Choosing a credit card can be difficult. There are dozens of issuers and hundreds of credit cards on the market. Each card has its own term, conditions, rewards, and benefits, so which ones are important to consider? Like most products, it depends on how you are going to use it and what you can get.
It’s important before you start your hunt for the perfect credit card that you check your credit, which can limit the credit cards you can actually get. If you want to see where your credit scores currently stand, the free Credit Report Card will give you two free credit scores that are updated monthly.
Credit Cards for Financing Purchases
For many Americans, credit cards have become a means of financing purchases they are unable to pay for upfront. So when selecting a card you know you will use to carry a balance, you should focus on minimizing the cost of doing so.
If you intend to carry a balance, here is what you should look at most closely:
Standard interest rate. The standard interest rate for a card will be applied to a balance outside of any promotional financing period or after a cardholder misses payments. Many cards now feature a range of interest rates that will apply to different applicants, depending on their creditworthiness.
Promotional financing offers. New cardholders are sometimes given a limited-time offer of a lower interest rate, or 0% interest on new purchases, balance transfers or both.
Other fees. Most of the low-interest credit cards on the market have no annual fee, and you usually will not receive better terms when you pay one. Other fees worth considering are balance transfer fees, which are added to a balance that is transferred from one card to another to take advantage of a 0% APR promotional financing offer. These fees are typically 3% of the amount transferred, but can be higher or lower in some situations.
Rewards Credit Cards
Those who pay off their credit card statement balances in full and on time each month should look for a card that earns cash-back rewards, points or miles. When comparing reward credit cards, applicants need to closely examine three areas.
The value of the rewards received. Cash back is somewhat simple to calculate, but many cards will offer different levels of cash back for different types of purchases. Therefore, you need to estimate how much you will receive based on how you typically use your card. When it comes to placing a value on points and miles, you need to consider not only what you might have paid to purchase the same award flight or hotel room, but also the least expensive alternative you would have chosen if you were going to spend cash. For example, you might use credit card rewards for an expensive hotel room, but unless you were otherwise going to pay for that room with cash, you cannot truly say that your rewards “saved” the going rate for that room.
The value of perks and benefits. During the past few years, rewards credit cards have been competing to offer customers ancillary benefits rather than just points, miles or cash back. For example, airline cards will offer free checked baggage and priority service while hotel cards will feature free Internet service, room upgrades and late checkouts. It is important to consider these additional features when choosing a rewards credit card.
Annual fees. The downside of earning credit card rewards is that many of the best cards require an annual fee. In many cases, you can easily justify these fees by the value of the rewards received. Nevertheless, you need to make sure that the rewards received are worth more than the annual fee, and that the difference is greater than the rewards they might receive from a competing card with no annual fee. For instance, it is not good enough to receive rewards worth $100 while paying an annual fee of $50, when you might earn $75 worth of rewards from a similar card with no annual fee.
Basic Credit Cards
Those who take the time to review numerous credit cards will eventually find the cards that suit their needs. At the same time, there are plenty of consumers who just want a basic card with simple terms and few fees. It may not have the lowest interest rates, or even any rewards, but it will be a solid product that gets the job done with the least hassle. Here is what these credit card users need to consider.
Fee waivers. The best simple cards will have the fewest fees of any kind, like late fees, foreign transaction fees and, of course, annual fees.
Simple interest rate structure. Rather than apply for a card with a range of interest rates, not knowing which rate you will receive, many cards offer one low rate for all applicants. Furthermore, some basic cards don’t impose a penalty interest rate when cardholders make late payments.
Ease of use. Those looking for the simplest credit cards to use will want to make sure that the card issuer is easy to deal with. Applicants should look for an easy-to-use website, 24/7 customer service and a mobile app, if they use a smartphone. One way to further simplify the management of a credit card account is to choose a product offered by the bank or credit union that holds your checking account. That way, you can manage your accounts in the same place, and bill payments are merely transfers of funds within the same institution.