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Credit Cards 101: Everything You Need to Know

credit cards 101

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If you’ve never utilized a credit card before, it can seem intimidating and confusing. Credit cards do have the power to help you build credit and cover for any emergencies; however, if they’re not used responsibly they can also lead you to debt. Getting your first credit card is a milestone and knowing the details of credit cards will set you up for success.

What is a Credit Card

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A credit card is borrowed money from a financial company that allows you to make purchases. It is a plastic card with a unique number, expiration date, and security code. The security chip and strip on the card allows you to insert the card to make payments through POS systems used by retailers.

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Once you use your credit card, you have a grace-period that ranges from 25 to 30 days. This is the amount of time you have to either pay the minimum amount due, a little more than the minimum or pay it in full. As long as the minimum is paid off after each grace-period, you will not receive any penalties such as late fees from the financial institution and your credit will not be damaged.

Keep in mind that your bank will assign you a credit limit for your credit card. This is the amount that you’re allowed to borrow from the bank before it’s maxed out. Once a credit card is maxed out, you can no longer use it until you pay some off. It’s important to remember that paying off the minimum each month is crucial as not paying your card off can lead to damage to your credit report.

In exchange for the bank allowing you to carry over your debt month-to-month, your credit card will charge you interest. Your interest rate is dependent on your credit history and the credit card you choose. It’s important to note that credit cards that offer rewards will often have a higher interest rate.

Benefits of Using a Credit Card

Credit card rewards

If you decide to pick a credit card with rewards, the interest rate will be higher, but you will receive other perks. Rewards can range from receiving cash back to travel rewards. Cashback is usually a percentage the bank is willing to give back to you after each purchase you make. Travel rewards may include airline, hotel or airline credit.

Building your credit score

Using your card responsibly and taking ownership of your credit card can lead to building your credit score. Continuously paying off your credit card and paying more than the minimum each month can ultimately raise your credit score. Your bank will get reassurance that you pay your bills on-time and may even raise your credit limit.

Cover large purchases

Another benefit of having a credit card is if you need to purchase something now, but don’t have the funds a credit card can cover it for you. You’re able to pay off large purchases in small amounts each month to avoid paying at full price each month.

Disadvantages of Using a Credit Card

Getting into debt

You can easily get into debt if you’re careless about your spending and don’t have the best spending habits. Some poor spending habits to look out for include missing your savings goal, shopping out of boredom, or not sticking to a budget. Keep in mind that a credit card is money you don’t actually have yet. Always try your best to spend less since unexpected debt may accumulate rapidly because credit cards are convenient and easy to use. Some credit cards provide a block you can turn on for certain charges such as restaurants if you have exceeded your budget. Become aware of the resources available to curb your credit card temptations.

Your credit score can suffer

If you miss your payment minimum or max out a credit card completely, your credit score will suffer. If you don’t pay the full amount of your credit card by the due date, your credit card payment will be considered late. Late fees will begin to accumulate and depending on your credit cards late fee policy you’ll be fined as much as $39. Every month you miss a payment will result in this charge on your next bill. Additionally, your credit score may drop because your payment history contributes to 35 percent of your credit score makeup. After 30 days of not paying off your credit card, an entry will be added to your credit report. Between everyday expenses, paying off student loans, and maintaining an emergency fund try your best to prioritize your credit debt when paying your bills on time.

Other disadvantages your credit card issuer may enforce are revoking your rewards due to consistent late payments. In extreme cases, after missing your bill for 180 days the card issuer may write the account as a charge-off and this would stay on your credit report for seven years. This could cause a rift in your living situation. Leasing or renting an apartment may become challenging as most landlords and property managers use your credit score to choose tenants.

Maxing out your credit card would be detrimental to the health of your credit score. Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of credit you have used compared to the amount of credit you have available. Maxing out a credit card puts your credit utilization ratio at 100%. It would be difficult to keep your credit in good standing when 30% is the recommended ratio to remain under. Your credit card issuer may think you are not in good financial standing to make future payments, this may lead them to close the account. If this happens call your issuer immediately and attempt to pay off as much as possible. This effort may show your credit card issuer that you have the funds to pay off the remaining balance and they may reinstate your card.

High-interest rates

A high-interest rate can make a small debt large. You can owe a small amount, but depending on how high your interest is and how long it will take you to pay it off, you’ll pay a larger amount. Interest is commonly expressed as an annual percentage rate (APR) which is the fee for borrowing money. Interest is charged on the full amount of money you owe each month. This could increase over time according to how much you pay off. Start saving money by keeping your debt small and paying off as much as possible each month to avoid high-interest rates.

