Need a New Credit Card? Let the 3 P's be your Guide

You've decided you need a credit card but......

Are you buried under an avalanche of unsolicited postal application forms? Are you blinded by the bewildering array of advertisements in print media and on TV screens? Are you puzzled by the plethora of promotional material from your bank, or other companies you do business with?

When it comes to applying for a credit card, information overload often prevents people from making a rational, informed decision. The simple strategy suggested here will allow you to quickly identify the pertinent information you need, narrow down your choices, and make it easier to determine which card is the best one for you.

Whether you are applying for your first credit card or are adding to your portfolio of plastic, these guidelines will help you focus. Used in conjunction with an online credit card directory, the entire process of identifying and applying for a credit card will be simplified and speeded up.

THE STRATEGY:

Firstly, learn the lingo - understand the terminology and how each feature will contribute to your credit costs. http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/SHOP/ is an excellent source of detailed definitions.

Here are the main terms you need to understand in order to compare credit card deals: A.P.R - annual percentage rate of interest. Rates can be tiered, fixed or variable. Different rates can apply to outstanding purchase balances, cash advances, and balance transfers.

Introductory A.P.R.- a reduced rate for a set time period (this varies), after which it reverts to the main A.P.R.

Fees - some are waived and others are charged at a flat rate or as a percentage of the outstanding amount. Fees can be charged for card usage (on an annual basis or monthly), for account set-up, balance transfers, late payments, cash advances, exceeding or increasing your credit limit, and other sundry items.

Grace Period: the time period (10-28 days) that you have to pay your bill without incurring a late fee.

Next, you need to identify your three P's in order of importance: Profile, Priorities and Preferences.

Credit cards, like people, are not created equal - the best option for you will not be the best option for everyone. The card your friend recommends or the one your bank promotes may not best suit your personal set of circumstances.

Your PROFILE:

a) Do you have no credit history, a bad credit rating, or are re-establishing your status? If so, you should immediately zero in on specialised options such as secured credit cards, unsecured limited-credit cards, and loadable debit cards.

b) Do you fall into a targeted category such as student or business? If so, concentrate on these tailor-made options.

c) Do you always clear your monthly balance? If so, cards which have no annual fee or offer special features, such as cash back or frequent flyer points, would be more appropriate than those with low A.P.R.s because no interest charges are incurred when the balance is paid in full.

d) Do you carry your balance over each month? If so, then cards offering a low A.P.R would be the best choice - the lower the A.P.R., the lower your interest charges.

Your PRIORITIES:

Having used your profile to highlight your main options, you should now determine which card features are most important to you and rank them. You may wish to support a charity or need to accumulate frequent flyer points, or you might travel widely and must ensure that you are able to use your card in as many countries as possible. Where credit cards are equal on, for example A.P.R. in your profile, use your priority list to distinguish your most appropriate options.

Your PREFERENCES:

Having narrowed the field of credit card possibilities by matching options with your profile and priorities, you can now fine-tune your search by applying your preferences. The main work has already been done, so at this final stage you can allow yourself to be more frivolous or eccentric - exercise your personal preferences. You may feel a certain loyalty towards one particular type of card, want free gifts, or simply dislike another card's colour or design - it's your prerogative.

Finally, armed with the 3 P's strategy, you can now visit an online credit card directory and complete the comparison, selection and application procedures. Not all directories are created equal, but a good example is http://www.globalcreditcardindex.com . This well-designed website is informative, user-friendly, and allows you to search the comprehensive data base and compare options with your 3 P's strategy in mind (currently only American cards are included but UK options will be added soon). Online applications for all the cards listed can be submitted directly from this website, but approval times will vary depending on your personal credit history and the type of card chosen.

Sandra Morton writes on a number of topics, including credit cards and personal finance, fundraising, and 'do-it-yourself' websites for individuals, groups and businesses - get your 'Internet Identity' at http://www.awebsite.ws . To identify the Best Credit Card for you, compare your options and apply online at www.globalcreditcardindex.com