Just in time for the holidays, credit card issuers have started rolling out a slew of new solicitations and come-ons to lure new customers into applying. Since the holidays are a time when many of us give our credit cards a workout, we decided to take a look at the new offers and determine if some of them could help you through a time typically defined by budget-squeezing.
WalletPop contacted a pair of credit card pros -- Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, and Douglas Miller, senior analyst for cards and banking at research firm Corporate Insight- - to help us sift through the myriad offers out there and come up with the best ones for big holiday spenders.
"It looks like the promotions are going to be pretty good this year," Arnold predicts. "Issuers are getting their toes back in the water and getting more aggressive. I think that's going to translate into some nice credit card promotions this holiday season," he says.
Corporate Insight's Miller says card issuers' dangling more lavish perks in front of would-be applicants is a good sign for the economy, because it means banks see potential growth in their business. "The firms themselves seem to think that the worst is behind us as far as any economic dislocation or discomfort, because that would seem to be what they're indicating by offering these more aggressive 0% offerings on purchases," he tells WalletPop.
This year, consumers can expect to see more competitive teaser and balance transfer rates, some as low as 0%, a number which many experts predicted would never come back after the economic crisis. The flip side of that is that APRs after the teasers run out may be higher, and balance transfers now always come with a fee of generally 3% to 5%. Also, keep in mind that while credit card offers have gotten more generous in recent months, standards of lending are still high. See our recent story about why you now need a 720 or better instead of a 680 to qualify for top-tier credit.
So, if you've got good credit, here are some offers that will help ease the burden of holiday shopping this year.
Good for travelers: If your holidays involve running through airports and standing on line at hotel check-in desks, take a look at the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express. Through the end of the year, you get 5 points for every dollar you spend on airline tickets, 3 points per dollar spent at hotels and 2 points per dollar on other purchases. They throw in an extra 20,000 points if you spend $650 within the first three months of having the card. One bummer: the $50 annual fee.
Good for families: If the kids are clamoring for this outfit or that gadget, consider the Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard. This card gives cardholders 5% cash back at department, clothing and electronic stores through the end of the year. You also get 2% cash back on all other purchases for the first six months you have the card, after which it drops to the standard 1%.
Good for online shoppers: If Cyber Monday is your favorite holiday, check out the Discover More card. Users get double cash back (that's 2% instead of 1%) on up to $1,000 worth of online shopping through the end of the year. If you already have the Discover More card, this applies to you, too. Log into your Discover account online and sign up or call customer service to be enrolled.
Good for people who carry a balance: Normally, we discourage people from carrying a balance because interest rates have climbed to punishingly high levels, and many of us can't pay off a big holiday splurge in the six month duration that is common for many teaser rates. But the Citi Platinum Select MasterCard has a 12-month 0% teaser rate on purchases, as well as a 21-month 0% rate for balance transfers (just don't forget about that 3% balance transfer fee).
Best overall: We're calling this one a tie, since there were two really generous cash back offers on the table this year. The Discover More (making another appearance) card lets new cardholders earn $100 in cash back if they spend $500 with the card in the first three months. In addition, you get the enhanced online redemption we mentioned above, plus 5% cash back at restaurants, clothing stores and department stores. Unfortunately, that 5% is capped at $300 worth of spending, but like the online incentive mentioned above, existing cardholders get to enjoy this perk, too.
Our other winner is the Chase Freedom Visa, which also offers $100 cash back after users spend $799 in three months. The Freedom Visa offers 1% cash back on all purchases, with a rotating calendar of categories in which you can earn 5% cash back. Through the end of the year, the categories are grocery and department stores, so if you need to buy a lot of gifts or do a lot of entertaining, you can earn an additional 5% cash back on up to $1,500 worth of purchases.
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