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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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Last Updated on March 3, 2021

Top 6 Hacks on How To Build Credit Fast

Top 6 Hacks on How To Build Credit Fast

When done right, credit can open doors and provide a lifestyle that you never imagined possible. Anything from flying around the world in first-class and staying at 5-star hotels entirely for free to starting and scaling businesses. It’s also an area where it can be easy to make mistakes and hard to recover from without the right information. In this article, I will break down how you can build credit fast so you can open doors in your life!

When you start to think about improving your credit score, you have to answer three important questions first:

  1. What are you trying to achieve by having good credit?
  2. What really is your credit score?
  3. How is your credit score calculated?

What Are Your Credit Goals?

Having a high credit score is great, but ultimately, your credit score is a tool in your personal finance arsenal that you can use to open doors. The first question you should ask yourself is “what will a higher credit score do for me?”

I work with many clients directly at Freedom Travel Systems to help them fully leverage the power of their credit so they can enjoy free luxury travel and start or grow their business. For my clients and many others, here are a few common goals many credit-savvy individuals have:

  • Free Travel – getting access to travel rewards cards so you can get tons of free travel and even get first-class flights, hotel suites, and luxury amenities all for free
  • Start/Grow a Business – getting access to business credit so you can start and grow a business with 0% or low-interest financing that does not impact your personal credit
  • More Approvals – getting approved for credit cards, auto loans, or mortgages so you improve your lifestyle or build your personal wealth
  • Better Rates – getting better interest rates on any loans you get will save you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime

What Is Your Credit Score?

Your credit score is simply a 3-digit number that tells potential lenders how reliable of a borrower you are. Keep in mind that lenders, such as banks and credit issuers, stay in business by lending. Their goal is to find the people that have the highest probability of paying them back and they assess this primarily through your credit score.

What’s important to know is that there are two major scoring models used to create your scores. These scores are your FICO Score and your Vantage Score. More than 90% of lenders rely on your FICO score, so when you are checking your score, you want to make sure you see the actual score that the lenders use. And no, checking your own score does not hurt your credit!

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Then enters the 3 main credit bureaus, which are essentially agencies that collect credit information on you. These are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These bureaus then apply a scoring model to the information they have on you and voila, you now have a credit score! Bureaus sometimes have different information on your report, which is why you will see 3 different scores.

How Is Your Credit Score Calculated?

Next, you need to understand how the credit score is calculated. This will provide a high-level overview, but there is more detail to each of these factors alone.

There are 5 main factors in the calculation of your credit score:[1]

  1. Payment History (35%) – This refers to the amount and percentage of on-time payments you have.
  2. Utilization (30%) – This is how much revolving credit you use as a percentage of the total revolving credit issued to you. Note that installment loans like auto-loans or mortgages do not count towards this while credit cards do.
  3. Age of Credit (15%) – This refers to how long your credit history is, primarily your “average age.”
  4. Credit Mix (10%) – This is how many different types of credit you have. For example, there are credit cards, student loans, auto loans, mortgages, personal loans, and lines of credit.
  5. New Credit (10%) – This primarily refers to how many inquiries you have for new credit.

Top 6 Hacks on How to Build Credit Fast

Now that you’ve learned more about your credit score, here are the top 6 tips on how to build credit fast.

1. Don’t Close Your Cards

Many of us are taught that getting a new credit card is bad and having too many will hurt your score. In fact, the opposite is true. You want to have many positive accounts reporting to your credit report. Logically, this makes sense because having more accounts with more on-time payments shows that you are a more reliable borrower. You just don’t want to open too many accounts too quickly since that can hurt your “new credit” factor.

Instead of closing a card, what you should do is simply keep the card open and put a small subscription service on it monthly. Why? Because each time you have an on-time payment, it helps build your payment history, the largest factor of credit.

