The most important things to look for in a credit card are meetable approval requirements, a low annual fee and either generous rewards or a low introductory interest rate. But what exactly you’ll need to look for in a credit card depends on both your credit standing and personal preferences. Step one is getting approved, so you’ll want to look for a card that requires a credit score equal to or lower than yours. If you have bad credit, your best bet is a secured credit card. Otherwise, you need to decide whether to focus on rewards or low interest rates because most credit cards are better in one category or the other. You should go for rewards if you plan to pay your bill in full each month and low rates if not.
Those are the most important factors to consider when shopping for a credit card, as they’ll help you get approved for a great deal. But there are other aspects worth evaluating, too, including merchant acceptance, regular APRs, benefits like rental car insurance and more.
Here’s what to look for in a credit card:
Approval Odds. Check your credit score, then compare it to a card’s approval requirements. If a card asks for good credit, you’re unlikely to get approved with fair or bad credit, for example. And if you have excellent credit, just about any card on the market is within your reach.
Rewards. You can focus on rewards if you plan to pay your bill in full each month, as interest won’t be a concern. There are several types of rewards to choose from: cash back, points and miles.
Introductory Purchase Interest Rates. You might want to make a big-ticket purchase that will take a while to pay off. In that case, a 0% APR credit card is best because you’ll owe no interest for a certain number of months after account opening. But such cards usually don’t have rewards, so they aren’t good for everyday spending.
Introductory Balance Transfer Interest Rates. If you already have high-interest debt, you’ll want a 0% balance transfer credit card. Just don’t forget to consider balance transfer fees when comparing offers. Make sure not to overlook the regular APR, either. It will apply to any balance remaining when the low-interest intro period ends.
Regular Interest Rates. A card’s regular APR only matters if you carry a balance from month to month. And it’s best not to do so without a low intro APR because regular rates are very expensive.
Annual Fee. This is the most important credit card fee to watch out for. Some credit cards are worth paying an annual fee to use. Others aren’t. And there are lots of really good credit cards with no annual fee, too.
Foreign Transaction Fee. If you plan to travel internationally or make online purchases through merchants based abroad, you’ll want to avoid these fees. A no foreign transaction fee credit card can save you up to 9% on international transactions, thanks in part to low credit card currency conversion rates.
Other Fees. Credit cards charge fees for things like late payments and cash advances. But you shouldn’t seek out cards that lack such fees because it’s best to just avoid the transactions that trigger them.
Usability. Mastercard and Visa are accepted by more merchants than Discover and American Express, both in the U.S. and abroad. The gap is bigger internationally, though. On the other hand, store credit cards only work at certain retailers, rather than wherever one of the four major card networks is accepted.
Secondary Benefits. Rewards aren’t the only thing you can get out of your card. There are plenty of extra perks offered by issuers and their networks, including purchase protection, extended warranties and travel insurance. These benefits matter, but you should look at them as secondary to other categories.
Reviews: You don’t need to base your evaluation entirely on what other people say, but it’s good to consider the opinions of both experts and people who own various cards. On most card pages on WalletHub, you’ll see a rating and a review by our editors. You can also check out what other users have to say about each card, along with an average user rating.
What you should look for in a credit card are a $0 annual fee and high approval odds. That goes for everyone. You should look for a bit more in a credit card if you have good or excellent credit, including rewards totaling at least 1% back on all purchases, and either a 0% APR for 12+ months or a $200+ sign-up bonus.
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