It seems that every organization, every hobby, and every store offers its own credit card now, and most have some very attractive rewards. So how do you choose between one card and the next? While it may take some digging, there are some features that can make one card more desirable than another.

Get the Basics Right

There are some things that you must know before you choose any credit card. The most important are the interest rates and late fees. Some cards begin with a 0 percent annual percentage rate (APR). But be sure that you know how long that rate lasts, and whether the 0 percent applies to all purchases, or just to certain classes of purchases. What rate does the card have after that initial period? If you plan to have a balance on your card, then you will want to know that APR.

It also helps to know if balance transfers will carry the same APR as new purchases. If you are thinking of consolidating debt onto a card, take care: depending on the card, some types of transfers do not qualify for special rates.

Do not overlook the fees associated with owning a particular card. The annual fee, if there is one, and the circumstances that trigger a late payment fee, are important to know and understand. Some cards have a grace period before charging a late fee, meaning you can avoid a fee if you are a few days late with a payment, but others do not have a grace period.

Calculate Your Credit Card Costs

If you carry a balance on your card, our credit card payoff calculator can help you see how much interest you pay based on how long you take to pay off the balance.

Credit Card Payoff Calculator

Comparing Rewards

Card offers tend to emphasize the rewards that you could achieve; but what does it take to get those rewards? Be sure to read the fine print so you know how the rewards accrue after the initial bonus offer is over. Remember, you want to get the most out of your card, both for the rewards you want to realize, and for the way you will use the card most.  

Two things to compare among cards are both the minimum amount you must spend to earn rewards, and how they may increase at different spending levels. You may find that you would be better off with a low-interest card that does not offer a top-tier reward level because you would not normally spend enough to qualify for it.

But Wait, There’s More?

Points or cash back are not the only benefits that some cards come with. There may be rewards beyond the main one that is advertised that would be of value to you.

A few examples are cards that offer price protection, insurance for purchases and even cell phone protection benefits. While nearly all credit cards come with the required federal fraudulent spending protection, some add excellent ID theft protection, and insurance on various travel-related purchases, like airfare or event tickets.

It is worthwhile to read over the many risks and benefits that rewards credit cards offer. Making a comparison between cards and their many possible options may show you that a card is not likely to pay for itself. On the other hand, your research could just turn up more features than you expected, making the card even more valuable than originally thought.