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How to Choose the Right Credit Card

Aug. 11, 2020
6 mins
A woman pays for something by credit card on her laptop

Applying for a credit card can be simple. Selecting the right one may not be as easy. There are hundreds of credit cards to choose from in Canada, from three top payment networks—Mastercard, Visa, and American Express—and dozens of issuers, each with unique characteristics.

That is why picking the right credit card depends on you, the consumer. How do you spend your money? How do you like to be rewarded? What perks and benefits would you like to see from your credit card? Narrowing down what you want from your credit card can take some contenders out of the equation from the start.

Here are the top five considerations for choosing your credit card, so you get the best match.

1. How you shop and pay your bills

How you shop

How you spend your money can help determine the card that will offer the greatest reward. Many credit cards have points multipliers for particular categories of spending. You may see a card offering more rewards for groceries or gas, for example. Knowing where your money is going each month can help you choose a credit card that will reward you for those behaviours.

How you pay your bills

Credit cards tend to be one of the most rewarding ways to pay your bills and make everyday transactions. However, using your credit card responsibly is the most important thing. Rewards and offers are a bonus but are only worth it in the long run if you consistently pay down your balance. If you tend to carry a balance and are motivated to pay down your debt, the following two types of credit cards can be excellent choices.

  • Low-interest credit card: Some credit cards offer promotional interest rates on purchases. However, many provide low interest rates all year-round, some as low as 12.99%. That is significantly less than the standard interest rate of 19.99%, saving cardholders in interest charges.
  • Balance transfer credit card: Taking advantage of a low-balance transfer offer can help cardholders pay off more of the balance and pay less interest over time. Some balance transfer promotions offer users 0% interest over several months, which can be especially useful for paying down the balance. In this case, no interest accrues on the amount transferred. However, interest applies to new purchases, so users must use the card wisely to take full advantage of the feature.

If you tend to pay off your balance in full each month, a rewards credit card may be more beneficial.

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Find the best credit card for your lifestyle today!

2. Credit card rewards

How you earn those rewards is equally as important as how you would like to spend them. Credit cards offer a mix of rewards categories from travel to cash back. However, some top rewards credit cards offer flexible redemption options, so you can choose how you would like to redeem your points each time.

Here are some of the rewards offered by each type of rewards credit card:

  • Travel: flights, vacation packages, car rentals, hotel stays, gift cards, merchandise, experiences, a statement credit, personal finance options
  • Cash back: cash deposited into a savings account or applied as a statement credit
  • Cash equivalents: grocery rewards like PC Optimum points, or specialty rewards like SCENE points, GM Earnings, Canadian Tire Money, etc.

Pro tip: Having more than one credit card, each with a different reward category, can help you get rewards faster by using the card that will earn the most for each purchase.

3. Credit card payment networks in Canada

By choosing the credit card network and the issuer carefully, you may find even more benefits.

Credit card payment networks:

  • Visa: Visa Infinite members get access to an exclusive luxury hotel collection, concierge service, wine and dining experiences, and more.
  • American Express: In the past, American Express credit cards were not as widely accepted at merchants as they are today. Now, cardholders can enjoy American Express Invites and take advantage of exclusive access to events, presale tickets, and experiences.
  • Mastercard: Priceless Cities by Mastercard offers deals, discounts and experiences to cardholders around the world.

The credit card issuers have their perks too. For example, many of the Scotiabank travel cards offer the Best Price Guarantee on airfare when booked through the Scotia Rewards Travel Service, and some of the TD credit cards come with roadside assistance. Many issuers are also affiliated with rental car companies or attractions, so you may even get preferred discounts.

4. First-year value and beyond

The first-year value of a credit card is often more than in the following years. This is typically due to the welcome offer. Many welcome bonuses and promotions will provide an upfront reward value or bulk points. Usually, the cardholder will have to make their first purchase, or spend a specific amount to earn the reward. Additionally, providers may waive the annual fee or include a rebate for the first year.

You will want the credit card to be beneficial beyond the first 12 months. It is important to know the year-over-year value of a credit card, whether it’s from savings on interest charges or the rewards earned. If the card has an annual fee, consider whether it is worth it. In terms of points or cash back, will your spending habits earn you rewards in the subsequent years?

5. Extras

Lastly, you will want to compare the extra perks and benefits. Often top travel cards come with extended travel insurance coverage. However, many of the lower-tier cards also offer coverage, but to a lesser extent.

Other extras may include:

  • Airport lounge access
  • Free hotel room upgrades
  • Priority check-in or boarding
  • Companion flight vouchers
  • Annual travel credit

For those who like to travel with ease and with a little bit of added luxury, these features may seal the deal.

Non-travel extras may include:

  • Mobile device insurance
  • Access to Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Concierge services
  • Priority lines and advanced access to events or presale tickets (Front Of The Line by American Express)
  • Exclusive culinary experiences (Visa Infinite* Food and Wine Experiences, World Elite Priceless Cities)

Compare credit cards

Finding the right credit card is an ongoing process. The card that worked for you as a student may not be the best fit for you now. With each new career, move, or milestone, you should reevaluate your credit card and determine if it is still working for you or your family.

The RATESDOTCA credit card comparison tool can make shopping around quick and easy. Just choose the type of rewards you prefer, what is important to you—low interest or perks—and if you don’t mind an annual fee. The tool will do the rest. When you get your matches, you can sort by welcome bonus, annual rewards or the lowest fee. So, you can see the card qualities that matter to you the most.

In the end, finding the right credit card for your lifestyle and spending habits can save you money. Not only that, but the right card can also be rewarding and provide you with extra perks and benefits.

Hayley Osmond

Hayley Osmond is an editor and writer in the personal finance space, where she uses her eight years of media and marketing experience to bring content to life. She specializes in money products, including mortgages, home and auto insurance, and credit cards. Hayley holds a Broadcast Journalism diploma from Sheridan College and was awarded the Shaw Media Journalism and Media Award for graduating at the top of her class. Her work has appeared in Global News and diverse digital corporate training materials behind the scenes.

Hayley is passionate about making complex subjects, such as home buying and financial literacy, concise and intriguing. Her work has garnered media coverage from The Globe and Mail, blogTO, Yahoo! News, and CityNews 680 and has been syndicated across other publications.

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