Some people are wary of using credit cards because of a fear of taking on debt — and this fear isn’t unwarranted. Many credit cardholders do have credit card debt. A recent GOBankingRates survey found that 30% of Americans have between $1,001 and $5,000 in credit card debt, 15% have $5,001 or more in credit card debt and about 6% have more than $10,000 in credit card debt.
However, it’s definitely possible to use a credit card without ever taking on debt. Here are some tips for using credit cards responsibly.
Don’t Get Wrapped Up in Rewards
A quarter of Americans use their credit cards primarily for the rewards and perks, the GOBankingRates survey found. And while these rewards can help you cash in on your purchases, you shouldn’t overspend just to earn these perks.
“Rewards and cash back are great as a bonus, but won’t offset interest payments if you’re not paying off the balance each month,” said Evan Gorenflo, financial advice expert at the banking app Albert.
Treat Your Credit Card Like a Debit Card
“Only spend money you already have,” Gorenflo said. “Relying on a credit card as an emergency fund can make a desperate situation even worse.”
Have a separate emergency fund saved for emergencies, and only spend on your credit card as much as you can pay off in full each month.
“There has been a misconception that carrying a balance on your cards can help your credit, but this notion is completely false,” said Valerie Moses, senior relationship manager at Addition Financial, a credit union based in Lake Mary, Florida. “By carrying a balance, you may end up paying significantly more money in interest in the long run. Instead, use your credit cards to pay for items that you have already budgeted for and know you will not be tempted to overspend on, like gas.”
Be Mindful of 0% Promotional Periods
“Many store-sponsored cards offer 0% interest promotions, but failing to pay off the full balance within the promotional period may result in interest being charged on the original purchase price, starting from the date of purchase,” Gorenflo said.
If you open any card with a 0% interest rate introductory period, be sure to pay off your balance in full before this period ends.
Put Your Credit Card Bills on Autopay
“Set up automatic payments to avoid getting hit with a late fee,” Gorenflo said. “Federal law allows credit card issuers to charge up to $29 on your first late payment, in addition to possible interest charges.”
Not only can late fees add up — which can potentially add to your debt — but late payments will also ding your credit score.
Make Sure the Annual Fee Makes Sense
Some rewards credit cards come with a hefty annual fee, and these fees may or may not be worth it for you.
“All those benefits might sound awesome during sign-up, but if you have multiple credit cards with annual fees, make sure you’re not paying for overlapping perks or benefits that no longer fit your lifestyle,” Gorenflo said. “Airport lounge access sounds great, but if you only fly once or twice a year, daily lounge passes could be cheaper!”
You shouldn’t go into debt for simply owning a credit card.
Treat Balance Transfers Carefully
If you already have credit card debt, using a balance transfer card can help make your debt more manageable by consolidating payments and lowering your interest rates. However, you need to read the fine print about any fees that may come with the transfer.
“Transferring your balance to a different card often comes with a 3-5% fee on the funds moved,” Gorenflo said. “If you’re aggressively paying off debt, make sure any savings on interest makes up for the transfer fee.”
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Last updated: Oct. 6, 2021
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Why Using a Credit Card Doesn’t Mean You’re Going Into Debt