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Whether you’re new credit cards or have used them for years, it’s important to handle them with financial care. A credit card can be more than a convenient payment method. When you use your credit card strategically, it can help you establish good credit history, earn valuable rewards and enjoy many other benefits. Below are five expert tips on how to build savvy credit card management habits and maximize your credit card’s benefits—while keeping your credit card debt to a minimum.
1. Never Pay Late
The most important rule to follow with credit cards is to always pay your bill on time. Payment history (i.e., whether you pay your bills on time) has a bigger impact on your credit score than any other information on your credit report. Your payment history influences 35% of your FICO® Score, and it’s worth around 40% of your VantageScore® credit score too.
Not only do late payments have the potential to damage your credit score, but when you pay your credit card late, there could be other negative consequences, too. For example, your credit card issuer might charge you a late fee. And if you fall far enough behind on your credit card bill, your card issuer might take other actions like reducing your credit limit, raising your APR to the default rate or even closing your account.
Another best practice when it comes to credit card management is to always paying your full statement balance. That's because this can protect your credit score and it can save you money.
The relationship between your credit card balance and your credit limit—called credit utilization—plays a significant role in the calculation of your credit score. Your credit utilization rate accounts for 30% of your FICO Score. When you pay off your credit card each month (especially if you pay before the due date or make multiple credit card payments), it can help keep your credit utilization rate low and protect your credit score from potential damage.
When youborrow money, you typically have to pay the lender interest and sometimes fees. But credit cards come with a grace period. So if you repay the full amount you borrow each month (also called your statement balance) by the due date, you won't pay interest. Carrying an outstanding balance from month to month, however, will lead to interest charges and can cost you a lot of money.
As you use your credit card throughout the month, track your spending on the account. Keeping tabs on the amount you spend with your card can help you accomplish several goals, including the following:
There are many ways to track your spending to make sure you don’t use your credit card for more charges than you can afford to pay off in a given month. You could simply make a habit of checking your credit card’s mobile app each day or several times a week. But if you’re trying to manage multiple accounts at once, the process can become complicated.
Another smart habit to develop when you open a credit card is to review your statement for accuracy. You can either check your statement online after your card issuer releases it each month or go over the statement that shows up in your mailbox. And it’s not a bad idea to periodically go over the charges throughout the month to keep an eye out on any fraudulent charges that may pop up.
One of the biggest perks of using a credit card is that the payment method offers robust fraud protections. (Thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act, your liability for fraudulent credit card transactions is capped at $50 if you file a dispute within 60 days.) However, you have to take action to report credit card fraud if it happens to you.
Some of the best credit cards come with generous sign-up bonuses and valuable offers that allow you to earn points, miles or cash back on your everyday purchases. And when you combine those rewards credit cards with a smart rewards-earning strategy, you could get even more bang for your buck.
For starters, it’s wise to research the types of credit cards you’re likely to qualify for based on your credit score. If you have fair credit, for example, you might want to work to improve your credit before you try to apply for credit cards that require an excellent credit score to qualify.
It’s also critical to avoid spending more than you can afford if you want to earn a bonus or extra points and miles. Earning credit card rewards or free travel can be amazing. But no credit card rewards are worth the cost of expensive interest charges or the potential credit score damage that high levels of credit card debt could cost you.
Michelle Black is founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com. Michelle is a leading credit card journalist with over a decade and a half of experience in the financial industry. She’s an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, small business, and debt eradication. Michelle is also a certified credit expert witness and personal finance writer.
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