Should you get a vanity credit card?

Affinity credit cards might be more attractive than other credit cards, but only in terms of their looks.

Most people associate affinity cards with charitable organizations.  When a card holder makes a purchase with a charitable organization's card, the charity receives a small percentage. Since the 1980s, hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised by charities through the use of affinity cards.

Affinity cards for charitable organizations cards still exist, but the concept of affinity cards has grown considerably. You can now get an affinity card, or perhaps a better name would be "vanity" card, related to a wide variety of interests including fly fishing and pop music.  In fact, MMI was recently asked to comment about two interesting types of affinity cards: sports credit cards and celebrity prepaid credit cards. 

Mint.com recently highlighted the pitfalls of celebrity branded prepaid credit cards that include high fees and the inability to build a good credit rating. From Mint.com:

“Your enthusiasm for your celebrity and your credit card probably shouldn’t mix,” says Cate Williams, vice president of financial literacy for Money Management International. “Each one is going to come out with some kind of product or pitch to make money.” Williams adds that the two criteria for choosing a credit, debit or even card should be reasonable interest rate and minimal fees, and card acceptance where you shop. “Beyond that, it doesn’t matter whose picture is on it,” she says.

CreditCards.com did a story comparing pro sports leagues' credit cards.  From CreditCards.com: 

The downside of rewards cards is that they may encourage you to buy things that you can't afford or don't need in order to rack up points, says Kim McGrigg, community manager for Money Management International, a credit counseling firm based in Sugar Land, Texas, with branches in 24 states. "This is a dangerous habit because if anything happens to you, like a job loss or other financial problem, you will have more debt that you anticipated," she says.

The bottom line is that, when it comes to credit cards, looks don't matter.  Focus on the terms and you'll likely find that your desired affinity card is more costly than other cards.  But don't worry, not using an affinity card doesn't make you disloyal.  By using a credit card with more advantageous terms, you'll have more money available to show your loyalty in other, less expensive, ways such as buying a t-shirt or bumper sticker.  

If you simply must express your loyalty through your credit card, check if your existing credit card company allows you to customize a card.  Several creditors allow you to add a personal photo to your credit card so you can upload a picture of yourself wearing your new t-shirt.  Just be sure that there isn't a fee for the service. 

Note: This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance #292 hosted by My Personal Finance Journey.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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