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In today's world, it's hard to get by without a credit card! Whether you want to rent a car, shop online, or go out to eat, chances are good that it's more convenient with plastic. And, with so many different cards to choose from, there's a perfect card for everyone: no credit history, bad credit history, frugal consumers who don't want annual fees, and rewards program lovers alike can all get a credit card to fit their spending habits.

We've all heard the commercials asking what's in our wallets. When you open your wallet, how many credit cards do you see? According to Gallup, that depends: while almost 30% of Americans don't have a single one, the average for people who have credit cards hovers just under 4. What makes credit cards so popular? Let's take a look.

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Credit Cards Are Convenient

Most people use credit cards for easy spending. Today's society is becoming increasingly cashless, with some merchants and retailers no longer accepting coins and bills. And, which is easier - having enough cash on hand for all of a day's purchases - the gas station, the grocery store, out to lunch and over to the doctor's office - or pulling out a credit card?

 

Credit Cards Let You Buy Now, Pay Later

Who hasn't been in this situation? “This is such a great deal! But, I don't get paid until next week.” Credit cards obviously take care of that problem: put it on your card now, get paid next week, pay the credit card company when your bill is due in a few weeks. For most consumers, that's the biggest appeal of having a credit card.

Of course, there are also serious situations where credit cards can ease the burden. Your car broke down and you don't have $3,000 in the bank for a new transmission? Without a credit card, you could be facing a big problem and wind up with a payday loan with interest rates that are much higher than your credit card's APR. Medical emergencies, unexpectedly high utility bills, and even “surprise” tax returns that have you owing the IRS instead of getting a refund can all wind up on a credit card, until your finances bounce back to normal.

 

Credit Cards Can Give You Free Money - When Used Wisely

Most credit cards today, especially the ones designed for consumers with credit scores of 660+, come with some kind of rewards program. Whether that's 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make, rotating spending categories like groceries or gas stations that give you 5% in points that can be exchanged for gift cards or used to “erase” previous purchases, as well as extra perks like no foreign transaction fees or access to concierge services, the options are abundant. Some banks even offer sign-up bonuses as an incentive to get you to choose their credit card over the competition: maybe you'll get an additional $200 credited to your account if you spend at least $500 in the first 3 months you have your new card. Who doesn't want free money?

However.

If you want to use your credit card to get those perks, essentially earning you free cash, gift cards, and more, it is essential that you pay your balance in full! If not, you won't be making money if your rewards percentage is 2% and your interest rate APR is 25%! In other words, if you're getting a credit card just for the rewards but you usually carry a decent-sized balance from one month to the next, your better bet would be a credit card with low or no interest rate. (Just keep in mind that those low interest rate cards are typically for an introductory period of 12-18 months, not forever).

 

Credit Cards Have Specific Terms And Conditions You Need To Consider

No two credit cards are created equal - not even when issued by the same bank! In order to choose the right card for your needs and to use it in a way that helps you progress towards your financial goals, you need to know exactly what the terms and conditions will be if your application is approved. Some possible T&Cs you should look for are:

  • Interest Rates. If you might not pay your balance in full every month, know how much you'll be paying in interest. What interest rate will you pay if you use your card for a cash advance? Those costs can really add up; if you just pay the minimum payment each month, you'll usually spend double or triple what the original cost of the purchase was!
  • Fees. What will you pay if you don't make your required payment on time? What will you pay in foreign transaction fees if you use your card abroad? Will you pay an annual fee for owning the credit card, regardless of how often you use it? Is there a fee if you get a cash advance or transfer a balance from another credit card?
  • Rewards and Other Benefits: Will you get anything in return for being a loyal user of your credit card? Does the card you're considering match up with your spending habits (higher rewards for dining out or travel)? Many cards come with other benefits like travel protection insurance, extended warranty coverage and more.

You also want to take a look at what tools the issuing bank has for making your life easier. Most credit cards come with online access to your account, including paperless billing if you choose; you may also have access to apps that let you freeze your account temporarily if you misplace your credit card, check your balance on the go, and more.

TopConsumerReviews.com has partnered with Lending Tree to help you find the best credit cards on the market. We hope this information lets you find the exact credit card for your financial goals and spending needs!

How to Avoid High Interest Rate Credit Card Charges

Despite recent laws designed to protect the credit card consumer from unfair interest rate changes on credit cards, rate increases are still a normal practice and how lenders make much of their money. There are several steps you can take to avoid paying too much interest and that can mean the difference hundreds to thousands of dollars in savings. It's highly likely that you'll have to incur some type of rate increase with your credit card but, you may be able to mitigate the impact with several of the tips below.

  • Pay attention to your credit card statements. Review the stated interest rate each and every month to make sure you know what's going on. Read any and all rate change documentation you receive.
  • The easiest way to avoid paying more interest and being accessed a larger interest rate on your credit card is to pay off the balance, each month, before the grace period ends. Most credit card issuers give you around 21 days to pay off your new purchases before you'll have to start paying interest on the balance. Interest expenses show up on your statements as a finance charges.
  • If paying off the balance isn't an option you should make bigger payments. The smaller the credit card balance the smaller the accessed interest charges.
  • Avoid making late payments. Credit card companies are allowed to penalize card holders when they aren't making payments on time. They do need to contact you and give you 45 days notice before hiking up your interest rate.
  • Be smart with promotional rates. With any new credit card, always read the fine print to find out if the initial rate is considered promotional, or short term, how long that period is and what your subsequent rate will be.
  • If you've been notified that your interest rate is going up you have a couple of options. You can call your credit card company to attempt to negotiate the rate down. If they won't budge than you can tell them you'll find another company that will. Or you can reject the change. However, that may mean you'll no longer be able to make future purchases on that card but you'll be able to pay off the balance at the current rate - saving you significantly in the long run.

As a credit card customer you need to be proactive with managing how much interest you're being charged. This will mean significant savings to you over the course of one to several years from now. Paying off charges quickly, making timely payments and working with your lender are some of the key methods to keeping interest rates down.

 

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