There are a lot of credit cards out there — and if you’re not doing your research before you decide which credit cards you want in your wallet, you might end up with a handful of credit cards that don’t make sense with your day-to-day purchases and don’t offer the best possible rewards.
Before you fill out your next credit card application, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you’re choosing the best credit card for you.
Why are you applying for a new credit card?
Knowing why you’re getting your newest credit card will help you narrow down your options. People get credit cards for all kinds of reasons, including:
- To increase their total credit limit, which can also increase their credit score.
- To transfer a balance from another credit card and pay down debt during an interest-free grace period.
- To double or triple the points they earn on airlines and hotels.
- To earn cash back rewards on everyday spending.
Ask yourself what you hope to get out of your new credit card, and then use that information — and the following questions — to help you narrow down your options.
What is your credit score?
Like it or not, your credit score is going to affect the types of credit cards you can get — as well as the interest you’ll be charged on those cards. If you have an excellent credit score, you’ll be eligible to apply for a premium, high-rewards credit cards. If your credit isn’t great, you may be more limited to cards with lower credit limits and fewer rewards.
Knowing your credit score and what types of cards you’ll be eligible for will help you make smart choices about which cards to pursue — and avoid filling out applications that are likely to be declined.
What types of purchases do you usually make?
If you book a lot of hotel rooms, you might want a hotel credit card that will reward your frequent travel. If you have a favorite retailer, getting a store credit card could help you save money when you shop. If you want to earn cash back on everything from groceries to gas, you’ll want to look at the best cash back credit cards. Think about the items you buy in a typical month and look for a credit card that rewards those purchases.
Do you want to use this card to help you pay down credit card debt?
If you have a lot of credit card debt, a balance transfer card with an interest-free grace period can be a great way to pay off your debt without getting swamped by monthly interest charges. Yes, you may have to pay a balance transfer fee, but in many cases, it’ll be less than the amount you would have been charged in interest. Once you transfer your balance to the card, try to pay off as much of your debt as possible before the interest-free grace period runs out.
Do you want to use the card to fund a large purchase without having to pay interest right away?
0% APR credit cards aren’t just for transferring balances. Since you get several months — if not a year — of interest-free charges, you can use these cards to fund a large purchase and then pay it off interest-free. Just make sure you can afford to pay the entire purchase off before your grace period ends.
What rewards do your other credit cards offer? Can you use this new credit card to fill a gap?
If you already have a credit card that offers you cash back on groceries, you probably don’t need another one (unless it’s offering more cash back than what you’re currently earning). Instead, consider a card that offers you cash back on gas or retail.
Likewise, if you already have a travel credit card that gives you points that can be used on a variety of airlines and hotels, it might not be worth it to get a card that only earns you points on a single airline. On the other hand, if none of your current credit cards earn you airline points, it might be time to add a travel card to your wallet!
When will you use this credit card — and when will you pull out a different credit card instead?
Knowing which credit card to get is only half the battle. The other half is knowing when to use it. Some people put the majority of their credit card spending on a default card — often the same credit card they started using years ago — but if you aren’t using the credit card that gets you the best rewards on every single purchase, you aren’t taking advantage of everything credit cards can offer.
Before you fill out that application, think about how the credit card will fit into your day-to-day purchases — especially when you’re trying to earn rewards. Don’t be one of those people who gets a great new credit card and then forgets to use it!
Once you have your new card in your wallet, make sure you pull it out for the right purchases. This includes online purchases — if your online accounts are linked to a specific credit card, it might be time to swap out that old credit card for your new card, especially if it offers better rewards. If you asked the right questions before choosing your credit card, you’ll be ready to use this new card to maximize your rewards, minimize your debt, and achieve your financial goals.