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10 Rules Of Using Credit Cards You Must Know

10 Rules Of Using Credit Cards You Must Know

Credit cards can be an immense boon when you hit a really rough patch financially, giving you much needed breathing space when you need your cash for pressing expenses like rent, groceries or gas. That being said, credit cards can quickly go from being a great financial safety net to something that gives you immense grief later if you don’t use them wisely.

Below you will find 10 credit cards usage rules. Rules that if you follow prudently will allow you to reap the benefits that credit cards have to offer, without having to deal with the headaches that they can otherwise bring. Here are our tips for using credit cards wisely.

1. Don’t sign up for every credit card that comes your way!

If you already own one credit card or if you have a decent credit score, chances are that you will inevitably receive pre-approved credit card offers in the mail. This, however, doesn’t mean that you have to sign up for each one of those offers.

First, see if you need another credit card at all. If you really do, take half an hour to read through the various invitations you have received to see which new card could give you the best benefits. The important factors that you must consider are APR%, annual fees, introductory 0% interest periods, late payment fees, the credit limit, and any add-on card fees.

Remember, signing up for many credit cards is not only a way to unnecessarily increase your creditor base, it is also a potential way to negatively affect your credit score.

2. Keep your card’s outstanding balance at $0, as much as you can

When you use your credit card, you know that your credit card company gives you a few days of interest-free grace. If you pay off your balances during this period, you won’t be paying any interest charges, while also having the ability to rotate your cash for a few days.

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However, this will only happen if you pay off your balances. Let the outstanding balance accrue for just one month and you will quickly start to rack up high interest charges.

3. Avoid the dreaded minimum payment habit

One of the worst pitfalls that lead to succumbing to the perils of a credit card is when you only make minimum monthly payments. If you spent $2,000 on your credit card, your credit card statement is going to instruct you to pay only 2% of your outstanding balance as minimum payment, a payment which works out to $40.

Now, if that credit card charges you a 20% APR, a monthly interest charge of 1.6% is going to apply on the $1,960 that you will have pending, assuming that you just paid off the minimum payment. 1.6% of $1,960 is $32.

In other words, even though you think you have paid off $40 from your balance, you have essentially paid just $8 ($40 less $32) off your total balance.

If you keep up this trend, you will actually end up paying $8,960, over 30 years, to eventually pay off the $2,000 that you borrowed from your credit card company!

Quite shocking, isn’t it? This is why it is very important that you do your math right when planning your credit card repayment schedule.

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4. Never, Ever Miss a Payment Deadline

One of the cardinal rules of intelligent credit card use is to pay on time, every time. Though a lot of people intend to pay off their credit cards on time, many just forget.

Missing your deadline by a couple of days might not seem like that much of a big deal to you, but credit companies will be very quick to levy late fees and even possibly increase your APR%, especially if you have been late on more than one occasion.

If you have many credit cards and have a hard time keeping track of all the deadlines, it makes a lot of sense to keep a monthly alarm on your phone or calendar for each of your credit card deadlines, to make sure that you are never late.

5. Check and double check your statement

It is not uncommon for credit card statements to have erroneous transactions. Sometimes, a purchase could have been billed twice on your credit card and you will never find out unless you physically inspect your credit card statement.

Moreover, if you use your credit card for recurring payments, especially for online facilitated services, you can quickly forget what charges accrue on your credit card statement every month.

Taking a monthly look at your credit card statement will allow you to stay on top of your expenses and also help you quickly investigate purchases or charges that might have been added to your account.

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6. Report lost or misused credit cards immediately

If you ever misplace your credit card or receive a text that shows that an unknown transaction has been debited to your credit card, it is imperative that you immediately call your credit card company to block the credit card.

When your credit card ends up in the wrong hands, your hard earned credit can get used up in just a few seconds. Though you will have the opportunity to prove that your credit card was used fraudulently, it will without a doubt be a long, frustrating and arduous process that you can easily do without.

7. Never withdraw cash from your credit card

If your credit card’s high APR% wasn’t bad enough, you are going to be in for a rude shock when you find out more about how much your credit card company is going to charge you when you do a cash advance on your credit card.

First off, you are going to be charged 2% to 4% of your withdrawal amount as a cash advance fee. Next, you are going to be charged an ATM fee, about $5. Then, on top of all of this, you are going to pay an interest rate that is much higher than your usual APR%. Lastly, you don’t get an interest-free grace period on your credit card cash advances.

8. Don’t charge your card just to earn rewards

Free airline miles, car rentals or redeemable points at various stores can sound like exciting incentives to use your credit card. You might think that it is one way for you to actually make the credit card company pay you for a change, right? Wrong!

