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Which are the best credit cards for keeping costs down?

Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 5:06:38 PM

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When you're on the lookout for the best credit card deals available to you, perhaps the most important consideration you will run across is what a new account ultimately costs you.

The problem is that because each person is unique, and they use their cards for all kinds of reasons and in different ways, there is no one credit card offer that will be the best for everyone. Instead, you'll have to do a bit of comparison to determine the best credit card for you and your personal finances, based on how you'd like to use the new account and how you've handled others in the past.

Start with yourself

The first thing you should do before you go ahead and review credit card applications online is to take a careful assessment of where you stand.

This should include looking at whatever credit card balances you have outstanding right now, which could play a major role in determining how you proceed. For instance, do you have a large balance right now, a small one, or none at all? Further, what have your repayment habits been like in the past?

If you regularly make all your payments on time and eliminate your balance every month, your financial situation will likely be significantly different from where you would be if you carried a balance from one month to the next.

Finally, you should also look at how often you use your cards, and on what. Going through your old statements will help you identify the spending habits you might not even know you had, and give you a better idea of exactly what will be the best credit card offers to hunt down.

If you have a big balance

When you carry a large amount of debt from one month to the next, you should look for balance transfer credit card offers that will help you eliminate that amount quickly. These cards are typically beneficial because they carry a 0 percent introductory interest rate for the first several months the account is open, allowing you to reduce debt during that period.

But you'll have to be careful to make sure you find one that gives you enough time to pay down your entire balance, or else you might face retroactive interest charges on the amount remaining.

If you carry a small balance

Carrying a small balance, you will likely find that a card with a low rate will be helpful to you because you won't have to pay large interest fees. Of course, the interest rate you receive on this type of card will depend heavily on your credit score, so taking the time to try to maximize it before you fill out a credit card application form is probably a good idea.

If you carry no balance

Not having a credit card balance is a great way to keep an account affordable, and there are two ways you can maximize the benefits you receive if that is your regular spending habit.

First, if you use your card often but pay down the balance in full every month, you might want to find a rewards account. The best rewards credit cards will give you a certain amount of cash back, miles or points for every dollar you spend, and some might even incentivize certain types of purchases, like gas or groceries. But these cards also typically come with an annual fee, and therefore the amount you earn based on your current spending habits will need to exceed that cost.

On the other hand, if you don't have a balance because you simply don't use your card very often, you can instead get a card that will carry no annual fee. This kind of card is beneficial because you can keep tucked away for when you need it, such as in an emergency or when you need to finance a sizable purchase.

Once you've identified the kind of card you want

When you have nailed down the kind of card that might be most beneficial to you, it's time to go shopping, so to speak. Make sure to review a number of relevant credit card applications so that you know the general interest rates, fees and other charges associated with your desired account type, then identify which individual offer will work best for you.

Whenever you're applying for any type of credit card, you should always make sure to fully understand all the terms and conditions your desired accounts come with. This will help you to identify any costs or fees you might incur in the course of using your card, and better prepare you for making the account a part of your everyday finances.

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