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How to get your best credit card? Do the Math

Monday, August 06, 2012 at 7:00:29 PM

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Whenever you are trying to compare top credit card offers, your key to success is to "do the math".

Why do the math?

Doing the research upfront allows you to know which credit card will provide you with the greatest value before you touch a credit card application.

But which cards should you compare? And which aspects of credit card offers should you consider in order to find the best credit card for you? Each situation is different, but here's a quick overview of some steps which can help you determine your best online credit card application.

Looking to make a balance transfer? Check out fees and introductory rates

Balance transfer credit cards are best for people who already have a large credit card balance they want to pay off. Since balance transfer cards allow you to move over a balance from another card and then pay little or no interest on that money for a period of time, they are the obvious choice in that situation. However, each one has two main factors to consider:

• Balance transfer fee
• Length of the introductory period

One of the biggest differences is the balance transfer fee they charge. Some of the best credit cards may not have a fee, but many of them will, which can range up to 3 percent or so. So when you compare credit cards, understand what the charge will be if you make a credit card balance transfer.

The very best balance transfer credit card applications will provide a low rate, a long introductory period and no fee on the balance transferred.

The length of time you have to pay off the balance is also important. Balance transfer cards only offer their 0 percent rate for a limited time. After that point, you will be charged interest for any remaining balances. That interest may even be retroactive, which can get expensive in a hurry.

The main point here is to make sure that you can pay off your balance before it expires. If you have 12 months to pay it off, divide your balance by 12 - after adding in the balance transfer fee - and see if the amount you would need to pay is reasonable. If not, look for another card with a longer promo rate.

Weigh the value of different rewards 


Rewards credit cards are another type of account where it can be tough to figure out the right one. The first thing to consider is whether or not the card comes with an annual fee. Even if it does, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many cards with annual fees have the most lucrative rewards programs, so you can come out on top if you spend enough on the account.

How much you spend also may not be as important as what you use your card to purchase, since that can tip the equation one way or another. If you buy a lot of gasoline during the month, then a card that offers double points for gas may give you the most benefit. The same goes for other spending categories, such as groceries. Take a look at your last few statements and see what you spend the most on.

Once you have that nailed down, see how that compares to the different offers out there. If the rewards you would earn are greater than the annual fee, then you might be looking at the right card for you.

One note, though: make sure the rewards are something you will actually use. While hotel rewards are great for someone who is always on the road, they aren't the best for everyone.

When is an low interest rate most beneficial?

Cards that carry a low interest rate are generally the most beneficial for you if you tend to carry a balance from one month to the next. Carrying a small balance isn't necessarily the best thing to do, but if your income fluctuates from month to month, the occasional balance may be unavoidable.

To start, see how much you have spent over the past six months in interest charges. If you find yourself shocked at high payments, a low interest credit card might be best. Either that or you need to adjust your payment strategies.

Just be careful of the annual fees that might be associated with these accounts. If you're paying a $35 annual fee just to save yourself $25 in interest charges over the course of the year, then that doesn't make much sense.

No annual fee credit cards - What's the tradeoff?

No annual fee credit cards can be useful for people who may not use their credit cards as frequently as others - so they won't earn significant rewards - or who simply want to have a card around for emergencies.

There isn't much math involved here - since there are no fees - but just know that the rewards programs for no-fee cards may be limited, and interest rates may be high. So if you do end up using the card, you should be prepared to pay it off quickly.

Focus on offers targeted to your situation

Obviously, it takes a little bit of work to make either of these approaches work, so you don't want be comparing every credit card offer under the sun. This is a waste of time and energy.

How to I find the credit card application that best matches my needs?

Use our Credit Card Search Engine to narrow it down. You can input some basic information about yourself and the type of cards you are looking for and then compile an easy to compare list of credit cards matched to your needs.

We also give you to options to make comparing your best credit card deals easier: You can toggle back and forth between an easy-to-compare matrix of all the most important terms and features, or view a complete list of all the terms for each card. That saves you time, and ultimately makes sure you're getting the best deals you can.

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