3 Awesome Credit Cards You Have Probably Never Heard Of

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Mid-Tier Banks

Score Easy Wins with These Credit Cards from Mid Tier Banks

I’m tired of the major banks.  Okay, maybe not tired, but I’m almost out of beneficial options for new credit cards with those banks.  Alternatively, I’ve become a bigger fan of mid tier banks and credit unions in recent years.  Beyond the attention-getting bonuses and products offered by the major banks lie some solid, reliable options within the mid tier.  Let’s take a look at three mid tier cards that can provide substantial value.

PNC Premier Traveler Visa Signature Card

Current Welcome Offer:  30,000 “miles” after $3,000 spend within the first three billing cycles

Earning Rate:  2 miles per $1 on all spend

Redemption:  Redeem miles at a 1 mile per 1 cent ratio toward credits for travel expenses; lower value options for cash back and gift cards

I currently hold the PNC Premier Traveler primarily for its solid rewards for ongoing spend.  The PNC Premier Traveler is most similar to the no longer available Barclay Arrival+ card.  Effectively a 2% back card for travel redemptions, the card’s $85 annual fee is waived for the first year.  The card has no foreign transaction fees, and there is no cap to the amount of “miles” you can earn.

Mid Tier Banks

More on Redemption

Redemption has been a snap – after incurring travel charges, I have simply logged on to PNC’s site to redeem points immediately.  Minimum redemption for travel expenses is 5,000 miles ($50 in travel spend).  In my experience, all earned points and redemptions have updated within a couple days of the transactions; there’s no waiting for the statement closing date to receive or redeem rewards.  Also, you earn miles on the purchases that you end up “erasing” with your redemptions.  The majority of my redemptions have previously been with Disney World resorts, making this an attractive option for travelers looking to wipe out spend at Disney properties.

Alternatively, cardholders can redeem miles for travel via PNC’s online travel portal (similar to those of Chase and Citi) at the same 1:1 rate.  While this is a handy option, I have preferred maintaining my travel freedom by erasing travel expenses.  Additionally, I like that I can still earn rewards with hotels and airlines by booking on my own.

Other redemption options include cash back and gift cards.  I discourage pursuing these rewards, as the redemption rate is only a half of a cent per point.  Valuations for redeeming for gift cards are similar.

While the Citi Double Cash is a better option than the Premier Traveler Visa this is a great option for people that need additional bandwidth or want to spread spend across several banks.

Mid Tier Banks

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card

Current Welcome Offer:  $100 after $1,500 spend within 90 days

Earning Rate:  1.5% cash back on all spend, or 2% cash back on all spend for PenFed Honors Advantage Members

Redemption:  2% cash back via EFT to your selected bank account or via statement credit

I love the PenFed Power Cash for its uncapped 2% cash back with no annual fee.  PenFed Credit Union is easy to join, and elevating your earning to 2% cash back is simple, as well.  Become an Honors Advantage Member by maintaining a $500 balance in a no-fee Access America checking account.  Doing so automatically activates 2% cash back on all PenFed Power Cash spend.  Also, this card has no foreign transaction fees.

I would most closely equate this card with the Citi Double Cash.  While there isn’t an option to get more value out of these PenFed rewards like the Double Cash’s rewards via travel portal bookings, PenFed’s rewards are more quickly available than Double Cash.  For instance, with Citi Double Cash, my rewards do not post until statement closing, and I don’t receive the second 1% of the Double Cash’s rewards until payment.  With the PenFed Power Cash, the full 2% cash back rewards appear in my account within a few days of the spend, and I can immediately redeem that cash back.  Pairing this capability with no cap on cash back rewards and no annual fee make this card a permanent keeper for me!

Mid Tier Banks

PNC Cash Rewards Visa Card

Current Welcome Offer:  $100 after $1,000 spend within the first three billing cycles

Earning Rate:  4% cash back at gas stations, 3% cash back at restaurants, 2% cash back at grocery stores, 1% cash back on all other purchases

Redemption:  Cash back is provided as a statement credit or transferred to your PNC bank account ($25 minimum for any redemption)

While I don’t hold this card, it is a solid option for those who don’t have high credit card spend and are looking for competitive cash back rates from a no annual fee card.  Earning at the cash back rates for gas, restaurants, and grocery stores is capped at $8,000 combined spend in these categories per cardholder year.  Therefore, cardholders should focus spending on this card within the highest cash back category for the first $8,000 spend.

If I held this card, I would primarily consider it a “4% cash back at gas stations” card. Which comes in handy for all of those gas station gift card deals. This is about as good as it gets in terms of cash back at a gas station with Ducks Unlimited pulling their 5% offer.

Since there is a 3% foreign transaction fee, save it for purchases made within the States.  I see statement credits as the most viable redemption option for cardholders unless you already have a PNC bank account.  Indeed, many of you may have a PNC bank account from bank account bonus activities!  The low redemption requirement and no annual fee also make this card a good supplement for cash back enthusiasts who have already exhausted all other significant cash back card options, particularly for gas stations.

Credit Cards with Mid Tier Banks – Conclusion

I’m continuously hunting for hidden value with credit cards from mid tier and local banks and credit unions.  The hunt isn’t always fruitful, but it is fun – at least for me!  I encourage you to look wider and deeper for rewards with organizations outside of the major banks.  What credit cards outside of major banks have provided you great rewards?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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