If utilized wisely, a credit card can be one of your most valuable financial tools. You may maximize cash rewards or travel incentives, avoid decades of debt, and safeguard your credit score if you know the appropriate moves to make.
How does a credit card work?
A credit card allows you to borrow money to pay for items. Your credit limit is the maximum amount you can borrow at one time. Your debt is the amount you’ve already borrowed, and your available credit is the amount you still have to borrow.
The card issuer will send you a statement detailing the transactions you made at the conclusion of each billing cycle. It will show your entire balance as well as the minimum payment required for that billing period. To avoid a late fee, you must pay at least the minimum amount by the due date – however it’s a good idea to pay more than the minimum if you can afford it.
Although credit cards are most commonly used for purchases, many of them can also be used for cash advances and balance transfers.
How does credit card interest work?
When you borrow money with a credit card, the card issuer can charge you interest. The amount of interest charged is determined by the annual percentage rate of the card (APR). APRs on purchases, bill transfers, and cash advances vary widely among credit cards. The APR on most credit cards is variable. A variable APR is a variable interest rate that changes over time.
When your card issuer begins charging you interest is also determined by the type of transaction. Cash advances, for example, virtually always accrue interest right away. Purchases are distinct. Almost every top-rated credit card will only charge interest on purchases not paid off by the payment due date. Savvy consumers take advantage of this, pay in whole, and never pay credit card interest again.
Do you need a credit card?
Although a credit card isn’t a necessity, there are several ways it can help you financially:
- Improving credit: The greatest credit cards can assist you in building or rebuilding your credit. Your credit score will improve if you use your credit card and pay your bills on time. This can help you qualify for low-interest financing, such as a car loan or mortgage.
- Earning rewards: With rewards credit cards, you can earn cash back or travel points on purchases.
- Fraud protection: If your credit card is used fraudulently, you are only legally liable for up to $50 in losses. But, the majority of credit card firms go far further. Several credit cards have zero-liability rules, which means you are not liable for any fraudulent charges. You also don’t have to be concerned about a burglar depleting your bank account using your credit card (which could happen if your debit card was stolen).
- Extra perks and discounts: Credit cards can provide a variety of benefits, such as extended warranty coverage on purchases and free rental car insurance. Many of the best credit cards for 2023 include benefits worth hundreds of dollars or more.
What is the best credit card?
The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card is the ideal credit card for most people. It earns 2% cash back on purchases, making it one of the most lucrative and versatile credit cards available. This card also features no annual fee, a large sign-up bonus, and a long 0% intro APR period.
Every consumer has unique purchasing habits and credit card requirements. The ideal credit card for you will be determined by your specific situation.
We’ve chosen the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card as the best credit card of 2023 for the following reasons:
- 2% cash rewards on purchases is the highest rate we’ve seen. Other cards offer more in select bonus categories, but 2% across purchase categories is the best deal for the typical consumer.
- Cash back is flexible. While some people find travel points valuable, everyone can use cash back.
- $0 annual fee. It’s always a plus when you won’t need to pay anything extra for your credit card.
- $200 cash rewards bonus. New cardholders earn this welcome bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
- A long 0% intro APR offer. Adding to this card’s versatility is a 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for the first 15 months.
How to choose a credit card
Any time you’re going to apply for a credit card, you want to make sure you choose the right one. Here’s how to pick a credit card:
Decide which type of card you want. This will significantly narrow down your credit card offers, so it makes sense to do this first. If you’re only interested in earning travel miles, for example, there’s no need to look at the top credit card offers with 0% initial APR.
Compare credit cards in that category. Once you’ve decided on a card type, it’s time to compare credit cards side by side. Discover the best credit cards in that category and then choose the finest one for you. To compare credit cards, follow these steps:
- Figure out the features that are most important to you. This is determined by the sort of card you select. Assume you require a balance transfer card. The length of each card’s balance transfer offer and its balance transfer fees are the features to consider.
- Check for any annual fees on the cards you’re comparing. If you can’t decide between two credit cards that suit you, one of them may have a lower annual cost.
- Use secondary features as your tiebreaker. These are the traits that are less crucial yet nonetheless valuable. Sign-up bonuses like a free FICO® Score could be secondary features.
- Read the fine print. All credit cards display common card features in a standardized fashion, such as an outline of APRs and a charge schedule. Keep a watch out for and compare the following costs to other cards: Yearly, balance transfer, cash advance, late payment, and overseas transaction are all possible options.
How to apply for a credit card online
The simplest way to apply for a credit card is online, where you can complete an application in minutes. Here’s how to apply for a credit card online:
- Choose a credit card and click “Apply Now”: You’ll find this link on the credit card page.
- Fill out the required information: Personal information such as your name, mailing address, date of birth, and Social Security number are requested on card applications. They also need financial information, such as your income. Some companies may inquire about your net worth.
- Submit the application: You may receive an immediate decision of credit card pre-approval or denial (hopefully approval). The card issuer may also place your application under review, indicating that it requires more time to make a decision.
How to use a credit card
Whether your credit card helps or hurts you all depends on how you use it. To ensure that your credit card provides value and doesn’t get you in debt, here are a few key guidelines:
- Use your credit card regularly: You must use your credit card at least once per month to establish a payment history and improve your credit score. But that is only the bare minimum. If you have a rewards card, consider charging your purchases to it to get the most money back.
- Only charge what you can afford: It is best to just buy what you can afford with the money in your bank account. This will assist you in avoiding overspending and debt. The only exception is if you have a card with a 0% initial APR on purchases, which are intended for financing expenses.
- Pay on time and in full: Late payments might result in fees, interest charges, and a decrease in credit score. Skipping a payment does not improve your credit score, nor does holding a balance. It is critical to pay on or before the due date. Credit cards with 0% beginning APR are an anomaly once again. You can carry a balance on those without paying interest during the trial term (though you still need to make the minimum payment).
- Take advantage of your card’s perks: Every decent credit card has its own set of advantages. Spend some time studying about the perks of your card so that you can use them when you need them.
Discover it® Cash Back
Bonus category cash back
2023 AWARD WINNER
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Unlimited cash back
Wells Fargo Reflect® Card
Long 0% intro APR offer
2023 AWARD WINNER
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
0% intro APR balance transfer offer
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Unlimited cash back
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Travel sign up bonus
2023 AWARD WINNER
Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
Unlimited points in certain categories
Discover it® Balance Transfer
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
2023 AWARD WINNER
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
Premium travel rewards
U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card
Dining rewards with no annual fee
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students