When it comes to choosing how we spend, most of us seem to have a love-hate relationship with credit cards. A quick glance at the statistics, and you might think everyone loves to “charge it.”
After all, reports show that 7 out of 10 Americans currently have a credit card in their wallet. A deeper dive reveals another truth: Americans collectively hold $1 trillion in credit card debt. These numbers paint the picture of our current reality – we don’t know how to properly manage credit.
A long history full of consumerism and impulse-buying habits is mostly to blame for our current state. Naturally, this makes navigating the credit card journey challenging. But there’s hope.
With the right plan and right financial institution, credit cards can positively shape your financial journey. In fact, credit cards are a necessary tool in your quest to reach financial goals like buying a home, purchasing a car, sending kids to college and more.
Start your credit card journey on the right foot. Below, discover the three basic things you need to do to successfully manage your credit card use.
1. Create (and stick to) a plan
Whether you’re thinking about opening your first credit card, or already manage a credit card, it’s important to have a plan. First, think through your credit card reason(s). Do you want to build credit history? Do you want to have a back-up source of money? Do you want to earn rewards or cash back? Honing in on your reason(s) will help you narrow your card selection.
Next, outline the kinds of purchases you’ll make with the credit card and share it with family members who will also have access to the card. Create a thoughtful budget that includes how much you’re able to pay each month to keep your balance at zero or close to it. If you’re interested in utilizing credit card rewards or miles, determine the purchases that will help you achieve those rewards and space out your spending. The bottom line? Be intentional when you’re spending, and resist the urge to “charge it” unless it fits within your plan.
2. Prepare to pay in full & on time
One surefire way to rack up lots of credit card fees? Miss a payment or keep a balance on your card. When you first open your credit card, pick a monthly billing due date that makes sense with your cash flow. Create alerts to remind yourself about an upcoming payment and always pay down your balance to zero (or close to it) each month. If that seems unreasonable, set a goal to pay more than the minimum payment due. Remember, you’re paying interest (and sometimes an additional monthly fee) every month you keep a balance on your card. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by credit card debt, download our free Debt 101 guide and grab some helpful tips for realigning your money journey.
3. Understand your terms
It may sound simple: Know what you’re signing up for. But credit card agreements are often packed with complicated jargon and terminology. Take time to understand the most important components of your card:
Interest rate: This is the price you pay for borrowing the money. Remember, credit isn’t cash. You’re borrowing the dollars, and every month you need to pay them back. If you don’t, you’ll pay interest on top of your balance.
Fees: Annual fees, late fees, monthly fees, over-the-limit fees. Every credit card agreement outlines the fees you agree to pay when you sign the application. Do your research and understand the fees before you decide on a card. Some fees are unavoidable, but most are in your control. If you pay your balance on time, you can usually maintain the card without paying extra in fees.
Limit: Your credit limit is the maximum amount of money you can charge to your card. Limits vary based on the credit card owner’s credit history, income and current debts. Just because your credit card carries a $2,000 limit, doesn’t mean you should spend it. Maxing out your card comes with a cost: usually one that impacts your credit utilization ratio. Plus, if you ever go over your limit, you’ll be responsible for extra costs like penalty rates, over limit fees and more. Keep your credit card usage to under 30%. If you use your card wisely and pay your bills on time, your limit will usually increase.
Learn more about TCU credit card options.