Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Credit Card Applications

A credit card can be a valuable piece of plastic to own. To get the most out of yours, though, you'll want to be aware of the terms and conditions that come with it. Before you apply for a new card, make sure you have a solid understanding of what you're signing up for. Here are five common terms to watch for on credit card applications.

Annual Percentage Rate

Often appearing on the credit card application as APR, the annual percentage rate refers to the cost of credit. In other words, the APR represents the interest you will need to pay on any outstanding balances you have on the credit card. It is expressed as a yearly rate. Some credit cards advertise a low interest rate. Others, especially those that offer reward programs, may charge a higher APR. Consider your priorities and whether or not you will carry a balance as you look at the APR.

Balance Transfer

If a credit card application offers the option of a balance transfer, it means that you can bring over an existing balance from a different card. Why would you want to do this? You may be carrying a balance on a card that has a high APR. By switching the balance to a card with a low APR, you could save a good deal of money in interest. Credit cards that offer a balance transfer usually include a certain time period during which no interest will be charged to the balance. Check to see how long the offer lasts, and pay off the balance during the allotted time. You'll save a bundle in interest fees.

Grace Period

The grace period, or free period, is the number of days that you are given to pay off a balance without getting charged interest. Grace periods usually run between 20 and 30 days. If you make a purchase, and then pay it off during the grace period, you will not owe any finance charges. If your card does not have a grace period, finance charges will start to accrue as soon as you make the purchase.

Introductory Offers

Most credit cards include additional bonuses for signing up. These often consist of an initial time period during which you will not be charged interest. The offer usually lasts between six and twelve months, and can be used toward purchases or balance transfers. Check to see what the offer applies to, and what the regular interest rate will be. Eventually, you will have to pay the normal interest rate on the card.

Variable vs. Fixed Rate

Many credit cards come with a variable interest rate. This is usually attached to the prime rate, which is what banks use to lend to their best customers. As the prime rate shifts, so does the interest on your credit card. A fixed rate, on the other hand, is one that will not shift. The credit card company still has the right, even with a fixed rate, to make adjustments, but they need to let you know before they do so.

All of these terms can help you pick out the right credit card for your situation. Take the time to read through the terms on the application. By doing so, you'll have a full understanding of your credit card. Once the plastic arrives in the mail, you'll be ready to start using it.

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