What to Know When Getting Your First Credit Card

Credit card debt is way too easy to get into these days. It seems like every time I check my mail there is at least one or two pre-approved credit card applications. It doesn’t matter if you have good credit, bad credit, or no credit; they still send bushels of these offers everyday. You’re in college and you have expenses and no money so you grab one and sign up. It’s easy and only takes a few short minutes and you’re approved but little do you know you just picked up a loaded gun!

It’s shiny, small, and so accessible when money is tight. So much so that we don’t feel like we are spending real money until the bill comes, and then it’s too late.

When establishing good credit, one of the things we’re told to do is to get a credit card and then use it to spend wisely. Having a credit card is important to having good credit but it’s not everything. A large part of your credit score is comprised of utility payments, car payments, and other debt like loan payments. Your credit card is only a portion of a bigger picture that makes up your credit score. The problem is that there are always going to be times when credit is necessary and at some point you are going to have to take that plunge. Ever want to rent a car? Has your car ever broken down suddenly and you realize you have no cash to fix it? These are just 2 of millions of scenarios where credit is good as well as a necessity.

Experts advise us to pay our bills on time and not to exceed the credit limit. More specifically to avoid accumulating credit debt only spend what you think you can payback that same month and try not to carry a balance. Not only does that improve your credit, it saves you a lot on interest. However, no one really talks to us when we get that first card about how easily and quickly we hit that limit, or how easy it is to miss that first monthly payment. Once you get behind it can be impossible to catch up. Oftentimes, credit cards come with introductory interest rates that are nothing or very low. If you miss a payment suddenly you find your paying 21% interest on a payment you already cannot afford and on top of that you’re getting charged late fees! Before you know it, you are getting bad reports on your credit reports for credit card debt on a card you got for emergency purposes in the first place.

Unfortunately, when times are hard, abusing credit cards is all too easy. When the economy is bad and cash is tight, you might find yourself putting your daily living expenses on your credit cards because you do what you have to do to get by. When you are not making your payments, the credit card companies do inquiries to verify your address or other information and every time someone makes an inquiry on your credit report, it makes you look like even more of a high risk. All the credit card debt on your report, even if some of it is good, can make you look high risk for future car loans or mortgages. Even worse a bad credit report can keep you out of rental apartments or from getting a job that requires a background check.

As tempting as it is to pay with plastic, choose the “debit” option next time and keep your future in mind. It’s normal to risk it all when times are tough, but doing so creates more problems later that can take years with a credit counselor to fix and you end up paying triple what you put in. Remember when your at the register ask yourself some very real questions about what your need and what you want. Think ahead about what your budget is and be realistic when formatting it. Remember to account for food, gas, a night out with friends, and most importantly try your best to save money to prevent the emergency credit card swipe. Build your credit slowly by making small purchases and paying them off every month. In the end you’ll thank yourself from avoiding the stress of bills you cannot pay back. You’ll thank yourself in the future!

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