US Credit Cards That We’re Unabashedly Jealous of in Canada
Maple Syrup. Beavertails. Tim Hortons. Ryan Gosling. These are just a select few of the many reasons to be proud to be Canadian. But let’s face it, when it comes to credit card selection, the Americans unfortunately leave us in the proverbial dust. Not only do our neighbors to the south have hundreds of more credit card choices than we do, their cards often have more perks, faster point and cash back accumulation and more generous sign-up offers.
American consumers enjoy better credit card benefits for a variety of reasons, the main one being fierce competition. In Canada, we essentially have only a handful of major banks dominating the country’s financial marketplace. In the US, there are hundreds of federal and state-specific banks all vying to be consumers’ credit card issuer of choice.
Unless the banking market becomes more competitive in Canada, we’ll likely never get to experience the credit card bonanza and bonuses that our neighbors do. But that doesn’t stop a girl from dreamin’, does it? Here are five of my favourite US credit cards that I’d love to see hop over the border to Canada.
Cash Back Cards
What We Want: Chase Freedom
What We’ve Got: Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
Cash is certainly king with Chase Freedom. In Canada, there are few no-fee cards that offer more than 2% cash back on a wide array of purchase categories after the initial promo period ends. Chase Freedom, however, offers a jaw-dropping 5% cash back throughout the year on a series of revolving categories that, depending on what time of year it is, include gas, groceries, drug stores, cable services and more. On top of that, the card always runs generous sign-up offers and features premium perks like rental car insurance and extended warranty and price protection. All for no annual fee!
For Canucks, the Tangerine Money-Back card is the best cash-back card with no annual fee and consistent rewards beyond the promo period. It offers 2% cash back in two categories of your choice (three if you have your Money-Back Rewards deposited into a Tangerine Savings Account) and .5% for all other purchases. It also has purchase and warranty protection, but alas no rental car insurance. For more details you can check out our full Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card review.
What We Want: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
What We’ve Got: BMO World Elite Mastercard
Since it was first introduced nearly a decade ago, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card consistently garners rave reviews among frequent fliers looking for travel rewards without a steep annual fee. It always has a huge sign-up bonus offer, and users earn 2X points on every dollar they spend on travel and dining. Points are redeemable at a remarkable value of 1.25 on Chase Ultimate Rewards (considered one of the best rewards programs for point value) for flights, hotels and rental cars. What adds to this card’s allure is that points are also directly transferable (on a 1:1 basis) to dozens of leading airline and hotel loyalty programs. There’s also no foreign transaction fee and the annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.
As a flexible travel credit card, Canada’s BMO World Elite Mastercard does share some similarities with the Chase Sapphire. Cardholders get 3 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on travel, dining and entertainment and 2 points per $1 otherwise. The card offers some of the most comprehensive travel and medical insurance and also gives users four free airport lounge passes yearly, but points can be redeemed only via BMO Rewards and are not transferable. Like the Sapphire, there’s an annual fee waiver in the first year, but after that the annual fee is fairly steep: $150. For more details you can check out our full BMO World Elite Mastercard review.
Secured Credit Card
What We Want: Discover It Secured Credit Card
What We’ve Got: Home Trust Secured Visa Card
For people trying to establish or repair a credit score, a secured credit card is a real boon. And the Discover It Secured Credit Card is a clear standout in the US. For a refundable security deposit of as little as $200, cardholders can start establishing a credit score. Discover even reviews your account periodically to see if you qualify for an upgrade to an unsecured card. Not only does the card have no annual fee, but users actually earn 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Canada’s secured card offerings are generally not as impressive and none offer cash back. The Home Trust Secured Visa card is nonetheless a respectable offer. Cardholders must provide a security deposit of at least $500, but the good news is that almost everybody gets approved. There’s no annual fee if you elect to go with a 19.99% interest rate, otherwise there’s a $59 yearly charge in exchange for a lower interest rate of 14.90%. For more details you can check out our full Home Trust Secured Visa Card review.
Retailer Credit Card
What We Want: Amazon Rewards Visa Signature
What We’ve Got: Rogers Platinum Mastercard
One thing we definitely have in common with our American neighbors is our mutual love of online shopping. The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature grants loyal Amazonians a generous 3% back for purchases at Amazon.com, 2% for gas, restaurant and drug store spending and 1% for all other purchases. Those very respectable rewards categories come with no annual fee (again highlighting how Canada’s no-fee, cash-back cards fall sadly short of their US counterparts). Card holders also get a $50 Amazon.com gift card, no foreign transaction fees and rental car insurance.
Here in Canada we also had an Amazon Rewards credit card once upon a time (which, by the way, only offered 2% cash back on Amazon.ca purchases) but it’s now discontinued. Our best offering for brand loyalty is likely the Rogers Platinum Mastercard, which waives its $29 annual fee if your Rogers bill is set up as a pre-authorized payment. Another perk of Canada’s erstwhile Amazon Rewards card was that it had no foreign transaction fees, which Rogers Platinum takes care of and then some. It gives users 4% cash back for purchases made in a foreign currency, which more than covers the foreign transaction fees of 2.5-3%. For more details you can check out our full Rogers Platinum Mastercard review.
Student Credit Card
What We Want: Discover It for Students Card
What We’ve Got: BMO SPC Student Mastercard
Specialized student credit cards—aimed at easing scholars into the complex world of credit— are growing in popularity. In the US, Discover is one again a leader with the Discover It for Students card. Cardholders get 5% cash back on categories (like groceries and gas) that change every four months and 1% cash back on everything else. Students reap additional rewards of $20 annually for GPAs of 3.0 or higher. As a major bonus, Discover actually matches the cash-back that cardholders earn in the first year. Not only is there no annual fee but the penalty fee is waived on the first late payment.
Canada’s top-of-the-class student card is the BMO SPC Student Mastercard. It also has no annual fee but only awards 1% cash back on purchases. Students do, however, get automatic membership into the Student Price Card program and can take advantage of a 10-15% discount at many retailers across the country through SPC. For more details you can check out our full BMO SPC Student Mastercard review.
Don’t Run for the Border Just Yet
Yes, those Yanks have us beat when it comes to credit card selection. But don’t be too envious. We do have one or two cards that are as categorically Canadian as Rush.
The uniquely Canuck card garnering the most buzz at the moment is the newfangled American Express Cobalt. The perfect card for travel-loving foodies, cardholders earn 5 points per $1 spent on groceries, restaurants, bars and takeout, 2 points on travel and transit and 1 point on all other spending. Points accumulated from the Cobalt can be redeemed on an incredibly broad range of items via Amex’s loyalty program, partners, which include Amazon.ca.
The Cobalt has an annual fee of $120, but unlike most Canadian credit cards it’s payable in monthly installments. Indeed, the fact that only Canadians have access to the Amex Cobalt card is likely to have American credit card mavens feeling more blue than red and white. For more details you can check out our full American Express Cobalt Card review.