It’s no lie that credit card companies love for you to not only use credit, but to owe a balance on your credit cards - it’s simply how the credit card companies make their money. It’s easy to say, "I will never use my credit cards again," when your spending is out of control. But before you get mad at credit card companies, it’s important to understand that sometimes it’s just smart to use a credit card. Credit cards today are loaded with all sorts of goodies like rewards, cash back, and points to help you score an excellent vacation.
With that said, the total U.S. outstanding revolving credit card debt in May 2016 was a staggering $953.3 billion dollars, which breaks down to $3,766 per person. You've probably had those moments when you wanted to buy something and using your credit card was the only option. Before you know it, you've got a balance and are struggling to pay it off.
We’ve got three ways to keep your credit card spending in check so you can take advantage of all the pros of credit cards and leave the cons behind.
Zero is your hero
All credit cards charge an interest rate. On average, the higher your credit score is, the lower your interest rate could conceivably be (and vice versa). As they say in the land of credit, it’s difficult to increase your credit score and easy to bring it down. If your credit score is not as high as you would like, a good option to give it a boost is to use a secured credit card.
If you don't know the interest rates associated with your credit cards, now is a perfect time to pull out a sheet of paper and jot them all down, so you know where you stand.
What you're aiming for is interest rates as low as you can get them. One popular method for keeping your credit card spending in check is using 0% balance transfer offers to rapidly pay off any balance that you owe. 0% balance transfer offers typically are reserved for those with excellent credit (a score north of 740), and you want to investigate any transfer fees that might be associated.
Sites like Creditcards.com can help you check out the best credit card offers for your lifestyle. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- What kind of reward or cash back will you get with the new credit card?
- How long is the 0% transfer period?
- Can you reasonably pay off the debt in that period?
Remember, don't cancel your current credit card, though. It's one of the five key factors for your credit score.
Just like debit
Debit cards and credit cards are different even though your debit card has a Visa or Mastercard logo on it. A debit charge is immediately taken from your bank account, whereas a credit charge tallies a balance until the end of your monthly billing cycle. While the two might be different in those terms, the best way to keep your credit card spending in check is to think of your credit card as a debit card.
If you get into the mindset of paying off your credit card balance each and every month, you are still scoring all those awesome free points and rewards without having to worry about paying interest on the amount that your spending.
While this method does require some self-restraint and diligence, the best way to approach it is to set aside the amount you will need to pay off your credit card each month in a separate savings account. That way you can make sure you have the funds when the bill is due versus keeping those funds in your bank account and risking the temptation to spend the money some other way.
Master your budget
"Budget" is that six-letter word that most people would rather not deal with. It evokes fear, anger, frustration and a ton of stress for those that don’t like to budget. However, if you want to know one of the best ways to keep your credit card spending in check, look no further than your budget.
There are loads of ways to approach budgeting. There are some amazing apps on the market, such as You Need a Budget, that make budgeting a breeze and take the guesswork out of keeping track of your spending. If you prefer a DIY approach, you can easily create a template with Excel and be a budgeting whiz in a matter of minutes.
Learning how to budget is all about the system that you build for success. Here are some easy tips to help you as you master your budget:
- Make sure that your budget doesn’t only account for what you think you will spend each month, but also for what you actually did spend that month.
- Build in your savings for an emergency fund as a fixed expense.
- Create as many categories for your spending as you have expenses so you get an accurate picture of your income vs. expenses.
- Look at your budget each and every month and make adjustments as necessary. * Build in your credit card minimum payments as well as any additional payments you are making to pay off the balance.
Don't let your credit card spending have you singing the blues. If you have a balance on your credit cards, come up with a payoff plan that you can manage and build it into your budget. Using strategies like the 0% balance transfer, treating your credit card as a debit card and diving deep into budgeting will all help to keep your credit card spending in check.
It's time to enjoy credit cards for all the benefits, like earning enough points to jet off to London for the summer post-Brexit with plenty of cash in your pocket.