Cassidy Horton
Jan 15 · 6 min read

Credit card companies want you to spend money you don’t have, but you’re smarter than that.

Don’t get me wrong, owning a credit card is not something you should take lightly. There are thousands of people who ruin their credit every day by thinklessly racking up charges they can’t pay off.

But–with a little self-control–you don’t have to be shackled to that square piece of plastic in your wallet.

Learn the basic rules of using your credit card wisely and credit cards will never cause you another ounce of stress. Instead, they’ll only bring you joy as you reap the benefits of a rockin’ credit score and free rewards.

BENEFITS OF USING YOUR CREDIT CARD

Credit Cards Are An Easy Way To Build Credit

Sure. A credit card can damage your credit score–but only if it’s used incorrectly. Build up your score by knowing what factors affect it the most.

The two biggest factors that go into your credit score are payment history and credit card utilization. First, creditors need to know you make your payments on time, every time. A good payment history proves you’re reliable and a low-risk to other creditors.

Second, they need to know you use your card in moderation–this is where the credit card utilization part comes in. A good credit card utilization is usually less than 30% of your card’s total limit. This means if your limit is $5000, you need to keep your balance below $1,500.

Build a good credit score now, and it’ll come in handy when you’re ready to buy your first house, rent your next apartment, or finance your next car.

Earn Free Money Through Rewards Points

Rewards points are another big perk of using your credit card. Stick to the rule of paying your credit card off in full every month–which we’ll talk about below–and you’ll pay zero dollars in interest. Zip. Notta. Nothing. This means every dollar you make back in rewards points will be free money…for real.

Rewards range from travel miles to cashback to gas cards and more. Some cards even offer rotating rewards where you can earn more points for certain categories throughout the year. Earn the most rewards by finding a card that suits your needs.

FOUR WAYS TO BE SMART WITH YOUR CREDIT CARD

1. Pay Your Balance In Full

If you already have credit card debt, it may not be possible to pay your balance in full right away. But the first thing you need to do is make a budget and stick to it. Any extra money you have after you budget for expenses should go toward paying down the debt on your credit card.

The silver lining is, if you stick to your budget as you pay down debt, you’ll only spend money sitting in your bank account. This means–even if you continue to use your card for groceries and gas–you won’t continue to go into debt because you can pay off those purchases in full every month. Just remember…

Having a credit card ≠ having debt

In the beginning, it takes a lot of will-power to only spend money you have, but it gets easier with time. And trust me–you’ll love being able to pay that balance off in full every month knowing there’s money in the bank to cover it.

2. Set Up Automatic Payments

The last thing you wanna do is forget to pay a monthly payment. Remember, payment history is one of the biggest factors that can help or hurt your score. If you miss a payment–even on accident–creditors see you as a risk.

This is why automatic payments are a godsend.

THERE ARE FOUR DIFFERENT TYPES OF AUTOMATIC PAYMENTS.

OPTION 1: FULL STATEMENT BALANCE

If you’re at the point–financially–where you can pay your balance off in full every month, this is the right choice for you. This type of automatic payment means you don’t pay a penny in interest… ever.

OPTION 2: MINIMUM PAYMENT DUE

If you only read one sentence in this whole article, let it be this… Paying only the minimum payment is the worst possible thing you can do. This type of automatic payment means you pay the most interest every month.

When you only pay the minimum payment, you only pay a little more than the interest owed for that month. Your actual card balance barely decreases at all. In return, you end up spending 10 years and thousands of dollars in interest trying to pay off that $2000 MacBook Pro.

OPTION 3: MINIMUM PAYMENT DUE + FIXED AMOUNT

If there’s not much wiggle room in your budget to pay down debt at the moment, this may be a good choice for you. This automatic payment ensures you pay at least the minimum payment, but you get to decide what amount you pay over that.

If you only have an extra $20 in your budget, you’ll still save tons of money in interest if you throw that Andrew Jackson toward your debt every month.

OPTION 4: OTHER AMOUNT

If you have the means to pay down your debt more aggressively, you may be better off choosing this option over the last one. Let’s say you know you can always pay $200 a month toward your card. $200 is way more than the minimum payment, so you’ll have peace of mind knowing the minimum payment is covered, and then some.

Just remember you can always go back and change your automatic payment type. If you’re working on paying down debt now, you may want to go with Option 3 or Option 4. Once your card is paid off, you’ll want to change to Option 1.

3. Set Up Account Notifications

It rarely happens–but on the slight chance an unauthorized charge is made to your account–it’s better to know about it as soon as possible.

As soon as you get a credit card, download the card’s app on your phone and set up push notifications. You can make the notifications as granular as you want. Want to be notified when your bill is due? 🗹 Want to be notified when a purchase over $100 is made? 🗹 Want to be notified every single time your card is charged? 🗹 The options are endless.

4. Don’t Have More Than One Or Two Credit Cards

It’s tempting to apply for every credit card offer that comes in the mail. But I promise you’re better off if you find a card that’s right for you.

If you make purchases on Amazon once a week, look for a card offering higher rewards for Amazon purchases. Trust me–there are several cards out there that do.

If you fly cross-country a couple times a year to visit family, look for a card that offers travel miles. If a large portion of your budget goes to gas because you have a long commute to work, look for a card that offers more points for money spent at gas stations.

It’s also important to know your current credit score when looking for the right card to apply for. Cards are usually designed for specific groups of people–think those with bad credit, average credit, and good credit. Know which group you fall into and apply for a card in that group. This gives you the best chance of being approved.

DON’T APPLY FOR TOO MANY CARDS AT ONCE

Always be intentional when you apply for a credit card. Each time you apply for a card, a hard inquiry is placed on your credit report–which can stay on your report for up to two years. Apply for too many cards at once, and creditors see this as a bad sign.

THE BOTTOM LINE

We all know those people who swear you should never own a credit card… ever! But if used responsibly, credit cards can be a great way to build credit and earn you extra cash.

Choose the card that best suits your needs. Make a budget and stick to it. Pay your balance off in full every month. And watch the rewards stack up.

Comment below and let me know what steps you’re going to take in 2019 to be more responsible with your spending.

Cassidy Horton

Written by

As a personal finance copywriter, Cassidy’s passion is creating action-worthy content for the financial services industry. Learn more at www.cassidyhorton.com

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