Make sure your credit card works for you, not the other way around. But what kind of card? What about the annual percentage rate (APR)? Any annual fees? What about the member perks? Do you even care about perks? We can’t make navigating credit card offers fun, but we can give you some pointers on how to make a choice that’s best for your spending needs. Credit cards can be a burden to live with, and without. You could use your debit card when shopping online, but as a rule, debit cards offer significantly less protection against fraudulent use. Also, debit card use won’t help your credit rating, but responsible use of a credit card will establish or rebuild a damaged credit score. Before applying for any cards, it’s smart to check your credit score. The mere act of applying can ding your credit rating, and you’ll only reduce it more if you send out a bunch of credit card applications. Be realistic about the kind of card you might qualify for. If your credit score happens to be on the low side, it’s okay to assume you’re not going to get that Platinum card. Most credit cards fall into four categories. Let’s break out the benefits points of each. Travel Cards Best for frequent flyers but read the fine print. With a travel card, you accrue points whenever you use it. These can be appealing, and for good reason. Accrued points can be used towards cardmember perks, upgrades, even free trips. Predictably, not all points programs are created equal, and some come with annoying restrictions of how and when the earned points can be used. So definitely dig into the fine print here. The card with the most generous rewards may have so many restrictions that it may not be worth the bother. Cash Back Cards Great for big spenders but can cost you. These cards tout the amount you get in “cash back.” The more you use the card, the more “cash” you get back. They may offer bonuses, or the ability to waive the annual fee if you spend a certain amount, or other perks. If there’s a downside, it’s the interest rate, which tends to be on the high side. If you pay off your balance every month, you can make the cash back work for you. Otherwise, all the cash you “get back” is just money you’re going to need to pay the high interest rate. Low Interest Rate Cards Low benefits, but a low rate. These cards are not big on perks since their main selling point is a low interest rate. Consider one of these if you don’t want or need to deal with rewards programs, or you carry a balance on your card. The appeal of these cards is to enjoy a cheap card and keep things simple. Just be sure to uncover any hidden fees you’re also signing up for, or that low rate may not feel as low as advertised. Secured Card Ideal for those with bad or no credit Secured cards are aimed at those looking to establish or raise their credit score. These cards require a minimum deposit before use, typically a few hundred dollars. If you fail to make payment, the card issuer is protected since they’re sitting on your cash deposit. As your standing improves, the deposit is returned. However, before you sign up, make sure the card company regularly reports to the three major credit agencies. Most do, but some don’t. You want one that does report in order to help raise your credit score. Just like shopping for a car, every credit card is out to sell you on its features and options. Truth is, some features you’ll want, others you can live without. It’s on you, wise consumer, to weigh them against each other. Here are a few pointers to help mull over offers. Zero interest first year It goes without saying that a zero-interest rate for the first year has massive appeal. These rates are good for a year or longer, and may even cover balance transfers, purchases, or both. Of course, eventually the APR will go up, maybe way up? You have to weigh the awesome deal you’re getting upfront versus the deal you’re left with when the introductory period is over. Here’s some good news though: zero interest offers are the rare chance for you to use your credit card to save money, maybe a pile of it. If there’s any downside, it’s that no-interest can act as a temptation for some to let their spending habits run wild because hey, zero interest! Transferring a balance Many credit cards let you transfer an existing credit card balance to the new card. What’s more, they’ll often offer you a lower rate to entice you to sign up. This is a great way to duck out on paying a lot of interest. Just be sure to nail down your APR when the introductory rate ends. Also, keep an eye out for any transfer fees, which can be eye-popping. For these offers, you need to consider terms for new purchases, as well as any balance you transfer, since each may be treated differently. Annual fees “No annual fee” makes a splashy selling point, but keep in mind credit cards have plenty of ways to charge you a fee. Is the zero annual fee permanent or just for the first year? Do you have to spend a minimum amount to get the fee waived? For example, premium cards can come with hefty annual fees, but ideally, you’re accruing so many rewards the fee is worth it. Let’s say the card’s APR is high, in that case is the “no annual fee” really saving you money? On the other hand, maybe you’re fine with an annual fee if it gets you a great APR. The takeaway? It pays to do your homework. Credit offers like to showcase their fantastic-sounding deals, bonuses and rewards as if it’s you who’ll come out ahead. When we all know credit card companies make billions in profits every year, and that isn’t changing. But you’re now better equipped to navigate competing offers in search of the card that’ll serve you best. Our Debt Specialists are here to help you through the debt-relief process. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call Vantage at (800) 725-0214.