Guide to Understanding Credit Card Fees

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Whether you’re searching for a good credit card or just looking to minimize fees on ones you already have, this guide is a good go-to for saving money. You may not be able to avoid credit card fees altogether, but you can most of the time.

Annual Fee

While there are plenty of credit cards that charge no annual fee at all, you’ll find them pretty prevalent within three categories — rewards credit cardssecured credit cards, and subprime credit cards. The trick to avoiding them is shopping around. That said, there are a couple of exceptions when you may want to pay the fee anyway:

1) The rewards you expect to earn are greater than the fee

2) You expect to carry a balance (never ideal, by the way) and the interest rate is low enough to make an annual fee worth it

Do the math and choose accordingly.

If you already have a credit card for which you’re paying an annual fee, you can always look at switching to one that doesn’t.

Interest Fee

If you carry a balance on your credit card, you are going to be charged an interest fee. Ideally, you want to avoid this fee by paying off your balance by the due date every month. In reality, you may end up carrying a balance now and then. If and when that’s the case, you want your interest fee to be as low as possible. That’s why this is such an important factor to take into account when shopping around for a credit card. Always look for the lowest rates.

Of course, the rates you qualify for will depend on your credit. The higher the score, the lower the rates. The lower the score, the higher the rates.

If you already have a credit card with high interest, try lowering it. Here’s how to ask.

Balance Transfer Fee

If you already have credit card debt, one helpful way of getting it under control is to transfer the balance to a new card with a lower interest rate. However, don’t forget about the balance transfer fee, which is typically a percentage of the amount transferred. It may not be worth the transfer, especially if you’re not sure you can pay off the balance before the introductory interest rate on the new card expires.

Cash Advance Fee

It’s nice knowing you can use your credit card to get your hands on cash when you need it, but you want to keep these transactions to a minimum. You’ll be charged a cash advance fee every time, which is typically a percentage of the amount you withdraw. Plus, unlike regular credit card transactions, interest may start accruing immediately. As though that’s not bad enough, the interest is usually higher on cash advances than purchases.

Foreign Transaction Fee

If you use your credit card outside of the U.S., you may be charged a foreign transaction fee. So if you want to use your card internationally, be sure to use a credit card that doesn’t charge this fee. If you don’t already have one, look for one. They’re out there.

Late Payment Fee

Pay on time, every time, and you never have to worry about this one. But, as with carrying a balance, there may be a time when you’re late with a payment. Should that time come, you want the penalty to be as low as possible. So if you’re shopping around for a card, make sure you know this fee before you sign up.

Over-limit Fee

If you use more than your available credit, you’ll be charged an over-limit fee…if you opted-in for it. Translation: Don’t.

This is about more than just avoiding the fee. This is about keeping your credit card balance under control. The dream scenario is returning your balance to zero every month. The nightmare scenario is getting so close to your credit limit that your next purchase would push you over the edge, thus charging the over-limit fee. That’s the wrong kind of mindset to manage a credit card.

Whether it’s a new credit card or an old one, make sure you do not opt into this possibility of maxing out and exceeding your limit.

Returned Payment Fee

If you pay your credit card bill from an account that doesn’t have sufficient funds to cover the payment, your credit card issuer may charge you a returned payment fee. For this reason, and a myriad of others, it’s a good reason to keep a close eye on the balances in all of your accounts, particularly the ones you’re making payments from on a regular basis.

We recommend credit card comparison sites Bankrate, Nerdwallet, Credit Karma, and CardHub.

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