Types of Credit Cards

There are many different types of credit cards in the market. So how do you find the card that is right for you? Perhaps begin by thinking about how you use credit …

Unsecured credit cards require no collateral or down payment and provide you with the ability to make purchases up to your credit limit. If you do not pay your balance in full each month, a finance charge will be applied to any outstanding balance. Your minimum monthly payment is generally 3-5% of your balance. A word of caution: making only minimum payments on your account will greatly increase the time it will take you to pay off the balance. You can avoid paying finance charges by paying your balance in full each month.

General-purpose credit cards are cards that can be used to pay for just about anything – clothing at a department store, gasoline, meals at restaurants, medical services, utilities, products for sale on the Internet, as well as to get cash advances. Another advantage of using this type of card is that it combines many different types of expenses into a single bill, making payment easier. These types of cards are issued by banks and other lending institutions, and generally carry either the Visa, MasterCard, or Discover affiliation.

Store credit cards are single-purpose cards that can be used only in a specific store or group of stores, or for a specific purpose. Examples are retail cards like Kohl’s or Home Depot, or gasoline cards like BP or Shell. In general, interest rates on store credit cards are higher than those on general purpose cards.

Premium cards such as Platinum or Gold Cards are cards that offer additional benefits or perks such as travel upgrades, cash-back options, insurance coverage, or airline miles programs. Generally, premium cards require an excellent credit history, a certain annual income level, offer a higher credit limit, and may offer a lower APR than a standard card.

Charge cards provide you with the convenience of a credit card based on your agreement to pay the full amount of the charges due each month, so there is no finance (interest) charge. American Express has traditionally offered these types of cards. Note that there is often an annual fee that is charged ($100-$500) for the convenience of using the card.

Affinity credit cards are associated with specific organizations and offered only to those affiliated people. Generally, an affinity credit card is co-branded by an organization, and the organization receives a percentage of the sales or profits generated by the card. The University of Florida Alumni Visa Card is an example. Rates, fees and benefits of affinity cards vary widely, and may make these cards more expensive to use than similar, non-affiliated cards.

Co-branded credit cards are co-sponsored by two companies and have benefits and rewards designed specifically for their joint customers. For example, the Southwest Airlines Chase Sky Miles Card is as example of a co-branded credit card.

Secured cards are credit cards guaranteed by a bank account or deposit made by the applicant. The credit limit is based on the amount of deposit and may be the same amount or larger. Secured credit cards can be useful to establish or improve a credit record, particularly if someone has never had credit or has a poor credit history.

Debit cards access the money in your checking or savings account to pay for purchases. The payment amount is transferred from your account to the merchant's account the same day. An advantage of using a debit card is that you can't spend money you don't have because you aren't buying on credit. A disadvantage is that debit cards are not subject to many of the consumer legal rights that apply to credit cards regarding returns, resolution of errors, fraud or other issues.