It’s November, and the season of thanksgiving is upon us. I enjoy hearing what people are grateful for — family, friends, health, homes and careers. Those are all certainly on my gratitude list, but as the weather turns colder, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a customer last year, one that prompted me to be thankful for another item: credit cards.

I know that’s unusual. I’ll explain.

On a cold day last winter, a customer came to the Bank. His furnace had broken and needed to be replaced. An unexpected, costly expense, his first question was, “How am I going to pay for this?” He was working to build his savings and didn’t want to dip into that account just yet, but he couldn’t pay the full cost out of his regular spending budget either. He needed to somehow split the cost of the furnace up into manageable payments.

The solution: a strategically selected credit card.

Before a customer applies for a credit card, I like to discuss their financial goals. This particular customer was trying to save money, and while he had to spend money on a much-needed furnace, he wanted to make sure he was spending it wisely. His biggest concern with a credit card was incurring interest every month on his balance. Knowing that, we selected Bank of Utah’s Visa Platinum Card, which offered 0 percent annual percentage rate, or APR, for the first 20 months. (Offers associated with credit cards are subject to change).

We didn’t stop there, though. We carefully created a repayment schedule so he could pay the cost of the furnace off well within the introductory period, interest-free.

He applied for the card and left the Bank that day thankful that he could purchase his new furnace and have a plan that was in line with his financial goals. I was thankful that credit cards are available to help in these situations.

4 Ways to Use Credit Cards

When used intentionally and responsibly, credit cards can be valuable financial tools — as my customer can personally attest to from his warm home. A number of different types of credit cards (sometimes an overwhelmingly large number!) are available these days. They can be used to:

  1. Finance purchases
  2. Build credit
  3. Earn rewards
  4. Pay down debt

While you don’t have to know everything about every card on the market, it’s important to know the basic types, so you can decide which one best fits your financial goals and spending habits.

3 Types of Credit Cards and How to Use Them to Your Advantage

In general, credit cards typically fall into three different categories.

1. Cards that save you money on interest.

A card with an introductory 0 percent APR and ongoing low interest can be a good fit if you have an emergency, like a furnace breaking in winter, or if you have fluctuating income and carry a balance occasionally from month to month.

These types of cards can also help you pay off a high-interest debt, interest-free, by offering the same introductory terms on balance transfers from other cards.

Keep in mind: These cards may be difficult to get if you have a below average credit score.

2. Cards that help you earn rewards, like points or cash back.

A rewards credit card can be a good fit if you want to put your spending to work. Some rewards credit cards offer points to redeem for merchandise, travel or cash back; others help you earn cash when you make purchases in specific categories.

While these cards usually have a higher APR, if you pay off your balance in full every month, you won’t incur interest.

Keep in mind: These cards may make it more tempting to make purchases. Be careful and only spend what you can afford to pay back each month. And always remember to redeem your rewards. Those are what make these cards beneficial.

3. Cards that help you improve your credit when it’s limited or damaged.

A secured credit card can be a good fit if you need help establishing, strengthening or rebuilding your credit.

This type of card is backed by a cash deposit you make to open the account, usually $200 or more. The deposit is typically equal to your credit limit, so if you deposit $200, you'll have a $200 limit.

Keep in mind: These cards often have higher APR than other types of credit cards. That means you must be careful to pay your balance in full every month, on time, so you don’t get charged interest or fees.

Some Final Advice

Credit cards often have a bad reputation. I’m sure you’ve heard credit horror stories yourself. But, as you can see, credit cards can help you in times of need and can also help you build credit and get great rewards. Just remember, before you ever apply for a card, set solid spending rules for yourself. I strongly recommend you only charge what you know you can comfortably pay back every month. You can use the financial tools in online and mobile banking to help you determine what that amount is.

As I mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of credit cards available these days, most of which arrive in your mailbox. Be careful with any offer, and always read the fine print to look for fees, rates and terms. If you’re thinking of applying for a card, I urge you to go to a bank. A banker will not only show you what cards they have available, they’ll also help you understand the card member agreement.

Most importantly, they’ll make sure the card you choose is one you can be thankful for — because it fits your financial goals.

Sam Romriell is the former branch manager at Bank of Utah’s Redwood Branch.