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7 Things I Wish I Could Tell My 20-Year-Old Self About Credit Cards

Personal Insights

How can you create a healthy relationship with credit cards? By learning the fundamentals before applying for an account. Understanding the basics — from knowing which types of credit cards exist to usage logistics— will help you make wise charging decisions.

There Are Many Card Types

There are several credit card options: general purpose cards can be used anywhere, while private label retail cards are generally restricted to the issuing store or service stations. Most general purpose cards are unsecured, so the issuer extends a credit line based on your credit history.

Secured cards are backed by funds you accumulate in a deposit account, which the creditor can claim if you default. Because creditors assume little risk with secured cards, qualifying is pretty simple. They’re ideal for those with damaged or unestablished credit.

Ask your issuer if an unsecured card will be available after building credit history. Check that they report to credit bureaus; and if they don’t, you won’t be building a history at all.

The “Right Amount” of Cards Depends on You

There is no perfect number of credit cards one “should” hold. A couple of general-purpose cards suit most consumers’ needs.

If you get a retail card, make sure it’s for a store you visit often, and offers an incentive for using it as retail cards typically charge higher interest rates than general purpose cards.

Don’t Forget About Interest Rates

Credit card interest rates have a wide range— from 0%, limited-time balance transfer offers to as high as 30%.

Creditors use your credit score, income, assets, current debt load, credit inquiries, payment history and economic conditions to set your annual percentage rate (APR). Consumers with proven positive credit histories qualify for the lowest rates.

Compare Cards First

Banks, credit unions, retailers, and credit card companies all issue credit cards. Apply for an account by locating the card with the best rates and terms by researching options online. This targeted search approach can protect your credit rating from too many unnecessary inquiries.

The Contract is Binding

Read the agreement carefully, because once you sign, you form a legal contract and consent to the terms set by the issuer. These may include:

  • Credit line/limit
  • Annual percentage rate (APR)
  • Interest calculation method
  • Fixed or variable APR
  • Grace period

Creditors typically reserve the right to change any of these terms so for adjustment notices regularly.

Understand Payment

Each time you charge, you borrow money. However, since credit cards offer a revolving balance option, you aren’t required to pay the entire loan if you make at least the minimum requested payment. You can carry the remainder over to the next month. Interest will be added to the balance.

If you just pay the minimum payment though, creditors may consider you to be high risk, and increase your interest rate accordingly.

You Have Rights

 Cardholders have a legal right to fair treatment. Problems with your bill? The Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute and correct errors, and protects your credit rating during the process.

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