In today’s consumer society, the enormous wealth of credit card options can be overwhelming. Whether you’re choosing your first credit card or your hundredth, you’ll want to do considerable research before selecting the credit card that best suits your lifestyle. Following are overviews of the basic credit card types:
STANDARD CREDIT CARDS
Standard credit cards are the most commonly available credit cards and only require that consumers meet minimum credit card criteria to enroll. There are two types of standard credit cards for smart consumers: balance transfer cards and low interest cards.
Balance transfer credit cards allow card owners to transfer their balances from their high interest cards during the cards’ introductory 0 APR (annual percentage rate) periods. This is useful for those in debt, as they can consolidate and reduce their total interest.
Low interest credit cards either provide low to no introductory APRs (typically lasting a few months to a year) or low fixed rates. Low interest credit cards are especially advantageous for large purchases, because they allow users to pay off debt with low interest.
Reward cards offer incentives for each dollar spent. These cards typically require above-average credit scores. The two major categories are Cash Back Credit Cards and Reward Point Credit Cards.
Cash back credit cards offer approximately 1% cash back on total purchases, but this percentage can increase with more frequent usage or with pre-determined types of purchases, such as gas and groceries. These cards come with high annual fees, ranging from $50 to $100. These cards are best for consistent spenders that regularly make timely and complete payments.
Reward Point Credit Cards
Reward point credit cards work like cash back credit cards, except cardholders earn points in place of cash. Points can be redeemed for gift cards, flights, hotel stays, jewelry, electronics, and much more. Seek out reward point credit cards without annual fees; there are plenty available on the market. Since rewards build faster with timely payments, these cards are best for responsible financers.
Other rewards credit cards include hotel/travel point credit cards (often co-branded with hotels/airlines and best for frequent travelers), retail rewards credit cards (co-branded with major retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon.com), gas rewards credit cards (including both general and brand-specific), automobile manufacturer rewards cards (relevant for auto-related expenses and merchandise), and home improvement rewards credit cards (for home-related expenses, including utilities, cable, internet, and phone).
In the middle of an economic recession, being in debt is not only forgivable, but also often unavoidable. Secured credit cards are the best options for those with no or poor credit. These credit cards help repair credit history by rationing users with extremely low lines of credit (as low as $250). With proper payments, this line of credit can gradually increase and improve the holder’s credit score. In order to minimize risks for themselves, banks often require some form of collateral in exchange for secured credit cards. A security deposit must be settled in advance and must generally be worth an equal or greater value than the credit amount. This type of collateral can include a car, jewelry, stocks, or any other valuable asset.
SPECIALTY CREDIT CARDS
Business Credit Cards are directed at business owners and business executives. Many of these cards offer typical reward systems with additional perks, such as separate business and personal expense accounts, automatic expense management reports, card copies for employees, and higher credit lines.
As new adults, college students cannot be penalized for not having credit histories. Since they don’t typically meet the minimum requirements for standard and reward credits cards, these cards offer credit options for students enrolled in accredited four-year universities. Student credit cards may have low lines of credit and scaled-back rewards, but they allow young adults to build the credit history necessary to move on to more flexible and rewarding card options.
Credit cards are the root of any smart consumer’s finances. Equally important to maintaining a good credit history is selecting the card(s) that will keep you in line while serving your particular needs. Consider your lifestyle and options thoroughly before making any credit decisions and keep an eye out for hidden fees or increasing rates. Be responsible. Be vigilant. Spend wisely!