At a Glance

Credit cards are a ubiquitous financial tool many individuals rely on for daily transactions. However, understanding how credit cards work is essential to make informed financial decisions. Let’s explore the fundamentals of credit cards, their various types, payment mechanisms, interest calculations, pros and cons, and how to choose the right credit card for your needs.

In this article, you’ll learn:



The proportion of the population that holds five or more credit cards.

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What is a credit card?

A credit card is a plastic payment card issued by a financial institution that allows cardholders to borrow funds to make purchases. It provides a line of credit that can be used repeatedly within a predetermined credit limit. Each card has a unique number and the cardholder’s name and expiration date.

How does a credit card work?

When a credit card is used for a purchase, the cardholder is essentially borrowing money from the issuing institution. The cardholder is expected to repay the borrowed amount within a specified period, usually monthly. If the cardholder pays the entire outstanding balance by the due date, no interest is charged. However, interest is applied to the remaining amount if the balance is not paid in full.

Different types of credit card

There are various types of credit cards available to cater to different financial needs. Here are some common types:

1. Secured credit card

A secured credit card requires a cash deposit as collateral, which determines the credit limit. It is an excellent option for individuals with limited credit history or a low credit score.

2. Unsecured credit card

Unsecured credit cards are the most common type and do not require collateral. The issuing institution determines the credit limit based on the applicant’s creditworthiness.

3. Student credit card

Designed specifically for students, these credit cards usually have lower credit limits and are tailored to help students build credit responsibly.

4. Reward credit card

Reward credit cards offer various incentives for card usage, such as cashback, travel rewards, or loyalty points. These rewards can be earned based on the amount spent or specific categories of spending.

5. Business card

Business credit cards cater to the needs of small business owners, providing features like expense tracking, employee cards, and customized spending limits.

How do credit card payments work?

Credit card payments are typically due every month. The cardholder receives a statement indicating the outstanding balance and the minimum amount due. It is crucial to pay at least the minimum amount by the due date to avoid late payment fees and negative impacts on credit history. However, paying the full outstanding balance within the grace period ensures no interest is charged.

How does interest on credit work?

Interest on credit cards is charged when the outstanding balance is not paid in full. The interest is calculated based on the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), which can vary depending on the type of transaction. Here are some common types of APR:

1. Purchase APR

This is the interest rate applied to regular purchases made with a credit card.

2. Balance transfer APR

A balance transfer APR is applied when transferring balances from one credit card to another.

3. Cash advance APR

If a cardholder withdraws cash using their credit card, a higher interest rate called cash advance APR is charged.

4. Penalty APR

When a cardholder fails to make payments on time, a penalty APR, which is significantly higher than the regular APR, may be applied.

5. Promotional APR

Some credit cards offer promotional periods with a lower interest rate or even 0% APR for a specific duration, usually for balance transfers or new purchases.

Pros and cons of credit cards

Pros Cons
Convenient High-interest rates
Building credit history Potential for debt accumulation
Safety and protection Impulsive spending
Rewards and perks Fees and penalties
Emergency funds Negative impact on credit score if misused

How to compare credit cards?

When comparing credit cards, consider the following factors:

1. Check fees

Pay attention to annual fees, late payment fees, cash advance fees, and foreign transaction fees. Choose a card with reasonable fees that align with your usage patterns.

2. Check APR

Compare the APRs for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. Lower interest rates can save you money in the long run.

3. Rewards and perks

Evaluate the rewards programs, such as cashback, travel rewards, or points, to choose a card that aligns with your spending habits and preferences.

Compare: Best Credit Cards

Why should you use a credit card?

Using a credit card can offer several advantages:

1. To protect your bank account

Credit cards provide an extra layer of security for online and in-person transactions, reducing the risk of fraud or unauthorized charges directly affecting your bank account.

2. Rewards

Many credit cards offer attractive rewards programs, allowing you to earn cash back, travel points, or other incentives based on your spending.

3. To build a credit history

Using a credit card responsibly and making timely payments helps establish and improve your credit history, which is crucial for future financial endeavors.

4. Travel perks

Certain credit cards offer travel perks such as airport lounge access, travel insurance, or discounted hotel stays, making them valuable for frequent travelers.

5. Grace period

Credit cards provide a grace period during which you can pay your balance in full without incurring any interest charges, granting you a short-term loan at no cost.

6. Insurance

Some credit cards offer additional insurance coverage, such as rental car insurance or purchase protection, which can provide added peace of mind.

How to choose the right credit card?

To choose the right credit card, consider the following factors:

  • Determine your primary usages and desired benefits, such as cashback, travel rewards, or low-interest rates.
  • Assess your creditworthiness and choose a card suitable for your credit score.
  • Research and compare card options to find the most favorable terms and fees.
  • Read customer reviews and consider the reputation and customer service of the issuing institution.

Credit card vs. debit card

While credit cards allow borrowing money up to a credit limit, debit cards are linked directly to a bank account and use available funds. Credit cards provide the opportunity to build credit and offer additional benefits and protections but require responsible repayment to avoid interest charges and debt accumulation. Debit cards provide more control over spending but may lack the benefits and protection offered by credit cards.


A credit card statement provides an overview of your transactions, outstanding balance, minimum payment due, due date, and any fees or charges incurred during the billing cycle.

For a first credit card, consider low or no annual fees, low credit limits, and options to build a credit history. Look for a card with favorable terms and rewards that align with your financial goals.

To apply for a credit card, research different options, choose the card that suits your needs, and visit the issuing institution’s website or branch to complete the application process.

Credit cards can positively impact your credit score when used responsibly. Making timely payments and keeping credit utilization low can improve your credit score over time. However, late payments, high credit utilization, and carrying excessive debt can negatively affect your credit score.