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5 Secrets that Credit Card Companies Won’t Tell You Up Front

5 Secrets that Credit Card Companies Won’t Tell You Up Front

While there are a lot of terms and conditions that are buried in the fine print of credit card agreements, most people only pay attention to the big numbers in the summary box: the interest rate, the penalty interest rate and late fees.

Although these are important factors that can help you choose the right credit card, there are still some little-known facts that can make or break your creditworthiness once you’ve decided on a card and have started using it. Here are five secrets that credit card companies won’t always tell you directly, but that you can use to your advantage when building or maintaining your credit profile:

Credit Card Companies Can ‘Snoop’ on How You Pay on Other Cards

Most people realize that payment history on other accounts directly impacts their credit scores, which in turn affects whether or not their credit card application is accepted. However, this initial check is not the only time that your payment history can affect your credit card account.

If you are consistently late or over the limit on your other credit card accounts, some credit card companies will raise the rate you pay on their card, even if you’ve never been late paying them. The rationalization is that if you have poor payment performance on one account, theirs is likely to be impacted in the future.

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They Can Raise/Lower Your Credit Limit at Any Time

In the same vein, how you pay other accounts can also affect your credit limits. Late payments to other accounts or going over your limit on other accounts can cause your credit limit to be lowered on accounts where your payment history and credit utilization is satisfactory.

For example, let’s say you have a credit card with a $10,000 limit that you pay on time, and never use more than 20% of the balance. And let’s also say you have a credit card with a $5000 limit that is maxed out, and you’ve been late on a few payments. The company that issued the $10,000 credit card may decide to lower your credit limit significantly, even if you’ve never been late with a payment for them.

This will directly impact your ability to get new credit, as part of your credit score is based on your credit utilization and lower credit limits are seen as higher risk and can lower your credit score.

You Can Ask for a Credit Limit Review Any Time

On the other hand, if you have a good payment history across all of your accounts but haven’t gotten a credit limit increase, in most cases you can just ask for one. Some credit card companies make this easy and automated. To see if your credit card company is one of these, just log into your account and look for a link that says “Credit Limit Increase” or “Credit Limit Review”.

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Otherwise, you can call customer service and ask directly. In most instances, you can ask for a credit limit increase every six months.

Be aware that this may incur a hard inquiry on your credit file depending on the credit issuer, so don’t request credit limit increases on all of your cards at the same time.

There are a few credit card companies that do automatic and periodic reviews, in which case you won’t be able to ask but you should be seeing regular limit increases if your payment history and credit scores are satisfactory. If not, call and ask about their criteria for raising credit limits so you know what you need to improve in order to qualify.

Paying Early Cuts Your Balance Faster

Nearly all credit cards charge interest on your average daily balance, and most cards have a 30-day grace period so that if you pay off your statement on or before the due date, you don’t accrue interest.

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If you can’t pay off your entire credit card balance, the next best thing is to pay early. Why? Because lowering your balance early in the month lowers your average daily balance, which in turn lowers the amount of interest you pay for your purchases.

For example, let’s say you have a $1,000 balance on your card. If you pay $100 off immediately, you’ll only pay interest on the $900 balance remaining throughout the month. If, on the 15th of the month, you make an additional $100 payment, your average daily balance will be calculated like this: (15 x $900 + 10 x $800)/30 = $850.

Therefore, instead of paying interest on the full $1,000 balance like you would if you waited to pay at the end of the month, you’ll only pay interest on $850. This adds up in the long run, especially when you have higher balances.

You Can Ask for (Some) Penalty Fees to be Waived

Let’s say you get a payment in a few days late, and are hit with one of those pesky $30+ late fees. Nothing to do but pay up, right? Wrong.

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If you have an excellent payment history with the credit card company, in most instances you can request to have that fee waived. It’s generally not something that you can request online. You’ll need to call in to speak to a representative, and expect them to scrutinize your past payment history and credit utilization before agreeing.

Usually, you can only make this request once per year, or once every six months at the most, so don’t waste it.

To Sum Up…

Credit card agreements have a lot of confusing terms and conditions in the fine print, but there are ways to use these to your advantage if you are savvy and keep track of how you are using your credit. Pay attention to how much of your credit you’re using on each card, pay early, and make sure you are getting credit limit increases in order to improve your credit scores a

Featured photo credit: Paper money, extreme macro/Kevin Dooley via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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