasing air travel, the Cobalt Card is your pick. If you want to earn bonus rewards at a faster rate and on more categories, the Scotiabank card has the edge. If you want a slightly better yield on the points you earn and a larger potential welcome bonus, Cobalt is a nose ahead. And if you want to use the card to pay in foreign currencies while traveling, the Scotiabank Gold Amex is the better of the two.


More about credit cards

Make no mistake about it: Finding a great credit card is worth your time.

Choosing the best credit card for you could mean collecting more rewards, earning more cashback, reducing interest, and spending more easily while travelling. And those are only a few of the benefits that can come from choosing a credit card that not only has great features and perks, but, maybe more importantly, has features that fit what you need.

Picking the wrong credit card doesn’t doom you to financial ruin. But a bad credit card may cost you more in fees and interest. It may also mean you miss out on many benefits that make credit cards such a useful tool, like rewards, cashback, travel insurance, and purchase protection.


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