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Choosing a Credit Card: Costs and Features

(continued from Choosing a Credit Card: Balance Computation Methods)...

Credit terms vary among issuers. When considering a credit card, think about how you plan to use it: If you expect to pay your bills in full each month, the annual fee and other charges may be more important than the periodic rate and the APR, and whether there is a grace period for purchases. If you use the cash advance feature, many cards do not permit a grace period for the amounts due — even if they have a grace period for purchases. That makes considering the APR and balance computation method a good idea. But if you plan to pay for purchases over time, the APR and the balance computation method definitely are major considerations.

You’ll also want to consider if the credit limit is high enough, how widely the card is accepted, and the plan’s services and features. For example, you may be interested in “affinity cards” — all-purpose credit cards sponsored by professional organizations, alumni associations, and some members of the travel industry. An affinity card issuer often donates a portion of the annual fees or charges to the sponsoring organization, or qualifies you for free travel or other bonuses.

Default and Universal Default: Your credit card agreement explains what may happen if you “default” on your account. For example, if you are one day late with your payment, your issuer may be able to take certain actions, including raising the interest rate on your card. Some issuers’ agreements even state that if you are in default on any financial account — even one with another company — those issuers’ will consider you in default for them as well. This is known as “universal default.”

Special Delinquency Rates: Some cards with low rates for on-time payments apply a very high APR if you are late a certain number of times in any specified time period. This can exceed 20 percent. Information about delinquency rates should be disclosed in credit card applications and in solicitations that do not require an application.

(continue on to Choosing a Credit Card: Resources)...

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