It’s been just over two years since I got my first credit card. I now have three and I’m never looking back. Ah, credit cards. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
· Credit cards track my spending. The problem with withdrawing money from an ATM and paying for everything in cash is that you often struggle to remember exactly where your money went. With credit cards, I can review the statements every month and reconcile each line item to my Quicken records to make sure even a few bucks here and there are properly accounted for. I couldn’t do that with cash.
· Credit cards boost my credit score. As a college graduate with no student loan, no car repayments, and no mortgage, credit cards have helped me ‘get into the system’ and build a strong credit profile. By using them wisely, I’ve already qualified for lower rates that I can take advantage of when I eventually buy a house. If it weren’t for credit cards, I’d pretty much be off the financial grid.
· Credit cards give me awesome rewards. Each of my credit cards rewards me in a very useful way. One gives me up to 33% off food. Another lets me earn interest on any positive balance at a rate banks would only offer if I locked in a far higher amount for a far longer time. But my favourite is a 90% discount on my monthly membership to an amazing gym. This includes free wireless internet, not to mention unlimited classes like yoga and FUN’k off (don’t ask), for just $7 a month! When’s the last time cash treated you so well?
At this point, you might be feeling uncomfortable. Heck, you might be downright appalled. But please put down the pitchfork and step away from the comments. Allow me to offer some clarification before you write me off as yet another 25-year old on the road to disaster and destitution:
· I am NOT advocating excess spending. Most people avoid credit cards because they’re too much of a temptation to overspend. Given that the key to wealth is to spend less than you earn, this makes perfect sense. Credit cards should NEVER be used to spend money on things you can’t afford. In other words, NEVER buy on credit what you can’t already buy using cash. Period. I’ve never been a particularly extravagant person, which is why I actually like the fact that I’ve had the same pair of All Stars for about five years. My credit cards are only used for things I can already afford (mostly things I have to buy anyway), which is why the charges only amount to around 25% of my income every month. Nothing gets charged that cannot be paid.
· I am NOT advocating getting into debt. Another reason people avoid using credit cards is because they fear debt. This makes sense too. Debt. It’s a horrible word that conjures up images of shackles and a burdened life. But not all debt needs to be portrayed so negatively. One of the key things I learned at Rich Dad Coaching (and wrote about in The Beauty of Debt) is the distinction between good debt and bad dad. Good debt, like that used by Robert Kiyosaki to buy investment properties or that used by Bill Bartmann to become one of the 25 richest people in America, puts money in your pocket. Yes, credit card debt is bad debt, but it won’t cost you a cent as long as you ALWAYS pay the balance off in full (and can negotiate waived annual fees). This means your cash can stay in the bank longer (earning interest as it does so) and only be used to pay off the debt when the due date arrives. In some cases, that can be as far as 55 days away. Score!
· I am NOT advocating getting credit cards purely for rewards. Too many people have been tempted by the promise of low rates and other amazing benefits only to find that they were temporary offers at best. Before settling on a card, make sure you do proper research and read the fine print. Since interest rates only matter if you have existing debt that you’re trying to consolidate, you have total freedom to find a card that works for your situation. Your best bet is to find one that rewards you for purchases at stores you already use all the time and/or rewards you with benefits you can actually take advantage of. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and score a free European trip!
In conclusion, I hope it’s clear that credit cards are not the homewreckers everyone paints them out to be. If you already have a good dose of financial discipline (control your expenses by spending less than you earn) and use them with wise self-control (pay off the FULL balance every single month), they can be a really great part of your overall plan. But if you don’t and won’t, then burn this post immediately (figuratively, of course) and stick to what you know.
What do you think? Have any of you had good success with credit cards to help me build my case? Would you share your story in the comments, pretty please?