3 Must-Know Facts About Big Sign-Up Bonus Credit Cards

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Credit card sign-up bonuses are a practical "must-have" for new cardholders, perhaps due to the fact that issuers have upped the stakes and are offering bonuses valued at more than $1,000.

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Tune in to the video below where The Motley Fool analysts Michael Douglass and Nathan Hamilton cover a few essentials to keep in mind before applying, including common fees charged and credit score requirements. Then check out our shortlist of the best credit card sign-up bonuses.

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Michael Douglass: When you're looking at that big sign-up bonus credit card, it's attractive, right?

Nathan Hamilton: It is.

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Douglass: You see that opportunity to get 500 bucks, a thousand bucks, however much it may be. But let's talk through about the must-know fact, the thing you really need to think about. Let's first talk about these premier cards a little bit.

Hamilton: Yeah, premier credit cards, what we're categorizing as that, is a credit card that is going to have high ongoing rewards for your spending, many times going to be a travel credit card and also a bonus that is in the territory of $600 plus on up, $,100 plus, for a sign-up bonus, typically spending anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 within that three-month period to qualify. Those are general ranges that would categorize what a premier travel credit card is.

Douglass: Sure. One of the pitfalls to consider with them is, a lot of cards, their first year, they will waive the annual fee. Usually premier cards aren't doing that.

Hamilton: Yeah, so two things. Not only are the annual fees not waived in the first year, many times, they're several hundred dollars. You're looking at $450, $550 annual fees. There are instances, there are various perks that are offered with these cards that can make those annual fees worthwhile, be it various travel credits, and so forth, that many people will find valuable. But it's just something to keep in mind that once that first statement comes, you've got an annual fee tacked onto it.

Douglass: Right, if you're someone who travels for a living, that sort of thing, then there could be real opportunities there, but it just depends. The other thing is -- and this surprised me a little bit -- you might not need excellent credit for a premier card.

Hamilton: Yeah, I was as surprised when doing the research, as well, because I was interested to see what credit score do you need to qualify. If you look across discussion boards in various communities talking about credit cards, and so forth, you see some posts where people with fair credit, while it's rare, are getting approved for premier travel cards. It's more consistently that you're seeing approvals for good credit, and excellent credit improves your chances now.

Approval just doesn't come down to credit score. There are other metrics that go into it, but it is a very important factor that's weighed in that approval decision, and you may not need excellent credit, which is the important thing to look at.

Douglass: Right, and the third thing to consider is, you see that big, gaudy sign-up bonus, $1,000 or something like that. That's exciting, right? Who doesn't love the idea of making a thousand bucks by spending money, but on the flip side, the spending requirements are usually pretty high, often $5,000 plus. If your usual budget is to spend -- I'm making this up, $1,000 a month -- if you're supposed to spend $5,000 in three months, then there's that real question of, are you spending money to try and get some back, or are these planned specific purchases that you needed to do anyway, like a sound system, or an airplane ticket abroad, or something like that.

Hamilton: Looking at the ranges again for low-annual-fee travel credit cards below $100 for that annual fee, you're generally looking $400 to $500 headline value of the sign-up bonus. That's spending about $3,000 to $4,000 within a three-month period. But going to other premier, premium, travel credit cards, that spending requirement moves up to $5,000 within that three-month period. Of course, you're compensated with a bigger bonus, but there's just that trade-off to keep in mind.

Douglass: Fortunately, we've got a lot more information about those trade-offs and about just thinking through what cards make the most sense for you at Fool.com/creditcards. We've got our picks, actually, for the best credit cards for 2017, the best travel credit cards for 2017, and a lot more information about managing debt, thinking through credit, and really making sure that your credit card is working for you.

Nathan, thanks much.

Hamilton: Welcome.

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