Your credit card may stick with you longer than your current friend group, your main squeeze or your dog, so it pays to choose wisely. So make sure you really need a card, pick the right card for you and learn the terms inside and out before you apply.
Here are nine questions to ask when choosing a credit card to make sure you end up with a good match — and don’t get hit with any surprises such as credit card debt, high annual percentage rates, late fees, transfer fees, issues with your credit limit…you get the picture.
1. How Good Am I at Managing My Money?
“Time to be honest,” says Ben Watson, a personal finance coach, and virtual CFO at DollarSprout.com. “Do you tell your money where to go or does it seem to just disappear without you knowing exactly where?” If you scrape from paycheck to paycheck, that’s a bad sign. If you set and follow a budget, that’s a good sign. “Answering these questions will give some clear indications of if you’re disciplined enough to manage a credit card or not,” Watson says.
2. Why Do I Want A Card Now?
Your reason for wanting a card will guide your search. Are you trying to build credit? Rack up miles for a luxury vacation? Or swap out an old card that no longer fits your needs for daily spending? Get crystal clear on your “why” before you start shopping for a card.
3. How Will I Use The Card?
“Are you going to pay this card off every month?” asks Kari Lorz, the founder of the personal finance blog Money for the Mamas. “Or are you going to be racking up interest charges because your cash flow is lacking?” While most experts strongly recommend you pay your credit card bill in full each month, you may decide to use a card to finance a needed item such as a new fridge to save money in the short term. If you know you will carry a balance temporarily, you may want to consider a card that offers a zero-interest introductory deal on purchases and make a plan to pay off the balance in the allotted time.
4. What Is My Credit Card?
Some cards require excellent credit while others accept applicants with good or fair credit. If you have poor credit, you may need to start with a secured card to build your credit. While there are no guarantees when applying for a card, this credit score chart from Experian may give you an idea of how your credit score measures up. You’ll want to use this credit report to consider credit requirements before you apply for a new credit card since each inquiry dings your credit. If a card requires excellent credit and you have bad credit right now, you’ll want to aim for opening a different credit card account.
5. What Kind of Rewards Program Do I Want?
The first choice you need to make: cashback rewards card vs. points or miles? While travel rewards sound sexy, cashback may truly be the best choice for you if you want simplicity, don’t want to spend much time learning how to maximize rewards or simply don’t travel a lot. If you do prefer travel rewards, think about your travel patterns. For example, which airline do you fly and where do you want to go? The card that’s right for flying the family to Florida in coach is all wrong if you have your sights set on taking first-class to Paris for your honeymoon.
6. What Credit Card Deals are Available Now?
Shop around a bit on our credit card site to see what deals are currently available. Offerings change frequently, and shopping around can help you make sure you’re getting the best deal. For example, issuers frequently change offerings for sign-up bonuses, which allow you to get a slew of points or miles just for getting a card and spending a certain amount within a set timeframe.
7. How Much Will I Pay To Carry the Card?
Once you’ve shopped around and have a specific card in mind, take a look at the annual fee and all the other fees, crunch numbers, and make sure you’ll use the card benefits enough to come out ahead, says certified financial planner Eric Croak. “Annual fees on credit cards aren’t actually a bad thing,” Croak says. “The benefits can greatly outweigh the cost.” Note to international travelers: watch out for foreign transaction fees, which could tack hundreds of dollars onto a trip.
8. What is the Interest Rate on the Card?
It’s crucial to know the APR on any card you’re considering. If there’s a low or zero-percent introductory rate balance transfer card, check to see what it reverts to after the promotional period. Credit cards typically advertise an APR range that can hit 25 percent or higher and depends on the applicant’s creditworthiness. Lorz says: “Hint: if you’re considering getting a store credit card, just don’t.” From clothing stores to lingerie shops to home goods emporiums, she says, retail credit cards usually have “ridiculously high rates.”
9. Will I Use The Cool Perks?
Perks like travel insurance or reimbursement for a Global Entry application fee may get you dreaming about jetting off to the Maldives and floating your cares away in infinity pool at an all-inclusive resort. But what if your only real-life travel is your annual holiday trip to your grandma’s house in Missoula, Montana? “Don’t say ‘Oh, I’m going to travel,’ because chances are you’re not and all those reward points will go to waste,” Lorz says.
Asking the right questions before you get a card is key to making sure the card serves you well for years to come and doesn’t get you into financial trouble. “You need to think of your credit card as a tool, not as a ticket to buy ‘all the things,’” Lorz says.