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Credit Cards 101

Our world is a little bit different now and so is the way you pay – less cash, more credit cards. But before you sign up for a credit card for the free stress ball or the chance to win an iPad, it is important to know why you should consider a credit card in the first place, how to choose one that is right for you, and understand how to use it.


Why Consider a Credit Card?

If you’ve been living that cash life you may have noticed a shift in preference for people and availability at retailers for a contactless transaction. If you’ve never had a credit card, you’ve probably had to rely on your parents or your friends to hold that hotel room for your annual girls trip or to simply complete your Amazon order. Here are some of the benefits of having a credit card in your wallet:

  • Opportunity to build credit
  • Make purchases online
  • Handle emergencies or unplanned expenses
  • Contactless transactions
  • Ability to put a hold on a hotel room or car rental
  • Ability to earn points and redeem for cash back, travel or merchandise
  • Purchase protection and extended warranty

Before Adding a Credit Card to Your Cart

Stress ball or iPad aside, choosing the card that is right for you is the most important part of the process. Credit cards offer a variety of different features with the key differences between being interest rates, the fees and the rewards and benefits. This page does a great job of breaking down the different factors you should consider when choosing a card:

Compare credit card interest rates

The interest rate, which is the price you pay for borrowing money, may be an important factor to you if you regularly carry a balance. Although, spoiler alert, in the tips for using a credit card section below, I’d recommend always paying your credit card bill in full on-time and avoiding carrying a balance if possible.

Compare credit card rewards and benefits

Many cards offer benefits like rental or travel insurance and rewards programs that allow you to earn and redeem points for cash back, statement balance credit, travel and accommodations or merchandise to list a few popular examples. When comparing, you’ll want to think about which are appealing to you, how often you’d use them and understand how you accumulate points and any limitations to earning the rewards and benefits. This article also includes a few examples of estimating the value of rewards and benefits to help guide you.

Compare credit card fees

Credit card fees can include anything from the annual fee (which usually means the card offers extra rewards and benefits or a lower interest rate), to cash advance fees, to inactive account fees, and more. When choosing a card, make a list of all the fees that could apply and understand which you have to pay and which ones you can avoid by learning how to use your card properly.

There is a lot to think about when choosing the card that is right for you, especially since there are so many options out there. If at any point you’re feeling overwhelmed, I would recommend reaching out to friends, family or a trusted financial advisor to get their opinions and experiences!

Tips for Using a Credit Card

Whether you are a new card user or have had a card for years, here are some tips to keep your credit card game strong:

Pay your bills on-time, in full – not just the minimum

This is something I wish I would have known when I got my very first credit card. Without knowing any better, I thought paying the minimum was standard and I’m still not quite over the fact I let my hard earned dollars go to interest simply because I didn’t understand that I would be charged on carrying a balance.

You will never pay interest if you are paying your bill on time and in full each month. Paying in full can also help you spend within your means. Want to know the real cost of carrying a balance on your credit card? Check out this blog for a breakdown of the actual cost and even better, a tool to figure out how long it might take you to pay off your balance!

Make it a routine to pay attention to your credit card bill

Review your charges – this way you can view and adjust your spending habits as well as report unauthorized charges. Rest assured, many cards have you covered with “Zero Liability” if that were to happen!

Use your card to build credit

Lenders and credit card issuers want to see how you use credit for future lending. Your credit score is determined by how you manage your card, so make purchases, make payments and take advantage of card benefits and rewards. If you display a pattern of being able to pay off your card with no issues each month over a long period of time, lenders will trust you more and will be able to offer you more credit for bigger purchases (ie: house). To learn more about the importance of credit, check out this blog for the building blocks of credit and how to use it responsibly.

Take advantage of the card benefits and rewards

You will want a card that gives you something in return – so understand the card benefits, rewards and features and take advantage! For example, if you’re earning points – use them! I personally love to use my points towards flights to feed my travel bug but while I’ve had travel on pause, I’ve been taking advantage of redeeming my points for cashback straight into my savings account! Some other options for points redemption can include a statement credit or spending them on merchandise items like gift cards to stores and restaurants. What does your card offer?

Sharing is caring, what other tips would you suggest to keep your card game strong? Comment below!