9 questions to ask when choosing a credit card


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This is a great time to get a credit card. Card companies are offering something for almost every need, from cards that offer top-notch travel rewards to those that can help you repair or establish credit.

You should look at the card’s features carefully and then weigh their importance based on the kind of card you’re looking to apply for. If you want a rewards card to use frequently, you might not mind paying an annual fee. You should also consider the regular APR (as opposed to the introductory rate) and the interest rate. A good interest rate is dependent on how you will use the card. For example, a 20 percent interest rate is fine if you plan on paying off the balance every month.

It pays to ask these kinds of questions before you fill out the application form. Here are nine questions you want answered before you choose a new credit card.

9 questions before choosing a credit card

  1. Why am I applying?
  2. How does this card compare to other options?
  3. What kind of rate and credit line can I get?
  4. What’s the regular APR?
  5. When do you reduce or revoke rewards?
  6. Can anything I charge be used against me?
  7. How can I get off the hook as a co-signer?
  8. What are the card’s fraud protection policies?
  9. How will I be treated if I fall behind?

Why am I applying?

This is the first question you should ask yourself.

You may want to apply for a card because it:

  • has low or no fees.
  • offers a rewards program that suits your spending habits.
  • carries a lower interest rate.

Unless you’re a big traveler and will be able to take advantage of the perks offered by a premium travel rewards credit cards, look for a rewards card that charges a low or no annual fee that also fits your lifestyle.

If you pay your balance off every month, the interest rate it charges doesn’t matter. But if you run a balance, then you’ll want the lowest rate you can get, even if that comes with an annual fee.

2. How does this card compare to other options?

If you’re shopping for a card, be sure to compare other similar cards. Not only do you want to look at basic information, like APR, sign-up offers and the rewards program, but also consider other perks the card might come with.

Some cards offer car rental insurance, free checked bags and even access to airport lounges. Weighing the entire breadth of each card’s benefits is a sure way to get the card that most suits your needs.

3. What kind of credit line do I need?

Rewards sharks usually want a card with a high limit. This is because the more you spend on the card, the more rewards you can earn. If you want a card with major buying power, then you’ll need an excellent credit score.

Depending on the card, the credit line might be set at one fixed amount or it will come with a range of possible limits, let’s say from $500 to $2,000. The better your credit score, the higher the credit limit. If you tend to overspend, then you might want to avoid getting in over your head by choosing a card with a lower limit.

4. What’s the regular APR?

According to the CARD Act, if a card offers a lower interest rate during an introductory period, the promotional rate has to last at least six months. While that introductory offer may be appealing, the regular rate is what you’re really buying.

So find out when the introductory APR expires and what the new rate will be. You can find this information in the terms and conditions for the card or you can ask a service representative.

5. Does the card revoke rewards?

If you’re getting the card for points or rewards, this is one you definitely need to ask, says Josh Frank, former senior researcher with the Center for Responsible Lending. Some issuers will revoke rewards if you’re late with a payment by even one day.

“A lot of times, the answer they will give you is that they can take away or reduce your rewards for any reason,” he says. While that’s true, the issuer will have a policy on revoking or reducing points, and that’s what you want to ask about, he says.

6. Can anything I charge be used against me?

Some card issuers use your purchase records to assess your ongoing creditworthiness.

That means if you suddenly use your card to purchase retread tires or pay for a session with a marriage counselor, you could see your APR climb or your credit limit fall, Frank says. If you see this practice as an invasion of privacy, ask beforehand if the issuer does this, he recommends.

And that’s one question the customer service representative might not know the answer to, Frank says. “You might want to ask them to transfer you to the credit department manager.”

7. Can I get off the hook as a co-signer?

If you are guaranteeing a card account by co-signing for a college student, ask if you will be on the hook for the debt after the other party turns 21, says Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

“Often, there is nothing to prevent the issuers from saying you’re going to be guaranteeing this card 15 years from now — long after junior is out of college,” she says.

8. What are the card fraud protection policies?

Federal regulations limit your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50. Many issuers cap losses at zero dollars, provided you follow a few rules. So find out how the card would handle charges you didn’t make.

Also, get information on the issuer’s identify theft and fraud prevention programs. Discover if they monitor usage and if they will shut down the card if it sees out-of-the-ordinary charges or spending locations.

9. How will I be treated if I fall behind?

While it sounds counterproductive, you want to ask some detailed questions on how the issuer will treat you if you run into financial problems.

Get specific information such as how missing or late payments will affect points that you earned or card benefits. Look at the terms to understand the card’s penalty fees, such as late fees or penalty rates.

Some issuers have programs to slash interest temporarily for customers who get behind. Be sure to find out ahead of time what kind of programs the issuer offers that will help you rehabilitate your account and restore your original terms if you hit a financial speed bump.