6 Credit Cards for New Homeowners

Like a new home, a credit card is a big commitment that can seriously pay off.

[DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Buying a home is one of life’s biggest financial events and someone with a new mortgage may primarily be focused on how they’ll afford their new mortgage payment. But it takes more than a mortgage to make a home, with additional expenses such as furniture, remodeling projects and other needs adding to the overall cost.

You may be wondering how you’ll afford all these costs on top of a mortgage payment. Credit cards with low intro APR offers and cash back rewards can help.

Here are six credit cards worth considering if you’re a new homeowner (or will be soon).

1. Citi Simplicity

Rewards: None
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% for 21 months, then variable 14.49% to 24.49%
Why We Picked It: This card offers an extremely long intro 0% APR(Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
For Your New Home: With 0% APR for 21 months on purchases and balance transfers, you’ll have nearly two years to make purchases or pay off a balance interest-free. That’s a long time to furnish your home or pay off a remodeling project.
Drawbacks: There are no rewards.

2. Blue Cash Preferred by American Express

Rewards: 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in yearly spending at supermarkets, 3% cash back at gas stations and select department stores and 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: $250 bonus cash when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $95
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 24.99%
Why We Picked It: New homeowners have many ways to earn great cash back rates on purchases.
For Your New Home: The card earns 6% cash back at supermarkets, 3% cash back at gas stations and select department stores and 1% cash back everywhere else. That means you can earn big cash back rewards as you stock your fridge, pick up accessories and appliances at department stores and fill up your gas tank for all those shopping trips. Plus, you get 12 months of interest-free purchases and balance transfers.
Drawbacks: There’s a $95 annual fee.

3. Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card

Rewards: 1.5% cash back on all purchases
Signup Bonus: $200 bonus cash back when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $0
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 25.99%
Why We Picked It: Wells Fargo borrowers can put their cash back directly toward their mortgage.
For Your New Home: You’ll earn a solid 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Plus, if your mortgage lender is Wells Fargo, you can redeem your cash back as a credit to your mortgage principal. You’ll also get 12 months of interest-free purchases and balance transfers.
Drawbacks: Some competitors offer stronger cash back rates.

4. Chase Freedom Unlimited

Rewards: 1.5% cash back on all purchases
Signup Bonus: $150 bonus cash back when you spend $500 in the first three months, a $25 bonus when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first three months
Annual Fee: $0
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 5% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% for 15 months, then variable 15.74% to 24.49%
Why We Picked It: A solid cash back rate and a long intro 0% APR period make this card a contender.
For Your New Home: You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. Plus, you’ll get 15 months of interest-free purchases and balance transfers.
Drawbacks: There are higher cash back rates out there.

5. Citi Double Cash

Rewards: Unlimited 1% cash back on purchases and an additional 1% upon payment
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% for 15 months, then variable 14.49% to 24.49%
Why We Picked It: You’ll earn a great cash back rate on all purchases with a strong incentive to pay them off quickly.
For Your New Home: With 1% cash back on all purchases and an additional 1% upon payment, you’ll be motivated to pay off your home expenses. Plus, you’ll have 15 months of interest-free purchases and balance transfers.
Drawbacks: You won’t earn your full cash back until you pay your bills.

6. Home Depot Consumer Credit Card

Rewards: None
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: None
Balance Transfer Fee: N/A
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% intro APR for qualifying purchase types, then variable 21.99% to 26.99%
Why We Picked It: This card can help fund your DIY remodel and repair projects.
For Your New Home: Home Depot purchases of $299 and up get six months with no interest. Home Depot also offers 0% financing promotions for up to 24 months on many different purchase types, including appliances, windows and roofing. Cardholders also get access to special discounts and a year of hassle-free returns.
Drawbacks: If you don’t shop at Home Depot, this card isn’t right for you.

Choosing a Card for Your New Home Expenses

There are two primary ways credit cards can help with home expenses: cash back and 0% intro APR offers. New homeowners should look closely at these policies when evaluating a credit card.

If your priority is cash back, you’ll want to choose a card that rewards the way you’ll be spending on your new home. For instance, if you’ll be entertaining a lot, you may want a credit card that offers special cash back rates on groceries. If you’ll be ordering a lot of gadgets and appliances online, you’ll want a card for online purchases. If you tend to spread your purchases around, you may want a card with a good, flat cash back rate on all purchase types.

