How to Select a Credit Card
This is a step by step guide on how to select a credit card online. This section of our website is not intended to provide financial advice, rather, it is meant more for a reference point to help you identify the type of credit card that you are looking for and then take you through the process of how to make sure that you are applying for that offer over a secure server for your protection. We recommend that if you are unfamiliar with some of the terms used in this "how to guide" that you reference our credit card glossary so that you may clearly understand the terminology and ultimately, the process.
The first step in both the online and offline credit card selection process is to determine what the primary use of your new credit card will be. Do you need to transfer a balance? Are you looking for a rewards card to earn points or cash back on purchases? Do you need a new small business credit card? Perhaps you are just trying to explore your options and are looking around to see what's available. Whatever your reason, it's always a good idea to think about what attributes you want in a credit card as it makes the selection process much easier. It's also good to know ahead of time how you may viewed from a lender's standpoint so that you don't apply for a credit card that you more than likely won't get approved for. An extension of this is that if you do know that you have excellent credit you have many more options. For example, you may want to apply for an offer with rewards, a low interest rate and a 0% intro APR.
The second step would be to visit a consumer comparison website full of rich information like our site, Credit Card Education. This is the preferred method of the savviest of consumers as you have the opportunity to compare offers by multiple issuers and apply for the one that's the best deal based on the attributes that you identified in the prior step. We'll use our website as an example. A good credit card comparison website is organized in the same fashion as ours. Take a quick glance at the menus to the left. You can search by feature, issuer, credit rating, or take a look at the top credit cards selected by the editorial team of the site.
You'll notice that the cards are typically presented with the name of the offer and the art (the way the card looks). There also should be a summary that gives a general overview of the offer that highlights its perks and benefits. Please take a look at the image below for an example with the arrows in red. Note that the card below is used for educational purposes only and the terms and conditions for this offer may have changed.
Of equal importance is to view the pricing as outlined above with the green arrows. Again, the pricing and terms may have changed for this particular product and is just being used as a visual aid. You should look at the intro apr, the intro APR period, regular apr, annual fee, whether or not the card accepts balance transfers, and the minimum credit requirements. Once you've viewed all of these items, you may click on the apply button which will redirect you to a secure server over the respective issuer's website where you can fill out an application -- which brings us to the next step: Checking Website Security.
Checking website security is very important. Because you will be potentially filling out an application containing personally identifiable information such as your DOB, social security number, address, etc., you want to make sure that you are protected. The way to do this is to look at the url where you are redirected. Identify a padlock and make sure that the url starts with https instead of http. This signifies that the site is secure and is shown below in red. You will also be able to identify clearly on the page that in fact the page is secure as it's required by law. Note, these two things as well:
A) Some links lead to the issuer's website and then have you click another apply button to bring you to a secure server. This is nothing to worry about.
B) The way the information we are talking about is displayed will depend on the browser you are using. The below image has been captured using Chrome. With Internet Explorer for example, the padlock is on the far right of the url destination. No matter which browser you use, this information should be available.
It also helps to take a look at the url where the application resides to make sure it's recognizable as shown above in green. The image above is for a Discover Card and resides at discovercard.com. If you were applying for an American Express card it would reside at americanexpress.com. Some issuers host applications on other urls that they in fact own so just make sure that the url you land on is recognizable and you can trust that it's owned by the issuer you are intending to visit.
Once you've verified that the site is secure it's always wise to check the terms and conditions on the issuer's website one more time before you apply. With all respectable credit card comparison websites, the rate information and pricing should be on a feed -- provided by the issuer. However, even though every effort is maintained to provide accurate information, server drops and other unseen circumstances may arise and as a precautionary measure it's always a good idea to double-check the pricing just so you are sure that the card is as advertised. You don't want to be in a situation where you think that you're applying for a 0% APR credit card and it turns out that the terms have changed and the 0% rate is no longer being offered.
Again, this isn't something that should really be worried about as most sites now are on a feed, but you can never be too sure and it's better to be safe than sorry.
Now you're ready to fill out the application. For those of you planning on transferring a balance to your new card, if the bank accepts online balance transfers there will be a step in the application process where you will need your existing account information for the balances to be transferred. Once you have completely filled out the application and submitted it you are all done. If approved, you will typically receive your new credit card in the mail within 7-10 business days.