Credit Cards Find the Card That Fits You Best

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Qualifying for a Credit Card

Most consumers qualify for a credit card. Credit card issuers determine an applicant’s eligibility using three pieces of information — income, existing debt, and credit score.

  • Income

    You need stable income, such as a job or pension. New rules require card issuers to use your spouse’s income if you have no income.

  • Debt

    Your monthly debt payments must be low relative to your income. This doesn’t mean you need to be debt-free to qualify for a card.

  • Credit Score

    Every card issuer sets their own minimum credit scores for each of their cards. They reserve the best offers for people with the highest scores.

You need strength in all three areas to qualify for a credit card. Or put another way, you face an uphill battle if you, for example, have reliable income and low debt but a terrible credit score, or have a great score and no income.

It all comes down to risk — do lenders perceive you as a risky borrower? A very high-risk person may qualify only for a secured credit card, which is a card where the applicant must give the issuer a cash deposit in an amount that covers the available line of credit. A low-risk person, however, will pay the lowest interest rates and will qualify for cards with the best perks. The MoneyGeek Credit Card Comparison Tool below can help you find the card that matches your situation and spending habits.

Types of Credit Cards

Not all credit cards are the same. Some are tailored to travelers, others are meant to appeal to people who want the lowest interest rate, and others are designed for people who want to transfer the balances on their other cards to one card.

Typically, the lowest rates and most valuable benefits are reserved for individuals with high credit scores. Credit cards may offer additional perks such as travel insurance, concierge service or special entertainment opportunities to users with good credit. Some card companies offer rewards, airline miles or cash back. Frequently, credit card companies offer zero-percent-interest incentive programs to encourage credit card users to transfer their balances to that company.

Before signing up for the first card you are offered, look at the different types of cards available to you to see what type best suits your needs.

Cash-Back Credit Cards

Earn a small rebate for every dollar you spend with a cash-back card. But be careful for the catch.

Low-Interest Credit Cards

Striped-down credit cards with the lowest rates. Designed for people who plan to carry a balance.

Travel Credit Cards

Promise points when used to pay for airline tickets and hotel rooms. Watch for foreign transaction fees.

Balance Transfer Cards

Save money with cards designed for debt consolidation. Save money with a zero-APR balance transfer card.

Business Credit Cards

Keep your personal and business lives separate. Some offer savings when buying office supplies.

Student Credit Cards

Learn about cards designed for college students. Some student cards offer cash-back.

Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Bruised or non-existent credit history? Watch for secured cards that offer an upgrade path.

Gas Credit Card

Get a monthly rebate for your fuel purchases. Learn how to find cards with limited cash-back benefits.

Zero-Interest Credit Cards

Cards that offer 0% APR on purchases for a limited time. Watch for high APRs after the introductory period.

Credit Cards for Good Credit

Have excellent credit? Learn which credit cards will reward you with the most perks.

Prepaid Credit Cards

Reloadable, prepaid cards that can be used like a credit card. Useful as a budget tool.

Cash Advance Credit Cards

Cash from your credit card can be helpful in an emergency but it comes with high interest and fees.

5 Credit Card Shopping Tips

Credit card issuers want your business. But they also want to reduce their risk and do business with consumers who will prove profitable. Follow these five tips to ensure your credit card shopping is successful.

1

Know Your Credit History

Card issuers want applicants who have a regular payment history. Frequent late payments, a high debt-to-income ratio or prior bankruptcy can have a negative effect on a lender’s decision to grant you a credit card. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to download your no-cost, no-gimmick credit history from one or more of the three national credit bureaus.

2

Know Your Credit Score

A credit history free of mishaps is nice, but if your history is free of positive loan history, then you may have no score. This MoneyGeek page shows how you can learn your credit score at no cost to you.

3

Know Your Debt Payments

Card issuers do not want your credit limit to exceed a manageable debt load for your income. Companies look at any existing debt you may have, what your credit score is and your income. Each lender has different rules and policies. Read each credit application carefully to understand how a credit limit is reached.

