When used responsibly, a credit card can help you finance new purchases, shop securely or earn rewards in exchange for spending. But with high APRs and a range of fees, they can also be risky. Here’s a closer look at modern credit cards and what you need to know about them.
Some loans – such as purchases you make on a charge card – are expected to be repaid quickly. For example, a charge card requires you to pay off your purchases in full when you receive your monthly bill.
Other loans, such as credit cards, give you more time to pay off your purchases and only require you to pay a minimum amount each month. In exchange for allowing you to carry over your debt from month-to-month, your credit card will charge you interest.
The amount of interest you’re charged will depend on the card you choose and your credit history. For example, travel cards tend to charge higher amounts of interest. So do cards that are designed for consumers with low credit scores.
Unlike charge cards and installment loans, credit cards give you a revolving line of credit (often called your credit limit) that allows you to borrow up to a certain amount.
For example, if you have a $5,000 credit limit, you’ll be allowed to charge any amount you want, up to that $5,000 limit. However, you won’t be able to charge any more than $5,000 until you’ve paid down your balance or have been given a credit limit increase.
Common credit card charges
Most credit cards charge a wide range of fees. However, the fees are typically tied to optional services, such as balance transfers, cash advances and revolving balances. As a result, you may not have to pay any fees at all if you use a no annual fee credit card, pay off your purchases in full each month and only use your card to make new purchases.
Here are some common charges you might encounter on your credit card:
- Standard APR: Your annual percentage rate (APR) determines the amount of interest you’ll be expected to pay if you carry a balance from one month to the next. Most credit cards are variable-rate credit cards, meaning their APRs are tied to a benchmark interest rate called the prime rate. However, some cards are fixed-rate credit cards and so their APRs are unaffected by the prime rate.
- Balance Transfer APR: If you transfer an old balance to your new credit card, your balance transfer APR will determine how much interest you’re charged on your transferred balance.
- Cash Advance APR: If you borrow cash from your credit card – for example, by writing a credit card check or taking out cash from an ATM – you’ll be charged a special cash advance APR that’s often significantly higher than your regular APR.
- Penalty APR: Your credit card issuer may also charge a higher APR, called a penalty APR, if you fall behind on payments.
- Annual fee: Some credit cards charge a fee just for owning the card. For example, if you open a rewards card with extra generous benefits or get a secured card for consumers with bad credit, you may be charged an annual fee.
- Balance transfer fee: If you transfer debt onto your new credit card, your card issuer may charge you a percentage of the total amount you transferred. Balance transfer cards usually charge a fee of $5-10 or 3-5% of the transferred balance.
- Cash advance fee: Your card issuer will also charge you a percentage of the amount you borrowed if you take out a cash advance.
- Foreign transaction fee: Some credit card issuers also charge a percentage of any transaction that you make abroad or in a foreign currency. Foreign transaction fees tend to be 3% of the purchase. If you’re going to be traveling overseas, a card with no foreign transaction fees can help you save.
- Late payment fee: Your credit card issuer may also charge you a fee each time you pay your bill after your payment due date. Under federal law, a late payment fee can’t exceed $40.
See related: Picking the right credit card
Credit card benefits and promotions
Many card issuers also add special promotions and benefits to their credit cards in order to attract new customers and encourage existing cardholders to continue using their cards. As a result, your card may offer:
- An introductory APR: Some credit cards offer new cardholders a low or 0% APR on new purchases for a set period. For example, a card may offer to temporarily waive interest for a year or more.
- An introductory balance transfer APR: Some credit cards also offer a promotional interest rate on balances you transferred from other loans or cards. For example, you may be given a year or more to pay off the transferred balance before you’re charged any interest.
- Fee waivers: To attract customers, some credit cards waive common fees, such as balance transfer fees or foreign transaction fees.
- Rewards: Many cards also offer a rewards program. For example, you may be offered cash back, points or travel miles in exchange for using your credit card.
