9 signs a credit card isn’t the right one for you


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We immerse ourselves in the world of points and miles, knowing that credit cards, when used responsibly, can unlock an abundance of savings and a multitude of ways to travel.

However, just because a credit card packs mighty perks, it might not be right for you. We specialize in helping you maximize your rewards and redemption options, but that will look different for everyone, depending on your credit score, your spending habits and your goals for a new card.

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Here are nine reasons that the credit card you’re considering might not be the best option for your wallet right now.

Signs that a credit card might not be the right one for you

1. The rewards categories don’t match your spending habits

(Photo courtesy of Hilton)Source: The Points Guy

It may seem obvious, but make sure that your new rewards credit card is giving you rewards on the purchases you’re already making. Many credit cards offer sky-high returns on spending, anywhere from 5x points on air travel and restaurant purchases with a Citi Prestige® Card to 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services with a Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express to a whopping 14x points on spending at participating Hilton hotels with a Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.

The information for the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

These rates may sound impressive (and, indeed, they are), but it’s important to check the potential earnings against your current or future spending categories (and be realistic about your future plans). If you aren’t going to travel by air any time soon and you prefer to cook at home as opposed to dining out, then the top-of-line Citi Prestige card won’t be as valuable for you as it might be for other cardholders.

Similarly, if you don’t pay for Netflix or Spotify Premium streaming or plan on staying in a Hilton-branded hotel in the foreseeable future, then the 6% cash back with the Blue Cash Preferred and the 14x Hilton Honors points from the Hilton Honors Aspire will be left on the table.

At the same time, you can find value from these cards for other reasons, even if your spending habits don’t align with their rewards categories. Benefits, perks, protections, elite status and other attributes might draw you to apply.

However, if you’re new to the game of credit cards, you may be more suited to a card that helps you build your credit for a few years and you won’t be factoring rewards into your application decision — yet.

2. You don’t spend enough to offset the annual fee

Let’s face it, some annual fees are intimidating. When I first found out that many of the best travel credit cards, airline credit cards and even a few cash-back credit cards have “sticker prices” of between $95 and more than $500 a year, I couldn’t understand why anyone would stomach such high annual costs.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

However, I soon learned that many high-value credit cards with double- or triple-digit annual fees pay for themselves and offset their annual fees year after year with valuable welcome bonuses, earning rates and additional perks and credits. I even splurged and applied for my most expensive credit card ever earlier this year, adding the American Express® Gold Card and its $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) to my wallet.

Nevertheless, credit cards with annual fees will almost always come with one important caveat: You have to make the most of your earning and redeeming potential to offset the overhead cost; otherwise, it isn’t worth it. For example, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card is an excellent choice for consumers who love to go out on the town, earning 4% cash back on dining and entertainment and 2% cash back at grocery stores.

But the card also comes with a $95 annual fee. This means that if you aren’t spending at least $2,375 (4% earning rate) on restaurants, theme parks, concerts or additional entertainment activities with your Capital One Savor card, you aren’t even going to break even on that annual fee.

The information for the Capital One Savor card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

However, if you find the right credit card to match your spending habits, you can almost always offset the annual fee — and much more. And if you simply aren’t a big spender, there are plenty of fantastic no-annual-fee credit cards to fit your needs and help you start earning rewards.

3. The card has a nonexistent, unimpressive or unattainable sign-up bonus

A sign-up bonus can make or break the decision to apply for a specific new card. It’s easy to see why.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

Travel rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and its 60,000-point sign-up bonus (valued at $1,200 by TPG) after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening have been making tantalizing public offers for more than a year. Other offers, however, are more elusive. For example, if you’re lucky, The Platinum Card® from American Express may target you for an incredible 100,000-point offer through the CardMatch tool after meeting minimum spend requirements (offer subject to change at anytime).

When it comes to sign-up bonuses, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Card — which provides a more modest $150 sign-up bonus after spending $500 in the first three months — likely won’t catch your eye. This isn’t to say that a sign-up bonus is everything. A powerful cash-back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card, which has one of the highest flat-rate rewards on all spending, doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus at all. Most consumers should not discount a card with a lackluster sign-up offering.

The information for the Capital One Quicksilver card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

And just because a card sports a flashy bonus, it might not be a good choice. You will probably have to clear a spending threshold in a short period to be eligible, although card issuers have extended that during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 60,000-point sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred will be elusive and superfluous for consumers who don’t spend at least $4,000 with their new card in the first three months of activation (or six months under the coronavirus extension period).

4. The card incurs foreign transaction fees and you frequently travel abroad

Paris June 2015. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

Some credit cards charge fees that may be easy to forget about. One is a foreign transaction fee. This is a charge, usually around 3%, that some issuers add to your credit card for purchases made abroad with every swipe. That fee can negate or even outstrip any rewards you earn.

