3 Steps I Took to Get My Dream Credit Card

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  • It's important to take the time to research credit cards and choose the right one for you.
  • Paying off debt and checking your credit score are two ways to get your finances in the best possible shape before getting a new credit card.

Grab that brass ring.

2022 was the year I decided to focus on getting my finances under control. This came after years of making too little, spending too much, and never being in a position to worry about the future -- because I always had to be concerned about getting by in the present. Luckily, if you need to know more about money management, getting to work in the personal finance space is an opportunity to learn and grow.

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I spent a large chunk of the year working hard so I could pay off debt, and I had been planning to reward myself with an addition to my wallet as soon as I was done: a new credit card. But there are so many options out there, and I wanted to make sure I was in the best position to get the card that was right for me. Here's what I did.

1. I did a lot of research

I am a happy knowledge-seeker, and whenever I'm looking to do something new, I tirelessly research it first. I had easy access to reviews for the best credit cards on the market, and I took full advantage. Plus, I even consulted with knowledgeable friends about different credit card issuers and card benefits I never had access to before. I knew I wanted to target a card that paid me cash back, rather than points or miles. Why?

  • I wanted simplicity. Of the credit cards I already had, my favorite ones had benefits like getting a certain percentage back on certain purchases. I didn't want to have to calculate points into dollars, or deal with a complicated rewards portal on a card issuer's website.
  • While many credit card fans love earning miles on their travel credit cards, I'm not much of a traveler, at least not in the flying/staying in expensive hotels sense. I'm much more of a "cheap road trip and vacation rental" kinda gal.
  • I do a lot of spending in some categories (online shopping, groceries) and not so much in others (gas -- I work from home now).

So thanks to all my research, I decided my dream credit card would be one that gave me the most back, in cash, for the spending I do frequently. And it just so happened that I found the perfect one to apply for. I had a few other steps to take care of first, though.

2. I paid off debt

This first one likely doesn't come as a surprise, since I mentioned it above. But thanks to the magic of the debt snowball and the motivation it gave me to keep going, I finished that debt payoff a few months ahead of schedule. And I didn't even have to stop spending money on all fun things to do so, although I did cut back to a large degree. But I still made "frivolous purchases" that improved my work and quality of life, and I budgeted for what I bought.

I had lived with debt (of several different kinds) for nearly my entire adult life, and I'm staggered by how much of my income was going to service those debts. Since I knew it was a bad idea to contemplate adding another means of borrowing money to the mix when I was still in payoff mode, I focused on this first. I also knew that applying for a new credit card would result in a hard credit inquiry. This might only ding my score a few points, but I wanted the best possible credit when I applied.

3. I watched my credit

As part of my debt payoff process, I was spending a lot of time checking my credit reports and scores. I used a free credit-monitoring service (which actually also helped me with my research from step one), and I also took advantage of the credit tools available to me from some of my card issuers, as well as one of the banks I do business with. I watched my balances decrease and my score increase.

Thankfully, I had good credit even before my debt payoff efforts this year due to making zero late payments on anything since the short sale I went through with my first house several years ago. Plus, the short sale had already fallen off my credit report. Payment history makes up 35% of your FICO Score. Paying off debt with good credit already gave me a generous score bump, so I could freely apply for a card for excellent credit...and cross my fingers.

It worked

I got approved, incidentally. I love the new card so far and have already earned some cash back -- and I'm well on my way to earning a sign-up bonus, to boot. And I'm so glad I approached this in such a studied and measured way. I think it really helped, and I'd encourage anyone who wants a new credit card to take these money steps, too.

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