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Credit Card Basics: How and When to Use Them

The specter of insurmountable credit card debt keeps many people from using credit. While it is good to be aware of the dangers of misusing credit cards, one should remember that with proper forethought credit cards can greatly improve one’s resource pool. Here are a few tips on using credit cards to maximum advantage.

1. Monthly Budget.

A useful purpose for credit cards is to allow multiple, small repeating purchases to be consolidated into one lump bill. Most cards have a grace period where no interest is charged, typically within the first month. If the balance is paid by this date then the loan is free. Taking advantage of this can roll many monthly expenses, such as gas, food, and bills, into one bill.
The nice thing here is that monthly budgeting can be done wholly from one balance statement. Purchases can be tracked, trends noted, and adjustments made for the next month. Additionally, many cards offer cash back, points, or some reward system to encourage this use. If the balance is paid each month one can gain the benefits without the interest charged. But be careful only to charge what you can pay off in a month!

2. Watch out for Impulse buys.

Impulse buying is a serious way to overcharge your card. The credit card’s most appealing quality is the ease of use. You can buy anything with a simple swipe and signature. For many people, paying later is almost the same as never paying. This is not true!
To limit the impact of impulse buying, keep cash alongside the plastic, and try to only use cash when making purchases outside the monthly budget allowance. If you don’t have a monthly budget, then that is a good place to start managing credit card debt.

3. Take advantage of deals.

When credit cards offer 0% introductory rates it can mean a welcome relief from existing debt and interest. Shift balances to these new cards and enjoy a year or more of interest free debt. This method is great if you will be able to pay off a balance before the 0% deal is over, or if you have debt in multiple places. Just remember to update your filing cabinet with the new account numbers and card names, and cancel the old, empty accounts!!

4. Don’t hold more cards than you can manage!

When you get a new card or transfer balances, make sure that your total card count hasn’t overwhelmed your ability to organize the bills and pay them on their due dates. Missing payments can result in hefty late fees. Also, balance transfers take up to 6 weeks, so don’t forget to pay the “empty” card by the date due. If you are unsure whether you owe a payment, call the 1-800 number on the back of the card itself.
Another good strategy is to avoid carrying more than one card. Keep the others in a filing cabinet, safely away from cash registers.

5. Be Realistic.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing you will be able to pay off a debt quickly and easily. Holiday purchases can lead to this mentality. The urge to put all of the presents on a credit card and then pay it off over the course of the year may be tempting, but be realistic about your income. A good rule of thumb is never put more money on a credit card than you earn in a month. This will keep the debt to a manageable level, even if you hit unexpected expenses or hardship.

6. Build your Credit.

Besides the obvious advantage of purchasing things you couldn’t otherwise afford, credit cards also build your credit rating. Using the tips herein to responsibly use cards will result in an overall increase in credit worthiness. The benefit? Lower rates, higher limits, and access to private bank loans otherwise unavailable to low credit consumers. Without established credit history (hopefully positive) it is almost impossible to get a good mortgage rate or car loan.

7. Know When to Ask for Help.

Finally, if you get in too deep, don’t be timid about contacting professional help. Do it sooner than later! Credit debt is a rolling snowball, so be sure to get in front of it before it gets out of hand. Credit repair services can help you organize you bills, consolidate them into single payments, and eliminate invalid debt from your balance. Miami’s own Credit Repair Systems Inc is one such service, with decades of experience in credit use and guidance.