Although many people want to reduce debt and better manage their finances, Americans aren't quite ready to give up their love affair with credit cards – particularly during the holiday season.
Fortunately, using a credit card doesn't always mean you have to go into debt. For starters, you can charge only what you can afford to pay off in full each month.
And several credit cards offer special features to help you control your inner shopaholic while unleashing your inner budgeting guru.
Here's a look at four consumer-friendly credit cards that help you control spending, budget better or just generally stay on top of your finances, even as you make merry into the New Year.
This card rewards you for good behavior
Credit card companies commonly slap delinquent consumers with late fees or impose over-the-limit charges on people who exceed their maximum credit line. So wouldn't it be nice to find a card that rewards you for using your card responsibly? Actually, there is such a card.
Editor's Note: This offer is expired and is no longer available. The Citi Forward Card will knock up to 2 percent off your purchase APR if you stay under your credit limit and pay on time for at least three billing periods in a row. Under the terms of the card, you get 0.25 percent shaved off your rate each quarter that you pay on time and keep under your limit. And since you can do that eight times, the card gives you an incentive to maintain healthy credit card habits.
This card helps you reduce interest and create a debt payoff plan
Looking for a credit card that helps you take proactive steps to stay on top of your finances? Look no further than Chase Slate with Blueprint.
Blueprint is a set of free financial management features that lets you track and manage your spending, pay down balances faster and save money on interest in unique ways. For starters, if you're buying smaller items like holiday party supplies and gasoline for a family trip, you can decide what you want to pay in full every month and then not pay interest on those purchases – even when you're still carrying a balance on other items you bought.
For larger purchases, like that new Wii for the kids or that nice cashmere sweater for mom, you can set up a simple but customized plan to pay off more expensive purchases first in order to also save money on interest.
"While much of the focus this holiday season is on big shopping deals, the real savings for consumers will come from having a plan in place and taking control of your holiday spending," says Tom O'Donnell, general manager, Chase Card Services. "Slate offers features that help holiday shoppers track and manage their spending and pay down balances faster so they can save money on interest and enter the New Year on the right financial track."
Student credit card helps build credit with responsible use
For many adults who've experienced problems with credit cards, their troubles often started while they were young or in college. That's not a fate likely to befall young adults who take advantage of the benefits of the Journey℠ Student Rewards from Capital One®. The card initially offers a relatively low limit, which may help those who are less experienced in managing credit learn to do so wisely over time.
The Journey card also includes a simple cash reward with 1 percent cash back on all purchases and a 25 percent bonus on the cash back earned each month for each month you pay your bill on time. Moreover, Capital One website offers information and tips on how to build credit responsibly, includes explanations of common credit card terms and includes tools such as free customizable text/email alerts to help you keep track of your spending and payment due dates.
If you are in the process of building credit, the goal may be by using the Journey card responsibly over time, you may be able to change your credit rating and potentially qualify for cards with higher credit limits and lower interest rates.
Burned out on banks? Try credit unions
Bank-issued credit cards aren't the only offerings worth considering if you're seeking a credit card to help you manage your finances.
"Almost any credit union credit card is going to be better than a bank-issued card in terms of helping consumers and being more consumer friendly," says David Morrison, a senior staff reporter for Credit Union Times. He notes that, by law, federal credit unions can't have any credit card interest rates (even penalty rates) that exceed 18 percent. "That alone is a big advantage over a bank card," Morrison adds.
But to nab a card such as the PenFed Promise Visa Card from Pentagon Federal Credit Union you'll need to have excellent credit. The payoff for those with great credit is worth it: an ultra low variable APR which is helpful if you sometimes carry a balance. The fewer dollars you pay in interest, the more money you can devote to savings – and quickly reducing debt.
So throughout the holiday season, if your mailbox gets flooded with credit card deals, remember that it's up to you to read the fine print and to compare credit card offers to make sure you're getting the best deal possible.