Image: Mouse trap with money © Ingram Publishing, SuperStock

Shortly after the recent financial crisis hit, credit card issuers began tightening their requirements. Consumers, meanwhile, decided they didn't want to deal with so much credit card debt. But now consumer confidence is returning, and card issuers' fortunes are improving. According to J.D. Power and Associates, the average cardholder had a higher balance in June 2012 than in June 2011.

With consumers ready to dip their toes back into credit waters, mailboxes are filling with credit card offers again. As you consider signing up for some new plastic, watch out for these credit card marketing traps:

No. 1: A promise of a low APR

In order to get you to apply for a card, issuers use large, bold type proclaiming the lowest possible annual percentage rate offered by the account terms. That rate can often be as low as 9.99%, but you need to be aware that not everyone qualifies for it. Indeed, the lowest rate is reserved only for those with the best credit scores.

Look on the back of the credit card application you're considering. You should find a list of fees and interest policies there. The smaller print could show an interest rate as high as 20.99%. That means that, instead of getting the low interest rate in the big type, you could end up with a much higher rate, depending on your credit situation.

Even if you do qualify for the low APR, the rate may not be fixed. Look for the language that indicates that the rate is variable, changing with "market conditions." If so, that rate could easily go up later. Of course, the best way to avoid the rate trap is to pay off your balance each month. Then it won't matter what the interest rate is.

No. 2: A generous rewards program

Credit card issuers like to market rewards programs to potential account holders. They might offer "up to 5% cash back" or what seems like an insane amount of bonus airline miles when you sign up.

On rewards cards, you need to make sure you understand the program. In some cases, you receive that 5% cash back only on rotating categories. Other credit card rewards programs require you to meet a certain threshold. One card even requires you to spend $3,000 each year in order to get access to the 1% cash back on your purchases. And don't forget to check for caps on the rewards you can earn.

Be wary, too, of promises of 40,000 or 50,000 airline miles when you sign up for a credit card. While that number may sound like a lot, remember that miles (and "points") don't directly translate into large rewards. It can take all those bonus miles just to "pay" for a single round-trip ticket -- and you may face blackout dates and other restrictions.

Before you sign up for a credit card just for the rewards program, assess the situation and the true value of the rewards. Often, your best bet is a straightforward unlimited cash-back program. Take full advantage of the card by using it for everyday purchases, then paying off the balance in full each month.

No. 3: A 0% APR balance transfer

A balance transfer can be a great way to pay off debt at a faster rate, but you need to be cautious with such offers. First of all, you might not be approved for a high enough limit to consolidate your credit card debt. Second, what the credit card issuer's marketing materials don't highlight is the balance transfer fee.

Somewhere on the application (probably on the back, likely in small print next to an asterisk), the credit card issuer will reveal its balance transfer fee. It's likely to be 3% or 5% of the balance you transfer. Under these terms, if you transfer $5,000, you would pay a fee of $150 (3%) to $250 (5%). Of course, if your current credit card has a high enough interest rate, you could still come out ahead by paying the balance transfer fee. But you should be aware of the cost, so you can decide whether a balance transfer would make financial sense.

You also need a plan to pay off the balance before the regular interest rate kicks in. Check the length of the introductory period. The balance transfer offer might extend the 0% rate for only six months. Look for a longer period if you have a higher balance or need the extra time. Remember that your interest rate will jump at the end of the period, so be sure to pay off your balance by then (even if the credit card issuer hopes you won't). And don't miss a payment or pay late: Your 0% rate offer becomes void if you make one of those mistakes.

Before you apply for a 0% APR balance transfer, be sure you've crafted a plan that works for you. To give yourself a cushion, try to arrange your finances so you've paid off the balance before the end of the introductory period.

A new credit card can be a great way to take advantage of new opportunities. But don't let marketing gimmicks blind you to the fact that the credit card issuer is betting against you being financially savvy.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

More from U.S. News & World Report: