How to Make Sense of a Credit Card's Terms and Conditions

Ask the issuer these questions rather than trying to decipher the fine print.

Credit card terms and conditions.

Many times the advance "limit" is lower than your credit limit – typically around a fourth of your credit limit, according to Ulzheimer. Additionally, taking out a cash advance can make an issuer think you're a risky credit card user, which may lead to negative effects like an increase in your APR.

What will balance transfers cost? Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at, says credit card users can easily rack up hundreds of dollars in balance transfer fees if they don't understand how they're calculated. Most issuers charge a percentage of the total amount you transfer, but ask if there are any additional charges. For example, a bank that levies a 3 percent fee would charge you $300 for a $10,000 transfer. If you're offered a low introductory rate, clarify whether the rate is good for all balance transfers or only good up to a certain amount.

[See: 5 Ways to Give Your Credit Score a Quick Boost.]

How secure is my secured card? One way to build or mend credit is through a secured credit card, which has a fixed credit limit based on the size of your initial deposit. However, many secured credit cards levy extra fees, such as an application fee, an annual fee, a monthly maintenance fee, a fee for ATM cash withdrawals and a fee for talking to a customer service representative. Also make sure the issuer reports to the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) or else good credit behaviors won't affect your credit score.

How rewarding is my rewards card? In general, interest rates on rewards credit cards are higher than standard credit cards. As such, Harzog says these cards aren't worth using if you're going to carry a balance each month.

For an airline miles credit card, check if there are blackout dates and if miles expire. Some issuers wipe out your rewards if you default on the card, meaning the minimum payment goes unpaid for more than two billing cycles (i.e., 60 days).

See if you must enroll each quarter if you're applying for a card with a rotating rewards plan, where purchases for certain categories pay more points than others depending on the time of year. Unclear what a category includes? Don't be afraid to ask, Hardekopf says. Some supermarkets, for example, may not qualify as "freestanding grocery stores," so make sure you pick a card that best matches your spending habits.

The most important question about any rewards program: "How much do I have to spend to earn rewards?"