If you’re wondering how to choose a credit card, the selection will often come down to examining your philosophy on personal finance and finding a program that aligns with that mindset. There is a dizzying number of credit cards on the market, and acquiring one randomly might put you at a disadvantage. You might look quickly at annual fees and APRs and make a decision based solely on those two components. However, before you apply, you’ll want to dig deeper into what types of goods and services you purchase, and how much you spend in particular categories.

A lot of the value in a solid credit card program is predicated on what you get in return for using the card. With that in mind, we’re detailing how to find the right card for your needs and spending habits.

Understand your spending habits

The first lesson of what to look for in a credit card will involve spending. Doing a bit of a rewind is a good approach to analyzing spending habits. If you grab a checkbook register or detailed bank statement, you’ll notice patterns emerge in the past 12 months of your fiscal life. This pursuit will allow you to see where you spend your money the most, which can help you determine which purchases you’d like to earn rewards on — assuming you’re considering a rewards credit card. On top of that, combing through your purchases will also reveal potential unnecessary spending. If you intend to acquire a credit card, making spontaneous purchases on things you don’t really need could lead to a bloated balance  and significant interest charges on that amount.

Self-employed folks would also benefit from a detailed look at expenditures. Since freelancers or side hustlers may not have a formal business structure, there are business credit cards that cater to these situations. A budget analysis might uncover significant dollars being shelled out for office supplies, mobile phone or Internet services and perhaps the occasional business trip. This revelation helps when it’s time to figure out which type of card and rewards works best for you.

Determine what you value in a card

It’s probably not a stretch to say you’re spending money on gas (unless you ride a bicycle or take the train to work) and groceries, and in that case, rewards credit cards that offer cash back in those categories give you something in return for purchases. These types of programs are what incent you to use a credit card for recurring expenses or the things you purchase regularly without giving them much thought.

There’s more good news. Many cards offer bonuses (or more rewards) in specific categories, so $3,000 annually in gas expenses could fetch you a 5% cash back bonus or $150 per year in the form of a check or statement credit. That reward represents a nice return for repeatedly buying necessities, and if you enjoy trotting around the globe, those same big bonuses might apply to airfare or hotels with a travel rewards card. Speaking of bonuses, many cards grant welcome offers to new cardholders, where spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of ownership, for example, might nab you 30,000 points or $300 in cash-back value.

Other than cash back, rewards points or intro offers, you’ll also need to consider whether you want to pay an annual fee, get a 0% intro APR period or have any other bonus perks at your disposal.

Know your credit scores

Creditworthiness is the main factor in determining what class of credit card you’ll qualify for. Premium travel cards, for example, are usually available only to those applicants with sparkling credit scores. While these programs offer a boatload of features and benefits, there’s little sense in applying if your FICO score is merely fair or good. Hard inquiries on your credit profile will lower your score, so knowing exactly where you stand will help you narrow down the choices before submitting multiple applications.

Staying abreast of your credit status is highly advisable and fairly easy in the digital age. There are a number of reliable credit monitoring services on the market, and you can always take a look at our in-depth comparison on the major players in the industry. Track changes in your score and receive notifications of inquiries that impact it by subscribing to one of these services. As an added benefit, these companies will also alert you to unauthorized activity which may be an indication of identity theft. If you’re not interested in a credit monitoring service, you should at the very least check your credit reports and scores before you apply.

Do your research

Now that you know what to look for in a credit card, it’s time to get down to the business of finding the right fit. Fortunately, more legwork on your part won’t require a ton of time or effort in researching credit card options. If you heed our advice and have an idea on which type of card best complements your spending patterns, our credit card resources can help you find the right addition to your wallet.

Under one roof (or website if you will), you can evaluate APRs, fees, perks, benefits and assess the credit standing needed to scoop up an attractive rewards card. We make your job an easy one by compiling detailed analyses of nearly every credit card available — or you could just browse our list of best credit cards to keep things simple. In addition, you’ll find valuable information on credit monitoring and identity theft, along with numerous articles offering insight into the realm of personal finance.

Apply for one card

Before you get carried away, keep in mind that applying for multiple cards and having multiple credit inquiries could result in a negative impact on your credit standing. And that’s a consequence you must avoid if you want low rates on auto loans or mortgages. Plus, credit card issuers will think you’re desperate for a card if you apply to a number of cards at once.

When you’re ready to get started, the easiest way to begin the process is to apply online. Visit our credit cards reviews to see our favorite cards and start your search.