Credit Card Best Practices: A Guide to Getting the Most Out of Your Credit Card
Whether it’s your first or your fifth, signing up for a new credit card is an exciting moment but comes with some important responsibilities. They’re a powerful tool that can give you access to countless benefits and improve your credit score when used thoughtfully.
This guide will help you be prepared with the best credit card tips for effective, responsible, and safe card usage. Once you have your new card in your hands, you’ll be able to start spending with the peace of mind that your credit card habits will be responsible and carefully considered.
Pay Off Your Balance Every Month
Before you spend anything on your new credit card, you need to be sure that you can pay off the balance in full every month. This helps keep your credit utilization (the percentage of available credit that you’re currently using) low and prevents you from racking up additional interest charges.
Keeping a balance on your card from month to month is one of the quickest ways to accrue unnecessary debt. Your balance can quickly get out of control if you continue to add expenses to your card without paying off the existing costs. That, along with added interest, will increase each monthly payment.
If you’re struggling to pay off your balance on time, try to pay a little more than the minimum each month until you’re able to pay off the card completely.
Make Payments on Time
Making your monthly payments on time is one of the most significant factors that influence your credit score. Even if you don’t pay your balance in full by the due date, you should be paying at least the minimum required balance to keep your credit score in check and avoid any late payment fees.
Not only do missed payments negatively impact your credit score but adding late fees and additional interest to those payments will quickly see your balance rise. The more payments you miss, the more you’ll end up owing the card company.
Setting up automatic payments can help you stay on track with your minimum payments and due dates. Your credit card will be due on the same day each month, but having automatic payments is a great way to keep up with your payments without needing a reminder.
Check Your Statement Regularly
Like with your debit card, you should regularly check your credit card statements to ensure that all listed transactions are valid and correct. Making this a frequent habit will help you to spot any inaccuracies or possible fraud quickly, which means that you can dispute any charges with your credit card provider as soon as possible.
Credit card skimmers and financial fraud are becoming more and more prevalent, so knowing exactly what’s on your credit card each month is the best way to stay on top of this. Most cards come with a $0 liability guarantee, so you won’t be held responsible for any fraudulent charges made on your card.
Download your credit card provider’s mobile app or create an online account to make checking your monthly statement quick and easy. Most allow you to set up real-time alerts if your card is used for transactions over a certain amount, which can alert you to possible fraud straight away.
Use Credit Cards for Necessary Purchases Only
It can be incredibly tempting to use your new credit card for everything, but it’s also very easy to overspend. When you’re first starting out with your card, try to use it for only necessary purchases that you would be making. Utility bills, cell phone bills, gas, internet, and work or school supplies are good places to start.
You could also save your credit card for large purchases that you wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of all at once–medical bills, car repairs, travel expenses, or new appliances. Sticking to a more cautious approach when using your card will ensure that you have enough available funds on your card in case of an emergency and will allow you to plan for a repayment amount that works best for your situation.
Take Advantage of Rewards and Extra Perks
If your card comes with extra perks, don’t forget to use those credit card rewards as much as possible! Some of the best credit cards in central Illinois offer cashback to use as a statement credit (great for paying off a balance!) or other financial rewards.
Gift cards to specific retailers, discounts on travel expenses, or a deposit into your checking account are all on offer with different card providers. With a rewards credit card, you may also be eligible for discounts or extra benefits at various retail stores, which can save you money on items that you were already planning to purchase.
Some rewards do have an expiration date, so be sure to check your card’s fine print for the expiration policy and to see what perks you’re able to claim with your card.
Don’t Close Unused Accounts
You may be switching over from one card provider to another, but don’t rush to close that paid-off, older card. Avoid officially closing that account but maintain a $0 balance to help keep your credit score stable.
Closing an account lowers the overall available credit limit that you have, which means that your credit score will take a significant dip and your credit utilization percentage will increase. If you’ve had that card for many years, particularly if it was your first line of credit, this can also impact your credit score. Shortening the length of your credit history by closing your oldest account will also mean significant decreases in your score.
Don’t Apply for Too Many Credit Cards at Once
Opening too many new credit card accounts at once or in a short time is an immediate red flag for lenders and can also lead to a drop in your credit score.
Each time you apply for a new card, the lender will run a credit check on your credit history and existing accounts. These hard inquiries will knock a few points off your credit score, so if you do this too many times in a row, this can create quite a significant drop. Be sure to check the card qualifications before applying to make sure that you meet all of the guidelines.
Once you have a credit card, you’ll notice that you’ll start to receive even more offers in the mail and by email that you’re pre-qualified for another credit card. Just because you receive these offers doesn’t mean that you need to open another card! Only open a new credit card if and when it’s necessary for your financial situation.
Keep Your Credit Cards Secure
Responsibly using your credit cards means taking care to protect your card and overall financial information, in physical form and online. Safeguard your physical card in a safe and secure place when not in use. Keep your wallet or purse in a designated location when at home and make sure all cards are out of reach and sight of anyone who might want to use them. Never leave credit cards in your car, on your desk at work, or displayed anywhere on social media.
It’s also important that you never share your credit card details with anyone in an email, text, or in any kind of digital communication, even if they’re friends or family. Once your card number is out of your hands, it’s out of your control. That means that anyone could use your card number to make unauthorized purchases or try to pass themselves off as the account owner to make changes on your behalf.
Use Your Credit Card to Your Advantage
There are plenty of benefits and opportunities that come with using a credit card safely and responsibly. If you’re looking for banks with credit cards in IL, Flanagan State Bank is here for you. Apply securely for your new card online or contact your nearest location to learn more about our low-interest credit cards.