If your credit is blemished but you need a credit card now, you have two choices. Apply for a secured credit card, or become an authorized user on someone else's card.
A secured credit card requires a deposit, usually from $300 to $500, as collateral to activate it. The deposit is put into a savings account, certificate of deposit or a money market account. Sometimes, after a year of good payment history, the issuer may turn the secured card into a regular credit card.
Another option is to piggyback on someone else's credit card such as a parent or spouse. They add you as an authorized user without the need to qualify you first. The bonus: Most credit bureaus will include only good payment history on an authorized user's report, which will help lift his credit score.
Leave a good track record
It may be appealing to just pay the minimum every month because it's less money out of your pocket. But with interest rates between 13 percent and 15 percent, a minimum payment will only balloon what you owe. So the rule of thumb is to charge only what you can comfortably pay off each month.
Second point: Always pay on time. Set up automatic payments if you're a forgetful person. Consistently paying on time is one of the best ways to boost your credit score, which can translate into lower interest rates.
And third: mind your credit limit. One of the factors used to calculate a credit score is how much credit is used versus how much is available to you. It's called the utilization rate. The lower the rate, the better your score.
Credit card laws are your friends
There are two big acts that cover credit card practices and billing: the Credit Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, or CARD Act, and the Fair Credit Billing Act.
The CARD Act eliminated many common, yet questionable, credit card practices such as retroactive rate increases, double-cycle billing and applying payment to lower-rate balances first. It also required more advance notice for rate hikes and placed caps on fees that issuers can charge.
The Fair Credit Billing Act outlines your rights as a cardholder when you have a billing dispute with your creditor. For example, it limits a cardholder's liability for unauthorized charges to $50.