Author: Joni Stahl


Choosing the right debit or credit card is like trying to decide on which shade of pearl you want to paint your living room wall. They all look the same, but are all so different once you take a good look. Will you love this shade for decades to come, or think twice about it just after a couple years? The same thinking can be applied to credit and debit cards.

With a countless number of financial advisors, checking, savings, and credit card options out there, many of us feel overwhelmed and oftentimes second-guess our financial decisions. Worse yet, being overwhelmed can often lead people to bypass taking the time to sit down and really read the fine print with these products.  That’s why we recently commissioned a survey that looked at current credit card and banking usage behavior in six cities across the country. Here’s what we learned:

1. Pay off your balance
Major credit cards are the primary means of making purchases in five out of the six cities surveyed. And while increasing debt is always a risk, most of us are pretty good at paying off our balances. The majority of card owners in all six cities owe less than $5,000 on their major credit card and most in four of the five cities (as many as 75 percent in Tucson. Go Tucson!) report paying off their card in full each month.

2. We like our rewards.
Between 81 and 91 percent of card owners’ surveyed use a credit card that offers rewards. The most sought after reward is cash back or credit towards an account or bill. However, points toward retail purchases and airlines are virtually tied for second place.

While many have credit cards that offer rewards, very few have debit cards that do. Only nine percent of debit card owners in Tucson receive rewards. Just nine percent! This is a good reminder to take a look at the debit card options available to you. A debit card that offered no rewards when you first signed up might offer cash back or travel rewards now!  Check back regularly.

3. Rates matter.
A huge factor in choosing the right card is the fees that come with it. Although between 23 and 34 percent of card owners in the six cities didn’t even know their annual percentage rate (APR), some of us don’t find the potential rewards worth a higher interest rate or annual fee. Or, we think we wouldn’t use our card enough to accrue meaningful rewards. Bottom line: read the fine print before making a decision.

4. There is a card for everyone.
No matter what your spending habits, financial needs or long-term goals are, there is a card that’s right for you. Whether you want cash back for everyday spending or you’re trying to improve your credit score, USAA has a variety of options to fit your lifestyle.

All in all, finding the right shade of credit or debit card has become an overwhelming task in recent years. But, it doesn’t have to be. More importantly, you could be missing out on valuable rewards and savings. Don’t let another day pass before you take charge of your money.

The full six-market survey findings can be viewed here.

Joni Stahl is a banking experience developer for USAA, based in San Antonio, Texas. She is also a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner. With over 11 years of experience as a financial advisor, Joni has cracked the code on budgeting for her own family of five.


Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.




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