Credit Cards
Credit cards are convenient for paying for purchases or fees. They are also used to show that you have good credit when you want to rent an apartment, a car, etc.

But you need to be very carefule with credit cards. You need to be very disciplined in making the payments on time. Otherwise you will be charged a later fee of $30 to $50, and interest of 15% or higher. Also, you need to make sure you don't spend more than what you can afford. Credit card companies charge very high interest rates. You should only use a credit card when you are sure you can pay off the balance without being charged an interest.

Almost all credit card can now be paid online. You just need to register on their website, and register your bank account in order to electronically pay your credit card from your bank account. Make sure you have a way of knowing when each credit card payment is due and you have enough money in your bank account to cover each payment.

To apply for a credit card:
  You must have a social security number.
  You need to have a permanent address in the US. Even though you may move, you current address in the US is considered your permanent address.
  You need to have the address and phone number of your employer (your university, if your are TA or RA).
  You need to have the name and phone number of someone in the US that can be your reference but doesn't live with you.
  The easiest place to get your first card is the bank where you have accounts.

Credit card brands include MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover. MasterCard and Visa are issued by different banks. Banks often issue credit card in cooperation with other companies. For example, the Amazon.com Visa card is issued by Chase.

Some credit card companies are good at helping their customers resolve disputes when a purchase has been made with their credit card. Some people mentioned that Citi card has been good at this.

Some credit card companies show courtesy when you miss a payment once in a while. Some people had good experience with Chase on this, while in one particular case someone reported that MBNA would not remove the late fee or financial charge as a result of a late payment in quite a few years. To protect yourself, work out a way (calendar reminder etc.) to make sure you make payments on time. Also, when you make an online payment, the payment is not complete until you see a confirmation number. You may want to save that confirmation number in your file.

Banks compete to earn your business. So as long as you have good credit, you may receive offers to transfer your balance from one credit card to another. You cannot transfer money from one card to another card offered by the same bank. So this only works if it involves two different card-issuing companies. Be careful with such offers. Even though the interest rate might be very low, there may be a balance transfer fee. Also, even if the interest rate of the transferred balance is 0%, if you make a purchase using the same card, your purchase amount will accumulate interest until you pay off your transferred balance.

Some credit cards offer rebates on all or some types of purchases. Pay attention to the details. Sometimes you have to enroll in the promotion, as in the special rebate program that Discover Card has been running recently. Also, the special rebate program may have start and end dates. You need to read the fine prints to get the whole picture.

 
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