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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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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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