The major cards are backed by numerous banks. When you deal with a credit card company, you’re really dealing with a bank. For example, my Alaska Airlines Visa card is linked to the airline, but the terms and conditions are set by the bank. This card is good if you travel at least once per year on vacation, as the card offers not only miles for your purchases but gives you a companion ticket annually for $99 plus tax. For example, I got two round-trip nonstop tickets to Kauai, Hawaii for $600.84 for a total saving of more than $450. Not bad.
American Express, Visa, Mastercard or Discover – what’s in your wallet? The answer should revolve around what savings and benefits are most important to you. Since some places don’t take all cards, I like to keep two types of cards. The most universally accepted credit cards are still Visa and Mastercard, since they charge a smaller fee to the retailer.
But Visa and Mastercard don’t always give you the most bang for your spending buck. The fees and options – and interest rates – can change from year to year. It’s better to pay off your bill monthly and avoid any interest, but if you need to make payments, check the interest rates carefully. American Express is the only credit card that imposes no monthly payment; therefore, no interest rates apply. You must pay the whole bill at the end of the monthly billing period.
Promotions for new cards are always in the mail or on TV or radio. Check the details and make sure the fine print doesn’t come back to haunt you. It’s also smart to call the company and verify that there’s no annual fee ever – as opposed to no fee for the first year. And find out about the cancellation policy.
Promotions can include cash back, credits to your bill, free travel, points for gift cards at several cooperating stores, percentage discounts at gas stations (a personal favorite) and mileage for certain airlines. Each card offers something that makes it “special,” so thoroughly investigate the pros and cons of each card.
Many stores will offer their credit card at checkout, giving you a percentage off your purchase or a credit of a certain dollar amount. Use this tool wisely. If your purchase runs up a large total, and you can get 20 percent off, signing up for the store’s credit card might be a good idea. And keep in mind: those specialty cards are good for only that store.
Nobody needs 15 different credit cards. If you lose your wallet, canceling so many cards can be a nightmare.
Paying on time and avoiding late charges is crucial, and carrying too many cards can tempt you to spend more than your budget can bear. But using a credit card wisely and paying it off every month is like using someone else’s money for 30 days without interest. That’s a benefit in itself.
Marla Luckhardt is a Discovery Bay resident and member of the East Contra Costa Senior Coalition. She works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. To contact her, e-mail email@example.com.