4

Know Your Income

Card issuers verify an applicant’s income using information from the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), employment history and IRS tax data. Banks set your credit limits on your income, debt, and credit score. For example, if your income is $25,000 a year, your limit could be set at $2,000. And if your income is just $10,000, you might qualify for only $500 worth of credit. Lenders consider all income available to the applicant, including child support and spouse’s income.

5

Know Your Goals

Understand your reasons for wanting a credit card. If you plan to travel for business, then you may want to focus on a card with a high limit and ignore APRs because you expect to repay the balance promptly. If you plan to carry a balance, then focus on APRs and low fees. If you need to start your credit history from scratch, then look for secure credit cards with low fees and a promise of a path to an unsecured card.

Credit Card Terms

Authorized user

An authorized user is the account holder and any other individuals legally allowed to use the card. Common additions include children, employees and spouses.

Joint account holder

With joint accounts, both parties’ finances are considered for approval, both parties can use account funds and both parties are 100 percent liable for debt.

Credit score

Your credit score is a number assigned to you by the credit bureaus based on your history with credit. It is a factor used to determine if you are eligible for new credit.

EMV Smart Chip

Smart chips or EMV chips (so named because the technology was developed by Europay, MasterCard and Visa) are now embedded in select credit cards. This technology offers enhanced security against counterfeiting. Instead of swiping, cards are inserted into a slot or tapped on the terminal for processing.

Grace period

A grace period extends the period you have to pay your credit card bill without any interest charges. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 requires grace periods be at least 21 days. The grace period usually applies only to new purchases, not cash advances or balance transfers.

Foreign transaction fee

Most credit card companies charge a foreign transaction fee (or foreign exchange fee) on purchases made outside of your home country. Transaction fees are typically a percentage of the amount of each purchase.

Balance transfer

Moving the balance to one credit card from another is called a balance transfer. Transferring debt from one card to a lower rate card could reduce interest charges significantly.

“Schumer Box”

Named after U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a Schumer Box is the standardized format of an easy-to-read table or “box” that discloses the rates, fees, terms and conditions of a credit card agreement. This disclosure is required under the Federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA).

Variable Rate

Variable rate credit cards are usually tied to a U.S. index, usually the Prime rate. A variable rate is typically calculated as the index rate, which can vary based on market conditions, plus a set margin.

Prime rate

The Prime rate is a benchmark interest rate (index) on which many variable credit card interest rates are based and is turn based on the federal funds rate set by the Federal Reserve. This allows a credit card interest rate to fluctuate automatically with the market.

Credit CARD Act of 2009

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 was put into effect on May 22, 2009. Protections include restricting when interest rate increases can be made, the requirement of a 45-day advance notice for any significant changes in credit card terms and the 21 a day grace period before interest occurs.

Statement period

Closing dates vary, but a statement period is generally 30 days. Interest is calculated on the balance remaining at the end of each statement period. Cardholders typically have 14 days from the statement closing date before their monthly bill is due.

MoneyGeek Credit Card Guides

  • Your First Credit Card

    This page breaks down the types of cards available, and helps guide you towards the card that fits your spending and goals best.

  • Credit Card Holder Rights

    Credit card laws cover six separate areas of your relationship with credit card issuers, credit bureaus, and collection agents.

  • Debt Reduction

    This guide will discuss the top five debt-reduction strategies, including credit counseling, refinancing, debt settlement, bankruptcy and do-it-yourself debt payoff plans.

  • How Credit Cards Work

    Learn how to get a credit card, how to read your credit card statement, a glimpse of what happens during and after a credit card transaction, and how today’s technologies are changing credit cards.

  • Credit Card Fraud

    An introduction to credit card scams and other criminal practices, and how to protect yourself, your identity and your financial wellness from fraud.

Updated: July 28, 2017