There’s a lot to consider when you’re looking for a new credit card. Choosing the right one can depend on a card’s features and fees, along with your personal financial situation and goals. Whether you want to stick with a card from your current bank or card issuer or look for the best one overall, keep these six factors in mind.
1. Credit Score Requirements
Credit card issuers don’t necessarily have (or share) a minimum credit score requirement for each of their cards, but they may offer some general guidance. Certain cards may primarily be intended for people who fall within certain credit score ranges—whether that’s poor or very good or somewhere in between.
2. How You Plan to Use the Card
You’ll also want to consider how you plan on using your new credit card. For example, if you’re going to use one card for everyday spending, a flat-rate rewards card might make the most sense. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of work to make sure you’re maximizing your rewards, you could try to get several rewards cards that offer complementary bonus categories. For example, you could get a grocery card for your grocery runs, a travel card for when you’re getting away and a flat-rate rewards card for everything else. If you plan on only using the card during emergencies, you might look for a card with a high credit limit, low interest rate and no annual fee. Or perhaps you have a specific upcoming purchase in mind or want to consolidate and pay down debt. A card with an introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR) offer on purchases or balance transfers might make sense.
Credit card fees can impact your cost for using the card even if you never pay interest. Some of the most important fees to consider are:
- Annual fee: An annual fee isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can definitely impact the value you get from a credit card. There are plenty of good options that don’t require an annual fee, including some of the best credit cards for beginners, such as the Capital One Platinum Credit Card. When looking at a card that has an annual fee, consider the benefits that come with the card. Premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve may have a high annual fee, but they can also offer benefits that more than outweigh the cost. If you think you’ll end up taking full advantage of the card’s benefits, it may well be worth paying the annual fee.
- Balance transfer fee: Balance transfer fees are often around 3% to 5% and can apply to every balance transfer. You may be able to save money by finding a card that charges a lower balance transfer fee.
- Late fee: Card issuers may charge a late payment fee if you don’t make the minimum payment by the due date. There are a few cards that don’t have late payment fees. But you can also avoid accidentally getting charged the fee by setting up autopay for at least the minimum payment amount.
- Foreign transaction fee: A foreign transaction fee may apply when making purchases outside the U.S. or shopping online if the purchase isn’t in U.S. dollars. It’s often around 3%, but there are also many credit cards, including many travel cards, that don’t have this fee.
4. Annual Percentage Rates (APRs)
A credit card’s APR determines how much interest accrues when you carry a balance. You generally won’t pay any interest on purchases if you pay off the card’s entire balance each month. A card with a potentially low interest rate could be best if you intend to occasionally revolve a balance. For reference, the average interest rate on credit cards is around 16%. If you plan on using the card for a large expense that you’ll pay off over time, look for a card that has an intro 0% APR offer. Similarly, balance transfer cards can offer an intro 0% APR on balance transfers during a limited period. The Wells Fargo Platinum card offers an 18-month promotional 0% APR period on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. However, with all intro APR offers, the card’s standard variable APR applies to remaining balances once the promotional period ends—that’s a 16.49% to 24.49% variable APR with the Wells Fargo Platinum card. Balance transfers made within 120 days of account opening qualify for the card’s 0% APR intro offer. You’ll pay a 3% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum) on balance transfers made within the first 120 days, and a 5% fee on transfers made thereafter ($5 minimum). Also, credit card cash advances may carry a separate (often higher) APR that applies even if you have a 0% APR offer for purchases and balance transfers.
Rewards credit cards can offer you cash back, points or miles on every eligible purchase. Generally, a rewards card will use one of three earnings styles:
- Flat-rate rewards cards give you the same rewards on every purchase that can earn rewards.
- Tiered-rate rewards cards earn bonus rewards on select purchase categories.
- Rotating rewards cards have rotating bonus categories.
In addition to the earnings style, consider the type of rewards you want to earn.
- Cash back may be the easiest to use as you can often redeem the rewards for statement credits or a check, or transfer them to an eligible bank account.
- Cards that earn rewards points can be very flexible and potentially offer more value.
- Co-branded cards that give you airline miles, hotel points or points in other loyalty programs can sometimes be the best fit if you’re already a fan of the brand.
Having a strategy for earning and redeeming miles is a fun and fruitful hobby for some. Others prefer the simplicity of cash back.
6. Credit Limit
Your card’s credit limit dictates how high your balance can go before you can no longer make additional purchases. Your initial credit limit may depend on your credit history, score and relationship with the issuer, and you generally won’t know your exact credit limit until after you apply and get approved. Some cards have different minimums depending on the version of the card you’re approved for. With the Chase Freedom Unlimited, for example, you may get a Visa Signature card with a $5,000 minimum or a Visa Platinum card with a $500 minimum. There are also cards that may automatically review your account for a credit limit increase. With the Capital One Platinum Credit Card, you could be automatically considered for a credit limit increase after as little as six months. You can also ask for a credit limit increase on one of your open cards. But the request could result in a hard inquiry, which may slightly hurt your credit scores. Focusing on improving your credit, paying your bill on time and updating the card issuer with your new income when it increases could also lead the issuer to increase your credit limit without a request.