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Credit Card

Many foreign students and non-immigrant visitors never had credit cards before, and don't know whether they qualify for one, or if they should be using a credit card at all.

A credit card, in fact, has numerous benefits and advantages over cash, check or debit cards (see below). It also helps you establish credit history and raise your credit score. All of these can come at no cost to you, if managed responsibly.

I have a non-immigrant visa, can I apply for a credit card?

Generally speaking, as long as you are in legal status, have obtained a social security number or a Tax ID, have a street address (not a P.O. Box for example), you will be qualified for at least some credit cards.

Certain credit cards may require citizenship or permanent residency (green-card), but many only ask for legal residence - meaning you are legally living in the U.S., even though temporarily.

What are the benefits of using a credit card?

  • Rewards - you can easily find a card that offers 5% cash back on gas, and 1% on everything you buy (such as the Discover Open Road Card). There are also many cards that accumulate points redeemable for gift cards or merchandises. Why not?
  • Frequent flyer miles - if you travel a lot, on business or pleasure, you can earn airline mileage for free flights or hotel rooms.
  • Security - Virtually zero liability for lost or stolen cards, or unauthorized charges to your cards.
  • Online shopping - credit card is the perfect choice, and even better if the card can generate virtual account numbers.
  • Convenience - Accepted practically everywhere in the U.S.
  • Easy to carry - better than a stack of cash or a check book.
  • Time saver - use the card for a full month, make a payment only once.
  • Extended warranty for certain cards like Amex.
  • Rental car insurance.

What are the different types of credit cards?

There are four major credit card networks in the U.S.: MasterCard, VISA, American Express (Amex) and Discover.

There are numerous credit card issuers, including Citi, Chase, American Express, Discover, Bank of America (BofA), and many other banks and credit unions. Retail stores, such as Home Depot, Sears, Toys R Us, Macy's, etc., often have their own branded credit cards that offer discount on their merchandise, although the cards are still most likely managed by other banks.

There are two major categories: consumer cards and business cards. Among consumer cards you will see subcategories such as student cards and retail cards.

Many credit cards offer some types of rewards, such as cash back, airline miles, points for gift cards, points for hotel stays, discounts on merchandise or services, savings for college, and so on.

Do I have to pay fees to use credit cards?

Sometimes, if you are not careful. The following charges are typical:

  • Late payment fees
  • Cash advance and balance transfer fees
  • Over the limit charges
  • Annual fees (for certain cards)
  • Outrageous interest charges on outstanding balances

However, if you are well organized, you can easily avoid any fees and just enjoy all the benefits a credit card brings. The simplest way? Just pay your credit card bills in full every month before the due date.

How do I choose a credit card?

A few tips:

  • Choose rewards cards - it doesn't make sense to give up free money.
  • Select rewards type - Cash, Gift Card, Free Hotel Rooms, Airline Tickets, Discounts, etc.
  • Avoid annual fee - though a few cards may be worth the extra fees for added benefits.
  • Consider 0% intro APR if you plan to do a balance transfer - just separate it from your everyday purchases and pay it off before promotion ends!