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Credit card tips and picks from Consumer Reports

November 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
With holiday shopping coming up, experts say consumers will be using their credit cards more than ever. That means banks will be sending consumers plenty of credit-card offers with enticing rewards, cash-back offers and low interest rates.

Consumer Reports just analyzed more than 50 cards, including ones that are good for those struggling to pay off their credit-card debt.

Robert Muthumbi says he hasn't bought his kids a Christmas tree in two years, and eating out is a rare treat. It's all part of his effort to chip away at $10,000 in credit-card debt.

"I've been really making efforts to pay them down, two or three times more than what the minimum payment that is due," said Muthumbi.

But with interest rates on his cards at 16 and 22 percent, he says he's barely making a dent. For families like the Muthumbis, Consumer Reports recommends transferring the balances to a card with a lower annual percentage rate (APR).

"You can often find cards with very low interest rates, even down to zero, for balance transfers," said Greg Daugherty, Consumer Reports. "But look carefully at the terms because they can vary a lot from card to card."

You're often charged a balance transfer fee, usually 3 to 4 percent up front. And the zero percent or low APR often lasts only 12 to 18 months.

Consumer Reports found the Chase Slate Credit Card is good for people who can pay off the balance quickly. It has zero-percent interest for 15 months and no transfer fees in the first 60 days.

"But if you calculate that you won't be able to pay off your debt that quickly, you're better off with a card with a low, fixed-interest rate," said Daugherty.

Consumer Reports found one of the best such credit cards is the PenFed Promise Card. It currently has a low APR of 4.99 percent on balance transfers made before the end of the year and has no-balance transfer fee. Be aware you need to be a member of the Pentagon Federal (PenFed) Credit Union, which can cost $15.

If Muthumbi does transfer his balances, Consumer Reports recommends that he try to get another card for any new purchases. He'll need to pay that one off in full every month to avoid going deeper in debt.

Be aware that the rates and terms for credit cards listed above can change frequently.


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