Credit Cards: Reading the Fine Print

Girl holding a magnifying glass to her eye

Q: How do I read the fine print from my credit card issuer?

A: Fine print often has information you can’t afford to miss. Here’s the big deal on the small print found on credit card paperwork:

What do all those terms mean?

First, let’s take a look at 10 basic credit card terms that are important to know but are often misunderstood:

  • Accrued interest – The amount of interest incurred on the credit card balance as of a specific date.
  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR) – The rate of interest paid on a carried credit card balance each year.
  • Annual fee – The yearly fee a financial institution or credit card company charges you for having the card.
  • Balance – the amount of money owed on a credit card.
  • Billing cycle – The amount of time between the last statement closing date and the next one.
  • Cash advance – Money withdrawn from your credit card account, usually with higher interest rates and attached fees.
  • Credit limit – The maximum amount of money that can be charged to your credit card.
  • Grace period – The time the consumer has between making a purchase and being charged interest.
  • Late payment notice and fee – These will alert you to a missed payment and its fee for missing it.
  • Minimum payment – The smallest amount of money the consumer can pay each month to keep the account current and avoid fees.

Do I need to read the small print on my credit card application?

Those microscopic letters on your credit card application contain important information. Here are some common claims you might find on an application and what the small print below these claims actually says:

Claim: Sign-up bonus: $950!

Fine print: Must spend $3,000 on the card within the first three months of ownership.

Claim: Interest-free offer!

Fine print: Expires after 18 months, and then a 22.5% interest rate kicks in.

Claim: 0% balance transfer!

Fine print: But there is a $300 balance transfer fee.

Claim: Cash advance of up to $1,500!

Fine print: With 20% interest and a $200 cash-advance fee.

How do I find the fine print on my credit card application or statement? 

Read the fine print before you sign up for a credit card. You’ll find this information on the credit card’s paper or digital application under a label marked “Pricing and Terms” or “Terms and Conditions.” You can also find this information when researching credit cards online; it may be labeled as “Interest Rates and Fees” or “Offer Details.”

If you’ve already signed up for the card, you’ll find these conditions on the “Cardmember Agreement” that generally comes with a new credit card.

Your credit card statements will also have lots of fine print, though most of it will be on the back of the bill. The information there will include everything in your application, as well as some additional information about your monthly bill.

Your Turn: Have you ever regretted missing the fine print on your credit card paperwork? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. @FreedomFedCU

About Freedom Federal Credit Union

Freedom Federal Credit Union is proud to be your financial partner. Freedom serves and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, attends school, volunteers, or has family in Harford or Baltimore County, MD. As a credit union, we are committed to putting you first, not shareholders, and helping you achieve your financial goals.

Learn more at or call us 800-440-4120 to see how we can help. 

College Planning Seminar April 21

College Planning Seminar

Saving and Early Planning for Higher Education

Mark your calendar for our next seminar, a must see for parents!

This seminar provides ideas on how to save for college when your children are still young. Topics discussed include types of investment vehicles (eg., 529 plans, UTMAs, Coverdell IRAs), costs of college, and types of schools (trade school vs. traditional college vs. combination 2-year community college and 2-year bachelors). We will also address the time value of money and the effect of inflation on higher education costs. This seminar is designed for expecting parents and parents with young children.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021  
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Register TODAY! For Freedom’s FREE College Planning Seminar!

Perfect for parents with school age children or younger.

This free seminar offers expert advice from Freedom’s financial planning partner, The Kelly Group. Bring your questions and join us for an informative session…virtual edition!

Please register here, or call us at 1-800-440-4120 for assistance.


Home Buying Seminar March 6

Home Buying Seminar

Free VIRTUAL Home Buying Seminar

Mark your calendar for our next Home Buying Seminar on Saturday, March 6th, which will take place virtually.

Saturday, March 6, 2021
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Register TODAY! For Freedom’s FREE Home Buying Seminar!

This seminar will provide you with the knowledge of how the home buying and finance  process works and how to get to the settlement table with as little stress as possible.  Perfect for first-time home buyers, and includes important options for financing.

This free seminar offers expert advice from Freedom’s Mortgage Loan advisors and our Business Development team.  Bring your questions and some food and join us for an informative lunch & learn…virtual edition!

Please register here, or call us at 1-800-440-4120 for assistance.