Here are five tips and tricks that will help you out as a credit card holder, or as someone in the market for new credit.
Secret #1: Cash back and air miles sign-up bonuses often get the most marketing push, but in many cases the top credit card offers will provide a 0% Intro APR balance transfer option instead. See my detailed explanation of those, including my favourite offer this month, here. While a $100 cash back bonus or 30,000 air miles sounds like an incredible deal (and, usually, it is), for those with large outstanding credit card debt, the balance transfer offer is the clear winner: you could save literally thousands of dollars in unnecessary interest charges by swapping a high-interest balance onto a new card with 0% promotional APR.
Secret #2: Call in if you’re unsatisfied. Don’t just complain online or tweet the bank. If you have an issue (an unexpected fee, a high interest rate, a billing discrepancy), your best bet is to call in during normal business hours — this way, someone at the bank can access your specific account and address the issue. If you’re a customer in good standing and you haven’t asked for any fee waivers before, you stand an excellent chance of getting your late fee or over-the-credit-limit fee reversed. Rather than threatening to close your account, keep it positive: “I’d like to use this particular credit card more often than my others, but I can’t do that knowing my interest rate is so much higher than I’d like to see.” (Banks are always looking to maximise share of wallet — how often you use their cards versus other banks’ cards.)
Secret #3: Don’t plead or beg. If you were not approved for a top credit card you’ve had your eye on for a while, the appropriate action is to improve your credit standing and re-apply in 6 or 12 months. Pay down your outstanding balances aggressively to improve your credit utilization ratio, and continue to make on-time payments. Although a call to the bank’s credit department to ask why you weren’t approved can’t hurt, it also is not likely to help: they don’t care about your personal story, your personality, or anything of the sort. Their approval system is basically going entirely off of your credit score and a basic identity check, and for high-end credit cards, they also look closely at your outstanding balances: someone with 95% credit utilization across their accounts, making only minimum payments each month, is not an ideal risk. Big spenders are great, but only if they pay down their balances routinely.
Secret #4: If you aren’t approved for a balance transfer offer, your best option may be outside a “big bank” altogether. Peer-to-peer lending has certainly matured as an industry, and you might be able to find a great rate and a reasonable monthly repayment plan by going with a service such as Prosper.com or Lending Club, where thousands of individual investors pitch in to meet your loan request.
Secret #5: Not all air miles and reward points are created equal. Before I personally apply for an airline credit card or travel rewards card, I do thorough research: I read user reviews online, and then I go on the airline’s site and do flight look-ups to see how many points it would take to book a flight I’m interested in. In some cases, an air mile or point is worth far more than its cash back equivalent. In other cases, it is not. The best way to get a feel for this is to do what I just explained. Search the airline’s site and check out reward flight availability. Pay close attention to “close in fees” (where you pay a fairly large cash amount if you book a trip with points on short notice) and blackout dates. You can read about two airline cards I consider to be “the real deal” here.
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A version of this article originally appeared on Credit Card Outlaw.
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