6 Fees to Investigate Before Signing Up for a Credit Card

A man sitting in an armchair and typing into his laptop while holding a credit card in one hand.

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Don’t get hit with surprise costs when signing up for a card.


Key points

  • If you’re signing up for a new credit card, it’s important to know the details.
  • Specifically, some cards charge fees for certain things, such as foreign transactions or even simply for becoming a customer.
  • It’s important to investigate all the fees your card may charge before you sign up.

If you’re considering signing up for a credit card, you’ll want to make sure it won’t come with unexpected costs.

Unfortunately, some cards can be more expensive than others and may not justify their prices. You don’t want to end up with one of them, so check for these six fees before deciding if the card in question is the right one for you.

1. Annual fees

Some cards charge an annual fee just for having the card open. This can range from a relatively affordable yearly cost to a fee of hundreds of dollars per year.

You shouldn’t necessarily avoid a credit card just because you must pay a fee, as there are often generous perks that make these cards worth it. But you’ll want to know about the cost upfront, calculate how much the fee is worth relative to the cardholder benefits, and make sure paying it is worthwhile.

2. Foreign transaction fees

If you’ll be traveling or making purchases from non-U.S. vendors with your credit card, you should check to see if there’s a foreign transaction fee. If so, this could make your purchases costlier for no reason, and you should seriously consider looking for a card that doesn’t carry this added unnecessary cost.

3. Interest charges

Every credit card charges interest, but some cards have a higher rate than others. If you expect that you might carry a balance at any point while the card is open, prioritizing a low interest rate is extremely important. In fact, the APR can matter more than any rewards program the card may offer, since interest charges trump the value of rewards you can earn.

4. Late fees

Some credit cards charge hefty late fees. While you’ll ideally want to pay your card on time, accidents can happen. Be sure you know how much you’d be charged if you paid late, and do your best to avoid this by setting up automatic payments of at least the minimum due.

5. Over-the-limit fees

Over-the-limit fees are also common if you exceed your credit limit. You should try not to get even close to this, instead keeping your credit used to no more than 30% of your available credit line. If you exceed this ratio, you could hurt your credit score.

But if you tend to charge a lot on your cards and may get close to the credit limit, you should be aware of the fees you’d end up paying.

6. Balance transfer fees

Finally, if you’re considering transferring a balance from current credit cards to a new one with the goal of taking advantage of a 0% APR offer, you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of the fees the card issuer will charge.

These fees are often worth paying to get the benefit of a 0% interest rate for months while you work on debt paydown. But some cards charge lower fees than others, and you’ll want to take that into account when deciding which balance transfer offer is best.

By looking into all of these fees, you can pick a card that doesn’t impose a lot of added costs — and you can be prepared for any expenses you’d incur with the credit card you open so you can make sure you’re comfortable with those costs.

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