Letters in the mail, online ads, emails, comparison sites—credit card offers and options are pretty much everywhere you look. So how do you cut through the clutter to find the one credit card that’s truly right for you? Read on for tips on how to choose your next card simply and wisely.
Start with your credit score
This magic number is an indication of your creditworthiness. Things like your payment history and credit usage help determine your score. Generally, a good score ranges from 670 to 739. And the best part? Good scores often come with great rewards. “The better your credit score, the greater chance of you being approved for a card with perks,” says Paramita Pal, Head of Product Management & External Acquisition for US Bankcard at TD.
Don’t know your credit score? No problem. “Many sites offer free access to credit scores, and you can check your credit report once per year at annualcreditreport.com,” says Pal. Plus, you’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three reporting agencies. These are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Assess your needs
What's your need right now? That’s the big question Pal says you should ask yourself when choosing between cards. There are a few routes you can take when opting for one card over another.
“Some cards may help you improve your credit if it’s limited or damaged. There are cards that offer low interest rates, and there are cards that earn you rewards. The best card for you will be the one with features designed to meet your specific needs,” says Pal. So, go ahead. Take some time to reflect on your priorities—you’re worth it.
Understand your card’s intended use
Know exactly what you’re going to use your card for? Even better. This can also help influence your choice. Here are three main uses to keep in mind.
- Consolidating debt: Using a card with a balance transfer offer or introductory interest rate, you can move your existing debt to one place and pay little or no interest for a period of time. Most banks charge a balance transfer fee of around 3% to 5%, so keep that in mind.
- Use everyday expenses to earn rewards: “You’re going to buy that loaf of bread at the grocery store anyway,” says Pal. You might as well use your card for convenience—whether it's for groceries, vet bills, clothes shopping or something else. This is a great technique if you’re looking to score extra rewards points or cash back.
- Making large purchases: Pal says, “plan large purchases strategically.” Doing this can help you take advantage of introductory rates and promotional offers. Just make sure you have the funds to make payments on time. Plus, don’t forget to pay in full before the introductory period is over to avoid paying interest or fees.
Know where to look
When it comes to choosing a credit card, Pal offers this inside tip: “The envelope itself might help you cut down on the clutter.”
“For example, if you're looking for a 0% introductory rate, you will see those envelopes that have a big fat 0 on top, so you should definitely go after those and use those visuals to guide you rather than spending a lot of time sifting through offers,” Pal says.
Credit card mailers put their main selling points right up front, so keep the ones with offers you like (cash back, for example) and toss the ones with perks that don’t interest you (say, bonus miles). This initial “weeding out” process will keep your desk tidier and help you focus on what matters to you. The stage is now set for reading the fine print.
Make an informed choice
“Once you know the type of card you want, it’s time to narrow your choices,” says Pal. While she says, “deciding between two or three similar cards can sometimes be difficult,” it’s important to think about what’s best for you. Torn between a few choices? You can always use an online credit card comparison tool or simply weigh your options.
“Compare and contrast cards,” advises Pal. “Think, will this help me build my credit? Is it the right type of rewards card—cash back, travel? Is there an annual fee? Explore these questions and get the answers. Then, once you find the card that offers you the highest overall value or meets your needs, go ahead and apply.”
While making the right choice can be a bit intimidating, you hold the key to credit card success. Just remember to check your credit score often and keep working to maintain your credit. And if you understand your needs, do your research and stay informed, then you’re well on your way to scoring the card that’s right for you. Congrats!