When comparing card offers, do a little surfing first
Sign-up bonuses, 0 percent interest period, even interest rates can vary
The next time you compare credit cards, try scouting a few different websites – or leaving a site, clearing your cache and then returning to the same page – before settling on an offer. This can help you to score the best deal.
Card issuers are increasingly offering exclusive deals on their own or third-party websites like CreditCards.com and testing different card offer details such as 0 percent interest introductory periods and even different interest rates.
Special offers on specific sites and CardMatch
For example, Citi has begun offering a $100 sign-up bonus on the Citi Double Cash Card, but you have to go directly to Citi’s website to claim it. If you apply for the cash back card through a third-party website, you may not be able to get the same deal.
Similarly, consumers who apply for the Platinum Card® from American Express through CreditCards.com’s CardMatch tool may be eligible for an eye-popping 100,000-point sign-up bonus, one of the biggest bonuses you can get on a credit card. If you check out the same card on American Express’s or other websites, you’ll likely see just a 60,000-point bonus offer.
Different screens, different offers
Many card issuers also float temporary offers on their websites and display different card details, depending on when you visit the site and how you access it.
As a result, you may see a different offer for the same card if you visit an issuer’s website a second time after clearing your browser’s cookies, or after visiting the site through a private browser.
Similarly, if you ask a friend to look at the same card from his or her computer, your friend may see a totally different offer. The sign-up bonus may be more generous, or the card interest rate may be steeper than what you saw.
Card issuers will also sometimes increase the sign-up bonuses they offer to some website visitors, or float a special offer for an extremely short period.
See related: 8 ways to compare credit cards
Card introductory APRs and interest rates can vary
In recent months, for example, American Express has offered a 15-month introductory APR on the Amex EveryDay® card to some website visitors and a 12-month introductory APR to others.
The subprime lender First Premier also recently floated a higher annual fee on the First Premier Bank card. Some website visitors were shown a $79 annual fee. Others were shown a $75 fee.
Capital One has been alternating the APRs for certain cards on its website for months now – and the differences in APRs are big enough that they could add up to hundreds of dollars in savings (or extra charges) for certain applicants.
Consider this: On Capital One’s website, would-be card applicants with average credit are shown a wide range of APRs on cards such as the QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Platinum card. Others are only shown a single APR of 24.74 percent.
Meanwhile, American Express has begun tailoring offers on its website – often showing much higher welcome bonuses than are available on third-party sites – and explicitly warning applicants that the offers they see now could disappear if they leave the website and then return to it.
What this means: If you check out the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express on the AmEx website, you may be shown “a special offer for you” touting a sign-up bonus as high as $200, along with a warning that “this offer may not be available if you leave this web page and return later.” Iif you view the Blue Cash card offer on a third-party site, such as CreditCards.com, you’ll see a $150 bonus.
More research leads to better card offers
Often, card issuers eventually settle on an offer and stop displaying different terms to would-be cardholders, but some issuers appear to be embracing testing offers more often and for longer periods.
This may signal a significant shift in the way issuers present online card offers to consumers and require would-be cardholders to check more websites to compare card details to get the best sign-up bonus, interest rate and longest 0 percent interest introductory offer.
How use these changes to your advantage: Rather than settle on one card offer quickly, search around. You may find a better deal on an issuer's website or an exclusive deal on a third party's website.
A few minutes of googling various card offers and even clicking out of websites and then returning to them later could get you a sweeter sign-up bonus and save you a lot of money lost in interest over time.
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