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Published July 27, 2022

Common Credit Card Terms and Conditions

Knowing how to find and interpret a credit card's terms and conditions will help you use it more confidently.

It may be yawn-inducing, but the fine print matters. Don’t let the jargon of credit card terms and conditions box you out of important card know-how. The more you understand about your credit card agreement, the better. Familiarizing yourself with these terms and conditions can help you avoid fees, penalty rates and more.

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Credit card terms and conditions to know

Annual percentage rate

A credit card’s annual percentage rate, or APR, is the interest rate you’ll pay on that debt over the course of a year, expressed as a percentage. Credit cards typically have more than one APR because different rates are charged for balance transfers or certain types of transactions.

Balance transfer APR

The interest rate paid on a balance transferred from one credit card to another. Some credit cards offer a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for a set period — typically the first six to 12 months after you open a new card.

Cash-advance APR

The interest rate paid on any cash advance taken from your credit card. Cash advance APRs are typically a few points higher than the standard interest rate charged on unpaid balances.

Fixed APR

An annual interest rate that stays the same.

Introductory APR

Introductory APRs are offered for a set amount of time after a credit card is first opened. They’re also known as promotional APRs. These introductory rates are lower than the standard rate and are often offered to incentivize new card applications.

Penalty APR

The interest rate charged for being more severely late on a credit card payment, usually more than 60 days.
Penalty APRs tend to be higher than the standard APR on a credit card and can last for six months or more.

Purchase APR

The standard annual interest rate charged on purchases.

Variable APR

An interest rate that may change over time. A variable APR can fluctuate based on the bank’s current prime rate, your credit score, or both.

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Authorized user

A person who is allowed to use someone else’s credit card. Anyone can become an authorized user — a parent, spouse, child or acquaintance — so long as they have the permission of the primary cardholder. A card with more than one user is called a joint credit card. An additional card may be provided for an authorized user to carry.

Balance

A credit card’s balance is the amount of money the cardholder owes the card issuer.

Balance transfer

The act of sending the balance owed on one credit card to another. A balance transfer can sometimes help you take advantage of a different card’s more competitive interest rate.

Billing cycle

The length of time between credit card statements — typically around one month. Also called a billing period.

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Cardholder

The person authorized to carry and use a card. Also called the primary cardholder.

Cash advance

A cash advance is money borrowed from your credit card provider, usually by using your card to withdraw cash from an ATM.

Cash back

A type of credit card reward that earns money when eligible purchases are made. To earn this reward, you’ll typically need a cash-back credit card.

Credit bureau

A company that collects information about a person’s financial history, particularly how they’ve managed their debts. Credit bureaus compile this information to produce credit reports and credit scores. There are two major credit bureaus in Canada: Equifax and TransUnion.

Credit card agreement

A contract between a credit card issuer and cardholder that outlines the terms and conditions of a credit card.

Credit limit

Your credit card limit is the maximum amount you can charge on a credit card.

Credit report

A comprehensive report of your total credit history generated by a credit bureau. Your credit report is created the first time you borrow money and the information it contains is used to generate your credit score. Most lenders, including credit card companies, look at your credit report when evaluating your application.

Credit score

A three-digit number generated by credit bureaus from the information contained in your credit report. Credit scores range from 300 to 900 and represent how you handle debt to potential lenders. A good credit score is considered to be 660 and above and will increase your eligibility for a variety of lending products, like credit cards and loans. Your credit score can impact on whether you’re approved for a credit card, and what APR you’ll pay.

Credit utilization ratio

This ratio describes how much of your overall available credit is in use and is factored into your credit score. Keeping your credit utilization ratio below 35% (but above zero) may have a positive impact on your credit score, as it demonstrates a responsible use of credit.

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Fees

There are a variety of credit card fees you may encounter, in addition to your APR.

Annual fee

A once-a-year fee cardholders are charged to have their credit card. Not all credit cards have annual fees.

Balance transfer fee

A fee charged for moving your credit card balance from one card to another. Balance transfer fees are typically a percentage of the overall balance being transferred.

Cash-advance fee

A fee that may be charged for withdrawing cash from your credit card at an ATM. Also called a cash equivalent fee.

Foreign transaction fee

A fee that’s often charged for converting transactions made in a foreign currency into Canadian dollars — typically 2.5%. Also called a foreign currency conversion fee or foreign exchange fee.

Inactive account fee

A fee that’s sometimes charged for failing to use your credit card for a long period of time — typically one year.

Late-payment fee

A fee that may be charged for credit card payments made after the due date. Late payment fees may be coupled with a penalty APR.

Over-limit fee

A fee charged for exceeding a card’s credit borrowing limit, typically between $25 and $50.

Replacement fee

A fee that’s charged for replacing a lost credit card.

Dishonoured payment fee

A fee charged when a credit card cheque used as payment bounces because there is not enough available credit on the card. Also called a returned payment fee.

Grace period

An amount of time during which a credit card balance doesn’t accrue interest. The grace period on most Canadian credit cards is 21 days.

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Introductory offer

A reward offered by credit card providers for people who open a new credit card. Common introductory offers include cash back, rewards program points, or a 0% APR.

Minimum payment

The amount of money that must be paid to keep a credit card account in good standing. A credit card minimum payment is typically $10 or 1% to 3% of the overall balance — whichever is greater.

Rewards program

A program offered by credit card providers that rewards cardholders for using their card on eligible purchases. Credit card rewards may include cash back or points that can be redeemed for air fare, hotel stays, merchandise and more.

Statement

A record of transactions that have taken place during a billing cycle. Credit card statements may be provided electronically or mailed to cardholders.

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Why do credit card terms and conditions matter?

The terms and conditions of a credit card represent a legal agreement between the card issuer and cardholder. Understanding the terms and conditions of your credit card sets you up for safe, responsible card usage. Failing to adhere to the rules outlined in your card agreement could result in fees, penalties, account closure and more.

Where to find your credit card’s terms and conditions

You’ll typically receive a written copy of your credit card’s terms and conditions when you receive the new card. You may also contact your card provider to request a copy by mail. Electronic versions of card terms and conditions can often be found on your provider’s website or by conducting an online search.

About the Author

Shannon Terrell

Shannon Terrell is NerdWallet Canada's authority on investing. Her work has been featured in Black Enterprise, Finder, and Yahoo! Finance, among others.

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