Financial Literacy - Credit savvy
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Credit cards not all the same

"Fees on these transfer offers have gone through the roof. According to our Web site, they have gone up 300 or 400 percent overnight -- that's the worst-case scenario where they eliminated the cap on that fee," says Curtis Arnold, founder of Cardratings.com and author of "How You Can Profit From Credit Cards."

"Now to find one without a fee is very rare. You're going to pay a fee, but the question is how much? You want it to be capped at $100 or less," he says.

The same thing is happening with fees charged for cash advances. Never a good deal, they've gone from bad to worse by eliminating the cap on the maximum amount that can be charged.

"All of this can be found in the terms and conditions, so you have to be aware that it can happen. There are so many different fees, and they are not well advertised. You have to dig for them," says Hardekopf.

How to avoid: Read the fine print when considering any credit card offer. Right now you may not be considering a cash advance, a balance transfer, going over your credit limit or paying late. But things happen to everyone. You should know the worst that can happen and make sure you're OK with it, because it is something you can control by comparing offers.

"It really is critical that a consumer compare credit cards," says Hardekopf.

"If they are saying, 'I don't know which of these three to get,' they should look at the terms and conditions to compare apples to apples to apples. Because in there they will break out what every fee is," he says.

Grace period 
The grace period is the number of interest-free days you are allowed between the date of a purchase and the day the bill is due.

Though grace periods used to be a month long -- in line with the standard billing cycle -- credit card issuers realized they were giving away the store with that policy.

"Cards used to have 30-day grace periods, and then they cut to 25, and now some are even 20," says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of Lowcards.com.

That means interest can begin accruing on new purchases before you even open your statement.

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For people that carry a balance from month to month, the grace period may not be an issue, but for those that pay the balance every month, the best bargain is to pay within the grace period. You get the benefits of buying on credit -- convenience plus any rewards or bonuses -- and none of the drawbacks, such as finance charges.

"It's another factor that should be looked at when analyzing what card to get. Sometimes it is important; sometimes it's not that big a deal," says Hardekopf.

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Product Rate Change Last week
Balance Transfer Cards 15.71%  0.01 15.70%
Cash Back Cards 16.36% --0.00 16.36%
Low Interest Cards 10.91% --0.00 10.91%
 
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