Credit card debt is the third largest source of household debt, behind only mortgages and student loans. And according to Equifax, the average credit card balance is about $1,224 per card. While credit cards can beneficial to your credit score, they can also be harmful if not used correctly. Get smart when it comes to using credit with these tips from the American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).
1. Understand your credit card and any fees associated with it. It’s important to do your research to find the best deals and interest rates. Understand your annual percentage rate (APR) and how it is calculated by your provider. It can make a difference in how much you pay each month. In addition, be aware of any fees associated with your card, as these hidden costs can add up.
2. Pay on time. Problems can escalate quickly for your wallet if you miss a payment. Missing payments can lead to late fees and higher interest rates and can even cause a drop in your credit score. It’s worth contacting your credit card company to request that the late fee be waived if you have a good reason for missing the payment.
3. Don’t get hooked on minimum payments. If you only pay the minimum on your bill, it can take a long time and a lot of extra money to pay off your debt. For example, if you owe $5,000 on an account with an 18% APR and pay a minimum of 2% of the balance, it will take more than 7.5 years to pay it off. Just as bad, you will have paid $4,311.25 in interest. Paying even a little more each month can substantially reduce the time it takes to pay off the debt and decrease interest.
4. Avoid special services, programs and goods that credit card lenders offer with their cards. Most of these are extras—items such as fraud protection plans, credit record protection, travel clubs and life insurance. More often than not, much better deals on these services can be found elsewhere.
5. Never max out your card. You will be hit with over-limit fees. Keep in mind that it’s best to use only 30% of your maximum credit allowed. Using more than that can cause a drop in your credit score. In addition, be aware of unsolicited increases to your credit limit.