Comparing Credit Card Offers

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The Internet lets you easily compare credit cards and apply online. It's also easy to be swayed by teaser rates of as low as 2.9% to 3.9%. These interest rates are introductory rates that last a few months before the regular interest rate kicks in. Some teaser-rate offers are valid only for new purchases while others may also include transfer balances.
To help you sift through credit card offers and make a well- informed decision, consider evaluating the following features of an offer:
Interest rate. Ask what the card's APR is, and if the annual fee is included in the calculation. With credit cards, the annual fee is often excluded. In that case, the APR will tell you what the regular rate is after a teaser rate ends. Ask how interest is calculated, and what events would automatically escalate the rate to the ceiling rate. You should also determine the interest rate on cash advances or charges that exceed your borrowing limit. Generally, these rates are at the ceiling rate. It is customary for no grace period to be provided for either of these kinds of charges.
Fees. If you have a solid credit history, you can often negotiate the annual fee. If the card company refuses and you're adamant about paying no fee, you can always shop for a no-fee credit card on the Web. If you have substantial average monthly balances, however, a small annual fee may be a fair price to pay for a lower rate. Keep an eye out for other fees, such as those for cash advances or over-the-limit charges. You're already likely paying the ceiling rate for these charges. Charging an additional fee is a way that unscrupulous card companies may add to your cost of those kinds of charges.
Ease of credit approval. Be aware of card offers promising "pre-approved" credit. You may be a prospective customer, but you still have to apply for credit. Each time you apply, the card company obtains a copy of your credit report. These all count as inquiries that, if concentrated over a short period of time, can negatively affect your credit score.
Security and privacy. Limit your online application to card companies that use industry-standard practices for security and privacy. Look for 128-bit encrypting, which scrambles your application data and requires a de-scrambler to read it. The card company's Web server should use Secured Sockets Layer (SSL) technology. Look for an online application on a secure screen of the Web site. This is usually identified with a padlock or similar icon, or has a URL that begins with the word "https." The company should also clearly state its privacy policy for handling your financial data.
Unauthorized credit card use. Check to see if the card company limits your liability for unauthorized charges. Often, the most you're liable for is $50. An unauthorized-use guarantee is added protection to the card company's security and privacy measures, above.
These are some of the main features to look for in credit card offers. Unfortunately, these features are often ignored in credit card ad campaigns. The more you do to evaluate a credit card offer before applying, the sharper your credit management skills.
The above information is educational and should not be interpreted as financial advice. For advice that is specific to your circumstances, you should consult a financial or tax adviser.
2008-06-09 15:24:22
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