Have you received credit card offers in the mail? If so, you might have wondered which cards really offered good deals. Credit cards can be helpful budgeting tools, or sinkholes of debt. The difference is in the details: some cards have high rates and fees that make it difficult to keep your debt in check. Take a moment to compare credit cards before you decide to carry one in your wallet.

Credit card offers list the terms and conditions of various cards. When you compare credit cards, look at the interest rate, also known as the APR. It might be listed as 0%. If so, you can bet that it will be much higher in six months to a year. 0% interest cards have introductory phases. After that phase has ended, they are subject to regular interest rates. Most cards offer 12-24% interest rates. The lower the rate, the faster you’ll be able to pay off your debt.

Also make note of the type of interest rates on your credit card offers. Some rates might be “fixed”, and some might be “variable”. Choose fixed-rate interest whenever possible. Variable interest rates can change with little warning from the card issuer. If you do choose a credit card with a variable interest rate, make sure you know when and how much that rate can change.

When you compare credit cards, you’ll notice that some of them come with quite a lot of fees. There can be application fees, processing fees, annual fees, late fees, and fees for going over your credit limit. Fees can also apply when you close your account or make a balance transfer to another card. The credit card industry is competitive, so don’t waste your time on credit card offers that indicate exorbitant fees.

Your next step when you compare credit cards is to look at the credit limit each one is willing to give you. Some might offer low limits, while others might offer you thousands of dollars. Higher credit limits can improve your credit score, but they can also tempt you to spend money on things you can’t really afford.

Always check the small print on credit card offers. Companies should tell you their policies regarding interest-free grace periods, late payments, and how you will be informed if changes are made to the terms of your contract. If you have questions about specific policies, call the card’s customer service division and ask to speak with a representative. Most card companies are only required to give 14 days’ written notice when making changes to your account. There is pending legislation that seeks to compel card issuers to give more notice before such changes are made.

Don’t just accept the first credit card offers that come along. Take the time to compare credit cards. They can be great for building up your credit, but they can also leave you with a heap of debt if you don’t use them wisely. Look for good deals with low fees and interest rates. The research you do in the beginning can save you a lot of financial heartache down the road.

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