How I choose a credit card: A millennial’s perspective

When I was a kid, credit cards seemed like magic: just swipe this card, and you can have anything you want! But when my parents gave me my first credit card in college (“to be used only in emergencies, of course”), I learned the more complicated realities associated with such a tiny piece of plastic. 

Like almost half of the U.S. population, I carried a revolving balance on my card and it stressed me-the-heck-out! I felt the sting of spending countless hours trying to dispute fraudulent transactions. I also learned how to budget and use rewards in ways that supported my millennial lifestyle including spontaneous travel decisions and buying new tech toys that I don’t really need.

Now I’m 31 years old and married. It’s a huge step to move from an individual to couple mindset with credit, and many millennials are making that leap as we stretch into our late 30s. (Remember, Millennial birth years are 1981-1996, which means that many of us have children and some of us are staring down the big 4-0!) For one, I’ve inherited my wife’s credit cards, which means I’m constantly looking for ways to consolidate activity and save. I’m also eyeing my first home purchase, and am more mindful of making credit card payments on time to avoid any negative impact on my credit score. And perhaps the biggest change is that now much of my credit card purchases happen online or on my phone.

Most importantly, I am more selective of the cards that I keep in my physical and digital wallet. It’s not just about which card has the lowest rate or the best offers. Here are the three most important factors to me when I’m considering a credit card:

  • What’s my incentive to use this card?

I’m constantly bombarded with credit card offers – by mail, email, phone, and even when I’m paying for something at the check-out counter. The offers that stand out are the ones that most closely fit my spending habits – which are constantly changing. For instance, last year my wife and I went on seven trips (including two overseas), so travel points and cash-back on travel purchases were a huge factor in which card we used. This year, we have travelled very little and instead looked for cash-back deals for everyday things like buying a cup of coffee or grabbing an Uber. Finally, if I see that some tangible reward (like a new loyalty status, additional points or a monetary bonus) comes with increased card usage, I’m much more inclined to use that card.

The more rewards I can apply to my everyday life, the more likely I am to set that card as the default card in my digital wallet.

  • Can I control the card on my terms?

The biggest change in credit cards during my millennial lifetime, was the ability to access my credit cards from my computer or phone. But 24/7 access is table stakes nowadays; what I really want is the ability to control and manage my account. Self-service and transparency are everywhere from self-check-out at the grocery store to splitting the restaurant bill with friends via Venmo, and I expect my credit cards to match the ease I have in the rest of my financial life. For instance, being able to set travel alerts and spending limits or monitor transaction activity in real-time is very important to me. And, of course, in an instance where something does happen to my account where I need support from my credit union, I hope and expect to receive immediate service anytime, anywhere.

Having the ability to control my account through self-service tools makes me feel more in control of my life. 

  • Does the experience feel personal and…awesome?

One of the great ironies of the modern age is that the more digital my interactions become, the more I crave personalized attention. Personalization is about more than just having my name on my card or getting rewards in my inbox. I want my credit card company to know my spending habits and to recommend offers or ways for me to save. For instance, I love going to live music concerts and every so often my credit card issuer will offer a special presale discount or cash-back offer on concert tickets. 

It’s relevant personalization that makes me feel like my credit card is guiding me towards making better financial decisions…and keeps it fun.

  • Does Your Credit Program Meet the Expectations of Millennials?

Many millennials like me are nearing or entering a major transition in our financial lives and credit will play a vital role. We want our financial institutions to have been paying close enough attention to our lifestyles and habits to earn the right to be our partners, helping us navigate that transition with credit products and services that support our financial needs. 

Anil Sharma

Anil Sharma

Anil Sharma is the Senior Content Manager for CO-OP Financial Services, a credit union payments technology provider. Web: Details