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Are Credit Card Rewards More Important Than Low Interest Rates?

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Weighing rewards over credit card rates can lead to a dilemma Americans face each time they take the plastic out of their wallets. There’s no right answer as to which credit card is the best. You might be interested in finding the best credit card with no annual fee, one that offers the most rewards or rebates on everyday purchases or one that allows you to accumulate airline miles for a much-needed vacation. As with all personal finance decisions, finding the best credit card all depends on your goals and your situation.

When to Prioritize Credit Card Rates Over Rewards

As of March 2013, the average cardholder had a credit card balance of $7,122, according to NerdWallet. If you carry a balance, then choosing the best credit card rates is the way to go. Common sense would point to the fact that accumulating rewards or mileage points while paying compounding high interest over the span of years years will end up costing you much more than the price of an airline ticket or a non-discounted gallon of gas.

Also keep in mind that your credit card usage affects your credit score. Financial experts recommend keeping your credit utilization ratio — how much credit you have available compared to what you’ve used — under 10 to 25 percent each month. If you’re tempted to earn a lot of credit card rewards and rebates, you might charge more than recommended and harm your credit score.

Finding the Best Credit Card Rewards

Even though many people carry hefty credit card balances, about a third of Americans pay off them off each month. If you’re one of them, then you might want to take advantage of the cash rebates, airline points and other incentives offered by credit card rewards. To be eligible for the best rewards, you’ll need to have a strong credit score of 740 and up. As with a card that you might carry a balance on, be aware of how much credit you are utilizing each month to keep your credit score high.

There are many websites that compare the best credit card rates, offers, fees and perks. When deciding on a card that fits your needs, here are some factors to consider:

Signing Bonuses

It might be tempting to sign up for a card that offers an attractive bonus to apply and spend a certain amount within the first couple of months. If your budget has room to spend that minimum amount — and you can pay it off each billing cycle — then it might be beneficial to do so. Otherwise, you’re spending more than you can afford and the credit card rates will soon eat up the bonus you received anyway.

Related: 3 Credit Card Benefits You’re Paying for But Not Using

Teaser Credit Card Rates

Like signing bonuses, low-interest teaser rates can be beneficial under the right financial circumstances. You can leverage a zero percent APR on purchases and balance transfers if you have the funds to pay off the balance in full at the end of the specified introductory period. This might afford you the opportunity to consolidate your debt, as well.

Airline Miles

If travel is a priority, you will want to weigh the best credit card rates with frequent flyer promotions. Some travel rewards cards require you to spend a certain amount within the first three months; others have miles with blackout dates and other travel restrictions. Be sure to find out if there are expiration dates associated with the miles — you could spend years saving up frequent flyer miles for a dream trip only to discover that many of them have expired.

Annual Credit Card Fees

If you carry a balance, you might be willing to pay an annual fee in exchange for a lower interest rate; conversely, if you pay off your balance every month, you might not mind a higher interest rate for a no-fee card. Many travel cards also include airline baggage coverage, priority boarding, rental car insurance and other perks that might be worth much more than the annual fee.

The Fine Print

As with any financial transaction, be sure to thoroughly read your credit card agreement before you use the card. Some cards have spending tiers that require you to charge a specific amount to receive the award; others have spending caps that give you decreasing rewards the more you spend. Additionally, there are cards that erase all of your rewards if you are late with payments.

Photo credit: Jared Cherup

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  • Daryl

    As long as you pay off your credit card every month, interest rates matter much less than rewards gained.

  • Frank

    uh yeah… credit card rates are always important. who wants to pay $20 for a #5 at McDonald’s??