When you need to charge something, you might just reach into your wallet and pull out whichever credit card you find without giving it much thought. But, have you ever paused to consider whether that credit card is the right one or whether you're missing out on a better deal?
Many people get complacent when it comes to credit cards, rarely or never changing the card they use. Unfortunately, you could be losing a ton of free money or paying too much in interest if you're one of them.
Millions of credit card users have never changed their card
A recent survey from creditcards.com shows just how many Americans stick with the status quo when it comes to credit cards. The survey found around 49 million credit card users haven't ever changed the card they use -- and another 20 million haven't changed their card in 10 years.
That may not be a problem if your spending patterns are exactly the same as decades ago and you happened to choose the right card at that time. But, what are the chances that's the case?
If you got your credit card when you were in college and your primary purchases were takeout and cheap drinks, you may not have cared much about rewards points. But, now you may travel regularly for business or dine out often with the family and could be missing out by not using a card that rewards your spending habits.
If your card offers just 1% cash back on all purchases but you could switch to a card that pays 3% cash back on $10,000 in travel costs you incur each year, you'd be missing out on $200 in free money by not using a card optimized for your spending.
Worse, if your card charges high interest when you tend to carry a balance, or if your card charges foreign transaction fees despite your frequent international travel, your card could be taking much more money out of your pocket than an alternative card would.
Switching cards the smart way
If you're still using a credit card you've had since before the invention of smartphones, it's time to look into options. While you may decide the card you have is still the right one, don't make that decision until you've checked out alternatives.
Start by looking at reviews of rewards cards catered toward people with your particular spending habits. There are cards that are great for travelers, others that are best for restaurants, and even a card for people who do all their shopping with the most popular e-commerce website -- it provides 5% cash back on purchases.
Comparison shop carefully to find a card that offers:
- Points or cash back for things you buy: This could mean a card that gives added bonuses for travel or gas or dining out.
- Rewards you'll actually use: No use having a card you can only redeem for miles if you never fly.
- A low interest rate. This is the most important thing to look for if you tend to carry a balance.
- No annual fee or a fee that's worth your while: You don't want to pay an annual fee when there are free options unless you get enough perks to make the fee worth it. This could include statement credits for things like TSA pre-check or enough extra points or cash back that you come out better off even after the fee.
- Perks that matter to you: Your card should offer benefits that you'll actually use, like access to airline lounges or discounted event tickets.
When you've found a card that's right for you, apply for it. Don't apply to tons of credit cards, as your credit score could suffer if you have too many inquiries or open tons of new cards and shorten the average age of your credit.
Assuming you get approved, transition to using your new card and put the old one away -- don't close it, as you want to keep its positive payment history on your credit report.
Picking a credit card that's right for you
Taking advantage of rewards and perks offered by credit card companies just makes sense, especially as there are so many companies competing for your business.
Instead of sticking with the status quo, find the card that's right for you and you'll benefit for years as you enjoy your extra rewards for the spending you're doing anyway.