Intro 0% APR periods are helpful because you can avoid interest for a predetermined amount of time. If you have a lot of upcoming purchases, you won’t have to worry about paying interest for a while. If your new home expenses have already contributed to a high credit card balance, you can get some relief by transferring that balance to a card with a 0% intro APR offer. When choosing a card, look for one that gives you enough time to pay off your balance transfer or make most of your initial home purchases interest-free.

What Credit is Required to Get a Card for New Home Expenses?

Cards with cash back and strong balance transfer offers usually require good to excellent credit. To increase your chances of approval, you should know your credit score before you apply. You can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.

At publishing time, the Citi Simplicity, Blue Cash Preferred by American Express, Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Citi Double Cash credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

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6 Tips for Buying a Home in 2016

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Would-be homebuyers eyeing 2016 as the year have a fair bit working in their favor. Mortgage credit continues to thaw, interest rates remain surprisingly flat and more homes are expected to hit the market as Spring approaches.

To be sure, some buyers have a more streamlined path than others. Macro-level outlooks are one thing; it’s another to build the credit and finances necessary to lock down a home loan in the current lending environment.

Whether you’re a first-time explorer or a long-term dreamer, here are six tips to help you make the leap and take advantage of a promising housing market in 2016.

1. Tackle Your Credit Now

Credit looks to be loosening as we head into the Spring homebuying season. Through the first six months of 2015, the average FICO credit score for all closed loans was 730, but that decreased to a 722 FICO score by the end of the year, according to mortgage software firm Ellie Mae.

Still, building the strongest credit profile possible can save you money when it comes to things like interest rates and private mortgage insurance.

To improve your credit, you can get copies of your free annual credit reports each year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Review them carefully for errors or problems that might be dragging down your scores. (You can find more about how to dispute errors on your credit reports here.) Pay your bills on time and strive to keep your credit card balances under at least 30% and ideally 10% of your credit limit. You can track your progress by viewing your two free credit scores each month on Credit.com.

2. Explore Your Options

Homebuying education is key. Studies and surveys consistently show that buyers overestimate their mortgage knowledge or figure their lack of it doesn’t matter. The reality is ill-prepared buyers can wind up in bad loans or simply miss out on maximizing their budget and options.

Take time to learn about the major mortgage types, the upfront costs of homebuying and what might make the most sense given your unique credit and financial situation.

VA loans are arguably the most powerful loan on the market, but they’re not a great fit for every veteran. Federal Housing Administration loans allow for low down payments, but carry costly mortgage insurance. Conventional loans feature tougher credit benchmarks, but come with down payments as low as 3%.

3. Pre-Approval Is a Must

Shopping for homes is the fun part. But it’s way more fun, not to mention useful, to shop for homes you can realistically afford. Work on getting loan pre-approval before starting your home search.

A pre-approval letter shows sellers and real estate agents you’re a serious homebuying candidate. In fact, some agents won’t accept purchase offers without one. Pre-approval also gives you a clear sense of how much home you can buy.

But remember the prefix is there for a reason — loan pre-approval does not guarantee you’ll get a home loan. It’s a big step in the right direction that comes with conditions and contingencies.

4. Know Your Market

Bidding wars are breaking out in communities where housing inventory struggles to keep pace with demand. About a third of homes sold for or above their list price in October 2015, according to CoreLogic.

The likelihood of rising mortgage rates in 2016 may push even more buyers into the game. Look for seasoned real estate agents who really know your market and how to navigate a bidding war if need be. Coming in with a strong offer at the outset can be crucial for buyers competing in hotter real estate markets.

5. Be Patient

Getting to the closing table might take a little longer than normal this year, so plan accordingly. The average purchase loan closed in 50 days in December, eight days longer than the December prior, according to Ellie Mae.

Many mortgage industry professionals point to recent disclosure and documentation changes as the culprit. But those hiccups and delays may subside as lenders, title companies and other industry players better adjust to the new regulations.

A longer closing window can affect everything from purchase contracts and interest rate locks to closing costs and coordinating your move.

6. Avoid Costly Detours

It’s a good idea to keep a tight lid on your credit and finances once you’ve decided to pursue a home purchase. Taking on new credit, changing jobs and even moving money around accounts can raise a red flag with lenders and, in some cases, derail your loan.

Change isn’t your friend during the homebuying journey. It’s not enough to get your credit and finances in order before starting the process – work hard to keep them that way as you move toward closing day.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

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