Editorial Policy

A TV binge-watcher’s guide to choosing a card

Dawn Papandrea

March 21, 2016

If you recently spent a whole weekend with Frank Underwood from “House of Cards,” or have been pulling all-nighters to catch up with “Game of Thrones” before Season 6 starts, you are probably a TV binge-watcher. The bane in a binge-watcher’s existence, however, is falling for someone else’s recommendation for a good show, but then wasting precious time getting sucked into a bad series.

The same bad advice can prevent you from choosing the best plastic products for your needs.  “When choosing credit cards, you have to take a step back and think about what kind of person you are, and how you like to spend money,” says Andrew K. Johnson, communications manager for GreenPath Debt Solutions.

Take a binge-TV tour to see what your favorite characters can teach you about credit choices. At the very least, the expert advice you’ll pick up will help justify the next all-nighter you pull:

‘Breaking Bad’

For Jessie, becoming Walter White’s partner gave him great power, but he was clearly inexperienced and easily influenced by others (like his girlfriend who now stars in “Jessica Jones” on Netflix). Likewise, young adults who are eager to get started with credit could easily get in over their heads if they move too fast.

Your play: If you’re a parent, consider adding your older teen as an authorized user, says Johnson. “You have to talk to your child about responsibility first, though,” he says. When you are the primary account holder, you are responsible for paying the balance if your teen flakes, and any missteps will affect both your credit score and your teen’s. On the plus side, your teen, as an authorized user on your card, will start building a positive credit history to help transition into his or her own plastic product in the near future.

Another route to try that doesn’t involve an authorized user is to have your teen reach out to see if your bank or credit union has a starter card. “If you have a banking relationship for years, they can see more information about you and how you’ve used financial tools, and may be more apt to give you an unsecured line of credit based on your income, than someone else,” says Jason Gaughan, consumer credit card product executive at Bank of America.

‘House of Cards’

If there’s one good quality about Frank Underwood, it’s that he is always looking for the best deal (unfortunately, it’s usually to the detriment of those around him). If you’re someone who does the same, you might as well reap the rewards, especially if you’re a big spender.

“Look into cards you can really cash in on. And find one that’s going to fit your lifestyle.”
— Jason Gaughan,
Bank of America

Your play: “Look into cards you can really cash in on. And find one that’s going to fit your lifestyle,” says Gaughan. For instance, if you like to travel, it makes sense to look at card products that are tied into travel rewards, airline miles and other benefits. If not, there are plenty of cash back cards available that have a number of different redemption options.

“To obtain meaningful rewards, you usually need to spend a significant amount,” says Gaughan. For instance, with the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card, Gaughan says the customers who get the most out of the program typically spend more than $15,000 per year. Also, more elite rewards cards usually have annual fees starting at $99 and up.

The trick to making the most of rewards cards is  to pay your balance in full each month, otherwise what you’ll pay in interest and fees will negate the points you’re earning. Don’t just spend to accumulate points if you can’t pay back the debt or you’ll end up becoming your own worst enemy, something Frank knows all about.

‘Game of Thrones’

Everyone who obsesses over this HBO series knows the motto of Winterfell and the Stark family: “Winter is coming.” If you’re someone who is cautious about overspending with the lean season approaching but still like to keep at least one card in your wallet for convenience, there’s a perfect solution for you.

Your play: Stick with a low-interest, no annual fee card since you’re not spending enough to rack up points, says Johnson. Like the northerners, if you’re not the flashy type, you don’t need any over-the-top credit perks, bells and whistles. “If you might revolve your balance, usually those non-rewards cards are better for you because they have, on average, a lower interest rate,” says Gaughan.

‘Orange Is the New Black’

When a show takes place in a prison, it’s safe to say that most of the characters have checkered or unfortunate pasts. For some characters on OITNB, the path to rehabilitation will depend on the choices they make. For people who have had serious financial problems leading to a poor credit rating, it can feel like a prison in some ways. However, there is a way people with low scores can prove themselves creditworthy again.

Your play: Look into applying for a secured card. “A secured card product requires collateral. At Bank of America, we ask for a minimum deposit of $300, and we will give you a secured card that looks and feels the same as a normal card,” Gaughan says. The benefit of a secured card is that it lets you build your credit. Just  be sure that the card you choose reports to each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) on a monthly basis. After nine to 12 months of on-time payments, you can approach the card issuer about switching to an unsecured credit card.

How do you pick a credit card from all the options out there? If you’re thinking of applying for a new credit card, put it through your “binge-TV test” first to decide if it’s really the best match for you.

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