If you’re thinking about applying for a credit card, you’re probably wondering, what is the best credit card for you? The answer depends on your primary purpose for the card.
It might be to build your credit, pay a lower rate for balance transfers and purchases, or get cash back bonuses, or other perks.
Here are steps to find the best credit card for you.
Check your credit
Search what credit card offers you might be eligible for by checking your credit score. The better your score, the greater your chance of being approved for cards with better perks. Among ways to check your score:
Many credit card issuers give cardholders free FICO scores.
The three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) sell credit scores.
If the number isn’t what you expected, check your credit reports to see what’s causing the problem. You can then start figuring out ways to improve it, from changing your spending habits to disputing an error on your reports, if you need to. Federal law entitles you to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major bureaus every 12 months.
Decide what you’ll use the card for
You need to decide what your purpose is for getting a credit card, as this will shape your approach to finding the right one for your situation.
If you want your credit card for general shopping, you’ll likely be looking for a card with the lowest interest rate or the most generous rewards, depending whether you’ll be carrying a balance. But, if your goal is to use the credit card for other purposes, such as debt consolidation or business use, you’ll need to research different card options.
Research the cards that are right for you
Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, research the specific type of credit card that’s of the most interest to find the best offers within that card category. Depending on your situation you may be specifically looking for:
A balance transfer card if your goal is to consolidate credit card debt or reduce interest paid on existing debt.
A cash back card if you want to get your rewards as a statement credit so you reduce your monthly bills.
A card offering 0% APR on purchases if you plan to use your card for a big purchase that you won’t pay off immediately and you want to save on interest.
A business card if you hope to use credit as part of operating a company.
A secured card if you are trying to rebuild credit after an adverse event, such as a bankruptcy .
A travel credit card if you want to earn airline miles or points for hotels.
An airline or hotel card if you want to earn points or freebies with a specific airline or hotel.
A student credit card if you’re still in school and just getting started building your credit.
Armed with information about what kind of card you’re looking for, you can move on to researching specific card offers.
Identify which type of credit card that appropriate to you.
There are 3 types of credit cards:
Cards that save you money on interest.
Cards that help you improve your credit when it’s limited or damaged.
Cards that earn rewards.
The best card for you is one with features designed to fit your specific needs. If you don’t travel much, then the best travel card in the world isn’t going to do you a lot of good.
If you want to save on interest or balance transfer card
A card with an introductory 0% APR and ongoing low interest could be a good match for you if you plan to use your credit card in case of emergencies, or if you have an irregular income and carry a balance from time to time. A balance transfer offer could help you pay off a high-interest debt interest-free. Keep in mind that these offers may be harder to find if you have average or poor credit.
If you want to build credit student or secured credit card
Student credit cards, unsecured cards meant for students who are new to credit, are easier to qualify for than other types of credit cards. So are secured credit cards, which generally require a security deposit of $200 or more. Your deposit is returned to you when the account is upgraded or closed in good standing.
If you want to earn rewards such cash back or travel
A rewards credit card is a good match for you if you pay off your balance in full every month and never incur interest. These cards typically have higher APRs, but offer larger sign-up bonuses and give you points, miles or cash back on every dollar you spend.
Apply for the card that offers you the highest overall value
Deciding between two or three similar cards can be quite difficult. Look closely for differences. All other values being equal, here are some factors that might set a card apart:
For student or secure card
Credit limit automatically increases. Certain cards let you increase your limit after a few consecutive on-time payments.
Interest paid on your deposit. Some secured cards place your security deposit in an interest-earning CD. This way, you can earn a small amount of money on it.
For Rewards, cash back cards or travel
Lower required spending. The less you need to spend to qualify for a sign-up bonus, the better.
No expiration date on rewards. On some cards, you can use your rewards as long as you keep the card open.
When you finally pick a card, keep in mind that, on the application, you can include all income you have reasonable access to, not just your personal income. For students, that can include money from grants and scholarships, or allowances from parents. For others, it may include a partner or spouse’s income.
For low interest or balance transfer cards
Debt payoff planner. Some issuers let you create your own debt payoff plan on an online portal, a valuable tool if you’re overwhelmed with debt.
No late fees or penalty APR. Certain cards waive these charges. If you fall behind on payments, this could come in handy.
Compare card offers and terms
There are different credit cards within each category of card, compare options carefully. Some of the key things to look for include:
Rewards: How much do you earn on the card? It’s typically pretty standard for rewards to equal around 1% to 2% of general spending. You may find more generous rewards for specific categories of purchases, such as 5% cash back on gas or groceries.
Sign-up bonus: Many credit cards offer a special bonus for meeting certain requirements, such as applying for a card and spending $1,000 within a designated time.
APR: This is the interest on the card you’ll pay if you carry a balance. Many credit cards have a low promotional APR either for purchases or balance transfers, then interest goes up after you’ve had your card for around 12 to 18 months.
Annual fee: There is sometimes an annual cost just to have a particular credit card. It can be worth paying if you’ll earn enough rewards and perks to offset the cost of the fee.
Other fees: Find out if you must pay a foreign transaction fee if you use your card while traveling abroad. You may also want to look into late fees in case of a missed payment; balance transfer fees if you plan to transfer a balance; or fees for cash advances if you need one.
Minimum payments: Find out how much of your balance you’re required to pay each month. Typically, you have a choice between paying a set minimum (such as $25) or a percentage of the balance due.
Other perks: Does your card provide advanced access to concert and event tickets, or do you get roadside assistance? Does it offer rental car insurance or travel insurance? These are just some of the perks card issuers offer to entice customers to choose them.
You may also want to find out if other customers have generally had a good experience with the card issuer by reading reviews or checking the consumer complaint database maintained by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The most important things to remember when you choose a credit card are:
Choosing the best credit card is easy if you know your top priority, which could be improving your credit, paying less interest, getting cash back or earning travel rewards.