Our parents taught us many of life’s important lessons, but did they adequately prepare us for smart credit card use? Maybe not. Here are six credit card lessons your parents might not have taught you.
1. Credit cards offer more fraud protection than debit cards
Credit cards offer a much greater level of protection against fraud than debit cards. Many credit companies come with $0 fraud liability, meaning you aren’t responsible for any reported fraudulent spending. In most of these cases, the creditor will credit your account immediately. However, with debit card purchases, it can take the bank up to two weeks to refund your money, and even then you might still be held responsible for a certain percentage of the charges. (See also: 4 Reasons Credit Is Safer Than Debit)
2. You must be proactive to build your credit
A common myth is that an open credit card account is all you need to build your credit. Credit scores reflect an individual’s relationship with debt management. Lenders and creditors want to see how you interact with finances, especially if you are going to take on more debt. This doesn’t mean you need to be in debt to have a good credit score. Instead, a credit score is established through paying your bills on time, whether that be your credit card bill or your mortgage.
One of the biggest factors in determining your credit score is your credit utilization ratio. Lenders want to see how much debt you have versus how much credit you have access to.
Build your credit by using and paying off your credit card, making payments on time, and asking for credit line increases. (See also: How to Use Credit Cards to Improve Your Credit Score)
3. Keep your credit utilization ratio as low as possible
Generally, it is important to have a credit utilization ratio of 30 percent or less. For example, someone with $500 of debt on a $1,000 total credit line will look worse to creditors than someone who has $5,000 debt with a total credit line of $30,000.
Calculate your credit utilization ratio by dividing your debt total by your credit line total. For example, $500 of debt divided by a $1,000 credit line would equal a 50 percent credit utilization ratio, whereas $5,000 of debt divided by a $30,000 credit line is just over 16 percent. Remember, your credit line total is the combination of all lines of credit you have open.
4. Interest payments can make debt hard to pay off
A few thousand dollars of debt can feel like an impossible hurdle if you try to pay it off in minimum payments only. You will feel like you are making zero progress on your debt when you have to pay interest. Interest makes anything you purchased with a credit card more expensive. Did you really mean to pay double for that clearance shirt? (See also: Fastest Way to Pay Off $10K in Credit Card Debt)
5. Differences in interest rates do matter
Perhaps your parents didn’t make a big deal about the difference between an A and A-, but when it comes to interest rates, the difference is noticeable. Even a half of a percent can make a big difference when it comes to your monthly payments on a loan. Getting a $20,000 car loan for three years at 4 percent doesn’t seem much different from the same car loan at 3.25 percent, but it is. The difference is $6 a month, or $216 in the lifetime of the loan. Wouldn’t you rather that money go to something necessary or fun instead of an interest payment? The same is true of paying interest on a credit card. (See also: 5 Ways to Pay Off High Interest Credit Card Debt)
6. Rewards don’t negate debt
We know your mom always told you to look at the bright side of things, but credit card rewards are not the bright side. If you are constantly running up credit card debt to benefit from rewards points, then you will be sorely disappointed by their rate of return. There is no credit card on the market with a reward program that makes going into debt worth it.
Pay off your monthly credit card bill to ensure you benefit from the rewards, but aren’t being burned by the interest rate. (See also: 7 Credit Card Reward Tips Many People Don’t Follow)