Tips For New Credit Card Owners
When you get your first card, you may not immediately anticipate some of the ways you could save money with it. As card customers, we should take note of those habits that will keep us out of credit card trouble. Here are some tips:
- Be aware of your credit limit. If your credit card's limit is $2,000 and your balance is $1,700, you shouldn't turn around and book those $500 airline tickets just yet. That's because if you go over your limit, you might run into an over-the-limit fee or your transaction might be declined.
Work on reducing that balance before you charge the tickets for your next vacation and you'll save yourself some hassle.
- Know your APR and be familiar with the card's terms. Many card users sign up for a card without going through the fine print. Remember that being forewarned is being forearmed! When you use your credit card, you are borrowing from the creditor. If you maintain a balance, the creditor will charge you interest, also referred to as the APR (annual percentage rate). Most of the time, these rates are subject to change. Your credit card company may hike rates and fees due to any number of reasons -- some within your control (late or missed payment penalties) and some beyond (economic or interest rate environment, or issuers wanting to improve profit margins). If you don't like the changes, you should be offered a way to opt out.
If your card has an introductory rate, make note of when your rate will change. That way, you can prepare your spending plan to absorb any higher payments you might encounter.
- Always pay bills on time. This is one of the most important mantras you'll hear as a card holder. If you don't pay your credit card bill, the company might prevent you from being able to use it again. If you make a late payment, you'll rack up late fees and possible incur a higher interest rate. As an example, the BankAmericard Power Rewards Visa Signature Card has a $39 late fee if your balance is over $250.00.
If your bank or credit card company offers automatic bill pay, sign up for it. Check to make sure the payment is applied each month, and sign up for alerts to be emailed or sent to your phone.
- Pay more than the monthly minimum. Even when your minimum payment is less than the cost of a good dinner out, you should pay more if you're carrying a balance month to month. Using this strategy can save you hundreds or more each year.
Let's say you have a $2,000 balance on a card with a 12.99% APR and your minimum payment is $80. If you just make the minimum payment, it will take you 6 years and 4 months to pay off this card, and you'll pay over $600 in interest. However, if you bump up your payment by $20 each month, you'll pay off your debt in 1 year and 11 months and you'll only pay $238.76 in interest.
That's quite a difference!
- Rewards may not always be available. Cards with rewards programs for airline miles or cash back have been popular in the past. However, those rewards may dry up if you're late paying your bill or if the lender changes their terms and conditions. Keep an eye on your rewards summary each month and move to use your benefits sooner rather than later.
- Some fees, like cash advances, can be astronomical. Cash advances can cost you at least 19.99% in interest, if not more.
Some credit cards charge a cash advance fee of 3% of the cash advance, and there may be no grace period for those transactions. The ATM you're using will probably charge you a fee, too. In the long run, it's less expensive to skip cash advances altogether.
- Ask for help when you need it. If you're having trouble paying your credit card bill, you are not alone. But instead of ignoring the bill the next time it shows up, you can take action. If it's possible, you might be able to ask a family member or friend for a loan. You can also try to call the credit card company and ask for options.
It's better to bring up concerns with your issuer rather than ignore a snowballing problem, as the card issuer will most likely want to work with you towards a positive resolution.
Having a new credit card can give you the spending power you enjoy, but stay alert to changes to your account as you develop your credit history.