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If you close a card, you are missing on potential on-time payments, age of credit, credit mix, and also lowering the total credit lent to you so your utilization percentage may go up. If you have an annual fee on a card you don’t like, see if there is a “no-fee” version of the card and downgrade it to that card rather than close it.

2. Use Autopay to Never Miss a Payment

This one is easy to do and easy not to do. Go into your credit card account and set up auto-pay. You can choose to either pay the full amount, the statement balance, or the minimum payment. Personally, I like to set up autopay to pay the minimum payment so that I never get a late payment. Then, I go in and manually pay the statement balance each month by the payment due date.

This helps me personally see my spending and have a manual review of my charges while ensuring, not have to pay interest, and still get the benefit of making sure that I never miss a payment if something goes wrong. Think about it, if you were to have a medical or family emergency, the last thing you want to experience on the back end of that is a late payment and a drop in your credit score. So, set up autopay.

A pro tip is to update your payment due dates across all bills and accounts to be the same so that you can “time batch” the process and have one time a month where you sit down and handle your payments. You can do this by simply contacting the credit card company or doing it online.

3. Get a Credit Limit Increase to Lower Your Utilization

One of the factors that get most people into trouble is using too much of their allotted total credit. Their utilization, which is the percentage of revolving credit they use, goes up, and their score tanks. You should aim for less than 30%, and in an ideal world, less than 10%.

To help drive this down, call your credit issuer and ask for a credit limit increase. This will help increase the total amount of credit extended to you and drop your utilization. Oftentimes, they will only give it to you when your utilization is fairly decent (less than 50%), so work to pay it down as best as possible before doing this. You should ask if the credit limit increase will give you an inquiry as some banks do a hard inquiry while some do not. If they do a hard inquiry, it is often better to just get a new card altogether or pass.

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4. Add Authorized Users to Increase Your Age, Add History, and Decrease Utilization

This is one of the best hacks out there as it helps with the 3 biggest factors of improving your credit: payment history, utilization, and age. This concept is also called “credit piggybacking” where someone with great credit history on a card adds an authorized user (AU) to the card. When the AU gets added, the credit history and information from that card are added to the AU’s report!

This is extremely helpful for people with young credit because it can drastically increase your age of accounts. It can also help many people with limited payment history or high utilization.

Please be aware that anything good or bad on that account you are added to will show up on your report. So, you want to avoid any cards with negative marks or high utilization. That being said, it is a one-way street, so nothing that you do with your credit can impact the primary account holder.

This is so valuable that there are companies that sell AU accounts. I always suggest starting with your family and/or personal network first as there are likely people in your network that can help!

5. Space Out Your Application Strategy

New credit is the smallest factor of credit, but it still matters! If you are looking to build up your credit, you should space out your applications. If you apply for too much credit in a short period, it looks very needy in the eyes of the lenders. For this reason, it is safest to apply for cards slowly over time unless you have really studied more in-depth how this works. A good rule of thumb is once every few months.

If you are in the credit game for the hopes of getting tons of credit card points for free travel, which is what I personally take full advantage of, you will want to familiarize yourself with the different bank rules and card promotions to put together the right application strategy. Applying blindly will waste inquiries and leave tons of benefits on the table!

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6. Review Your Report for Negatives

If you have any negative or “derogatory” marks on your credit report, this will hurt you drastically. They do impact you less as they age, however, you should review your credit report to ensure that everything on your report is 100% accurate and actually yours. Wrong information ends up on credit reports all the time and you will want to take personal responsibility for making sure it is accurate.

The “burden of proof” is on the credit bureau to confirm that any information on your report is in fact accurate. If you find inaccuracies, you can dispute that with them, or you could consider getting a credible credit repair company to help you.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, the top 6 tips on how to build credit fast so you can get closer to reaching your goals. Now that you’ve learned more about how credit score works and how you can improve yours, you’ll hopefully be able to make better financial decisions and achieve your financial goals quicker.

More Tips on How to Build Credit Fast

Featured photo credit: CardMapr via unsplash.com

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