7 Best Credit Card Features to Look at Before Applying

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Credit cards can offer a wide range of benefits, and figuring out which card is best for you often starts by comparing cards' features. Whether you need a card for an upcoming purchase, want one for emergencies or are looking for your new go-to rewards card for everyday spending, here are seven of the top features you could look for in a new card.

1. Rewards

Many credit cards offer rewards, which can add significant value to purchases you make. The best rewards credit cards offer plenty of opportunity to earn and redeem rewards. You'll want to think about which type of rewards program best fits how you'll use the card. Generally, you can earn rewards in one of three ways:

  • Flat-rate rewards cards give you the same rewards rate no matter where you shop.
  • Tiered rewards cards have bonus categories. You'll often earn 1% to 1.5% as a baseline rewards rate, plus bonus rewards on purchases in select categories (such as gas, dining or travel).
  • Changing rewards rates cards also have a base rate and bonus rewards, but the bonus rewards categories change. The issuer may change the categories quarterly, or you may be able to pick your card's bonus categories.

In addition to the rewards-earning rates, you'll want to compare cash back rewards cards with cards that offer rewards program points, airline miles or hotel points. Cash back can be the simplest to use, but depending on the program, rewards points or miles may offer higher-value redemption options—and may be of higher value to you if you want to use your new card to help pay for travel.

2. Intro Bonuses

Some rewards cards may offer significant introductory bonuses. It can be wise to review the minimum spend requirement for different intro offers. Also, look at the fine print to ensure you'll qualify for the intro bonuses.

3. Annual Statement Credit Offers

Some credit cards offer annual statement credits to cardholders. These cards tend to have annual fees, which may make them seem expensive. But consider the overall value after accounting for annual statement credits and other card benefits.

Statement credits are often for specific categories of purchases or purchases at certain merchants.

4. Intro 0% APR Periods

Intro 0% annual percentage rate (APR) offers may apply to purchases, balance transfers or both. These offers can give new cardholders the opportunity to make big purchases or transfer debts to the card, and then pay off the balance over time without accruing interest.
Once the promotional period ends, any remaining balance will accrue interest at the card's standard APR rate. Consider how long of a promotional period you'll need to pay off the balance, and the card's other benefits.

5. No Annual Fee

An annual fee is one of the few credit card fees you can't avoid based on how you use the card. There are a lot of great credit cards without annual fees, including cards that offer rewards, welcome bonuses and intro 0% APR offers.

However, you might not want to rule out a card simply because it has an annual fee. If you can afford the upfront expense, the cardholder benefits and card's rewards program may more than offset the cost.

6. No Foreign Transaction Fees

You may want a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees on international purchases if you frequently travel outside the U.S. or make purchases in a foreign currency. Many travel credit cards don't charge foreign transaction fees. There are also some card issuers that don't have foreign transaction fees on any of their credit cards.

7. Cardholder Benefits

Credit cards may also come with a variety of benefits that aren't related to rewards, interest rates or fees. These can include:

  • Travel-related benefits, such as travel insurance, lost baggage coverage, trip cancellation insurance and collision damage waivers on rental cars.
  • Purchase protections, such as extended warranties and return protection.
  • Cellphone protection that covers lost and damaged phones.
  • Free access to airport lounges.
  • Loyalty status in an airline or hotel loyalty program.
  • Vouchers for free hotel stays or free companion tickets on flights.

Review the requirements for receiving the benefit to make sure you don't accidentally miss out. For example, you may need to use the card to pay your cellphone bill to receive the cellphone protection, or activate your membership in a third-party program, such as Priority Pass, to get access to free airport lounges.

There are also sometimes differences in the same type of benefit depending on the card. If you think you may use these benefits, look over the terms closely to know when you'll be covered.

Compare Cards and Card Offers

There are a lot of potential features to compare when choosing a new credit card. But you can look for best-of lists and use tools like those from Experian to narrow in on the top choices. With these tools, you can quickly filter and compare cards from Experian partners—perhaps narrowing the choices to cards that don't have an annual fee or ones that offer intro bonuses. You'll also see the suggested credit requirement and, if you sign in, you can get matched with personalized offers based on your credit profile.