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Your Credit Card Questions, Answered

After asking readers to send in their questions about credit cards, Real Simple received several hundred. Three experts tackle the most common.

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Q. How does having a joint account with my husband affect my personal credit?

Suellen Coverdill
Boring, Oregon

A. “Joint accounts appear in both the husband’s and the wife’s credit reports because both have agreed to full responsibility for the debt. If one person doesn’t want to pay, the other is responsible for the entire debt,” says Rod Griffin of Experian. “If the account is managed well, it’s positive for both. If payments are late, that will have a negative impact on both.”

Q. Are there advantages to using a credit card over cash for everyday purchases like groceries?

Helen Dix
Annapolis, Maryland

A: “With interest rates high, this makes sense only if you pay your balance off in full each month,” says Liz Pulliam Weston of MSN Money. “That said, it’s a great way to keep track of what you spend. You build up rewards points fast. It’s nice to have a middleman―the credit-card company―in case a purchase goes wrong. And unlike losing cash, if you lose your card, you’re not responsible for bogus purchases.”

Q. How do I know which card offers the lowest interest rate?

Carolyn Krams
Staten Island, New York

A: “At least until the new law kicks in, in February 2010, any rate can change at any time,” says Weston. “Websites like Cardratings.com and Bankrate.com track rates, so you can check them out to see which are the best available.” Adds Leslie McFadden of Bankrate.com: “Shop around. Find the card that’s best for you. If you pay your balance off every month, the lowest rate may not be the most important feature―maybe rewards are, or no annual fee.”

Q. What steps can I take to get a perfect credit score?

Deborah Falzon
White Lake, Michigan

A: The range of FICO scores is 300 to 850. “Once yours is over 760, you’re getting the best rates and terms available,” says Weston. “Make sure your credit reports are error-free. Pay down your credit-card debt; you want a balance that’s below 30 percent, preferably below 10. Pay on time; one late payment can knock 100 points off your score. And close and open credit accounts sparingly, because doing either can hurt your score.”
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