Thursday, December 3, 2009

Credit Card Approvals Still Elusive

December and January are traditionally the busiest months for new credit card applications. But with tight credit conditions and lower lines of credit, gaining approval is not as easy as it once was. has some tips to share with Fi$callyFit readers to help you shop for credit cards.

Shoppers want lower rates for their holiday purchases. Budgeters want lower rates to help keep their financial resolutions.

This year, applicants may be disappointed in the credit card offers they receive from issuers, says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of and author of The Credit Card Guidebook. "Shopping and applying for cards is not as easy as it used to be. Consumers should now expect higher rates and lower credit limits. Approval is no longer a sure thing," Hardekopf said. "Issuers are struggling to keep profitable, and they are trying to generate new revenue from their cardholders who are finding it difficult to make their card payments."

Still, getting a card with a lower rate can save money on interest and can be worth the effort.

Here are some tips to help with shopping for a credit card:

1. Start with your credit score.
Lenders make their judgment about your credit worthiness based on your credit score. A FICO score of 700 or more is considered very good; over 760 will usually qualify you for the best rates (up from 720 several years ago). A consumer with a score less than 640 will receive high interest rates and limited credit options. Issuers will also use your credit score to determine the features of your card such as the credit limit and balance transfer terms. If you are surprised by your credit score, check it for errors. Correcting mistakes is the fastest way to raise a credit score.

2. Honestly assess how you will pay off the credit card.
You need to take a hard look at yourself to determine what kind of credit card customer you are. Will you pay off the entire balance each month on time or will you carry a balance? This will determine the type of card you need. If you pay off your balance each month, consider a rewards card with no annual fee.
Cash back reward cards are usually the best because you can use cash to purchase anything. Know that issuers have cut back on reward offers - 1% is now the standard amount for rewards of points or cash.
Also, pay attention to the reward tiers. Even though the issuer advertises a 1% cash rebate, it may take a certain level of spending to reach the 1% level. If you carry a balance most months, apply for a card with the lowest possible rate. The less you pay for interest, the more you pay toward your balance and the faster you can pay off that balance. Do not pay a higher rate just to get rewards.

3. Transfer your balance to a card with a lower rate.
Transferring balances between low rate cards was once an easy and profitable game for many cardholders. However, this lost money for issuers and the offers for 0% interest on your balance for twelve months have almost dried up.
This year, balance transfer fees jumped from 3% to 4% and, in some cases, 5%. "This is discouraging news for consumers who are placing hope in balance transfers. However, if your annual percentage rate (APR) has been increased significantly, your issuer may be forcing you to try to find another card with a lower rate," Hardekopf said. "Before you begin the process of transferring your balance to another card, contact your issuer and ask them to lower your current rate. This doesn't happen as often as it used to, but it doesn't hurt to ask."

4. Pick one card and apply for it.
Compare three or four cards. Study the terms and conditions of these cards. Then select the best one and submit an application. "Limit the number of applications that you submit because each application is recorded as a credit inquiry on your credit report. Multiple applications are a red flag that can lower your credit score because people actively seeking credit are typically a higher risk to lenders than people who are not seeking credit," says Hardekopf.

5. Avoid store cards.
Do not apply for a store card just because the store gives you an immediate discount on your purchase. The rates are usually much higher than an average card. If you don't pay off the balance in full the first month, you could pay much more in interest than the money you saved.

6. Pay attention to your rate.
Most rates are now variable and they will increase in the future as the Federal Reserve raises the prime rate.

7. Only apply for credit if you need it.
Do you really need a new card, or can you work with the cards that you have? Most consumers carry too many credit cards which leads to further temptations to spend. ( ) simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card.

For more information, contact Bill Hardekopf at 1-800-388-1910 or

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