3. Use Your Credit Card for Only One Type of Expense
Using a credit card on an ongoing basis helps build or re-build your credit rating. But nothing says that you have to use it a lot. When you don’t want to end up in over your head, use your credit card for only one type of purchase. Choose an expense that has an automatic limit for your spending, e.g. gas for your car or your monthly transit pass. Avoid costs that can vary a lot from one month to the next, like cell phone bills or eating out. And if you don’t trust yourself to carry your card and not use it, tip #11 might be just what you need.
4. Keep the Limit Low
Request a low limit, or if your limit is currently higher than you’re comfortable with, call the credit card company to lower the limit. They’re no longer allowed to raise it without your consent, so they might try to talk you out of lowering it. Stick to your guns and lower your limit to something reasonable.
You don’t need high credit limits or numerous cards to build a positive credit rating, and should you become the victim of fraud, a lower limit means a thief can do less damage. You also don’t need a high limit for the odd bigger purchase, such as a plane ticket or hotel stay. Most companies will let you make a payment to temporarily increase your available credit; if in doubt, give them a call and ask.
5. Be Accountable
Sometimes, getting the support of friends or family to stick to your goals is just what you need. Talk about the financial goals you’ve set, what you’re doing to achieve them, and ask one or two people you’re close to if they’d help hold you accountable. Show them your credit card bill every month and ask them to help you through the hard times if you didn’t stick to your plan. While they can’t give you expert financial advice, they can give you the moral support to go get it if you need it. If you invite them along, they could even join you at a credit counselling appointment.
9. Don’t Use Credit to Pay for Credit
Many people use their line of credit, which has a much lower interest rate, to make their credit card payment each month. Or they may apply for a credit card with a low promotional interest rate and do a balance transfer to pay off their higher interest card. While this might reduce how much interest they pay initially, it opens the door to getting deeper into debt with more available credit.
If you do want to take advantage of a balance transfer and pay less interest, close the credit card account you transferred from and focus on paying off the account you transferred to before the promotional period ends. But be warned – the payments could be a lot more than you can afford. Regardless how you pay your bills, get help if you’re not able to pay your account off within a few months or find that you’re using it to pay for regular living expenses.
10. Make Sure Your “Rewards” Are Worth It
Credit card reward programs might seem like a sweet bonus, but keep in mind that they also entice you to spend. The trick is to take advantage of rewards and loyalty programs without letting them influence your purchasing decisions. It really comes down to never buy something just because it will give you points.
Be aware of the terms and conditions of your card holder agreements, as well as how the reward programs work. It can be easy to collect points but it may have been less expensive to purchase the reward item outright, especially if you end up paying interest on your purchase. There’s also the chance you’ll lose your rewards if your account ends up past due.
11. Build Credit Without Going into Debt
Using a credit card responsibly is a great way to build credit. If you’re worried that you’ll overspend, don’t use the card for shopping. Instead, set up one pre-authorized charge for a set amount each month, such as a gym membership, and then lock the card up. You’ll still build a positive credit rating because the account is being used, and you’ll know that it fits your budget because you’ve planned for that expense. But by not carrying the card with you the temptation to overspend will be a step removed.
12. Reward Yourself
Staying disciplined with your money can be hard, and it’s important to keep yourself motivated. Find reasonable but meaningful ways to reward yourself when you use your credit card wisely and don’t end up in debt. For example, make a deal with yourself that if you pay off all of your credit card bills for 2 months straight, you could splurge with dessert after a meal, a favourite drink, or a small item you’ve had your eye on. But instead of adding to your next bill, you could also reward yourself through inexpensive activities like taking a hike, going sightseeing in your local area, having an at-home movie night with friends, or finally enjoying that book you’ve been meaning to read. It can be tough to stick with your plan, but staying out of debt allows you to reach your goals and that’s something to be really proud of!
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