Every day another tantalizing credit card offer hits your mailbox: No interest for the first 12 months. Save $30 toward future purchases instantly. Earn free money for your child's college education. How do you pick the best cards for your financial situation? Most Americans don't; they simply keep getting more. Today, the average household owns a whopping 13-14 bank credit cards, retail cards, and debit cards, according to cardweb.com, a payment card research company.
Trouble is, the more plastic you have stuffed in your wallet, the more money woes you're likely to have. Consumers who don't pay off their cards each month have an average of $9,000 in credit card debt, or about double what it was 10 years ago. And it's all too easy to fall behind. Last year, "past due" accounts hit an all-time high of 4.09 percent, says the American Bankers Association.
But even if you always pay them off, it's a good idea to own only two or three cards. "Future creditors look not just at what you owe, but at what you are capable of borrowing," explains Michele Johnson, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a nonprofit credit counseling network. In other words, just the potential to run up a lot of debt can scare off lenders. So to get the best rate, don't carry around a card catalog. Here's how to evaluate offers and determine the best cards for you.
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