In every online discussion I have seen about credit cards, there are always at least a few contributors whose only comments are “Credit cards are evil” or “No credit card is best”, etc. This post is mostly for those people.
For several years, we also believed that credit cards were bad, having been thus informed by our stepfather, a compulsive spender who is constantly in debt. But over the past few years, we have learned that credit cards are actually a good thing and provide many benefits and advantages:
- Building Credit History
If you plan on buying a car or house in future, chances are that you will need a loan, and if you have no credit history, it can be difficult to get a good interest rate on a loan. Interest rates make a huge difference in the amount you end up paying or saving. Credit cards, if used responsibly, are a good and easy way to build a good credit history, which can ultimately save you thousands of dollars.
- Tracking spending
Credit card statements provide an good way to track and analyze your spending habits. By charging all your purchases, you will have a printed statement of where every dollar has gone, a useful too for budgeting.
- Safer than carrying cash
If you carry a lot of cash and lose your wallet, you can usually assume that money gone forever. If you mostly use your credit card and carry very little cash though, all you have to do is call the credit card company as soon as you discover the loss and you won’t be liable for any unauthorized charges to the card.
- Backup for emergencies
Credit cards can be a backup source of funds for emergencies when you don’t have cash on hand. Though these should be true emergencies and not things like “fashion emergencies”.
And best of all, the reason we use our credit cards whenever and wherever we can:
- Credit cards can earn you money
Credit cards can “make” you money in 2 ways:
- There are many cards out there that earn you cash back or rewards. Some earn you as much as 5% cash back on grocery, drugstore and gas purchases. If you get a card with no annual fee (there are many out there), use it responsibly for regular purchases (not cash advances), and pay your balance in full every month, you can earn money without paying a cent to the credit card company. We have an American Express Blue Cash Credit Card that earned us over $300 cash back last year.
- In addition to the cash back, credit cards also earn you money by allowing you keep your money in the bank longer. Depending on your billing cycle, you can charge your purchases and bills to a credit card and your money can sit in the bank earning interest for up to 6 more weeks. For example, our propane bill was due on January 30, 2008. Our credit card billing cycle ends on the 28th of each month. If we charge our bill to our credit card on the Jan. 30, 2008, it goes on the new billing cycle which ends on February 28, 2008, and the due date for that billing cycle is in mid-March 2008. So the money for that propane bill that was due and paid on Jan. 30, 2008 won’t actually leave our bank account until 6 weeks later. That’s 6 extra weeks of interest on money that would have left your account immediately had you paid by cash or check.
These are just a few basic reasons we use and approve of credit cards. However, if you know that you won’t be able to control your spending, then perhaps it is better to not go this route. If you need advice on applying for credit cards, visit your bank or credit union and someone can usually recommend a good card for you and help you with the application.
Continue reading for tips on choosing the right card and a few tips for safe and responsible credit card use.
Choosing the right card for you
If you have no or very little credit history, a low income, or a blemish on your credit record, it is possible that you won’t be approved when applying for a credit card. If this is the case, don’t keep attempting to apply for different cards as each denied application will hurt your credit rating and lessen your chances of being approved. Instead, go to your bank or credit union where you have an account and ask to speak to someone who can help you with selecting and applying for a credit card.
You may have to start out with a secured account with a deposit held as collateral and a low credit limit. After a while, perhaps a year, if you have responsibly paid your balances on time each month, your bank will probably upgrade you to an unsecured card with higher credit limit. Make sure you read the terms and conditions of your new card when this happens and check for changes in rates and fees, including annual fees. When Bank of America offered my sister an unsecured card a year after she got her secured card, the card came with an annual fee. There are many cards out there that don’t have annual fees, so why settle for one with an annual fee if you can save that $30 or $100 a year?
Today, there are credit cards for all sorts of people with all sorts of interests and lifestyle. If you travel a lot, you’d be interested in cards that offer travel benefits and discounts and rewards for flights, hotel stays and car rentals. For families and households, cards that offer cash back for household purchases such as utilities, gas, grocery and drugstores can save you a lot of money.
Tips for safe and responsible credit card use
- Never spend money you don’t have. Just because you have a $5,000 credit limit doesn’t mean that you have to use it all. In fact, for best credit practices, try not go over 1/3 of your total credit. Therefore, if you have a $5,000 limit, you should try to keep the balance below $1,600.
- Always pay on time and in full, not just the minimum payment due. If your credit card company has automatic scheduled payments, it may be a good idea to use it. Just make sure your bank account has sufficient funds on the due date.
- If you’re concerned about security and unauthorized charges, sign up for online banking and check your online statement every so often for suspicious activity. (We’ve never had any problems. There was only one incident when someone made a suspicious charge on my card and my bank caught it and contacted me to check if I had authorized it, which I didn’t, so they immediately canceled my card and sent me a new one.)
- Don’t leave your wallet, cards or card information lying around.
- Never send credit card information over email, instant messengers, etc.
- When using a credit (or debit) card online, make sure the site is SSL protected. You can tell by the little lock icon in the browser window – usually around the bottom right-hand corner.