8 credit mistakes made by the credit experts
Missed a payment? Carry a balance? Everyday cardholders can learn from gaffes made by gurus
Even the most frugal and savvy credit card experts make cringe-worthy, costly mistakes. Fortunately, the rest of us can learn from those slip-ups.
What are eight credit gaffes the gurus made?
1. Paying only the minimum due.
Your credit card bill lists a minimum payment, but there’s no rule against paying more.
“My first credit card, I thought ‘I’ll just pay the minimum,’” says Leah Ingram, author of the blog SuddenlyFrugal.com and the book “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less.”
“Then the next month, there’s interest and another minimum payment, and the balance isn’t going down.”
The Credit CARD Act of 2009 now requires that credit card statements list how long it will take to pay your current balance if you pay only the minimum. You can also use our minimum payment calculator to see how long it will take you to pay off your debt if you make only the required payments.
The remedy: Pay as much as you can beyond the minimum.
2. Carrying a balance.
“The biggest mistake starts with carrying a balance,” says Beverly Harzog, author of “Confessions of a Credit Card Junkie.” “As soon as you decide you don’t have to pay the balance in full, you’re in trouble. It’s going to hurt you sooner or later.”
It took Harzog only six months to rack up credit card bills she couldn’t pay off each month. Then it took two years to pay off those bills.
“I was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for months,” she says.
The remedy: If you’re maxed out on your credit cards, leave them and your spending fever at home. Pay off your outstanding balance ASAP.
3. Paying extra on the wrong credit card bills.
All credit card bills are not created equal. If you have money to pay beyond the minimum, put that toward the highest interest rate card, not the 0 percent or low interest rate cards. This is called the avalanche method of paying off your debts.
“You should be attacking the credit card debt that is charging the highest interest first,” Ingram says.
The remedy: Know the interest rates on your credit cards, and pay down the highest interest rate credit cards first.
4. Not setting up autopay
and/or paying late.
If you’re busy or forgetful and miss a payment just one time, late payment penalties and interest can hit hard. Setting up an automatic bank draft to pay a specific dollar amount or the minimum due can save you money and hassle.
“My biggest mistake was probably not setting up autopay on one credit card,” says Daraius Dubash, co-founder of credit card rewards site Million Mile Secrets.
“I do this for all my cards, so I don’t have to worry about making the payment,” he says. “I missed setting it up for one card. Fortunately, I got a call from the bank letting me know that my payment was past due. So I logged online, and I paid it manually.”
The remedy: Sign up for autopay as soon as you get a credit card. Set up reminders on your calendar or mobile device to remind you of payment due dates.
My biggest mistake was probably not setting up autopay on one credit card. I do this for all my cards, so I don’t have to worry about making the payment. I missed setting it up for one card.
Co-founder of Million Mile Secrets
5. Using credit cards for
short-term (or worse, long-term) loans.
If you need a loan to tide you over for a few months, check with your bank or credit union – don’t turn to your credit card. The interest rate on a bank or credit union loan often is less than what you will be charged for carrying a balance.
“I don’t recommend using credit cards for short-term loans,” Harzog says.
The remedy: Build up an emergency fund. If you’re still working on an emergency fund and don’t want a bank loan, put that credit card “loan” on your lowest interest rate card, she says.
6. Not reading the fine
Most credit card advertisements will spell out the benefits and rewards in bold, but you need to sweat the small stuff.
“Not reading the fine print is a mistake,” Harzog says. “It’s especially important if you have a rewards card. You need to know what can make you lose those rewards.
“Paying late or a period of inactivity can create a problem. If you’re getting a cash advance, you need to know the interest rate and that the interest starts right away with no grace period.”
The remedy: Read the fine print – put your reading glasses on if you need to – before signing on the dotted line or clicking accept online.
7. Failing to meet the
charging requirements to earn a sign-up bonus.
Zach Honig, editor in chief at The Points Guy, signed up for the American Express Green Card and realized about a month after the spending deadline had passed that the sign-up bonus ship had sailed.
Or so he thought. Honig called American Express and asked the rep if there was anything she could do.
“Much to my surprise, she posted the bonus points immediately to my account on the condition that I spend the remainder, about $500, as soon as possible,” he says. “I prepaid my cable bill minutes after hanging up the phone.”
The remedy: Track your spending on each credit card, especially new credit cards, to make sure you’re earning those sign-up bonuses.
8. Not calling customer
Even if you make a mistake such as paying late, underpaying the full payment by $1 or less, or not spending the minimum to rack up bonus rewards, call customer service.
“Credit card companies have a hardship department,” Harzog says. “Call customer service and ask for it. Be ready to explain your situation and what you need to pay your bill – maybe a lower minimum payment to get caught up or a lower APR.”
If you explain your problem courteously as Honig did, you may be able to escape the consequences of your mistake – this time.
A 2016 CreditCards.com survey found that most cardholders who ask get late fees waived or interest rates reduced. The study also found that only a small number of credit card customers – about 1 in 5 – has made each type of request.
The remedy: Don’t be afraid to call customer service even if you know you’re in the wrong. And if you're struggling with debt, your card issuer also may be able to help.
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