Things You Should Know About Every Credit Card in Your Wallet

Credit cards are complex financial products with the potential to cost you a lot of money. There are a few things you should know about every credit card in your wallet. And if you don’t know, you should at least know how to find out quickly and easily.

The Card Issuer and the Processing Network

Credit card being swiped in small business
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Knowing the processing network for your credit card is pretty easy; there are only four: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. And with many credit cards, the card issuer’s name is printed on the front of the card: Capital One, Chase, etc. However, with some credit cards, especially retail cards, the card issuer is not so obvious. Check the back of your credit card or your billing statement to learn who issues your credit card. With American Express and Discover cards, the card issuer and the processing network are the same.

The Annual Fee and the Month It Will Be Charged

Since they’re only charged once a year, annual fees can sneak up on you. Credit cards with the fee usually assess it during your anniversary month. Put the fee on your calendar, the same way you’d mark holidays or birthdays. That way you know it’s coming and can make sure you have enough available credit for it if necessary.

The Interest Rates on the Transactions You Make

Credit cards can have different interest rates for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. If you opened the credit card recently, you might even have a promotional rate.

You don’t necessarily have to keep up with the balance transfer or cash advance rate if you know you’ll never make those types of transactions. However, you should keep up with the interest rate for purchases. Watch your credit card statement, and billing statement inserts to keep track of changes to your rate.

The Penalty for Paying Late

Nearly every credit card assesses a fee for payments received after the due date. Federal law caps late credit card fees at $25 for the first instance and $35 for subsequent late payments within a six-month period, or your minimum payment whichever is lower. Your card issuer may charge less than that. Check your credit card terms to find out.

If you’re more than 60 days late on your payment, your card issuer is allowed to impose the penalty rate, which might be 29.99% or higher. Know your penalty rate. While credit card issuers are required to lower your penalty rate after you’ve made six consecutive timely payments, they are allowed to continue applying the penalty rate to new purchases. Make sure you know if this applies to your credit card.

Paying late could also forfeit some benefits you have with your card. For example, you may lose your promotional interest rate or rewards you’ve earned.

The Credit Limit and Penalty for Exceeding It

Your credit limit is the amount you’re allowed to spend on your credit card. Unless you’ve opted-in to over-the-limit charges, your card issuer will decline any charge that would exceed your credit limit. But, if you have opted-in, make sure you know the penalty for going over the limit. You may be charged an over-the-limit fee and possibly have the penalty rate imposed.

Your Balance and Available Credit

If you have several credit cards, knowing the balances for all of them sounds like a lot to keep up with. But, how can you know which credit card you can use and what you can purchase if you don’t know the balances? And if you’re not keeping up with your balances, then you don’t know how much debt you have. Financial ignorance, with any type of account, is dangerous.

The Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees

These two fees aren’t as important as your other credit card details if you never plan to make either transaction. But, if you do consider a balance transfer or cash advance, make sure you check your credit card terms for the fees. It may be more expensive than you realize.

Rewards You Can Earn and How to Redeem Them

Credit card reward programs can get complicated. If you have a rewards card, know which purchases earn rewards and at what rates. The best rewards may kick in after you've spent a minimum amount on that card; make sure you know that amount.

In addition to knowing how to earn rewards, you should also know how to redeem them. Your card issuer may automatically redeem your rewards once you've accumulated a certain amount. Or, you may have to visit a special website to redeem your rewards.

Keeping Up With Your Credit Card Terms

It can be a lot to remember for several credit cards. At the very least, write down these features for each of your credit cards and keep it easily accessible with your other financial information. Update it periodically and refer back to it whenever you need to know how much your credit card costs.