- Sign-up bonuses: Some credit cards also offer a one-time rewards or cash back bonus when you first sign up for a credit card. They often require you to spend a certain amount in a set time period in order to receive the bonus.
- Ongoing bonuses: A credit card may also offer other kinds of bonuses throughout the year. Depending on the card, you may receive a bonus when you redeem your rewards or when you spend a certain amount.
- Credit card benefits: In addition, many credit cards offer purchase protection and travel insurance benefits, such as extended warranty, car rental insurance and travel accident insurance. Most cards also offer zero liability fraud protection, so you don’t have to worry about losing money if your card information is stolen.
- Additional card perks: Some rewards cards with annual fees also offer other credit card benefits, such as travel credits, airport lounge access and more.
Credit cards are also subject to a number of consumer protection laws, including:
- The Credit CARD Act of 2009: This law offers a number of protections for consumers, including protection from sudden rate increases and excessive fees.
- The Fair Credit Billing Act: Among other protections, this law gives consumers the right to dispute fraudulent or inaccurate charges.
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act: This law gives consumers the right to access their credit reports once per year from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – for free through AnnualCreditReport.com and dispute errors on their reports.
See related: 8 things you must know about credit card debt
How to get a credit card
You’ll need an established credit history, with a track record of on-time payments, in order to qualify for most credit cards. However, some credit cards are easier to get – even if you’ve never used credit before.
Secured credit cards are designed to help cardholders build a positive credit history. In exchange for a refundable deposit to help secure the loan, you’ll be given a card that you can use to make a limited number of purchases. Over time, you’ll build a positive credit history by making on-time payments.
Once you’ve built up a track record of using credit responsibly, you’ll eventually be able to qualify for other cards – including cards that offer rewards and other benefits.
Kelly Dilworth is a former staff reporter at CreditCards.com. She began her career in journalism at The Atlantic in 2007, then detoured into nonfiction book publishing for several years. She returned to journalism in 2010 and since then has written about everything from 20-somethings with Herculean credit scores to the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions.
Join us as we discuss all things finances with the famous Pete The Planner! He has written 10 books, has his own podcast (Million Dollar Plan), radio show (Pete the Planner® Radio Show on WIBC), appears on TV and regularly writes newspaper columns. See his contact information below to connect with him and see all that he has accomplished, which is a lot!
Face The Fear:
To Rent or To Buy? Millennials wrestle with this decision more than any past generation, especially as student loans and stagnant wages have delayed the home-buying process substantially. In this episode, we tackle this question and many others with the help of three Real Estate Mavens: Leslie Ferguson, Heather Regan, and Tiffany McIntosh.
- What differences have you seen between Millennials looking for housing vs. Gen X or Baby Boomers looking for housing when they were in their 20s-30s? How has the housing market changed over time?
- How does your credit score play into the home buying or apartment renting process?
- Where should a Millennial start when it comes to purchasing a home? What are a few key first steps and pitfalls to avoid?
- How do taxes factor in to owning a home?
- What are hidden costs/fees that a first-time home buyer might not know about?
- What questions should someone ask a real estate agent to make sure they’ll be a good fit?
Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review! XOXO
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Mortage Loan Officer
Have you ever had a terrible day that just seemed to keep getting worse? You didn’t hear your alarm go off, so you woke up 20 minutes late. When you jumped out of bed in a panic, you stubbed your toe on the nightstand (who put that there?!). At least you still had time to make yourself a fresh, steaming-hot cup of coffee! Unfortunately, on your way to work, an idiot cut you off in traffic and that steaming-hot cup of coffee flew out of your hand and on to your favorite white shirt.
