Thursday, February 04, 2010

Not all credit card offers are alike

Efforts to lure customers in signing up for credit cards might be getting a little desperate. Here's one incentive from a Washington, DC-area car dealer to avoid. 

It was comical, and photo-worthy, to capture this credit card offer.  Being a car dealer, one would think that perhaps a free gas card would be an incentive, but amazingly, not. Sadly, what lures many into crushing credit card debt is worthless trinkets like these. It’s a very similar ploy to what has been happening to college students for years. Sign up for a card and get a free t-shirt. However, recently, the Obama administration began cracking down on some credit card companies' unscrupulous practices. Without getting into too much legislative detail, his new law purports to halt fees and other practices deemed unfair by some that have caught many Americans in a credit card debt trap.

Credit Card Benefits

If used wisely, credit cards are an awesome tool for consumers. First, by using them, consumers don’t have to carry around large amounts of cash to make purchases. Second, credit cards are safer than cash in that if they are stolen, consumer liability is in many cases zero. If one loses their wallet, that’s pretty much the end of that. Thirdly, credit cards offer rewards, such as cash back, frequent flyer miles, and points, akin to a discount, that take some of the bite away from spending.

Credit Card Debt

Unfortunately, the misuse of credit cards, meaning rampant spending without paying off the monthly bill, has gotten many into trouble. Unable to pay bills, some will be forced to file for bankruptcy, which hurts all consumers. If possible, paying cash will help stop shopping cravings. Just as it may feel uncomfortable to carry hundreds of dollars around in one’s wallet, it should feel the same to keep spending frivolously when one is paying crushing credit card interest. If one is in debt, consider asking the lender to lower the interest rate. Banks would rather have something than nothing, after all.

Comparing Credit Card Offers

To help consumers navigate the sometimes complicated world of credit card deals, incentives, fees, and benefits, there are many websites that track on-going offers. Credit is one such site. The site has a very clean interface that allows one to quickly select a card by a particular feature, provider, and credit eligibility. Don't get carried away, however. It's not necessary to carry several credit cards and two is all what most people need.