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New to College? Avoid These Common Credit Card Traps

New to College? Avoid These Common Credit Card Traps

Every year, millions around the world head to college, eager to continue their studies at the next level. Unfortunately, aggressive creditors often await them on the other side, and those who are not money savvy or financially literate may eventually succumb to the magic plastic because of their poor spending habits.  If you are new to college, be sure to avoid the following common credit card traps.

1) Freebies

Credit card companies are experts at preying on vulnerable college students who may be strapped for cash and looking to acquire any free item that they can get their hands on.  As the famous quote states, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  This is definitely true in the credit world, since the promotional offers, which typically include t-shirts, water bottles, or food coupons, are usually distributed in exchange for a completed credit card application. It’s never a good idea to apply for a credit card solely for the purpose of receiving a free trinket in return because the card can end up costing you way more than you bargained for through interest, fees, and negative marks to your credit file if used irresponsibly.

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2) Minimum Payment

Once you have an outstanding balance, it may seem tempting to only remit the minimum payment due each month.  However, doing so will only dig you into a deeper hole because this amount typically only covers the interest, while the principal remains untouched, and the outstanding balance will continue to rise as interest accrues each month.  Instead, you should carry little to no balance at all times to avoid getting caught up in the minimum payment trap and spending an excessive number of years paying off a balance that greatly exceeds the amount of the initial purchases.

3) Cash Advances

Instant access to a substantial amount of cash seems fantastic (especially if you don’t have to pay it right back), doesn’t it?  Think again.  Cash advances are typically accompanied by a higher APR and transaction fee that may not apparent to you without carefully reviewing the terms and conditions. Using your credit card like an ATM card to make withdrawals not only fosters irresponsible spending habits, but could possibly dig you into a deeper hole than you bargained for.

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This is especially true if your available balance is low and you exercise this option to make a small purchase without considering the other fees that may follow.  Suddenly, that item from the grocery store ends up costing you three times the amount of what you actually paid for it as a result of a penalty APR and fee applied by the creditor when you exceeded the available credit balance.

4) Hidden Fees

If you fail to read the fine print, a “gotcha” is bound to appear sooner or later.  Important items to understand include:

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  • Rewards (and restrictions)
  • Introductory Offers
  • Late Payment Fees
  • Dormancy Fees
  • Annual Fees
  • Grace Periods
  • Minimum Interest Assessed
  • Customer Service Fees

The introductory offer of 0% interest for the first year may be worth it only if you plan on paying the balance in full before the promotional period expires.  If you fail to do so, you may receive a statement after the thirteenth month that includes retroactive interest on purchases from the prior year.

5) Statement Review

Since credit card companies are managed by individuals and not systems, they are subject to human error.  Small mistakes can roll over into your credit card statements, and may go unnoticed if you fail to conduct a thorough review of your activity each month.

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If you discover an issue with your monthly statement, contact the creditor immediately and provide any supporting documentation needed to remove the inaccurate information.

6) Credit Limit Increases

Creditors sometimes grant credit limit increases to those who exhibit responsible use over an extended period of time.  Unless it is absolutely necessary to do so, refrain from accepting additional credit.

The offer may boost our credit utilization initially, but could also open the door to unnecessary expenditures.

Obtaining a credit card isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you enter college, but it is important to use it responsibly as a credit building tool and remit timely payments to avoid debt-management issues in the future.

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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