New Credit Card? Take These Steps First


With more credit card consumers fed up with their current provider and looking to make a switch, a new credit card might be appealing. But before you sign up for some new plastic, prepare yourself by deploying these key strategies first.

Know how card companies set interest rates. Credit card carriers are a crafty lot. Even with new government rules on credit card rates on the horizon, they’ll leverage rates to their maximum advantage. The Center for Responsible Lending is out with a new study this month that shows how banks and other card carriers tie interest rates to the highest prime rate over the past 90 days. That piece of bookkeeping hikes the average credit card interest rate by 0.3%, costing U.S. card consumer a total of $720 million annually. So always look for the lowest rates — especially since card issuers will turn the screws on you no matter what.

Be upfront. Card issuers are increasingly picky about approving credit card applications. Increase your chances by being upfront. Don’t fudge the numbers on your monthly rate or mortgage; as well as on your monthly income. Also, make sure you mention any and all debts.

Credit card companies will check your credit report, and any discrepancies between what you tell them and what they see could be enough to have your application rejected.

Check your credit report. Yes, it seems obvious. But a big reason why card carriers reject new card applicants is because of outstanding or late debt payments that appear on your credit report. Check your report and pay down any outstanding debt (or be ready to explain it to one of the main credit scoring agencies). A clean credit report invariably leads to a clean credit card.

Don’t over-apply. Credit card applicants hurt their chances by applying for more than one credit card. Remember, every card application is reported to the credit scoring agencies, and will likely lower your credit score (under the “multiple inquiries” provision). The more applications you file, the more damage you may be doing to your credit score.

Know what the card company looks for in a credit score. Credit scoring models are a huge priority for card companies. Credit score-wise, what looked good a few years ago may not look good today. So know going in that anything under 660 could damage your chances at getting a card. As one credit scoring specialist told BankingMyWay this week, “680 is the new 620”. The good news is that if you have a great credit score — anything over 760 being “great” — you’ll get the lowest rates a card company offers.

Watch out for balance transfer fees. Traditionally, it’s been fairly easy to find a 0% credit card deal to transfer to, but those days are almost gone. You really need a credit score of over 760 to qualify for a 0% deal — even for a few months. Plus, banks and card carriers are now charging 3% or even 5% transfer fees to handle the switch-over to a new card. It might even be better to call your current card company and ask it to lower your card’s interest rate.

Getting a new card these days is tough business. Approval rates are down and approval hurdles are higher than ever. But if you must have a new card, keep the above tips in mind before you step into the ring.

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