If there were a credit card with no annual fee, a zero percent interest rate, a $1,000 sign-up bonus and generous cash-back rewards, then choosing one would be easy. In reality, consumers must weigh a number of pros and cons to find a credit card that meets all their needs— and the fine print on types of credit card applications and agreements — can be daunting. Use these five factors for a starting point to evaluate different types of credit cards.
Some credit cards may have a more stringent approval process, with limits on income, for example. Others may not approve you based on a low credit score or lack of a credit history. You can research the approval parameters of the card in question before you even apply; if you don’t meet them, find another card that fits your situation better. And remember that being turned down can actually make it harder to get approved for another card, since hard pulls (inquiries due to an application review process) on your history can temporarily ding your credit score.
The lower the better, right? Sort of. While it’s certainly preferable to pay 13 percent interest than 23 percent, your real goal should be to pay off the card every month and skip interest entirely. If you can trust yourself to do that, then you can place a lower priority on a card’s APR. But if you’re likely to carry a balance — even occasionally — then a low APR should be your main goal.
Credit card issuers commonly assess fees for late payments, cash advances and balance transfers. If these are likely to apply to you, research cards with low fees or ones that temporarily waive certain fees. Otherwise, skip straight to the annual fee. Not all cards charge one, but the ones with the best rewards programs or those that are highly exclusive usually do — and they can reach all the way up to $1,000. If a card has an annual fee, make sure it'll pay for itself in rewards and perks.
Consider your lifestyle: If you’re a homebody, then a card that pays six percent back on groceries is probably a better fit than one that racks up hotel points and airline miles. Some cards offer sign-up bonuses worth $500 or more after spending a certain amount, but only consider these if you’ll be able to hit the spending minimum without overextending yourself.
Many credit cards come with perks that relatively few people know about. Read past the first few sentences of an offer, and you may find hidden benefits such as free checked bags, extended warranties, purchase protection, trip cancellation insurance, waived foreign transaction fees, access to airport lounges, rental car insurance or free museum visits, to name a few.