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Choose the Best Credit Card

Checklist To Make Sure You're Getting the best credit card

Credit card offers are a dime a dozen these days, so it's not a matter of if you can get a credit card, but rather which card is best for your circumstances. Put yourself ahead of the game by knowing how to pick the right one for you.

College students without a credit card are definitely in the minority these days. A study by student loan provider Nellie Mae says that 83 percent of undergrads at four-year colleges have at least one credit card, and 47 percent have four or more.

Like any tool, credit cards are not themselves inherently good or bad; it's how you manage them that determines if they end up helping you or hurting you in the long run. If you do decide to get a credit card – and if you're like most people, you will eventually – you'll be ahead of the game if you choose the best kind of card from the get-go.

This checklist from the Armchair Millionaire provides the key questions to ask yourself to make sure that you get a good one.

How will I use this credit card?

Some cards encourage you to transfer balances from higher-interest cards by offering a low interest rate on transfers. Others offer a low introductory rate, making them attractive if you want to make a large purchase and need several months to pay it off. The catch, of course, is that when the special offers expire (typically after six to 12 months), interest rates jump.

How will I make payments?

If you're planning on always paying your balance in full each month – highly recommended – a card's interest rate is relatively unimportant. Instead, you'll want a longer grace period (look for one of at least 20 days) and no annual fee. On the other hand, if you know that you'll carry a balance, the interest rate will probably trump other considerations.

What will it really cost?

Know and understand the annual percentage rate (APR) of any card you consider, and keep in mind that it will probably be different for purchases, cash advances and balance transfers. Also understand the fees you may pay, which in addition to an annual fee can also include a late-payment fee, cash-advance fee, a fee for going over your credit limit and a balance-transfer fee.

Which extra benefits are important to me?

Frequent flyer miles, cash rebates and discounts on merchandise are the most common rewards that card issuers dangle in front of customers these days. However, these goodies nearly often come with a price, usually in the form of a higher annual fee. If these benefits are important to you, make sure that the value of the reward will actually be higher than the fee.

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