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  Credit Card Basics   Chapter 1: Matching the card to your lifestyle
The smart consumer selects the card that matches his or her spending and payment habits.
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Finding the card for your lifestyle


Before signing up for the first low-rate offer that comes your way, shop around. Maybe that great rate only lasts six months or the annual fee eats up any savings you could enjoy from the low introductory rate.

Do a little comparison shopping and you might find a card with the same rate for at least a year or another card with the same deal but no annual fee.

An essential tool for finding the best card is the Bankrate.com credit card search engine. It's a great reference and comparison tool. Keep it handy as you keep refining your choices.

If you've had your card for a while, shop around again because now there may be a new deal with the same card company, or a different, better arrangement out there with another card company that wants your business.

Cards may come with either a fixed rate or a variable rate of interest.

Balance all the numbers
Experts commonly suggest that a low, fixed-rate credit card is better than a low, variable-rate credit card. Card companies can raise their fixed-rate cards when interest rates go higher, but change is not automatic and they need to give you 15 days' notice. With a variable-rate card your rate can move regularly and without any prior notification.

Rule of thumb: A low, fixed-rate card is better than a low, variable-rate card.

Information like that -- when a card company can raise your rate -- is often buried in mail they send you. So always be careful: that may not be useless promotional/advertising junk you're throwing away from your credit card company's envelope. It may be important. For example, it may be a notification that your fantastic rate triples the first time you're late with a payment. The same advice applies not only when you're searching for a card, but after you get one -- check out all that "junk" mail in your statement envelope before you toss it.

Be sure you are aware of your payment profile, because the way you plan to pay your bills is important when it comes to choosing a card. Paying every cent every month (instead of paying just a part of it) changes what you are shopping for.

Be honest with yourself
Get real. You may say you'll pay off every statement in full every month, and you may even promise that you'll have a zero balance by the time the teaser rate expires -- but will you? Unless this is your credit history, don't make promises to yourself you can't keep. Because if you don't do what you said you'd do you may be stuck with a very, very expensive card.

Make sure you confirm with a company that they are offering what you think they are offering. It's very easy to misunderstand some of the arcane information there in the small print. Go over it with them, then ask if they can do better -- their best offer may not be the first deal they offer you.

Understand key numbers before you sign: What is the APR, annual fee, grace period, penalties, late payment charges, over-the-limit fees and interest rates on any cash advances, and under what circumstances can the card company change your interest rate (or any other terms of the deal)?

-- Updated: May 1, 2006
Page | 1 | 2 |
How to establish first-time credit
15 must-know credit card terms
The true cost of paying the minimum
Key questions to ask before signing up
How do you plan to pay?
Read the fine print


Credit Cards
Compare weekly rates
Type Fixed Variable
Standard 13.23% 14.86%
Platinum 12.70% 16.01%
All 13.02% 15.70%
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