It took a year and some change before I embraced the travel rewards card, or really any credit card for that matter. Ever since paying off $3,000 in credit card debt, I was convinced my finances had to be pristine in order to justify opening a new line of credit.
So I hadn’t used a credit card at all.
I’d been doing just fine without it: I paid for everything in cash or with a debit card, which helped me track my spending and saving.
The problem was, my strategy wasn’t realistic. Sometimes you just need a credit card.
I decided to book a trip to Ireland this year. And I realised I’d be screwed if my wallet got stolen, debit card and cash inside.
Paying for hotels and restaurants, or purchasing rail tickets from machines would also be a pain. Plus, if disaster struck, obviously I wouldn’t be footing the tab in euro coins.
realising I had no choice, I launched the application process by pulling my credit score. It was 702: not bad, not great.
I worried what the hard inquiry—what happens when a card issuer pulls your score from one of the three major credit bureaus—would do to my standing.
Would the 0-5 point ding drag me down to uncreditworthy territory? What if I got denied for a card, and had to apply for another only to get denied again?
With only three weeks left till Ireland, I had to lock down a credit card and fast. I tapped the experts to find out my options. Here’s what I learned:
Hard inquiries only appear after the fact. Beverly Harzog of Credit.com allayed my fears, saying, “Even if you apply for a new card, you’ll make it into the good category just barely. It’ll ding your score, but only after they look at it.” This gave me the greenlight to apply for a card.
Apply for one card at a time if your score is so-so. “If you apply for too many cards at once, it’ll look like you’re desperate for credit to the issuers,” said Harzog. At most, I could apply for two cards without raising any card issuers’ red flags.
The higher the score, the more leverage you have. Clearly, I was facing a less-than-stellar APR and a lower credit line. But a couple years ago, it would have been worse, credit issuers were just that wary of unreliable cardholders. Post-recession, consumers with golden scores of 750 and above are being wooed with attractive credit offers, including 0% introductory rates.
It’s not just about the score. My whole credit picture—how diligent I am about paying off bills, my card balances and how many cards I’ve had and for how long—all going to factor into a credit issuers’ decision to extend me credit, said Harzog. I was good on those fronts, so now the score was the least of my worries.
Sometimes it pays to aim lower. Said Justine Rivero, expert with CreditKarma.com: “Opening up a new credit card that you have a good chance to be approved for can be a smart move, so you don’t waste that hard inquiry to your credit score.” Admittedly, I blew this point off, but it seemed like a good way to counter the issue.
I’ll save how I found the right card for another post, but I’m glad I got past my fears to apply for a credit card. There’s no doubt I’ll need one while travelling abroad, and if financial disaster strikes, I feel secure knowing that I’ll be covered.
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