10 tips for using credit cards wisely

Mr Credit Card is writing a series of post for me while I’m away. Here is his first post about tips on using credit cards wisely. For full disclosure, Mr Credit Card carries the Amex Platinum Card and the Chase Freedom as his main Visa.

Here are some quick tips on how to use your credit card wisely. Though it sounds simple, most people do not fully follow them. So here’s my list of tips.

1. Always pay your bills in full – To be honest, I feel real stupid writing about this one. But paying your bills in full every month is the best tip I can think of in terms of credit card use. By paying your bills in full every month, it frees you from “credit card debt”. If you pay your bills in full every month, it does not matter if credit cards increase their rates. One of my cards raised their rates by a few percentage points citing “economic circumstances”. Since I paid in full, it did not bother me one bit. But though I feel kind of foolish mentioning this point (since it is so basic), I realize that outside of the credit card world, many people and nations are in “debt”. In fact, every OECD country has debt to their eyeballs. If only they had taken this advice of pay their bills in full and not borrowing to pay their bills!

2. Use AutoPay Feature and Pay Your Bills On Time – Paying your bills on time is the quickest surefire way to improve your credit score. And you should always pay on time. The best way I have found to do so is to use the autopay feature where you set up your bank account to pay your credit card automatically each month. Some people prefer to check their statements manually before writing a check. I would say that is fine as long as you do not forget!

3. Make sure your credit card pays you rewards – Assuming you follow rule 1 and 2, then it is imperative that you use a credit card that pays you rewards either in the form of cash rebates or frequent flier miles. A good friend of mine used to have only one credit card. But he paid his bills in full every month and he had never carried a balance. But he had a Visa from one of his local banks and they charged an annual fee, but the card had no rewards. There is absolutely nothing wrong with paying an annual fee if the card has got great benefits. But his situation was ridiculous.

The lesson is always get a card with rewards. It could be a cash rewards credit card or an airline credit card (whatever suits your needs). But make sure you earn something for using your credit card.

4. Use Your Rewards Quickly – Since the financial crisis, credit card issuers have gotten very strict with cardholders. Having a late payment on another account, and you may find your account closed, interest rate raised or credit limit slashed. If your account is ever closed by a credit card issuer, you could lose all your rewards that you have earned for the period. Some credit cards pay you rewards annually and you could lose them all if you card is closed on the 11th month just before your card anniversary date! In some respects, airline credit cards are better because once you have earned your miles, they are transferred about every month into your frequent flier account.

5. Do not take co-signing a credit card lightly – While there are cases where co-signing makes sense (like when you are co-signing a card for your college student), it can also come back to haunt you if you the person you co-signed for is late on their payment or defaults. Your credit score can take a huge hit as a result. Be very careful.

6. Use your auto collision insurance – Most credit cards have auto collision insurance. Hence, when you rent a car and pay with your credit card, you do not actually have to buy the auto collision insurance from the car rental company. In fact, they’ll probably be surprised if you turned them down! Just make sure you check your terms and conditions with your credit card issuer before you rent your next car.

7. Make use of your extended warranty feature – Many of the better credit cards also have the extended warranty feature. In most cases, this extends the warranty of the product by one year (over the manufacturers’ warranty). Many stores try to upsell you on product insurance. Truth is this is mostly a waste of money and if you have a good credit card, just remember that your warranty is already extended when you pay with the card.

8. Make use of accidental damage coverage – Some of the better credit cards have this feature where if a product you bought with your credit card gets stolen or breaks during a certain period from your purchase date, you can get a refund from your credit card. Remember it and make use of it should something like that ever happen to you.

9. Make use of your credit card’s shopping portal – Some credit card companies have set up shopping portals whereby you can shop online at well known retail stores through your credit card account. If you do so, you can earn quite a lot of cash rebates. Many people do not fully make use of this. Best thing to do is to log into your account and explore these features.

10. Combine credit cards – To get the full benefits of credit card rewards, you should use a couple of credit cards to get the most benefits. For example, using a cash back credit card together with a gas credit card will often earn you more rebates than using a standalone card.

I can think of more tips, but I think I’ll stop here. Hopefully, you will find these helpful.

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