Five Must Dos for Keeping Credit Card Debt Manageable

You just got a new credit card, and you’re excited about using it. But, before you go out and blow up your shiny new plastic, take some time to think about how to manage this debt responsibly. That bill will come due in 30 days. So, the “free” money isn’t really free.

Be Careful About Which Cards You Apply For

There are many aspects to choosing a card. If you have a card already, put it down and pick up the terms and conditions you got with it. What is the interest rate? What does the card company charge for cash advances? What other charges does the company assess? Is there an annual fee?

What is the grace period on payments? What is the penalty for late payments? You want to know all of this before you charge up the card. If the terms seem unfair, don’t shrug your shoulders and go on a spending spree. Don’t be afraid to apply for credit card terms with other companies. Not all companies offer the same terms.

Make Smart Buying Decisions

Try not to buy disposable items on the card. This is a difficult temptation to resist, but it’s important that you resist it nonetheless. For example, groceries are already expensive. You don’t need to add interest to that and make it an ongoing monthly debt.

Try to charge large, productive, expenses to the card. For example, if you’re going to carry a balance, use the card to pay for educational expenses or car expenses – something where whatever you spend the money on will help you make more money or maintain your current income so that you can pay off your bill.

Alternatively, save the credit limit for emergency expenses.

Pay Off Your Debt Every Month

If you pay off your balance every month, and this should be one of your goals, it’s OK to make “everyday” purchases. You will not accumulate interest on those purchases so it becomes a way for you to “smooth out” your income and expenses. This might help if your income is somewhat variable during the month.

Don’t Be Afraid To Negotiate

Credit card companies are open to negotiation. Call them up. Negotiate your rate. This works particularly well if you’ve been a customer of theirs for years, and have accounts in good standing. But, even if you’re new, you may be able to negotiate a better rate based on your excellent credit rating.

Opt Out Of Card Rate Increases

You might not realize it, but you can opt out of rate hikes. How? By calling your credit card company and telling them that you don’t want to accept the terms of the rate hike. Your card issuer will suspend your card privileges (you can’t use your card anymore), and you’ll have to pay off the balance in 5 years. But, at the end of it, you may be able to reinstate your card, though it will be at the higher rate. Of course, you could just leave the card dormant and inactive. The card issuer will likely cancel it when you’re finished paying it off.

Michael Cobb has always had a knack for numbers. As a personal finance counselor, he often writes about foundational principles of managing budgets and other smart money decisions.

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