Yes, it’s possible to live life without a credit card, but it may not be easy.
Whether you’re purchasing items online, buying groceries or gas, or making airline reservations, a credit card is an almost essential part of your financial life. It can also be your first important building block for establishing credit.
So, adding your first credit card to your wallet is definitely important. Equally important is choosing the right card from among a wide variety of options, each one catering to a specific set of needs or interests.
Pick A Card That’s Right For You
When choosing a credit card, know that there’s a wide variety that offer different benefits, as well as different terms and rates.
According to Lakhbir Lamba, PNC’s Head of Retail Lending, “Choosing the right card can be a tricky decision. The options for cardholders have multiplied over time. Today, you’ll find a card to fit almost every need.”
What are your options as a first-time cardholder? Broadly speaking there are several categories.
For example, there are rewards cards that provide cash back, hotel stays, airline miles, or points on purchases you make.
There are also non-rewards cards. Some of these may charge lower interest rates and have lower annual fees, allowing you to manage debt with introductory offers and giving you a break from interest charges.
And there are secured cards for those who want to either build or repair their credit.
Facing so many choices, how do you choose the one that works best for you?
First, Know Yourself
The best credit card is the one that balances both your short-term and your long-term needs. Before applying, carefully consider your circumstances and how the right choice can make a difference in your lifestyle and your ultimate financial objectives.
“It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer array of choices,” Lamba continues. “Yet the most important consideration is your personal financial situation, habits, and goals. Consider factors such as your income, spending habits, credit score, and ability to make minimum payments or pay off your balance entirely.”
If, for example, you’re looking to save money or take control of your credit card balances, then consider Non-rewards cards. A low-interest credit card allows you to accrue less interest on your balance. Meanwhile, a card that is used to transfer a balance, with very low introductory rates, can minimize your interest during the first several months as a cardholder. However, note that those introductory rates only apply to the balance you transfer over from another card. Any new charges to the new card will begin accruing interest immediately.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in enjoying perks and getting the most out of your purchases, a rewards card might be a great asset to you.
Lamba details the advantages of a rewards card. “Depending on the card, you can accrue airline miles, hotel stays, points towards purchases, or other offers too numerous to list. All of these can either save you money or contribute to your experiences. That’s one major benefit of all this credit card choice. Whatever you enjoy doing the most, there’s likely a rewards card that can help you enjoy it more.”
There are also cards that give you cash back on the purchases you make. There are even rewards cards that allow you to get points on your rent, pay down student debt, and other options.
Your lifestyle could come into play. Like to dine out? Some rewards cards will give you extra points every time you eat at select restaurants. Others provide cash back for specific purchases such as streaming channels, grocery shopping, transportation, clothing at select retailers, and just about anything else you can imagine.
Finally, if you don’t have credit or need to strengthen credit, a secured card may prove the way to go. “Often a secured card is the starting point for many,” Lamba advises. “And it’s also a great option to repair your credit record if you’ve had some financial reverses in life.”
However, it’s important to recognize that a secured card requires a security deposit which determines your credit limit.
Second, Know The Terms
When evaluating your choices, it’s important to remember that any charge on a credit card is a loan. As with any loan, that means there are terms and conditions you are expected to follow. These terms and conditions are in the form of fees and interest rates you can expect to pay as a cardholder, among others.
“I always recommend a very careful reading of the terms,” Lamba offers. “Most people focus on the fees and interest rates. But it’s equally important to learn all the other terms for you, the cardholder. That includes reviewing and becoming very familiar with your benefits.”
Further, the terms and conditions will disclose details on how the lender will calculate your balance, apply payments, and conduct other transactions. Depending on how you plan to use the card, these details may prove highly important.
Yes, the terms and conditions might be fine print. But they are absolutely worth your time to read. That way, you avoid any unpleasant surprises when you open your monthly statement.
What To Know Before You Apply
As stated previously, a credit card is a loan. That means you must qualify. It also means you should evaluate carefully what kind of card you’re most eligible for before applying.
If you’re just starting out in your financial life, your lack of credit history will likely preclude many options. Lamba recommends knowing your credit score as an important first step.
“Knowing your credit score is essential, no matter what kind of loan you’re trying to secure.” As one example, “a FICO score below 629 likely means you’ll be highly restricted in the kinds of cards you can be issued.”
Lamba has an additional note of caution: Do not apply for multiple credit cards at the same time.
“Each time you apply for a card, credit reporting agencies perform what is known as a ‘hard credit inquiry.’ This may drop your credit score a handful of points. And multiple credit card applications at the same time might paint you as a credit risk.” As a result, it’s important that you be deliberate about where--and how often--you are applying.
Further, the minimum age for credit cardholders is 18. If you’re younger than that, you’ll need some help. One solution is to become an authorized user of someone else’s credit card, such as a parent. If you’re an authorized user who manages your credit card responsibly, it’s a great way to create a good credit score early in life.
And Always Ask Questions
Still undecided on your best next step? Help is always nearby. A financial services professional, whether at PNC or anywhere else, will prove a great source of wisdom. If you have questions, don’t feel intimidated in the least.
Now that you have this knowledge, do your research and think carefully about what credit card is right for you. Choose wisely and, soon enough, you may wonder how you ever managed in life without one.