The good news is that many issuers offer credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. Some, including Capital One, never charge for international purchases. Still, it’s always a best practice to read about your cards’ potential fees before committing to an application.

5. You likely won’t use many of the benefits or perks

Many of the best credit cards offer some of the most impressive perks that we’ve ever seen. From lounge access to Global Entry and Clear credits to hotel or airline elite status, the benefits are fantastic. But, as glittery and valuable as these perks may sound, they don’t provide you anything if you realistically will never use them.

delta sky clubSource: The Points Guy

Many cobranded credit cards fall into this category. For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card ranks among the best airline credit cards. With complimentary Delta Sky Club access when you fly Delta, an annual companion certificate each year upon card renewal, complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges when flying Delta, and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (up to $100), it’s easy to be attracted by the luxury this card can offer.

But at $550 (see rates and fees), make sure you’ll use all the card has to offer. Otherwise, it might not be the right one for you. Luckily, many cobranded, lower-tier cards may be more suitable. For instance, a Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card with its $99 annual fee; waived the first year (see rates and fees) is available for the casual Delta flyer.

There’s nothing wrong with being aspirational, but being honest with yourself about your spending and future travel habits will help you avoid picking a card that you aren’t quite ready to maximize.

6. The card earns points for a program you don’t use

This is a simple one. If you’re loyal to a certain bank or points program, then a credit card from a different issuer might not appeal to you. Even without factoring in our TPG valuations of various points programs, it’s important to consider your personal preferences when it comes to earning and redeeming points.

(Photo by The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

Issuers often have unique ways of aggregating and transferring points as well. For example, a Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited card will be more valuable to you if you’re already a Chase loyalist with one or multiple existing cards in the Chase trifecta or Chase quartet — you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points between accounts. In this case, having multiple Chase credit cards can provide more versatility compared to having multiple cards from another issuer.

Similarly, you should also consider transfer partners, especially when picking a loyalty program. If you know you typically stay at Hilton-branded hotels, then you’ll likely want to have an Amex card that earns American Express Membership Rewards.

The information for the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

7. The card doesn’t offer a “younger sibling” option if you ever want to downgrade

One of the most important factors influencing your credit score is the length of your credit history. For this reason, if you realize that you’re no longer using a card that you once found valuable, you’re usually going to want to downgrade a credit card as opposed to completely canceling your account.

If you only want to hit a sign-up bonus and reap the benefits of a credit card for a few years, you might prefer to choose a card that has a “younger sibling” so you can easily downgrade, while keeping that same account open.

(Photo by The Points Guy)Source: The Points Guy

You may want to start your points journey with an Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express. It’s a great option to start earning Membership Rewards points without a high annual fee. However, over time, you might add cards to your wallet that earn higher rewards in the same categories, like an Amex Gold for 4x points at U.S. supermarkets on the first $25,000 in purchases each calendar year; then 1x or a Citi Premier℠ Card for 3x points at the pump. In this case, you might not be able to justify paying the $95 annual fee on that Amex Everyday Preferred that you’re no longer using.

The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card and Citi Premier card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Thankfully, this card offers a no-annual-fee sibling — the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express —  and you can request a downgrade. Keep in mind that this might prevent you from earning that card’s welcome bonus now or in the future. But checking into potential future downgrade options might help you find the right card to apply for first.

8. The card has high interest rates or balance transfer fees

We recommend paying off your entire credit card statement in full — every month, every single time. Although you’re only required to pay off the minimum balance, rewards are only valuable if you aren’t accruing interest on your card.

There are, however, instances when life throws you a curveball or money gets tight when you may have to pay those APR percentages or balance transfer fees. If you’re looking to carry a balance month-over-month, a premium credit card with 15% regular APR or higher might not be right for you.

Similarly, if you’re in the market to transfer a balance from one card to another with a lower interest rate, a forgiving card like the Citi Simplicity Card which never charges late-payment fees and offers a generous 0% introductory APR for 24 months might be more in your wheelhouse.

9. You aren’t a responsible debtor

At the end of the day, you won’t get much value from a credit card if you aren’t responsible with your money or you don’t pay your bills in full and on time. Credit cards are not free money. When you become a credit cardholder, you also become a borrower. And you should never borrow more money than you intend to pay back.

If you’re hoping to learn how to be more financially responsible, a debit card or secured credit card will likely be the best option for you as you learn the ropes with some necessary guardrails to help hold yourself accountable.

Bottom line

People always ask us: “What’s the absolute best credit card out there?” The answer is that it depends on what you’re looking for. As important as it is to know what you want, it’s a valuable exercise to think critically about what you don’t want (or won’t use) out of your credit card as well. Keep these nine points in mind to help you find your perfect match.

Featured photo by Getty Images

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve, click here.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold, click here.

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