As football season approaches, millions of Americans' thoughts are turning to fantasy football.
They'll buy magazines. They'll stream videos and download podcasts. They'll watch TV shows and surf websites. Add it all up, and the consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates fantasy football costs companies more than $13 billion due to lost productivity.
It's a tremendous amount of time -- far more than the average American likely spends researching other things like credit cards, for example. That's understandable, of course. For most people, it's far more entertaining to read a story about football than it is to read a credit card's terms and conditions. However, it's also troubling. After all, you've got much more to lose by making a credit mistake than by flubbing your fantasy draft.
The good news is some of the skills that help you win your fantasy league can also help you make a smart decision with your credit card.
Here are six things about picking a credit card that I learned from playing fantasy football:
1. It's not just about numbers.
The player with the gaudy numbers isn't always the right choice, just like the card with the great sign-up bonus isn't always the right card.
For example, if you're looking for a backup quarterback, and the one with the best stats also has the same bye week as your starting quarterback, he's probably not a good choice. And if you're looking for a credit card to take on your European adventure and find one that has a low interest rate and no foreign transaction fee, but doesn't have an EMV chip in it, you should probably keep looking.
2. It's important to remember who is already in your lineup.
You should have a good reason for every choice you make. Say you picked Peyton Manning in the first round of your fantasy draft. Knowing that, there's no way that you'd use your second-round pick to take Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, right? After all, in most leagues, you only play one quarterback each week, so you would have just wasted a top pick on someone who won't even play most weeks.
It's similar with picking a credit card. If you're a devoted Delta frequent flier who puts all his spending on his Delta SkyMiles American Express card to build up status and miles on that airline, getting that Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer card with the big sign-up bonus might not make sense, especially if it comes with an annual fee. That card will probably never get used, and over time, those fees will add up.
3. If you don't like a player, he doesn't have to be on your team -- no matter how good he is.
Hate the Dallas Cowboys? Don't draft Dez Bryant or Tony Romo. You won't enjoy their big days for your fantasy football team because you'll know how much it helped their real-life team.
When it comes to credit cards, your emotions matter, too. If you were once a customer of a certain bank but got turned off by bad customer service or some other reason, don't be lured in by that bank's newest card offering. Do business with companies that you feel good about -- or at least you don't have lots of reasons to dislike.
4. Doing your homework can help prevent unwanted surprises.
We're all busy and want things done right now. But the truth is many of the mistakes people make with their money and fantasy teams come from not taking the time to do their homework.
You may not like having to pay that balance transfer fee on your new card, but you shouldn't be surprised by it. It's spelled out in that big box in your card's terms and conditions, above the fine print -- along with information on your interest rate, late payment fees and more.
You don't want any bad surprises with your fantasy football draft either. You may not like the fact that you wasted a third-round pick on a receiver who just tore his ACL and is out for the season, but if you had spent some time before the draft looking at notable players who had been injured, you probably would have seen the parade of headlines telling you which players to avoid.
5. Impulsiveness leads to regrets.
Any fantasy football player has seen a draft in which someone takes a kicker or a tight end too early, and then four out of the next five people take the same position in an overheated, irrational panic to avoid missing out. Those involved in the panic almost always end up regretting their move.
The last thing you want to do is make a move with your credit card that you regret. There's simply too much at stake. Before you decide to get that department store credit card so you can get 25 percent off, take a moment to consider whether you'll actually use the card. Do you shop there often? Can you handle taking on another credit card? Can you resist the lure of that extra credit? If you answer yes to all those questions, then apply for the card the next time you shop there. Chances are most -- if not all -- of the incentives they were offering to entice you to sign up for the card will still be available on your next shopping trip.
6. You don't have to play -- and probably shouldn't -- if you can't handle the commitment.
If you've played any fantasy sport, you've run across people who join a league only to get bored, stop paying attention and basically neglect their team for a season. If it happens in a just-for-fun league, you wonder why a person took the time to start something he wasn't going to finish. But if it happens in a money league, it's far worse. That person may as well have just flushed some cash down the toilet.
As we all know, there are no just-for-fun credit cards. If you're going to get a credit card, you have to be ready for the commitment, or it can end up costing you a fortune in interest, late fees and more. (And that doesn't even include the long-term costs that come from a credit score that has been ravaged by late payments and other credit gaffes.) Those mistakes can exceed the benefits of any rewards you receive and wreak havoc on your finances -- and that is no one's idea of a fantasy.
Matt Schulz is the senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, a site dedicated to helping people make smart decisions about obtaining and using credit. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewschulz.
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