When I was eighteen, with my first few meager paychecks under my belt and a new sense of adult pride, I went shopping. As I laid the items on the counter to pay, the cashier asked if I would like to sign up for a card to receive a discount on the items. Somehow I only honed in on the word “discount” and all logical thinking flew out the window. I agreed, reciting my social security number with only a small amount of trepidation.
I was approved!
Grabbing my bag, I waltzed out of the store, thinking how nice it was that I could enjoy my new clothes now and not have to think about the payment until later.
Except the bill never came and I never thought to hunt it down. Bill collectors, however, don’t forget, and soon I was receiving message after message demanding payment. Long story short, a $50 shopping trip quickly doubled in price and came dragging a blemish on my credit report that lasted long after I wised up to smart credit card practices.
Don’t let a costly mistake like that be your turning point. Steer clear of these five credit card mistakes to keep your finances and credit score in tact.
1) Only paying the minimum balance
A minimum payment might seem like a gift from the credit card company, but in reality, you’re the one footing the bill.
Let’s say your balance is $2,000 with an interest rate of 18% and your credit card company calculates your minimum payment at 2.5% of your total bill. The first month you will owe $50, but $30 of that is just going to interest. Month two, you will owe $49.50 with $29.70 going to interest.
By the time you continue paying all that interest, it will take a whopping 182 months — over 15 years — to reach a zero balance. Doesn’t sound like a great deal, does it?
2) Paying your bills late
The interest rate you receive on your credit card is not set in stone. In fact, it’s highly contingent upon your payment history. Even making just one late payment could lead to a drastic increase in your interest rate. If you landed a promotional 0% APR, it could mean you forfeit that rate and begin accumulating interest on your balance.
Depending on how late you are in making your payment, it could tarnish your payment history on your credit report — a factor that accounts for 35% of your overall score.
3) Keeping your credit utilization high
Credit card limits are tricky. It might seem like you have free reign to reach that maximum — and you do — but that doesn’t mean your credit score won’t be impacted.
Thirty percent of your credit score is dependent upon your credit utilization, or the amount of credit you’ve used as a percentage of the total amount available to you. In other words, if you have an available credit of $1,000 but you’ve charged $500, your credit utilization is at 50%.
While there are different schools of thought when it comes to determining exactly what ratio you should stay at, many suggest keeping all balances below 30%.
4) Taking a cash advance
Credit card cash advances might seem very tempting. Especially if they appear as a blank check in your mailbox. Who wouldn’t want to fill out a blank check and address it to themselves?
Not so fast. You are the one paying — handsomely, I might add — for that “privilege.”
Cash advances are usually the most costly way to use your credit, with higher-than-normal interests rates that begin accumulating from day one. That’s right, there’s no grace period as there would be with normal credit card purchases.
5) Closing your account
If you’ve struggled with credit card debt it can be tempting to close out your credit cards and use the “cold turkey” method to get your spending back in check. And if that’s the only way to stop spending, that might be a good choice.
However, for most, closing out old credit card accounts should be avoided. Why? Because it can pack a big punch to your credit score.
When you close out old accounts, a few things can be impacted:
Your credit utilization
When an account is closed, you’ve lowered the amount of credit available to you and likely increased the percentage of used credit as a result.
The age of your accounts
Your credit score takes into account the average age of your accounts, so if you close an account that’s older, you’ve brought down your entire average.
Your mix of credit accounts
The best credit scores show a mix of accounts. If you close your credit cards, you no longer have “revolving credit,” which can lower your score.