The fact of the matter is that the odds are always in favor of the credit card companies. They know that you have to spend a significant amount of money on credit cards to earn a reasonable amount of points that you can then use like spending money. They also know that you will invariably falter when it comes to keeping your outstanding balance at $0.

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When they get the chance to accrue interest on your credit card, the interest you pay on your credit card is easily going to be more than the rewards you are eligible for, thereby giving you a financial expense instead of a gain.

9. Negotiate and bargain with your credit card company

Have you been a good credit card customer over the years, paying off your balances and keeping balances low? If yes, you deserve to be rewarded with lower interest rates. All you have to do is ask for it. Call your credit card company’s customer service line and ask for an account manager.

Once you get on the line with them, ask them for a revision of your APR%, citing that you deserve to be charged less for having been an ideal customer. You will be surprised to know that such revisions are often carried out by credit card companies. They will however rarely do it on their own though.

Pick up that phone and ask for it. You can also ask for late payment fees to be reversed when you make that rare late payment.

10. Call in advance if you are having trouble paying off your credit card

If times are tough and you just don’t see how you are going to feasibly pay off your credit card in the coming months, it might be prudent to make a proactive call to your credit card company, explaining your difficult financial situation.

When you do this, they will work with you on an alternative repayment plan. Besides getting slightly relaxed repayment terms and more time to pay off your credit card, you will also reduce the chances of your credit score being negatively affected the moment you miss or delay a payment.

Featured photo credit: Credit Card Volcano by Wilkins Gallo De Oro via flickr.com

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Published on May 7, 2019

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

When it comes to stocks, I bet you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Everyone who’s not a financial expert has been there. I’ve been there. But, time is passing and you need to be crystal clear with how you’re investing for your retirement.

Otherwise, it’s back to work until you can afford not to. So, how can you invest for retirement when you’re not a financial expert?

You take the time to learn the fundamentals well. If you do, you can grow your wealth and retire happy. The best part is that you don’t need to be a financial expert to make smart investment decisions.

Here’s how to invest for retirement the smart and stress-free way:

1. Know Clearly Why You Invest

Odds are you already know why should invest for retirement.

But, maybe you know the wrong reasons. It’s time you get clear on why you’d like to retire. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • Will you spend more time with your family?
  • What does retirement mean to you?
  • Are you looking to launch that business you’ve been holding off for years?

Everyone wants to retire but not for the same reasons. Once you’re clear for why retirement is important for you, you’ll focus on making it happen.

Investing in the stock market allows you to take advantage of compound interest.[1] All this means is that your money earns money on top of its interest. A reason why investment in the stock market is one of the best ways to plan for retirement.

2. Figure out When to Invest

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”– Chinese Proverb

It’s true if you’d had started investing when you were 10 years old, you’d have a lot more money than you do today.

The reality is that most people don’t start investing until it’s too late. So, if you’re currently waiting for the perfect time to start an investment, it would be today. Open your calendar and block out 2 to 3 hours to choose how you’ll invest for retirement.

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A quick way to get a snapshot of where you stand is to use Personal Capital. Input all your personal information and spend some time setting your retirement goals. Once completed, you’ll know where you stand with your retirement.

Having a savings account for retirement isn’t planning for retirement. Why? Your money loses value when you factor in US inflation.[2]

3. Evaluate Your Risk Tolerance to Create the Perfect Portfolio

Investing your money well depends on your emotions.

Why?

Because when the market drops most people panic and withdraw their money. On average, the US stock market yields an annual 6% to 7% ROI (return on your investment.) But, this won’t happen if you’re worried about short-term loses.

Before you invest your next dollar, know your risk tolerance.[3] Your risk tolerance determines the number of risky and safe investments you’d have.

Regardless of your investing style, you need to view investing for retirement as a long term game. Know that some years you’ll lose money but recoup this in the long-term.

Avoid watching market-related new. Also, create a double authentication to log in your investment account. This way you’re less likely to withdraw your money.

4. Open a Reliable Retirement Account

Depending on your circumstance, you may need to open a new brokerage account. This is the account is where you’ll invest your money.

If you’re currently working for a company, odds are that they offer a 410K investing account. If so, here’s where you’ll invest most of your money. The only problem with this is that you’re limited to the stock options that are available.

You do have the option to open a separate IRA (individual retirement account.) Here are some of the best brokers:

  1. Vanguard
  2. TD Ameritrade
  3. Charles Schwab

5. Challenge Yourself to Invest Consistently

Committing to invest for retirement is hard, but continuing to do so is harder.

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Once you’ve started investment for your retirement, you run at risk from stopping. Often you’ll want to contribute less, so you’d have more money in your pocket.

