Compare Credit Cards Before you Apply

By: Nick Davis

If you need a new credit card, it's easy just to fill in the first application form that arrives in your mailbox.

Easy, but wrong. Nowadays there are thousands of different credit cards available, all with different combinations of terms, offers and incentives. It's important to take the time to compare credit cards carefully, therefore, before you actually apply for one.

One essential fact to grasp is that there is no single "best" credit card for everybody. Different cards suit different purposes. Your aim should be to pick a card that will meet your current financial needs and is a good match with your personal circumstances.

If you are currently paying interest on credit or store cards, for example, then you need a credit card that offers 0% interest on balance transfers for up to 12 months. You can then transfer the debts from your other cards to your interest-free card, and aim to pay off the balance before the end of the interest-free period.

If you don't have any current outstanding debts, you could choose a card that offers 0% interest on spending for an introductory period (again, cards offering up to 12 months are available). Put all your everyday spending on the card during this period, and put the money you would otherwise have spent into a high-interest savings account. At the end of the introductory period, pay off the balance on the card and pocket the interest you have earned. Remember, however, that you will still need to make the minimum repayments required by your card issuer during the introductory period.

You could also look for a card offering cashback. This is a popular incentive offered by many credit card issuers. It means that for every dollar you spend, your card company will give you back a small amount, usually in a single payment once a year. The amount returned as cashback is calculated as a percentage of your total spending, and typically ranges from 0.5% to 2%. Some card companies pay higher rates of up to 5% for purchases in certain categories or made through particular retailers. In a year you can earn hundreds of dollars in rebates, but always pay off your balance at the end of each month, or interest charges will wipe out your cashback benefits.

Cashback is a popular incentive, but there are others that may be of greater interest to people with particular lifestyles or interests. Anyone who stays regularly in hotels, for example, might benefit from a hotel credit card, which allows you to claim upgrades, free meals and merchandise at the hotel chain concerned. Sports fans, meanwhile, can get credit cards linked to popular sports such as NFL and NASCAR. Every time you use one of these cards, you get reward points that can be exchanged for sports-related goods and even tickets to see the sport concerned.

Lastly, if you need to borrow over a long period at a low interest rate, consider obtaining a lifetime balance transfer card. The interest rates on these cards are as low as the best personal loans, but with the big advantage that you can choose how long you take to repay your debt.

So if you need a new credit card, do take the time to check and compare different credit card offers and see which one will suit you best. Independent credit card comparison websites can help by listing all the best current credit card offers, and they also provide independent advice and information.

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