Nice. Huffing and puffing, you barely make it into the office when a coworker stops you and says, “Are you ready for your presentation in the meeting this morning?” (Oh, sh*t. I thought that meeting was tomorrow!) Later on, you realized that you packed a can of cat food instead of chicken salad for your lunch (ew), gave your crush a fist bump in return to a high-five (awkward), dropped a stack of important documents everywhere, and ripped your pants when you bent down to pick them up (tragic). It’s 4:58pm. You’ve almost made it through the day (thank goodness), but you decide to send one last email before you head home. You need to send your coworker, Danielle, a spreadsheet she requested, and decide to mention how annoying your boss has been lately. Sent! Then your heart stops. That email didn’t go to Danielle. It went to Daniel…your boss.
We’ve all had one of those days. But, what makes a day like this so bad? It’s not because just one little thing went wrong. Oh no. It’s because one bad experience seemed to lead to another, which led to another and another, compounding into a terrible day overall.
While this example of a bad day demonstrates how compounding can work against you, compounding interest is a financial tool that can actually work for you in a very positive way, even on a crappy day. Holla!
First of all, what is compound interest? Compound interest is a basic financial concept where interest is not only calculated on your initial investment (simple interest), but is calculated on your initial investment PLUS any interest you have earned previously. Your money is earning money on its money.
Let’s break it down:
Say you put $1,000 into an account that is earning 5% simple interest for 10 years. At the end of the 10 years, you would have a total of $1,500. ($1,000 x .05 = $50 x 10 Years = $500). However, let’s also say that you put $1,000 into an account that is earning 5% compound interest for 10 years. In this case, at the end of 10 years, you would have a total of $1,628.89. How did you end up with more money using compounding interest vs. simple interest? Let’s break it down even further:
For the DIY-ers out there, here’s the formula used to calculate compound interest:
P [(1 + i)n – 1]
P= Principal (Original Investment)
i = Annual Interest
n = Number of Compounding Periods
So, to plug in the numbers from above:
$1,000 [(1 + .05)10 – 1] = $628.89
And here’s a comparison between simple and compound interest over time:
If you’re like me, you probably just glazed over that last section like a Krispy Kreme donut. (I donut blame you). So, we see how the numbers work. Why does it matter?
Compound interest could be the single most important factor either making or breaking your bank account over time. You could either be using compounding interest to your advantage by putting funds into a retirement or investment account and allowing it to compound (grow) more quickly over time. Or, compounding interest could be your worst nightmare if you’ve got high interest credit card or student loan debt, which would compound just as quickly, but in the wrong direction. (Yikes!)
As we can see in the chart above, compounding interest produces a greater return (grows faster) than simple interest over the same period of time. And the key word here is TIME. The concept of compounding interest is pretty spectacular on its own. However, without the crucial ingredient of time (no, not thyme, sorry G’ma), your compound interest will produce very bland results. The longer you wait to withdrawal any of your funds, the more powerful – and flavorful – the compounding effect will be. (Can you tell I’m hungry? Did someone say pizza??)
If you put $1,000 in a retirement account that grows through compounding interest, congratulations! You’re #winning at this game of life. But, if you become impatient and decide to take out $10 here or $20 there, you’ll quickly undermine all the positive benefits of compounding, while likely getting slapped with some hefty tax penalties as well (if you’re under 59 ½). Ouch – Game Over.
If you’re someone who struggles with delayed gratification (aka ME), here’s a life hack to make you think twice about taking money out of your compounding accounts. It’s called the Rule of 72, and it’s a fast calculation to show how quickly your money can double inside a compounding account (without taking withdrawals – no touchy).
Simply divide 72 by the annual interest percentage to see how many years it will take for your money to double. For example, if you’re earning an average of 8% annually in an investment account, your money will double in 9 years (72 / 8 = 9). You put in $1,000 today and you’ll have $2,000 in 9 years. Cha-ching! Obviously, the more money you can invest early on, and the longer you can let it grow, the better your outcome will be.
This is exactly why the best time to start saving is today. Like, NOW. (Actually, the best time to start saving was yesterday…but there’s no time like the present!)
If you want to see for yourself how compound interest works, check out this, this, and this. You’re welcome.