That’s why it’s important that you create a budget that allows you to invest each month. If you’re working for a company, you can set a percentage for the amount you’d like to contribute each month. Most people by default contribute 1% but aim to contribute 10% to 15%.

Be the judge for how much you can afford to contribute after covering important expenses. To stay motivated, use Personal Capital to view your net worth.

A benefit to contributing money to your retirement account is not taxed. For example, if you earn $100 and invest 10%, you’d contribute $10, then get taxed on the remaining $90. As of 2019, the most you’re able to contribute towards your 401K is 19K but this can change.

6. Consider Where to Invest Your Money

The most common way to invest your money is in stocks, but it’s not the only way. Here are other ways to invest:

Robo Advisors

Robo-advisors[4] are fancy algorithms that’ll choose the best investments for you. Sites like Wealthfront make it easy for first-time investors to invest their money. You’d input information about yourself and set your risk tolerance.

Then, set your monthly contribution amount and your robo-advisor would do the rest. Robo-advisors charge a fee to manage your money, but less than regular advisors.

Bonds

Think of bonds as “IOUs” to whomever you buy them from.

Essentially, you’re lending money and charging interest. Like stocks, not all bonds are equal. Some will be riskier than others depending on their rating.

Here are the different types of bond categories:[5]

  1. Treasury bonds
  2. Government bonds
  3. Corporate bonds
  4. Foreign bonds
  5. Mortgage-backed bonds
  6. Municipal bonds

Mutual Funds

Picture a group of people dumping all their money in a jar that’s managed by a professional. This is how mutual funds work. The fund manager manages the money looking to earn capital gains (interest.)

One of the best types of mutual funds is index funds. Since these funds don’t try to beat the market and instead follow it, they need less research. Because of this they often charge the lowest fees and yield the best long-term results.

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Real Estate

Yes, buying a home is an investment when done correctly.

Imagine buying a home and using it as a rental property. After repairing it, you receive a monthly surplus check of $100 to $200.

This may not sound like a lot, but repeat this process enough times and you’d earn a large amount of passive income. That’s why real estate is one of the best investments to not only retire but become wealthy.

But, it requires a lot of money to start and you should expect losing money along the way as you learn the process.

Savings Accounts

Your money can still grow in a savings account. Nowadays most online banks offer a 2% annual return. Although the average inflation is higher your money will be available when you need it.

7. Master Disincline to Dodge Short Success

Investing for retirement is a long-term strategy. That’s why you need to master delayed gratification. All this means is delaying short-term pleasure for something bigger in the future. Research shows that those who have delayed gratification are more successful.[6]

So how can you master delayed gratification?

By building your discipline.

Think back to what retirement means to you. A clear purpose will help you avoid withdrawing your money during a market downturn. It’ll help you contribute more towards retirement when you’d want to waste it instead.

Your journey towards retirement will be long, so reward yourself along the way. Choose a reward that’s relevant and meaningful, so that you reinforce positive behavior. For example, after contributing more towards retirement, treat yourself to dinner.

8. Aggressively Invest on This One Investment

I’ve mentioned several types of investments but haven’t covered the most important one.

It sounds cliche but here’s why you’re your best investment towards retirement. The more you know, the more money you’ll be able to make. The more good habits you adopt, the more secure your retirement will be.

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More importantly, investing in yourself is an investment that no one can take away. There’s no market downturn nor tragic circumstance that’ll wipe your knowledge and experience.

But, how can you invest yourself?

Reading books, blogs, and anything that’ll help you learn new topics daily. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your commute to/from work.

Save money to buy courses and hire coaches. I used to believe hiring coaches was a waste of money when I could learn the subject alone.

But, coaches see your blind spots and hold you accountable. Hiring the right coach will help you achieve your goals faster than you would’ve alone.

Retire Happy with Excess Money

The key to a secure financial future doesn’t only belong to financial experts.

It’s possible for you and I. What if you were able to retire earlier than most people and weren’t a financial planner? What if you were able to focus on what you enjoy doing the most while your money was working hard for you?

I know this sounds impossible now, but the truth is you’re capable of taking charge of your retirement. I’m not a financial expert but I’ve learned how to invest my money by reading books and learning from others.

Investing your money is scary. So start small and invest a small amount of your money with a robo-advisor. Feel your money drop and rise for a month or two. Then, invest more and keep this up until you’re aggressively saving for retirement.

One day, you’ll wake up with a net worth you’re proud of – confident about your retirement. You now know a few strategies you can use to invest in your retirement. Will you take action to retire happy?

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Featured photo credit: Matthew Bennett via unsplash.com

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