Credit Card Guide - Understand Your Card

Posted by  on May 08, 2009

Even as lenders tighten requirements for new credit cards, borrowers can still find great deals. Use our handy guide to credit cards and discover how to get the most from your plastic.

Getting the Best Interest Rates
Most Americans base their credit card decisions on how low interest rates can go. You can qualify for even lower interest rates by following three important pieces of advice.

  • Review your credit report before you shop rates. Cleaning up errors and submitting statements about previous credit problems can help you qualify for better interest rates.
  • Shop rates at a variety of issuers. Your local credit union may offer you a better rate than a global mega-bank.
  • Look for partnership opportunities. Your favorite clothing store or your auto club may have a credit card partner that offers preferential interest rates.

Understanding Credit Card Perks and Fees
Interest rates only tell part of the story. Credit card issuers differentiate from each other through customer service and through special benefits extended to their cardholders. When reviewing the pros and cons of a credit card offer, take the following steps to make the best decision for your household:

  • Look beyond promotional offers. A zero percent interest rate on balance transfers might carry an upfront processing fee.
  • Check out an issuer's Web site. Online statement tracking and bill payment features make it easier to manage your money.
  • Keep an eye on potential fee triggers. Some card issuers keep unusual accounting cycles, such as 28-day grace periods.
  • Evaluate whether bonuses can pay for themselves. Pass on loyalty points programs for hotels, airlines, or stores that you don't frequent. You may be able to get lower interest rates from generic credit cards.

Negotiate to Shop Rates and Unlock Other Credit Card Features
Prospective cardholders with excellent credit can often negotiate better interest rates and even more account perks by speaking with customer service representatives. If you streamline your monthly bill payments through a single credit card, you may qualify for features that can offset annual fees or higher interest rates, such as:

  • extended warranties on electronics purchases,
  • replacement insurance for major purchases,
  • advance sales for concerts and special events,
  • discounts on hotels and airfares, and
  • extra points in retail loyalty programs.

Before contacting potential credit card providers, use this site to learn more about your budget and to project how interest rates affect your spending power. By transferring balances to save on interest or by leveraging loyalty cards to get cash or rewards, you can stretch your wallet at a time when you need to stay financially sharp.

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