Managing Debt For Dummies
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The federal Truth in Lending Act makes it easy to compare credit card offers, because it requires credit card companies to provide written information about the credit card terms. Do a comparison of credit cards fees, rates, APRs, and balance calculation methods before you accept even a preapproved credit card.

Hand holding multiple credit cards © Avery Evans /

Here are some of the terms of credit that creditors must provide:

  • Annual percentage rate (APR): This is the cost of the credit expressed as an annual rate. Pay close attention to a card’s default APR — the rate you end up paying if you make a payment late (or pay some other creditor late), you exceed your credit limit, or your credit score drops below a certain amount. Your APR could triple depending on the terms of the credit offer!

  • Balance calculation method: When you carry a balance on your credit card, the credit card company figures out how much interest to add to that balance by using one of several different methods. Some methods cost you more in interest than others. The least expensive balance calculation methods are adjusted balance and average daily balance excluding new purchases. The most expensive are two-cycle average daily balance including new purchases and two-cycle average daily balance excluding new purchases.

  • Fees: Credit card fees can be really costly, so look for cards that have few and low fees. Examples of common fees include an annual or membership fee, a late fee, a bounced check fee, a fee for exceeding your credit card limit, and a balance transfer fee. Believe it or not, some cards charge you a fee every time you use them or because you don’t use them often enough!

  • Grace period: This is the amount of time you have to pay the full amount of your card balance after the end of the last billing cycle before you’re charged interest on the balance. The longer the grace period, the better; a 25-day grace period is probably the best you’ll do. Some cards have no grace period; avoid them if you expect to carry a balance on your credit card.

  • Periodic rate: This is the rate of interest you’re charged each day on your card’s outstanding balance. If you expect that you may carry a balance on your credit card, get the lowest rate you can. The rate may be fixed or variable, but even a fixed rate isn’t truly fixed because a creditor can raise it at any time after it gives you 15 days notice. Also, pay attention to the interest rates that apply to balance transfers, cash advances, and other transactions you may make with a credit card. These rates won’t be the same as the periodic rate.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

John Ventura: John is a best-selling author and a nationally boardcertified bankruptcy attorney. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law School and the director of the Texas Consumer Complaint Center at the Law School.
As a young boy, John dreamed of becoming a Catholic priest so he could help everyday people, and he spent his high school years in a Catholic seminary. After graduating, however, John decided to achieve his dream by combining journalism with the law. Therefore, he earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and a law degree from the University of Houston Law School. Later, he and a partner established a law firm in Texas, building it into one of the most successful consumer bankruptcy firms in the state. He subsequently began a successful consumer law firm in South Texas.
Today, as Director of the Texas Consumer Complaint Center, he supervises law students as they help consumers with their legal problems. He is also a regular speaker at law conferences around the country and serves on the Bankruptcy Council for the Texas Bar Association.
John is the author of 13 books on consumer and small business legal matters, including Law For Dummies, 2nd edition; The Everyday Law Kit For Dummies; Divorce For Dummies, 2nd edition; and Good Advice for a Bad Economy (Berkeley Books). John has been interviewed about consumer money matters by numerous national media including CNN, NBC, NPR, Bloomberg Television & Radio, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Money, Inc. Martha Stewart’s Living, Bottomline, Entrepreneur,,, and In addition, his comments and advice have appeared in major newspapers around the country, and he has been a frequent guest on local radio programs.

Mary Reed: Mary Reed is a personal finance writer who has coauthored or ghostwritten numerous books on topics related to consumer money matters and legal rights. The books she has coauthored with John Ventura include The Everyday Law Kit for Dummies, Divorce For Dummies, and Good Advice for a Bad Economy (Berkeley Books). Mary has also written for the magazines Good Housekeeping, Home Office Computing, and Small Business Computing, and she has ghostwritten numerous articles that have appeared in national and local publications.
Mary is also the owner of Mary Reed Public Relations (MR•PR), an Austin, Texas-based firm that provides public relations services to a wide variety of clients, including authors, publishers, attorneys, financial planners, healthcare professionals, retailers, hotels, restaurants, and nonprofits.
Prior to starting her public relations business and writing career 20 years ago, she was vice president of marketing for a national market research firm, marketing director for a women’s healthcare organization, and public relations manager for Texas Monthly, a national award-winning magazine. She received her MBA from Boston University and her BA from Trinity University in Washington, DC.
In her free time, Mary serves on the board of a community development corporation in her neighborhood. She also enjoys long morning bike rides, road trips with her husband, gardening, working her way through the stack of books by her bed, taking care of her six cats, and spending time with her family and many friends.

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