The Beginner's Guide To.... credit cards

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The Independent Online

How do I get one?

Credit cards are easy to get hold of and not so easy to get rid of – so think twice before you take one out. The easiest way to find the best deals and to apply is by using comparison sites such as www.moneysupermarket.com or www.uswitch.com – but make sure you carry out a full search, rather than simply picking one of their recommendations.

How will I know which one is best?

It depends what you're going to use it for. If you've already got a credit card and have a balance to transfer, you'll want to go for a card which has a long interest-free balance transfer period. Some cards on the market are currently charging 0 per cent for as long as 15 months. Beware, however, that you're likely to be hit with a fee – so be sure to check how much it will be.

If you're planning to use your card to help you pay for a new television or washing machine, for instance, you'll want to find the one that has the longest 0 per cent period for purchases.

For those who plan to pay off their balances each month – which is the most efficient way to use a credit card – it's worth looking out for the cards which pay the largest amount of cashback, or which have the most generous reward schemes. Some cards will pay you airmiles for every pound you spend, while others will simply give you cash.

What's the APR?

The APR is the Annual Percentage Rate – the interest which you'll be charged if you don't pay off your balance in full each month (after any introductory period has come to an end). If you think you're likely to hold a balance on your card for some time, it's important to look for the card with the lowest APR.

Any sneaky tricks to watch out for?

Never use your credit card to withdraw cash if you don't have to. You'll get charged a nasty fee as well as a much higher rate of interest. Also, be sure to pay off every penny of your balance each month if you don't want to be charged any interest. If you transfer a balance on to a card, don't make any other purchases, as you won't be able to pay them off until you've paid off the transfer as well.

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