OTTAWA – Air Miles, Aeroplan points, low-interest, no-fee — the options available on credit cards are dizzying for consumers looking to compare their options when shopping around.
When looking for a credit card, experts say consumers should start with an honest assessment what they need and what they will use.
Those who think they might routinely carry a balance may want to focus on low-interest-rate cards rather than those that offer rewards, because interest charges can quickly outweigh any benefits a rewards card might bring, especially if you only pay the minimum required.
But for those who pay off their balances every month, the choices are abundant.
Sean Gibson, a branch manager at the Royal Bank in Ottawa, says how you plan to use your credit card will drive your choice.
“If you’re paying a monthly fee on a card, you better get the value out of it,” he says.
If you don’t travel much, then travel rewards might not be much use to you, while cash back or points redeemable for groceries could very well be.
Travel insurance — including rental car coverage — can be options too, but cards that offer that usually charge an annual fee, something you will have to weigh against any potential benefits.
Gibson says you should consider just how much you’ll need to spend to accumulate enough points to be useful to you and whether that’s realistic for you.
“Some people will say put everything on your credit card and pay it off at the end of the month, but that requires a discipline that not everyone has,” he said.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada offers a credit-card selection tool to help consumers compare more than 250 credit cards from a wide range of financial institutions.
The site allows you to filter the cards by feature, picking out just the ones with travel rewards, for example, or sort out the cards that offer cash back on purchases.
FCAC spokeswoman Natasha Nystrom says the tool help narrow down choices for those shopping around for a credit card.
“It enables them as well to compare different credit cards that are out there that correspond to the features that they’re looking for,” she said.
But the final decision rests with the consumer.
“It is definitely important for consumers to take that responsibility,” Nystrom said.
Gibson says people should also be careful about just how many credit cards they accumulate because they have an impact on credit profile even if you don’t use them and they just sit in a desk drawer.
“If you’re not using it, you need to make sure you cancel it,” he said.
Regardless of what card you choose, Gibson says to be sure to use your card responsibly — if you don’t, the benefits of paying by credit card will quickly disappear.