Choosing a credit card is true art - and at the same time it's a piece of cake. To decide which credit card to apply for, you need some analytical skills, some calculations and some simplest input data to perform the analysis. The best thing here - it's actually much easier than it sounds, you just need to follow two simple steps.
1) Evaluate your credit score
This is crucial for a start, as it lets you determine which credit cards you are eligible for. Typically the cards with best perks and bonuses are available for people with good and excellent credit, and if you have a credit score lower than that, you need to build it first using secured credit cards or cards for poor credit. If you don't know what your credit score is, check it. Nowadays you can do it, using a variety of online services. Most issuers use the FICO scoring model. In this system your credit score may be bad, fair, good or excellent (these are the most common options, but there may be differences).
Note that different credit bureaus may have different credit scores, because they use different formulas. If the number is lower than you expected, check your credit report to see what's causing the problem and then try to improve it. Anyway, as soon as you're ready with your credit score, you can proceed to the next step.
2) Identify your goals
Generally there are 3 types of cards if you break them into categories according to their purposes. Essentially they are:
- Cards that help you build your credit.
- Cards that save you money on interest.
- Cards that earn you rewards.
The best card for you is the one that caters to your needs and reaches the very goal that you are striving to reach. For example, if you are not a frequent traveler, than a travel airline credit card won't do you much good.
If you Want to Build Credit, Take a Student or a Secured Credit Card
Secured cards are meant exactly for people with limited or bad credit or no credit history and who want to improve it. They usually require a deposit of around $200 that may be returned to you when the account is upgraded or closed in good standing.
Student cards, for example the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students (expired offer), are made to help young people build their credit history. They are easier to qualify for than most cards.
If you Want to Save Money on Interest, Take a Balance Transfer, 0% Intro APR or Low Interest Card
Balance Transfer Cards are useful when you already carry a balance on one or more cards and want to consolidate them or pay the balance off during the promotional no interest period. This period lasts around a year or two and it can be much help, because interest payments are what actually causes you to pay the debt of such a card forever. A good example of such card may be the Discover it® Balance Transfer.
0% intro APR or low interest cards are perfect if you want to make a big purchase. Then you can pay it off before the interest charges hit. Note that all these types are mostly made for people with good and excellent credit and are harder to find for people with less than perfect credit. A good zero intro APR credit card is the Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever (when the introductory interest rate is over, the ongoing APR will apply).
If You Want to Earn Rewards, Take a Rewards, Travel or Cash Back Credit Card
A rewards card is good for you if you are determined to earn rewards on your purchases. If you are a frequent traveler, then a travel credit card may suit you well and let you earn miles, for example, the Discover it® Miles credit card gives you 1.5 miles for each purchase and matches all your miles at the end of the first year if you are a new cardmember. A cash back credit card is more appropriate for everyday shopping, because you get simple and straightforward cash back every time you make a purchase. A nice cash back card is the Discover it® Cash Back card, which gives you 5% cash back on purchases in specific categories that change each quarter (on up to the quarterly maximum if you sign up each quarter), and all other purchases earn 1% cash back.
All in all, whatever your spending habits are, you can always choose a credit card that suits them best. If you still have doubts, use our credit card navigator, that will find a perfect credit card for you. After you get a card the most important task for you is to make responsible credit moves with it - pay off the balance on time, never max out a credit card or carry a balance and generally care about your credit history. In such and only such case will the credit card work for you.