Don't give out your credit card number online unless the latest security protocols are in place and you know and trust the company in question. When you input your credit card information at a website or send it in an e-mail, that information is transmitted across the Internet as if it were written on the back of a postcard. To ensure the security of your account, that information should be encrypted using the latest technology. A fraudulent site may tell you that you don't need to encrypt the information. Don't believe it.
Don't trust a site just because it claims to be secure. Before using a secured transaction site, check out the encryption software it uses. Contact the company that is providing the technology to make sure that it is actually being used. Some sites may claim to be encrypted when they actually are not. If you are not sure, ask for an alternate method of payment.
Read the fine print. If you receive an offer for a pre-approved credit card or if someone says they'll help you get a credit card, find out the details first. You need to know what interest rate you will be paying and for how long. Some credit cards offer low rates as "teasers" that are raised after a certain period of time or only apply to balances transferred from other cards. You also need to know about any annual fees, late charges or other fees, and whether there are grace periods for payment before interest is applied. If the terms of the offer aren't provided or aren't clear, look for a credit card from someone else.
Shop around. Interest rates and other terms vary widely. There are also different types of cards, such as secured cards that require a deposit to cover any charges that are made, cards that can also be used as telephone calling cards, cards that allow you to either charge something and pay later or deduct the charge from your bank account immediately, and cards that can only be used to charge merchandise from a catalog. Make sure you know what kind of card you're being offered and what type of card meets your needs best.
Don't pay fees up front to get a credit card. Legitimate credit card issuers don't ask for money up front, unless you're applying for a secured card. If you are applying for a secured card, make sure you understand how your deposit will be used. Don't pay someone to help you get a credit card; if you have good enough credit, you can get one yourself, and if you have bad credit, no legitimate lender is likely to give you one.
Use your credit wisely. Many Americans are in debt because they have taken on more credit than they can handle or have not used credit responsibly. Don't apply for more cards than you absolutely need, and don't charge more than you can afford. To maintain a good credit rating, pay bills promptly. Avoid interest charges by choosing a card that offers a grace period and paying the entire balance due each monthly. If you can't pay the full balance, choose a card with the lowest interest rate.
Get help if you feel you're in over your head. Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a nonprofit organization, provides low or no cost services to consumers who need a plan to repay debts and improve their credit. To find the nearest CCCS office, call toll-free, 1-800-388-2227.
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