A credit card might seem like a simple enough concept. You get one, you spend the money, you pay it back.
Yet, to really get the most out of your credit cards—or at least not hurt your credit and budget—you need to know a bit more than that. Still, as you dive into details and fine print, the world of credit cards might start to seem overwhelming.
There are cash back cards that pay you back for every purchase, travel credit cards that earn you points or miles, store cards that reward you for shopping with your favorite brand and cards that don’t offer any of that but can do wonders for your credit score. Not to mention credit cards that don’t charge any interest for months, credit cards designed for balance transfers and credit cards for good and not-so-good credit.
If your head is already spinning, wait till I tell you about rotating cash back categories, variable interest and annual fees. All this can be overwhelming even for finance experts.
Fret not, for in this guide you’ll find many resources that will help you with credit card basics, provide you with useful credit card tips and lead you every step along the way of your credit journey.
Are you growing your credit and have a question for Ana? Drop her a line at the Ask Bankrate Experts page!
Part 1: Your first credit card
You’re ready for your first credit card. Before you can fly with points and get huge cash back, you’ll have to prove to credit card issuers that you can handle your credit with a simpler credit card product. When you’re new to credit, lenders see you as a potentially risky borrower since you don’t have enough payment history for them to evaluate your credit behavior.
In this section, you’ll find advice on getting your first credit card and compare your options.
- Why a credit card is useful for students
- How old do you have to be to get a credit card?
- Best starter credit cards
- Cards for college students
- Best credit cards for recent college graduates
- Best credit cards for no credit history
- What to put for income on a student credit card application
Part 2: Credit reports and scores
Now that you have your first credit card, you can use it as a tool to improve your credit and get access to more exciting products full of perks (think hundreds of dollars in travel credits or 5 percent cash back on select purchases).
Credit is a beast of its own, but start with these few articles to figure it out and make it work for you. Spoiler alert: It’s really all about not overspending and always paying on time.
- What is a credit score?
- How to read a credit report
- How to improve your credit score
- What is a good credit utilization ratio?
- How credit inquiries affect credit score
- How to build credit as a college student
- Maximizing credit while in college
- How to fix credit report errors
Part 3: Matching card and lifestyle
So you’ve got a good or even excellent credit score now. The doors to best credit cards are open for you, and it’s time to find the cards that match your lifestyle and spending habits. This way, you can get the most out of your plastic (or metal, if you’re fancy like that).
- How to pick the right credit card
- Types of credit cards
- Key questions to ask before applying for a credit card
- Understanding the fine print in your credit card agreement
- Comparing your options
Part 4: Costs and fees
You found an amazing credit card that fits your spending patterns perfectly. Good for you. Now, what about the fees?
In this section, you’ll find useful information on limits, fees and rates. I understand this doesn’t sound fun at all, but it may get costly not to know about these things. Not to mention, those pesky charges can eat away at your rewards.
- How finance charges are figured
- How to avoid common credit card fees
- How to avoid late fees
- Hidden credit card fees to watch out for
- Why your credit card interest rates can go up
- What happens when you go over your credit card limit?
- When is a ‘fixed’ rate not fixed?
Part 5: Managing your cards
You pay promptly and never go over the limit. But, do you pay enough? And do you know your consumer rights? And what if you’re not happy with your credit card?
Let’s go deeper into the credit card woods, so you can become a credit card pro and do awesome things like balance transfers and credit limit increases.
- Guide to reading your monthly statement
- Constructing your credit card payment plan
- Negotiating a lower interest rate
- How to increase your credit limit
- Step-by-step guide to balance transfers
- Paying less than the minimum
- How to replace a lost or stolen card
- What happens if you miss a credit card payment
- Changing the due date on your credit card
- How to dispute a credit card purchase
- How to switch credit cards
- How to cancel a credit card
Part 6: Using credit wisely
Savvy spenders use credit carefully. Discover how to use your credit cards to your advantage, whether your goal is to improve your credit, maximize cash back or earn travel rewards.
- Charging your way to free travel
- How to build credit with a credit card
- How to maximize credit card rewards
- How to maximize cash back
- Shopping safely on the Web
- What you need to know about credit card fraud
Now you have all the information to go and turn your credit cards into the valuable financial tools they’re meant to be, rather than a way to get into dangerous debt (which they can also become when misused). Use your credit card responsibly, put some thought into managing it and, soon enough, your wallet will thank you.