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What's the best credit card for you? Advice from an expert

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Feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of credit card options and unsure of which one to choose?

The volume and value of cash transactions have significantly decreased over the years, according to the Bank of Canada. Instead, many Canadians prefer to pay for everyday purchases with credit cards, allowing them to earn cashback rewards and take advantage of other cardholder perks.

Below, I’ll share some tips to help you find the perfect credit card for your needs.

CREDIT CARDS: FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH

Blindly applying to credit cards can negatively impact your score, as applications could trigger hard inquiries, which typically remain on your credit report for two years.

Whether you’re applying for your first credit card or trying to determine the next best card to add to your wallet, it’s important to do your research, outline your goals, and understand what each card offers.

Here’s how you should begin evaluating your options.

1. Take a look at your credit

First things first – you need to know your credit score.

Many credit cards require applicants to meet minimum credit score requirements just to be considered. Additionally, credit cards may look into other factors to determine your creditworthiness, such as:

● Your payment history

● The age of your credit

● If you’ve recently applied to other lines of credit

● Your total available credit

● Your credit usage

While your credit score typically reflects these factors, it’s possible to meet a card’s score requirements and still be denied a card.

For example, a 20-year-old may have a 750 credit score simply because they’ve made all of their loan payments on time. However, they could be denied by a creditor because their credit history is too young, and they haven’t built up a solid history of managing a credit card.

2. Compare credit card rewards

Ideally, you want to apply for a credit card that matches your spending habits and rewards you accordingly.

For example, some credit cards offer higher cashback rewards for fuel purchases, while others offer greater benefits for groceries or dining out. Many cards offer a moderate flat cashback rate for all purchase categories or rotate categories that offer additional rewards.

Retail store cards offer excellent rewards when you shop online or in-store with their affiliated brands. However, these cards may offer little to no reward for everyday spending.

3. Compare the APR

The majority of income earned by credit card companies comes from customers with a rolling balance on their cards.

The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) represents the yearly cost of carrying a balance over on your card. Many cards apply APR monthly if you fail to pay off your balance in full before the next billing period.

If you plan on carrying a balance, you’ll want to look for a card that offers a lower APR. Applicants often aren’t given a specific APR until after they’re approved. Instead, the credit card company may simply provide a range of what your APR could be.

Credit card companies may also increase their APR based on various economic factors.

4. Weigh the annual fee

Many credit cards have no annual fee, which means that you’ll only pay interest fees when you carry a balance. However, some premier cards with more features charge annual fees if you want to keep the card open.

Cards that charge annual fees may offer better rewards or cardholder discounts, which often cover the cost of the annual fee. However, this isn’t always the case.

If you’re looking at a card with an annual fee, make sure that you weigh the cost of the fee against the card’s rewards.

5. Research cardholder benefits

Some cards offer special perks and benefits to cardholders. For example, some travel credit cards offer access to exclusive airport lounges. Some other perks I’ve seen offered to cardholders include:

● Complimentary travel insurance

● Complimentary phone/device insurance

● Priority room choice or service at hotels and resorts

Consider the benefits that best fit your lifestyle.

6. Get a card that fits your financial goals

Your card should optimally meet your financial goals.

For example, if you’re applying for your first card, you may want to start with a secured credit card that you fund upfront. This will allow you to develop good spending habits and payment history, which could help you apply for better cards in the near future.

On the other hand, if you plan on using the card for a balance transfer or cash advance, you should look for cards with a low APR to avoid high-interest payments.

Don’t forget about the fine print

Reading through the fine print can be tedious, but I always recommend it. A card might seem perfect until you read through the fine print and realize that it has harsh late payment penalties or discover that interest rates can fluctuate dramatically.

Closing a credit card once it’s been opened can negatively affect your credit by reducing your credit history, lines of revolving credit, and available credit.

Researching and applying for a card that best fits your lifestyle and financial habits will help you avoid unnecessarily closing a credit card that doesn’t meet your needs.

Christopher Liew is a CFA Charterholder and former financial advisor. He writes personal finance tips for thousands of daily Canadian readers on his Wealth Awesome website.

Do you have a question, tip or story idea about personal finance? Please email us at dotcom@bellmedia.ca.

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