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Tips for comparing credit cards
A credit card is an unsecured revolving line of credit accessed through the use of a plastic card. A cardholder can use the credit card to make purchases up to a specific credit limit, set by the lending institution. The cardholder then has the option to pay the debt in full or in part. If debt remains on the card, this is treated as extended credit and interest rates are applied until the amount has been paid off.
When comparing credit cards, it’s important to remember that not all credit cards are made equal. So be sure to read through this guide to ensure you choose the card that’s right for you.
Pros of credit cards:
- Build a positive credit history to secure personal loans such as car loans or mortgage in the future.
- The debt can be increased (up to the credit limit).
- Credit cards offer anti-fraud protections unlike debit cards or cash.
- Many credit cards offer rewards programs.
- Can be used abroad in place of traveller’s checks.
Cons of credit cards:
- It can be easy to overspend with a credit card.
- Credit cards will typically offer a higher interest rate than personal loans or other forms of credit.
- The debt can be increased (up to the credit limit) so it can make paying off the balance difficult.
When should I use a credit card instead of a personal loan?
Credit cards are better for smaller purchases that you can pay off at the end of the month before you begin accruing interest. Personal loans are ideal for larger lump sum payments that you want to pay off over the course of months or years within a set time frame, because personal loans typically offer lower interest rates.
What types of credit cards are there?
Depending on your spending style whether you are a no-frills shopper or a big spender, there is likely a credit card that’s right for you. Here are the most common types to consider:
- Low interest rate credit card. These cards are what they sound like: typically they offer a lower interest rate on purchases than other credit cards. These cards can be a good offer for someone who is likely to carry a balance month to month.
- Low or no annual fee credit card. If you pay off you credit card each month, the interest rate is likely less important to you because you will not be incurring interest so a low or no annual fee credit card can be a good match.
- Rewards credit cards. There are many credit cards that offer rewards and complimentary features for the cardholder including travel insurance, concierge services, car rental insurance, hotel stays, frequent flyer miles, and more. The bigger the rewards package, likely the bigger the annual fee. These credit cards typically have a higher interest rate so they can be a good fit for cardholders that pay off their balance every month.
- Platinum credit cards. These are like reward credit cards turned up to 11, with the annual fees and interest rate to match.
- Travel credit cards. For people that travel a lot, conversion rates can become prohibitive so these people should consider a travel credit card that offers no foreign exchange fees when they are abroad.
Does it matter whether you choose MasterCard, Visa, or American Express?
Here’s a quick overview of three dominant credit card schemes:
- Zero liability policy. All three schemes will offer protection for unauthorized transactions in the event that someone is fraudulently using your account.
- “Tap and go”. All three schemes offer contactless payments for purchases under $100.
- Overseas use. Visa and MasterCard can both be used worldwide with over 30 million accepted locations. American Express is generally less accepted.
- American Express generally offers more generous rewards programs than the other two schemes.
- Surcharge fees. In addition to typically offering better rewards programs, American Express generally also charges higher surcharges fees to merchants, which is sometimes passed onto the cardholder.
What are introductory offers?
Introductory offers are available to new customers who have applications accepted for a credit card. These introductory offers are often only available for a limited period of time and might require that you meet a spending requirement in the first month or first three months to qualify. Introductory offers can range from low or no interest rates for a period of time, waived annual fees, bonus points, or other reward incentives.
Here are some of the most common introductory offers:
- Balance transfers. Some credit cards will let you transfer existing credit card debt to a new credit card with a 0% interest rate for an introductory period (usually 3 to 24 months).
- Purchase rate promotions. Some introductory offers give the cardholder a low or no interest rate promotional period for new purchases.
- Low or no annual fee. Some introductory offers will waive or discount the initial annual fee for the first year (but then the fee will resume at the normal rate in the years after.)
- Bonus reward points. Some rewards cards will offer free bonus points, which you can redeem for cash, travel rewards, or more. These bonus points usually need to be earned by reaching a certain spending goal within the first few months of using a new credit card.
- Bonus frequent flyer points. Similar to bonus reward points, these offers can earn you free frequent flyer points.
- Cash back offers. Similar to the bonus reward points, some credit cards will offer cash back based on reaching a certain spending requirement.
What other credit card features should I consider?
- Interest free periods. This is the amount of time that you can carry debt on a credit card without accruing interest on it. This is typically 44 or 55 days. It is important to note that if you are late or miss a payment, you will lose this interest free period during the next statement cycle.
- Complimentary insurance. Many credit cards offer complimentary insurance such as travel insurance, car rental insurance, purchase protection, extended warranties, price protection. It is important to note that to take advantage of most of these offers, the purchase needs to be made with the credit card in question.
Do credit cards have fees?
- Annual fee. Some credit cards charge an annual fee to use the credit card. This fee can range anyway from $0 to over $500.
- Late payment fee. If you are late or miss a payment, you will likely see a late payment fee in the range of $10 to $30 in addition to the interest rate on the credit used.
- Cash advances. While it is possible to withdraw cash against a credit card, the interest rate on cash advances is steep sometimes spiking over 20%.
- Overseas conversion fees. Currency conversion fees for each purchase can total between 0-4%.