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Choosing The Right Student Credit Card: Interest Rate Watch

You’ll be inundated with credit card offers as soon as you hit your school’s campus, and it can be difficult to decide which ones are the best cards to apply for. As many credit experts can tell you, though, the best cards to apply for are those with the lowest interest rates.


What’s an Interest Rate Anyway?

Your student credit card’s interest rate determines how much each of your purchases or cash advances will cost you. Obviously, if you pay the purchase off as soon as you make it, your interest rate doesn’t matter, but if you carry a monthly balance from payment period to payment period, your interest rate matters a lot.


Types of Interest Rates

Each student credit card offer you examine has different kinds of interest rates attached to it. In most cases, you have one APR for the things you buy, one APR for any cash advances you get, and you’ll have a different APR for any balance transfers you make to your card. Keep in mind, though, that the interest rate on those last two is usually several percentage points higher than the APR for normal purchases. Those three APRs, though, aren’t the only variables on your card. Most cards also have a different rate for the total outstanding balance. For example, you may have a 16% interest rate if your student credit card balance is $600, but an 18% APR if your balance is $700. Hold on, just a minute, though, because the types of interest rates one single card can have don’t end there. If you’re late with your payment, your total APR can go up. Moreover, you may also have a different APR when you first get the card than you do after you’ve had it for five years. Finally, your APR may have a future difference. For example, your card holder agreement may say that your APR will go up three percentage points every March.


How The APR is Calculated

If understanding what kinds of interest rates may come with your student credit cards isn’t hard enough, figuring out how your APR is actually calculated is really complicated. Your new student credit card company probably uses one of the four major methods.

  • Average Daily Balance: This method works when the company averages what you spend during any given billing cycle. They take the average, multiply it by the percentage rate, and come up with the interest charge. It’s a fairly simple method.
  • Adjusted Balance: This method is a bit more complex in that your interest rate may be a bit higher or lower than you initially expected. At the end of the biling period, your total balance is multiplied by the percentage rate to come up with a number that is added to your bill.
  • Previous Balance: This is essentially the opposite. The balance of your last billing period is multiplied by the percentage rate to come up with one number.
  • Two-Cycle Average Daily Balance: This is the most complicated. Over two cycles, your daily balances are added and averaged. This number is then multiplied by the interest rate, but the interest that actually appears on your bill is only for the billing cycle you’re looking at right now.

The real key to choosing the right student credit card is to understand what your interest rate will be and how it will be figured.


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