This is a guest article by Jason Bushey. If you are interested in contributing to Debt RoundUp, please follow our guidelines.
Admittedly, I actually applied for – and received – my first credit card through an offer I received in the mail. I was a sophomore in college home for the weekend, and my Dad mentioned that now would be a good time to start building credit. The credit card had a low limit – just $250 to start – and seemed liked a solid starter card for a student.
Short-term, the card was fine; no interest for six months, not that I ran up a huge tab or anything, and the credit line was extended automatically every half-year or so. Long-term, however, was another story; my interest rate was close to 30% (seriously!), there was nothing in the way of cash back or points, and before long I was making minimum payments that were getting me exactly nowhere when it came to paying down my debt.
Once I got a little (OK, a lot) more savvy, I transferred that balance that just wouldn’t go away to a new, 0% interest credit card and pretty soon my balance was history. But the fact of the matter is that I went looking for that balance transfer credit card because frankly the card I was most in need of was not getting sent to my mailbox.
Here’s the thing about credit card offers that come through the mail – they’re generic, and they’re sent to hundreds of thousands of consumers each day. Sure, a credit card advertising great travel rewards might arrive at your door just as you begin planning your vacation, but the odds are unlikely and the circumstances purely coincidental.
If you know what kind of credit card you’re in search of and how you’re going to use it, the only way to research credit card offers is to go online and find it rather than waiting for that perfect card to come for you. Credit cards today are tailored to just about every kind of consumer; but as a shopper in search of a credit card it’s important to know what kind of cards are available to you.
Not everyone has perfect credit, and not every card is available to every consumer. Since each credit card you apply for takes what is called a “hard pull” of your credit – something that actually marginally hurts your credit score – it’s important to know what kind of credit cards you’re most likely to get approved for to preserve your current score.
Here are the benefits of an online credit card search compared to settling for those mail-in offers, as well as some things to consider when choosing the right card for you…
- What’s my credit score?
Before you begin applying for credit cards, it’s important to determine what your credit score is. As mentioned above, you’re unlikely to get approved for some of the best credit cards available if your credit score is bad or even fair.
If you’re not sure what your credit score it, you can get an estimate for free online at multiple websites, and if you want the real thing you can apply for your one legally-entitled free annual credit report online. Once you know your score, the next thing to consider is…
- What is the purpose of my new credit card?
This one should be easy – what exactly are you trying to do with this card, anyway? If you’re hoping to finance a big purchase, you should consider cards with zero percent interest on new purchases for up to a year or more. If you’d like to save money on interest on the balance you’re currently carrying, then you’re probably most interested in a credit card that charges 0% interest on balance transfers.
Then again, if you have no credit or poor credit, your main concern should be building or repairing your credit profile. You can do this best with secured cards – cards that require a security deposit – though there are unsecured options available, too.
Once you’ve determined what you’re most concerned with initially when it comes to your new card, there’s one last thing to think about…
- What do I want from my credit card in the long run?
Since you don’t usually want to close a credit card account (it hurts your score marginally and lowers your total available credit line), it’s important to consider the long-term ramifications of a credit card, too. You might want a cash back card to continue your rewards long after the intro period has expired, or a co-branded airline card that makes you Mr. or Miss Preferred with your favorite line.
But you also may want to avoid annual fees and high interest in years two or three, which is also something to consider before clicking the “Apply Now” button. So remember to consider both short and long-term budget goals when applying for a credit card online.
The best thing about comparing credit cards on the web is that the search is tailored for you and you alone. Include everything you want and nothing you don’t when researching credit cards, and be sure to shred those mailed-in credit card applications rather than simply throwing them away to avoid the risk of identity theft.
This guest post was written by Jason Bushey. Jason is a full-time personal finance blogger and he runs the day to day operations at Creditnet.com, a consumer comparison website.
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