Credit Cards (05/10/2016)

Credit cards can be effective tools in managing your overall expenses and accomplishing your financial goals. The key is to use cards only when you are able to pay the balance each month or within a reasonable time, to avoid excessive finance charges. With so many cards available to the consumer, you should make sure that you are using the credit cards that best align with your spending.

Many credit cards are tailored to specific goals. If travel is important to you, an airline credit card will give you miles for your spending. When you sign up, you often receive free vouchers or companion passes. If you are not particular about which airline you use, a generic travel credit card might work better for you.

Cash back credit cards allow you to earn cash rewards for making purchases. The more the card is used, the more cash rewards you receive. The card may provide 1% back on general purchases, 2% back at grocery stores and 3% back on gas. If you grocery shop often and are disciplined about paying your card balance, using this type of card could be quite worthwhile.

General reward points credit cards act similar to the cash back cards but they will give you points toward a variety of items such as gift cards, electronics, hotel stays, plane tickets, jewelry, pet supplies, and more.

Retail rewards credit cards may be a good match if there is a retailer you frequent. These credit cards are co-branded with a major retailer, such as Disney, or Best Buy. By making everyday purchases with the co-branded card, you accumulate points. Cardholders are rewarded with double or triple points for making purchases from the co-branded retailer.

Gas cards come in both general and brand-specific cards. General cards treat all gas companies equally, while brand-specific cards favor one gas company. If you favor one gas company, the brand-specific may be best but if you buy from the closest gas station when you are low on gas, the general card might make more sense.

Balance transfer cards allow consumers to transfer a high interest credit card balance onto a credit card with a low interest rate. Typical in the market today are balance transfer credit cards with an introductory annual percentage rate (APR) of 0 percent, with that introductory or "teaser" rate lasting several months up to a year. Beware of charges applied to the actual transfer on this type of card.

Overall, credit cards are available with perks for just about any type of spending. From business cards to student credit cards to home improvement cards, and the different types mentioned above, most people can find a card that matches their needs. Just keep in mind annual fees, interest rates and terms of the credit card agreement before choosing your card. Reviewing your cards periodically is a good habit to maintain, and could help you save and earn more money.

Lisa A. Dugan

May 10, 2016