5 Ways to Use Credit Cards Smarter

Learn how to make money with your credit cards and help them manage your finances more efficiently, build credit card savings, and more.

The minute you say ‘credit card’, you’re reminded of all the consequences associated with it— the temptation to overspend, potential debt, climbing interest rates, and more. Now, there’s no denying these risks don’t exist. In fact, if used incorrectly, your precious credit card can turn on you.

So, how do avoid this honey trap and make sure your plastic card maximizes the value on your expenses?

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The first trick is all about how you use your credit card. If you use it responsibly, you won’t have to worry about looming debt or scary interest rates.

Responsible credit card usage involves two rules—only buy what you can afford and always clear your monthly dues on time.

Now, let’s dive into how you can actually save money and even earn money with your credit card.

1. Make Good Use of the Rewards/Cash back Programs

Depending on the credit card you own, you can earn cash back or points on most retail transactions. Start by examining your card’s reward program and see how much you can earn each month, based on your budget. If you’re earning more rebates or points on groceries and dining, use your card for those expenses.

If you’re still looking for a credit card, it would make sense to pick one based on your spending pattern and lifestyle. Let’s say you spend a sizeable amount on transport and groceries, select a card that rewards you on these expenses.

The cash back you earn can be used to offset your balance, to invest, or to buy additional products. If you have rewards, you can either use them to purchase products or convert them into miles. And if you’ve collected enough miles, you might even get a free flight!

2. Shop on Discount Days

You know those banners you see on shopping websites that say ‘10% OFF’ with this card? Take advantage of those discounts! Most major credit card issuers tie-up with e-commerce websites during sale season, giving you the opportunity to save on your expenses.

Another thing you can look for is the discounts offered by your credit card. This depends on the bank or the financial institution that has issued your card. You will get access to an array of discounts at shopping and retail outlets, restaurants, and more. These discounts usually have a time period, so ensure you look at the dates before you make your purchase.

3. Pick a Card with a Sign-up Bonus

Now, this trick only applies to those who are yet to get a credit card. When you’re in the market looking for a new card, this is one thing you can look for. Again, the bonus amount you receive varies from issuer to issuer. It also depends on the type of card you pick. If you’re selecting a travel credit card, you may get air miles as a bonus. For a rewards card, you will get reward points as a bonus.

First, check the validity of these points. If they’re evergreen, you can continue collecting them and redeem them for a big-ticket purchase. However, if they have validity, be wary of the dates.

Do note that to acquire these precious bonus points, you’re required to spend a certain amount. Only if you fulfill the conditions set by your issuer will you get access to the points.

4. Opt for a Balance Transfer to Reduce Interest Rates

Swimming in debt is overwhelming and can take a toll on you. It gets even more difficult when the interest rates continue to rise on your debt. That’s when you’re really in a pickle. As your absolute last resort, you can transfer your outstanding balance to a new credit card that’s offering a 0% APR balance transfer offer.

How will this save you money? With high-interest rates, most of your repayments were directed towards clearing the interest amount that was accumulated. However, with 0% interest, your repayments will finally start to make a dent in your principal amount.

If you’re choosing a balance transfer plan, ensure you read the fine print thoroughly. When a bank offers 0% interest, it’s usually a promotional offer that lasts anywhere between 6 and 21 months. Before you transfer your outstanding balances, you need to be sure you can clear your debt within this period. Otherwise, you’ll incur normal interest rates, which can sink you deeper in debt.

5. Use Easy Payment Plans for Big Purchases

Let’s say you’re planning to buy an expensive electronic gadget or go on vacation. You don’t have the liquid cash to afford it and you don’t want to charge the entire amount to your card either. So, how do you buy something without worrying about interest?

You can choose an easy payment plan that offers 0% introductory rates for a certain time period. Yes, this interest rate doesn’t apply just to balance transfers. The purpose of this plan is to help you break up your purchase into several repayments without having to pay interest. Not only does it make it more reasonable for you but you also don’t have to worry about interest either!

However, you need to be wary of the terms and conditions attached to this plan. Go through the offer thoroughly and you need to make sure you can afford these repayments as well.

Credit cards don’t have to be a scary financial product. If used right and responsibly, you can save and earn money on most of your purchases. However, do your research before selecting any type of credit card. Make use of comparison websites and tools before you settle on one. And finally, happy saving and earning with your credit card!

The Bottom Line

Having a credit card can be a wonderful responsibility. Try your best to maintain a low balance and if you can’t pay it off completely at least attempt to make small payments whenever possible. In the long term, paying off your monthly balance will be better for your wallet and your credit score.

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