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Why credit card ‘deals’ may not always be as enticing as they seem

Struggling to find the best credit card? That’s not surprising. There are a range of deals currently available, which means it can be challenging to find the best one.

That task is made even more difficult by rules concerning the representative rates offered to consumers. For almost half of successful applicants, a different rate than advertised could be offered (depending on personal circumstances). The difference between the deal advertised and the one eventually offered can be significant. This can mean what seems to be a great deal can turn out to be anything but.

Representative rates

Rules concerning the advertising of credit cards mean issuers must give a representative rate that’s made available to at least 51% of successful applicants. For example, a credit card issuer may advertise a card that offers a 15% APR (annual percentage rate, which is the cost of borrowing over a 12-month time period). However, that rate is only legally required to be offered to the majority of individuals who are successful in obtaining the card. The remaining applicants may be offered a very different rate.

In this sense, credit cards are different to other debt products such as mortgages. With mortgages, an individual is either offered the advertised rate or they’re not offered the product at all. With a credit card though, an individual’s personal circumstances are taken into account by the card issuer when deciding the APR to offer, which may be different to the one advertised.

Eligibility

The question of eligibility makes the process of finding the best credit card even more difficult, since it may not be possible to compare different cards based on their representative rates. An individual may not receive the representative rate and so may find it difficult to decide whether one card is better than another.

Fortunately, a number of credit card companies provide an eligibility checker, or similar tool. This allows consumers to obtain a good idea whether their application will be accepted, and what rate they will be offered, without having a negative impact on their credit score. Eligibility can usually be checked online, and can be a good way of finding out the actual APR that would be charged for various credit cards.

Credit score

One way for individuals to improve their chances of obtaining the representative rate is to improve their credit score. From a logical perspective, a credit card issuer should want to provide the lowest rates to those individuals with the best credit scores, as the risk of loss is relatively low. 

Clearly though, it can take time to improve a credit score. A good place to start may be accessing a free credit report which could provide guidance on where potential lenders have concerns about an individual’s personal finances. Focusing on those areas may lead to better terms on future credit card applications.

Takeaway

It may be prudent for individuals seeking a new credit card to shop around and be aware there’s a good chance they may not receive the advertised APR.

With tools such as online eligibility checkers providing guidance on rates, without impacting someone’s credit score, it’s still possible to compare a range of credit cards. While this may take more time than simply checking representative rates, it could lead to more positive results in terms of finding the best credit card available.

See our list of top credit cards.

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