If you’ve only recently started using a credit card, it’s important to know the ups and downs of how they work to avoid a mountain of debt and really maximise your savings.
Most consumers will find it extremely difficult to understand the vast and complex terms and conditions attached to credit cards - these aren’t written in simple, bold text with all the hidden catches and details clearly marked. This is why we’ve created this list of essential credit card tips to help cut through the fine print and help you take control of your credit card and budgeting.
The downside of credit card rewards
Rewards points will often make you believe you’re getting something for free. Sadly, as the old saying goes, nothing in life ever comes for free - especially money borrowed from a bank.
A general rule of thumb is that you are much better off having a low-interest credit card than you are to have a rewards card that has a higher interest rate. Just think about it: Would you rather save a couple of hundred dollars a year in interest, or have enough ‘points’ to get a new kettle?
Rewards cards can be good - such as frequent flyer credit cards if you regularly travel - but you need to pay them off in full each month and utilise the 55 days interest-free to your advantage. If your debt is going to sit on the card unpaid, forget the rewards cards.
Choosing a credit card limit
Banks are notorious for giving you credit limits that are technically payable, but would require you to struggle in meeting repayments should you use the full amount you have on offer. If the bank offers you a $4,000 limit, ring them up and tell them you only want $2,000.
This is proactive savings at its finest: it will save you a lot of pain and effort if you force yourself to never go that high. It's also an excellent tip when choosing your first card or a student credit card.
When to avoid a balance transfer card
There are undeniable benefits to choosing the right balance transfer credit card - but the added stress of choosing a new card each time you want to transfer your existing credit balance over isn’t a viable way to exist and manage your savings. In fact, you might find a better deal with your current bank if you decide to negotiate with them instead of switching.
Simply call your bank and tell them you are looking to switch over to a competitor bank to take advantage of a no-interest period or balance transfer offer. You’d be surprised by how often you’ll be offered something similar, and you could even get a better deal than the offer you were considering in the first place.
How to assess credit card promotions
Most banks offer numerous promotions to attract new customers. Ranging from interest-free periods, extended low rates for transfers, or low and no fee credit card introductory offers. Just remember, educate yourself about the product in more detail before taking this offer up:
- Ensure you know how long the promotion runs for.
- Will your interest rate jump to an astonishingly high rate?
- Will your annual fee be twice that of a normal card?
- Will the low interest rate back charge on interest on expiry?
All of these things are crucial when choosing any type of credit card, and can ensure you understand what you’re signing up for, and help avoid unnecessarily getting into mounting credit card debt.
Debit cards vs Credit Cards
Debit cards are no different to credit cards except that they only spend money you have readily available in your account. This means you won’t go into debt, because you’ll never be borrowing money from the bank.
Debit cards give you all the freedom of a credit card - to buy products online, reserve a hotel or pay for something over the phone - but don’t present the risk of temptation that accompanies a credit card and the mentality of easy access to money that isn’t yours.