Finding the right credit card is like deciding that you are finally going to “take the next step” with your significant other. That is to say: There are a whole ton of things that you should consider before taking “that step.” No two cards are alike, and a credit card is as unique as a human being in terms of quirks, regulations, and conditions, etc. Well, maybe not that unique. But, still, pretty darn unique. Here are a few ways to decide if you have found the credit card of your dreams. The one that fits with your credit situation and your spending habits (and the one that likes the same movies that you like. Bad joke). These are some guidelines for finding The One.
First, check your credit
Your credit score is sort of like a bouncer, and, depending on the score, you’ll be permitted to access certain celebrity clubs (that is, certain credit cards). Of course, the better your credit score is, the more likely that you will be approved for a certain credit card. And more to the point, the better your credit score, the higher-caliber credit card you will be able to attain (those cards with the greatest perks and conditions, and the least constraints).
You can calculate your credit score at these three spots. Good luck! *crossing my fingers for you*:
- NerdWallet offers free access to credit scores.
- Many credit card issuers give cardholders free FICO scores.
- The three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) sell credit scores.
If you are not happy with your credit score, then you might consider checking your credit report to see what’s up. If it is accurate, however, the good news is that knowledge is power. Starting now, you can change your spending habits, and maybe even start budgeting (hooray! Right?) If there was a mistake on your credit report, then that is a different story. If an error has been made, then you can dispute an error on your credit report. Get your free reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, a federally authorized site.
What do you need from a CC?
Ever had a significant other ask you to tell them “what you need from them?” Well, this is a situation where your potential credit card is asking you “what are you looking for in an ideal credit card?”
There are three general types of credit cards:
- Cards that help you improve your credit when it’s limited or damaged.
- Cards that save you money on interest.
- Cards that earn rewards.
The best card is the one that’s features seem tailored to your life. Sort of like the wand shop in Harry Potter. When you know you’ve found your credit card, you’ll just know it. One example of a bad match is somebody who never travels getting a credit card that touts being “the world’s best credit card for travelers.” You get the point.
Building and rebuilding credit
Student credit cards, unsecured cards which are usually acquired by students that are new to credit matters, are much more easily qualified for than other types of credit cards. The same goes for secured credit cards. Secured credit cards usually demand some sort of security deposit, usually $200 or more. Your deposit is returned to you after the account is upgraded or closed in good standing.
If you want to save on interest
Low-interest or 0 percent APR: If you plan to use your credit card in case of emergencies, or if you have an irregular income and carry a balance from time to time, then a low-interest or 0 percent APR might be the card (wand) for you.
Balance transfer card: A balance transfer offer could help you pay off a high-interest debt interest-free. Keep in mind that these offers may be harder to find if you have average or poor credit.
If you want rewards!
If rewards are what you seek, then you might consider, no brainer with this one actually, a rewards credit card! If you pay off your balance, in full, every month and never incur interest, then this is the card for you. These cards typically have higher APRs, but offer larger sign-up bonuses and give you points, miles or cashback on every dollar you spend.
Students: Consider these questions
- Will this card help me build up my credit?
Look for a card that reports your credit card payments to the three major credit bureaus. Many secured cards don’t do this.
- With this cost, is there a fee to open an account? How much? How much is the annual fee?
For secured cards, the lower the security deposit, the better. Unless you have very low credit, you can likely avoid any expenses.
- Can I graduate to a better card later on?
Choose a card that will let you build your credit and upgrade to a card with more competitive terms.
Low-Interest 0 percent APR or balance transfer cards
Try to find a credit card that will give you time to pay off your debt, and if you plan to pay it off over a long period, consider a card with a low APR.
- What is the card’s balance transfer policy?
Learn a card’s balance transfer fees and find out what types of debt you can transfer and whether there’s a limit to how much you can move over. Note: The balance transfer APR on a card might be different from the purchase APR.
- Does the card offer rewards?
If you only need a couple of months of 0 percent APR, then maybe, instead of a sign-up bonus, you might try to find a credit card that doles out generous ongoing rewards as well.
Rewards, travel and cash-back cards:
- How do I spend my money?
Look for a card that has the highest rewards relative to what you spend the most on. If you plan to use it abroad, try to find a card without foreign transaction fees, plus chip-and-PIN capability
- How complicated is this card?
Consider a card with flat-rate, cash-back rewards. It simplifies things.
- How quickly will I earn rewards? How much are they worth?
Nerd Wallets rewards valuations can help with this.
Highest overall value
When it comes down to the final contestants, and you’ve weeded out the garbage, it is time to choose between those final couple of choices. The way you can go about that is either through flipping a coin (I don’t recommend it) or through looking at which one provides the highest overall value for your lifestyle. Now it is time to look very closely for differences! Here might be some tie-breaking factors:
- For student and secured cards: If the credit limit automatically increases after a few on-time payments (that’s a winner). Some cards put your security deposit in an interest-earning CD, so you can earn a bit of money (that’s a winner).
- Low interest, 0% APR, and balance transfer cards: Some cards let you create your own debt payoff plan via an online portal, which is awesome if you’re overloaded with debt (winner). Cards with no late fees or penalty APR are pretty handy, too.
- Rewards, travel, and cash-back cards: The less you need to spend to qualify for a sign-up bonus the better (win). Cards without expiration dates for their rewards are definitely winners.
It is very tricky deciding on the credit card of your dreams, and it is hard to find the perfect match. But don’t despair. Do your homework, and once you find that lovely card, The One, you’ll be oh so glad that you waited for it. Mazel tov on your beautiful union!
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