Finance

Managing Credit Responsibly

2 Mins read

The day your first credit card arrives in the mail can feel fantastic. You’ll get a sense of freedom, possibility, and promise. After all, the world is now your oyster. You can get about anything you want, even if you don’t have the cash to pay immediately. But be warned – that joy can turn into pain if you don’t manage your credit responsibly.

Read Terms Carefully

When you apply for a card, take some time to read the agreement carefully. Pay close attention to the billing cycle length, the due date, the interest rate, and how fees are calculated. What are the consequences of making late payments? What will happen if you go over your limit? How is the interest rate calculated? Compare credit card offers to find terms most favorable to you rather than accepting the first random offer to appear in your mailbox. Agreements vary, and some will cost you more than others.

Mind Your Means

Just because you can get anything you want (up to the card’s limit) doesn’t mean you should. Having the ability to leverage your income can tempt you into buying things you don’t need. Meanwhile, the interest rate on a credit card can be 20 percent or more. The item will become more expensive when the interest begins to accrue. Avoid making purchases outside of your ability to pay in full within the card’s billing cycle. In other words, if your salary wouldn’t let you pay for it for over a month, you shouldn’t buy it with your credit card either.

If Trouble Happens

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to live responsibly, things can get out of hand. You could suffer an injury and incur sizable medical expenses. A layoff could put you out of work and inhibit your ability to pay. And you’ll find yourself in deep debt. Ideally, you’ll have an emergency fund to help you deal with these situations. But sometimes, that won’t be enough. Working with a company like Freedom Debt Relief can be a good option if it happens to you. Organizations like these may reduce your credit card debt to a more manageable amount so you can pay it off in full. Another possibility is combining all your debt with a company loan like Consolidation Plus (although this service is invitation-only). Services like these can reduce your monthly payment and make your debt load more comfortable.

Always Pay on Time

Many credit card companies operate on a 28-day billing cycle—not 30 or 31. Know exactly your due date each month, and get into the habit of paying off your balance before that date. Credit card companies sometimes grant you a grace period after your due date, but it’s usually only a one-time thing. After that, you’ll incur late fees in addition to the interest. These can combine to make your balance grow very rapidly.

Pay in Full Each Month

A credit card can be a tool or a trap. It all depends on how it is used. If you limit your purchases to amounts you can comfortably pay off each month, you can get items before you have the cash to pay for them. However, whenever possible, you should save to make those purchases so you can live interest-free. If you need something immediately, make sure you can afford to pay it off before the billing cycle ends, and you have to pay interest on the purchase.  Similarly, please keep track of your credit card spending to know exactly how much you need to pay off each month. In other words, treat your credit card like a checking account. Note each purchase and reconcile your statement at the end of each billing cycle. Managing credit responsibly is simply a matter of paying attention—so you won’t need to afford the consequences.

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