First things first, credit cards can be your friend but also one of your biggest enemies. While I have been able to make credit cards work for me by using their rewards and even booking trips for free, I cannot recommend this to everyone. I practice huge self control and I have never carried over a balance since I got my first credit card when I was 18 years old. I’m proud to say my credit score is at is highest right now at 821!
Let’s face it, in the words of Ye, we have a problem of spending before we get it, and thanks to these plastic little cards we can just swipe and maintain this illusion of grandeur. But credit cards are essential, as they will probably be the first source to help you build credit. I got my first card from Sears and then from a whole bunch of retail stores. I currently only use two to three cards out of at least 10. I always wonder why companies don’t just close my account for inactivity but somehow that has not happened to me yet (with the exception of Walmart and Target). Today, I want to share a few do’s and don’ts to make credit cards work for you.
- Set up automatic payment as soon as you open any card to pay the balance in full every month. If you cannot do this in fear that you may overdraft your bank account, then maybe you have no business in getting cards in the first place. Retail credit card rates can start anywhere from 14% to 29% so unless you are paying everything in full or paying big chunks monthly, you are pretty much getting robbed; don’t let them fool you!
- Take advantage of their rewards especially the ones that give you miles or cash back. Now, this is a new concept for me but so far it has worked. I got a Chase Sapphire Preferred card during one of their promotions and after I spent $4,000 in a three month period, they gave me around 40,000 miles plus additional miles when I added an authorized user. I did this knowing I was going to have some large expenses during those months and I ended up cashing out and flying to Madrid, Spain, round trip, for free; I saved over $700!
But, this card had an annual fee and I don’t do those. I am too frugal to pay to have a card, so I called Chase prior to reaching the year and I switched my card for one without an annual fee called Freedom Unlimited. I really miss my Chase Preferred card because of the no foreign transaction fees and the best customer service I have had with any card company hands down. So, I am considering getting it again in the near future. I did the same thing with my Delta Skymiles card but I had to spend less, 2,000 in three months. I haven’t cashed out yet but I have over 52,000 miles right now and I hope it is as good as my Chase card. Disclaimer: Don’t just spend extra money to obtain the rewards. I am very anal. I prepared myself to accomplish the above. I wrote down every expense I was going to incur in those upcoming months, I changed my phone bill, car insurance and cable’s payment card to add these cards to make sure I met their spending requirement for the reward points. Unfortunately, I could not pay my mortgage with a credit card but I got creative by paying a full six months of car insurance up front and we know Jersey’s car insurance is absurd compared to other states.
- Make your payments on time. Even if you can’t set your payments on automatic payment, make sure you are not late or you will get late fees and who wants those? If you are late and it’s your first time, call the card company and see if they can waive the late fee.
- Check your Credit score. Most credit card companies now offer you to see your credit score for free just for having an account with them. Make sure you are not paying for something you can get for free. If your cards do not offer this benefit, check out credit karma, I have friends and relatives who love it. While we are on this topic, don’t forget to get your credit reports, for free, at Annual Credit Report. You can get one report every 12 months from each credit reporting company: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.
“YOU MUST GAIN CONTROL OVER YOUR MONEY OR THE LACK OF IT WILL FOREVER CONTROL YOU.”~ DAVE RAMSEY
- Do not just open a card to get a 10% discount on a retail store. It takes a lot to keep up with cards’ bills and if you are not organized or do not pay the full balance each month, this could really affect you negatively over a tiny initial discount.
- Do not just use cards to get additional discounts. If you already failed at the suggestion above, it’s okay, I’ve been there too. But remember that shopping only to get an additional discount does not benefit you. The interest will probably be more than the discount itself in the long run. It’s like buying things that are on sale just because of the sale and ultimately not needing them or just buying out of impulse thinking you are somehow saving.
- Do not carry your cards with you. I know, what is she talking about? They are for emergencies; well, ask yourself when is the last time you had such an emergency that you were so thankful you had a credit card on you. Yeah, it doesn’t happen often but what happens often is temptation. I love clothes and whenever I know it’s outside of my monthly budget, I tell myself “it can go on my card and I will account for it next month,” well for people who cannot pay in full monthly, this is detrimental and you end up accumulating large debts by shopping little by little. So, out of sight,out of mind; if it’s not on you, you cannot use it as often as you would.
Again, credit cards can work for you if you are disciplined and consistent. And even if you are not as obsessive as I am when it comes to paying balances, you can always practice better habits to improve what was taught or not taught to you.
Pay on time and pay in full is my only motto for credit cards. And, if you are in a mess and don’t know what to do to get out of debt, don’t let it put you down and please ask someone you trust, who is financially sound, to assist. Speaking about finances can be such a taboo at times but know that it is okay to seek advice. You won’t believe how many people are in the same place and stay there by not creating a plan.
Please share your tips, in the comment section below, about how you make credit cards work for you.
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“TOO MANY PEOPLE SPEND THE MONEY THEY HAVEN’T EARNED TO BUY THINGS THEY DON’T WANT TO IMPRESS PEOPLE THEY DON’T LIKE.” ~WILL ROGERS.