Written By: Kaitlyn Duchien
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This week, the DeVisser Real Estate Group is our special guest on Face The Fear! Brendin DeVisser, a Millennial real estate agent, answers some of your most common questions about the home-buying process. Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and leave a comment! The DeVisser Group with Five Star Lakeshore is a hardworking team of real estate agents in West Michigan who work hard to inform and educate people on the home buying process, especially when it’s their first time buying a home! From credit scores to pre-approval, we can help you better understand these big transactions that can change your life. With helpful guidance and preparation, you’re on your way to owning your own property! If you have any questions, you can find us on social media (links below) or give us a call!
Feel free to watch the video here!
Hey guys! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Brendin DeVisser, a real estate agent in West Michigan! I’m 25 and I’m the founder of The DeVisser Group with Five Star Lakeshore which consists of other real estate agents and my marketer.
My goal here is to quickly and simply, help you through the process of buying your first home! I know it can sound intimidating and stressful, however, if you surround yourself with professionals you can trust, that stress and intimidation will disappear!
I was 19 when I first invested in real estate. Crazy right? Was I scared? Nah. I’m a big tough man and I can handle all this stressful money stuff. I’m kidding. Of course, I was scared!I was putting a lot of money into something that would eventually be mine, but right now felt like it was burning a hole in my wallet. However, with the right guidance from experts I trusted, I was able to purchase a duplex, rent it out and start paying it off.
You’re buying your first home, or you’re thinking about it. Well, now is the time to do it! The real estate market is still hot but it won’t be forever. Interest rates will rise and so will the prices of homes.
So, where do you start?
You contact someone like us. A real estate team you can trust to guide you and prepare you for what is ahead. If they’re anything like us, they will be there to answer any questions you have, anytime. You want to prevent as many conflicts from arising as possible and that is the agent’s job.
They can refer you to a bank or lender they rely on to check your credit score to see if you’re capable of getting a loan and eventually approval to buy a home.
What’s a credit score?
Ahh, the dreaded credit score. If you’re afraid of it, it’s for one of three reasons.
- You don’t know what it is, therefore you’re afraid of the unknown.
- You don’t have one.
- You have a bad one.
First of all, what is a credit score?
Simply put, a credit score is something you receive and earn by making a payment on time and for a period of time. (Examples: Phone, car, rent etc.)
Secondly, how do I improve my credit score?
- Increase your points by paying in full and on time
- 850 is a perfect score
- Earning a perfect score gives you the best possible interest rate for purchasing your home
- Accomplishing this proves to a lender/bank you’re responsible
- If you have zero credit it will be very difficult in most instances to get an approved loan for a home
- This process is similar to a car loan if you’ve had one, but we are generally talking a bigger loan, which means more requirements.
- Consistent payments for at least 6 months is what lenders are looking for
Keeping this up and being responsible with your money and payments will offer an easier time buying a home later on.
Do you have to be Pre-Approved to buy a home?
Yes, unless you’re paying in cash.
The preapproval letter tells us you are ready to buy a home
To Rent or to Buy?
This is the question I get all the time.
If you plan on staying where you are for a short period of time, renting could be your best option. However, if you plan on settling down in the area for several years, investing in a home, in my opinion, is the best way to go. Then you can add equity (or real property value) instead of paying rent for something you don’t (and won’t) own.
It’s different for everyone, so make sure you’re talking to a professional you trust to figure out what’s best for you and your situation!
Some Challenges I Ran Into Buying My First Home
As I mentioned before, I was 19 when I first bought my duplex. I was taught to use cash for everything so, if you were paying attention, you know what that means. My credit score was NOT perfect, which made it difficult to take out a loan and buy my first home. Learn from my uneducated 19-year-old self and start working on that credit score! Find people you trust and search for a worthy investment!
These simple steps are crucial as a first time home buyer! I hope this was helpful and if you have any questions feel free to contact us. You can find us on almost every social media platform to learn more about real estate.
Article Contributed By: Brendin DeVisser