Credit cards have a bad rap. On the TV show “Till Debt Do Us Part,” (which I totally love) the host Gail Vaz-Oxlade often starts the show by having the participants cut up their credit cards. Indeed, having a credit card can be dangerous to those who don’t use it responsibly. Many people see credit cards as “free money” or think that they are on top of their credit card debt just by paying the minimum payment, when really they are just getting into debt faster.
But I’ve always been taught (and still believe) that credit cards are a useful tool. And if you use credits cards responsibly, they are a great way to keep track of your purchases (excellent for budgeting), can earn you great rewards and many have added benefits, such as travel insurance and can help you establish a good credit history.
- Have one credit card available for emergencies.
Even if you are uncomfortable having one, I think that having access to one for emergencies (say your car breaks down somewhere and you need a tow, or your suitcase gets lost when you go on holiday and you need to buy some essentials etc). Make sure you have clear rules about what constitutes an emergency and stick to them.
- Research the different cards available.
Make sure that you are aware of any additional fees or costs to the card that you may incur. Some cards have a promotional low interest rate to start, but it might sky rocket after a few months or even by just one late payment.
- Pay your balance off IN FULL every month.
This is extremely important, as you will be charged interest on your ENTIRE original balance, not just the unpaid part. So say you have a balance of $1,000. You decide to pay $900 off and leave a $100 balance. You will be charged interest on the FULL $1,000.
- Pay your balance ON TIME.
Not only will you be charged interest on your full balance, but your credit score will take a hit.
- Check your statement every month for errors or fraudulent charges.
I’ve had my credit card compromised twice and each time I was able to get a full refund because I alerted the company right away. Make sure you do this, because most companies will assume the charge is legitimate if you don’t address it within 30 days of the statement date.
- Fight your interest or other fee charges whenever you can.
I once paid my balance a day late due to submitting the payment online after banking hours and was charged interest. I called the company and told them that I always pay my balance off in full and on time, and that I shouldn’t be punished for a timing error. They waived the entire amount of interest and all it took was a quick call. Another friend never pays his annual fee because he calls the company a month before it is due and threatens to cancel his card if they don’t waive it.
- Take cash advances on your credit card.
They will charge you interest from the MOMENT you take the cash out. I don’t even give myself the option to do this – I rip up the PIN the moment it arrives.
- Only pay the minimum the payment.
Not only does paying the minimum amount usually so small that it doesn’t make a dent in the debt you owe, but it will trigger interest charges.
- Own too many credit cards
Specifically store credit cards. It seem like every store nowadays has their own credit card. But unless you really shop at a particular store regularly, there is no point. Also you want to make sure you are on top of all the bills you have to pay, and it gets hard the more cards you have to remember.
- Max out your credit card.
Maxing out your card (when you hit your limit or go over it) will cause your interest rates to sky-rocket and could affect your credit rating. This is why it’s a good idea to have a high limit. I always ask for as high a limit as I can get not so I can spend a lot but so I have a lot of buffer room. I like to keep within 30% of my limit.
- Buy something that you can’t afford to pay off right away.
It’s always a good idea to save money in cash for big ticket purchases, like say a couch. You can still use your credit card to pay for it in the store (I always do) because you can get some great points but then just use the cash to pay it off right away.