You know it takes time to find a pair of jeans that fits perfectly. Same for your golf clubs—they have to be just right for you. You should apply that same thinking when choosing a new credit card.
If you pay off your balance every month, a low or no annual fee is more important than a low interest rate (since you’ll pay off the balance before interest on your purchase is assessed). But, if you usually carry a balance from month to month, you’ll probably want to focus on credit cards with a low annual percentage rate (APR) even with an annual fee. Other factors can influence whether a particular credit card is the best credit card for you. Consider these key questions.
- Is a rewards credit card a good choice?
Rewards cards can sometimes have higher interest rates and/or higher annual fees. Identify the trade-offs and weigh which is more valuable for your personal finances. Also consider how the rewards rate and cash-back perks match your spending habits. For instance, some cash-back cards offer bonuses for spending in certain categories, such as airfare, gasoline or dining. Navy Federal Credit Union’s More Rewards American Express® Card1 offers 3X the points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas and transit, and 1X points on everything else.2
- Under what circumstances will the card issuer reduce or revoke rewards?
With some rewards programs, you might lose points or sign-up bonuses if you make a payment late. Other credit card companies give you points that expire after a certain amount of time. Study the fine print so you know what to expect.
- Does the card offer additional benefits?
Some credit cards offer cardholders perks, like complimentary elite status with an airline or hotel loyalty program, free checked bags or extended warranties. Estimate your savings based on how much you’d use the card features.
- Is there a foreign transaction fee?
If you’ll use your card overseas frequently, the best card for you would have low—or no—foreign transaction fees. These fees can be as high as 3% of the transaction amount.
- What kind of fraud protection can you expect?
Federal regulations limit your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50, but many issuers have zero liability policies. That means you aren’t responsible for any fraudulent charges, provided you follow a few rules.
- Can you manage your account on the go?
Being able to check your balance, make a payment, set travel notifications, track and redeem rewards, and activate your credit card with your mobile device can be very handy. It’s especially important to stay current on your account if you’re trying to build credit, since missed or late payments will hurt your credit report. Check to see if the credit card issuer offers a mobile app that can help you manage your credit card account.
- What happens if you fall behind on payments?
There are many possibilities. You may face late fees or penalty rates, lose points or rewards, or take a hit to your credit history. Some lenders have programs to help you get caught up. Others don’t. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers certain protections for individuals on Active Duty and their families.
- Does the card have an introductory rate? If so, how long does it last, and what’s the rate when the promotional rate ends?
You probably don’t want to choose a credit card based on an interest rate that’s only going to last 6 months. The rate you’ll pay when the promotional rate expires is far more important. If you’re shifting over from another card, make sure to include any balance transfer fee in your evaluation.
- How long is the grace period?
Some cards start charging interest immediately, while others may give you 25 days before you have to pay interest charges on purchases. Look for a summary table of rate and fee disclosures that explains how to avoid paying interest.
- What’s the credit limit?
Your credit limit will depend on the type of card and your personal credit rating. A high credit limit can help you improve your credit score, especially if you use only a relatively small portion of it. An example would be if you have a $10,000 credit limit but never carry a balance greater than $2,000. If you have good credit, you’ll have lots of choices. If you have no or bad credit, look into a secured credit card where the credit limit is secured by funds on deposit. You might want check into Navy Federal Credit Union’s nRewards® Secured credit card.
- Your credit report may influence what kind of card you qualify for. Check your credit report free with Navy Federal’s Mission: Credit Confidence Dashboard.
- Bankrate.com keeps an updated list of current credit card offers from a variety of issuers.
- Navy Federal offers a variety of credit cards, some that enable you to earn cash, merchandise, gift certificates and travel rewards. Which card is right for you? With a handy credit card comparison tool, Navy Federal makes it easy to find the card that best fits your lifestyle.
1The Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card is issued and administered by Navy Federal Credit Union. American Express is a federally registered service mark of American Express and is used by the issuer pursuant to a license.
2Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Cards earn 3 points for every $1 of net purchases made for gas, transit, restaurants, supermarkets, and 1 point for every $1 of other net purchases. Merchant transit categories classified as railway, ferries/water trip, taxi, limousines, bus lines, charters, tour buses, tolls, road/bridge fees, and parking/lots will receive 3 points for every $1 of net purchases. A supermarket, transit, gas station or restaurant purchase may only earn 1 point per dollar spent, depending on the merchant code used to process the transaction. Restaurants located within another establishment (e.g., hotel, casino, commissary, grocery store, event venue) may receive 1 point per dollar spent at these locations. In addition, superstores, supermarkets and warehouse clubs that sell gasoline are not considered gas stations, so you will earn 1 point per dollar spent at these locations. For more information, view the More Rewards American Express® Card Program Description at navyfederal.org.
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.