If you believe the recent financial headlines in the tabloids, people in the UK are becoming more cautious about using their credit cards, preferring to use their debit cards instead rather than build further debt.
This is unfair. Credit cards have long since ceased to be the bad boys of credit management, whether short term debt or long term loans. Indeed, the Post Office, not normally thought of in the context of imaginative financial offerings, have recently produced a credit card which serves both purposes in one.
Although the days of generous zero percent interest deals have, at least for the moment, gone by, it is possible to get credit card deals with excellent rates of interest and numerous value added features for you to take advantage of. But getting the best deals takes research. The deals that reach your television screens or the offers from the big five banks are not necessarily the best of breed.
For up to date financial offerings and advice, the Internet provides a wealth of information on different kinds of credit card deals including the ability to compare and contrast offerings at a few clicks of the mouse. With everyone from supermarkets to charities getting in on the credit card act, it is well worth shopping around online.
Many banks and other financial organisations also offer you the ability to apply for and manage your credit card account online, allowing you to obtain up to date statements and make payments and withdrawals. Normally, this facility doesn’t require any additional software on your home computer and you can access your account from your laptop or an Internet cafe while travelling.
Applying for your credit card online is straightforward and the only details you require in addition to the normal personal and financial questions that are asked in relation to credit card applications are security ones. You will be asked for an account name (usually your email) and a password (you should have one ready which consists of 8 characters including upper and lower case letters and numbers). You may also be asked for other information such as your date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, your favourite colour or a memorable place. You should carefully record your answers and keep them securely. Without them you may not be able to access your account.
Once you have filled in your form online, you are usually informed within a couple of minutes whether your application has been accepted. This is done on the basis of your current credit record. Provided your application is approved, you will be sent a form with your details to sign. As with all credit agreements, you can change your mind within 14 days.
Some people are worried about the security of their financial information online. In fact, it is very hard for a hacker to ‘sniff’ your information as it crosses the net and the information is encrypted, making it virtually impossible to read. Hackers normally try and trick you into revealing the information and avoiding falling into this trap is a matter of commonsense. See the online security tips at Creditmarket.co.uk or visit this government website for more information (www.getsafeonline.org).
Finally, some credit cards are specifically designed to enhance your online safety. Egg has led the way in this (though other companies have followed) by providing an ‘online only’ credit card which is used to purchase goods on the Internet and has extra security features and insurance in place to protect the security of your online transactions