In October, Michael wrote with a question about credit cards. Because I try to discourage credit card use, I haven’t posted it. But my attitude is beginning to soften. Michael’s question now seems perfectly reasonable, and I suspect other readers have similar concerns. He writes:

I have a credit card account which I got with Wells Fargo when I started college. I’d like to switch over to a card with some sort of bonus (miles, or cash back or something), which means I’m now credit card shopping. As I’ve tried to look for the best credit card for my needs, I’ve run into some difficulties:

  1. There are TONS of junk pages out there making it hard to find good objective comparison sites.
  2. Info pages on the cards only list the initial APR (which is usually super low, like 0% for 12 months.)

I may actually keep the current credit card open since I’ve had it for almost six years and have been very responsible with it. I’ve paid it off completely every month, except for maybe two or three times, but always paid it off completely the following month.

I can’t recall having seen an article like this on your site. How can I choose a credit card?

Michael’s right: I don’t talk much about credit cards at Get Rich Slowly. For years, I blamed them for leading me into debt. But my attitude toward credit use has changed — I’ve come to recognize that they can be valuable tools if used responsibly. (My card is a key component in my paperless personal finance system.)

If you have problems with credit, do not open new accounts. However, if you’re a responsible card-holder like Michael, then it can pay to shop around. You can compare credit cards at CardRatings.com or even right here at Get Rich Slowly. Also read about credit card basics and how to choose a credit card.

If I were shopping for a card, I wouldn’t even consider the APR. If you don’t intend to carry a balance, this number is irrelevant. I’d focus instead on other factors: annual fee, rewards, special features. (Before our trip to Europe, I obtained a card that waived certain fees overseas, for example.)

Whichever card Michael chooses, he should read the terms and conditions carefully before activating it. When I received my new card last July, I spent two hours reading all of the documentation and fine print. I called the credit card company to ask questions. (That step didn’t really help, by the way, but I did it.) Ultimately, I still missed an important rule, but I did my best to understand the card before I began using it. If I had found any problems, I would never have activated the account.

Finally, Michael should not close his existing credit card account, even if he opens a new one. Keeping old credit card accounts open gives your credit score a boost. He should check his credit report every few months, though, to be sure there’s no suspicious activity on the old account.

Here are some past Get Rich Slowly articles about smart credit card use:

What advice can you offer Michael? What’s the best way to compare credit cards? How do you find a good one? Where’s the best place to research options? (Also, would you like to see more posts at Get Rich Slowly about smart credit card use? Or would you prefer the subject remained limited?)

This article is about Ask the Readers, Choices, Credit Cards