Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Best Credit Card?

For my first post, I'd like to take a shot at answering a common question: which credit card is the best? [without saying "it depends"]

The Overall Best

Overall, the best would be - you guessed it - Citibank. Higher than usual credit limit, 0% installment options, fast and efficient customer service, online access to you credit card account, electronic statements (sent to your email as password-protected PDF files), convenient payment options, and accepted by merchants virtually everywhere. [You might also want to play the good samaritan and do your teeny-weeny share in helping Citigroup recover from their
$18.72 billion loss in 2008].

So... are there any reasons why you shouldn't choose Citibank? For one, you may have read or heard about cases of harassment from Citibank collection officers if you become remiss in paying your credit card bills. I can tell you that I've experienced harassment from them firsthand - and I wasn't even a Citibank cardholder at the time! (I just happened to answer the phone, and the Citibank collector was looking for my officemate.) If you are (or plan on being) a good cardholder (i.e. you always pay your bills in full), this shouldn't be a concern. To be fair, others have reported cases of harassment from other credit card companies also.

Good Alternatives
So what's a good alternative to Citibank? If you're looking for similar features as Citibank, then your next best bet would be HSBC. You get online access to your credit card account, electronic statements, 0% installments, wide acceptance, etc. The downside is that they're not quite as generous as Citibank in assigning credit limits - to illustrate, the credit limit of my HSBC card is only 38% of the credit limit of my Citibank card, even though I used the same proof-of-income documents when I applied. So if you plan on getting a credit card for use in an emergency (medical/hospital emergency, not shopping emergency! :) ), I wouldn't advise getting an HSBC credit card.

Another good alternative is Standard Chartered. If you don't really need (or want) online access, e-Statements or a super-high credit limit (which some people may find problematic rather than beneficial), then I suggest you try Standard Chartered Bank. If your annual salary qualifies, they might send you a pre-approved Standard Chartered Gold VISA under their "Free Gold for Life" promo. Under that program, if you spend 90k a year on your card, your annual fee is waived - and you keep your points! (how cool is that?) Anyway even if you don't qualify for this promo and you only have a classic card, just call up their Customer Service and request them to have your annual fee waived. :)

VISA or Mastercard?
Nowadays it doesn't really matter whether you get VISA or Mastercard, they're both accepted virtually everywhere. I just noticed that VISA has more ongoing marketing and promos, so using a VISA card might give you better chances of qualifying for promos. If you plan to acquire a credit card for emergency use in a particular hospital (i.e. where your family doctor/pediatrician/specialist works), you should check first which credit cards they accept.

What about the rest?

Of course, aside from Citibank/HSBC/Standard Chartered, there are plenty of other credit cards out there. I can only recommend those which I personally own:

EastWestBank - Lowest finance charges: 2.25% for supermarket, drugstore and gasoline purchases and 2.75% for other purchases. Recent feature: you can now access your billing statement online.

Metrobank - Cash-2-Go facility (convert your available limit to cash). Only Metrobank offers this as a permanent service; other banks offer similar services but only on promo/limited offer basis.

Diners Club - as the world's first credit card, Diners is also internationally recognized (like Citibank/HSBC/Standard Chartered) but unfortunately it has lost its original prestige. Not a lot of establishments accept it too. I keep my Diners Club card because it's my first card, and their Customer Service said if I keep my card for 15 years [that's 2 years from now], my credit card annual fee is waived for life! [Wonderful! Looking forward to a totally annual-fee free card!] Being my first card, I have the highest credit limit on this card (useful in an emergency).

What I don't recommend
Personally, I don't apply for credit cards with monthly fees (ex. Banco de Oro Classic Mastercard, Citibank Clear Mastercard), because if you don't use your card for a month, you still have to make the effort to pay for your monthly fee [hassle!]. It's also easier to request a waiver of your fee if it's charged once annually. :) I also wouldn't recommend getting American Express or platinum credit cards because of the high annual fees, unless of course you can afford and plan to pay for them. :)

[Whew! This is quite long for a first blog. I've got lots of other topics/stuff I want to share, but let me post this first. Watch out for future blogs. :) Would love to hear your comments, inputs, even violent reactions!]