After years of rising rates, falling limits and new fees, consumers have good reason to question the value of the plastic in their wallets. Now that new protective legislation has been in place for a year, it's time to reassess. Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com gives tips on what to look for to get the most value from the plastic in your wallet.
Transfer offers have started improving again, and they're worth considering if you're working to pay down a balance. The better offers last for at least 18 months, and charge just a 3% transfer fee. We found two Citibank cards, the Diamond Preferred and Platinum Select, that offer up to 21 months.
If you ever carry a balance, ignore rewards and focus on getting the lowest interest rate possible. Rates are substantially higher than in previous years -- almost 17%, compared with 13% in 2008. But you can still find rates of less than 10% through smaller issuers. The Simmons First Platinum Visa offers 7.25%.
***Under the new regulations, people younger than age 21 can't obtain credit without a co-signer, or proof of their own income. Stricter lending terms mean issuers are likely to turn down a student who applies for anything other than a student-specific card. Make sure the issuer doesn't count student loans as income, or your child could end up with a too-big credit limit that makes it easier to rack up debt.
All the consumer protections of the new laws - no interest rate increases on balances in good standing, payments allocated to the highest-interest rate part of your balance, and so on -- don't apply to business cards. Issuers including American Express and Chase have extended some protections, but they're not guaranteed like those for consumer cards are. So entrepreneurs should actually use a personal card for expenses if they may not be able to pay off balances in full each month.
If you routinely pay off your balances in full each month, well, the rewards are improving. Introductory offers routinely offer more than $100 in bonuses, and it's easy to get at least 1.25% cash back with a wide range of extra-point offers. Use a comparison site like Billshrink to figure out what the best card is for the places where you spend the most.
For more information on the CARD Act regulations and other consumer tips click here.