What credit card should you get?
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Key points about: choosing the right credit card for you
Your income and credit history help determine which credit cards you qualify for.
Consider introductory offers (like low interest rates) and rewards programs such as cash back or miles.
Check interest rates and fees that may impact how you use your card, including annual, cash advance, balance transfer, and foreign-transaction fees.
Credit cards can make shopping more convenient, secure, and rewarding. It’s no wonder that, according to the Brookings Institution, 83% of Americans own at least one credit card. But with the variety of credit cards available, finding the right card for you might seem tricky. The right credit card can offer great benefits if you identify the features that fit your needs. With our guide and a bit of know-how, you can make an informed decision.
Determine what type of credit card you may qualify for
Your credit score, credit history, and income are some of the primary factors determining your eligibility for a credit card. Consider beginning your search by identifying what types of credit cards you may qualify for.
Did you know?
Some card issuers offer an online pre-approval form that uses a soft credit inquiry to determine your likelihood of being approved. A soft credit inquiry doesn’t impact your credit score, so it’s helpful to know how likely you are to be approved before you submit an application for the card. Learning what cards you pre-qualify for can help you narrow your search.
If you have less established or no credit history, consider credit cards with no credit score required to apply, such as a student credit card or secured credit card (a secured credit card requires a security deposit equal to the credit limit approved by the issuer). No credit score required to apply for Discover Student Credit Cards.1 These credit cards have more relaxed income requirements as well.
Compare features and benefits
Once you understand which cards you qualify for, you can compare the features and benefits of each to select the best credit card for your needs.
Some cards let you earn cash back or miles on eligible purchases, so finding rewards that align with your spending habits can help your credit card search. For instance, a travel credit card may be ideal if you frequently travel, while certain cash back cards may offer more rewards if you use your credit card to pay for groceries or gas. Rewards credit cards can include:
- Flat-rate rewards: Flat-rate rewards cards give you the same rewards rate on all purchases. The percentage could be 1% or more, depending on the card. The chief benefit of a flat-rate rewards card is that there’s typically no limit to the amount of cash back or miles you can earn. And you don’t have to track category spending to optimize your benefits, unlike rotating category rewards cards.
- Rotating category rewards: Some rewards credit cards offer bonus rewards in rotating categories throughout the year (often by quarter), such as gas, groceries, and restaurants. You may earn a higher rate of rewards in rotating categories, but the card issuer typically limits the amount of cash back or miles you can earn in rotating categories.
- Tiered rewards: Tiered rewards credit cards combine the benefits of category-based bonus rewards with everyday flat-rate rewards. For example, the Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card lets you earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.2 Plus, earn 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Fees and interest
Credit cards have different fees and interest based on the card you choose and how you use it.
- Annual fees:Some credit card issuers charge cardmembers an annual fee for using their card. Before applying for a credit card, you may want to check for an annual fee and weigh the potential fee against the card’s benefits to decide if it’s worth it. Discover has no annual fee on any of our cards.
- Cash advance rates and fees: Your card issuer may charge you a cash advance fee when you use your credit card to borrow cash against your credit limit. Not only can cash advance fees be relatively high, but interest rates on cash advances are usually higher than your regular interest rate. And unlike regular purchases, where you have one billing cycle to pay your balance before accruing interest, you’ll incur interest on your cash advance from the day it posts to your account. You’ll also likely lose the grace period on purchases, which means you would pay interest on purchases as they post to your account. Review your card’s cash advance terms carefully if you intend to use your card this way.
- Balance transfer rates and fees: If you plan to use your new credit card to transfer high-interest debt to a card with a lower interest rate, you should pay close attention to the card’s balance transfer fee. A balance transfer fee typically ranges from 3 to 5% of the amount transferred—this can be substantial if you’re transferring a large sum. Many balance transfer cards offer a temporary low interest rate to ease debt repayment. However, you must repay your balance within the introductory period to avoid paying interest once your rate returns to your regular interest rate.
- Foreign transaction fees: If you use your credit card abroad or purchase something in another currency online, your card issuer may charge a foreign transaction fee. Some credit cards don’t have foreign transaction fees; frequent travelers may want to look for cards with this perk.
Introductory offers provide promotional benefits for new cardmembers that expire after a fixed period. Introductory offers may include low or 0% interest on regular purchases and balance transfers (sometimes for the first year or more). You may also earn extra rewards as a new cardmember. For example, at Discover, we’ll automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. There is no limit to how much we’ll match.3
While introductory offers may provide exceptional benefits (especially if you want to make a large purchase or consolidate debt), you shouldn’t overlook a card’s long-term features and rates.
Understanding the basics of choosing a credit card can help you find the card that fits you just right. And no matter what card you apply for, using credit responsibly is key to building a good credit history and reaping all the benefits your card has to offer.
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