Credit Card Definition

A credit card is a thin rectangular piece of plastic or metal issued by a bank or financial services company, that allows cardholders to borrow funds with which to pay for goods and services with merchants that accept cards for payment. Credit cards impose the condition that cardholders pay back the borrowed money, plus any applicable interest, as well as any additional agreed-upon charges, either in full by the billing date or over time.

In addition to the standard credit line, the credit card issuer may also grant a separate cash line of credit (LOC) to cardholders, enabling them to borrow money in the form of cash advances that can be accessed through bank tellers, ATMs or credit card convenience checks. Such cash advances typically have different terms, such as no grace period and higher interest rates, compared to those transactions that access the main credit line. Issuers customarily pre-set borrowing limits, based on an individual’s credit rating. A vast majority of businesses let the customer make purchases with credit cards, which remain one of today’s most popular payment methodologies for buying consumer goods and services.

Understanding Credit Cards

Credit cards typically charge a higher annual percentage rate (APR) versus other forms of consumer loans. Interest charges on any unpaid balances charged to the card are typically imposed approximately one month after a purchase is made (except in cases where there is a 0% APR introductory offer in place for an initial period of time after account opening), unless previous unpaid balances had been carried forward from a previous monthin which case there is no grace period granted for new charges.

By law, credit card issuers must offer a grace period of at least 21 days before interest on purchases can begin to accrue.1 That’s why paying off balances before the grace period expires is a good practice when possible. It is also important to understand whether your issuer accrues interest daily or monthly, as the former translates into higher interest charges for as long as the balance is not paid. This is especially important to know if you’re looking to transfer your credit card balance to a card with a lower interest rate. Mistakenly switching from a monthly accrual card to a daily one may potentially nullify the savings from a lower rate.

Individuals with poor credit histories often seek secured credit cards, which require cash deposits, that afford them commensurate lines of credit.

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