5 tips to use your credit card wisely and steer clear of debt

Whether you’re applying for your first credit card or adopting better spending habits, these five tips can help you avoid racking up debt and allow you to use your credit responsibly.

Tags: Best practices, Credit, Credit cards, Debt
Published: February 20, 2020

Credit cards can be a helpful tool for major purchases and building a healthy credit score. Many credit cards also come with rewards such as cash back on purchases or airline miles that make them even more appealing to use. However, the convenience of credit cards can make it easy to accumulate debt quickly. 

In September 2019, the average U.S. household with revolving credit card debt had an average balance of $6,849, with another $1,162 owed in average interest per year.[1] Credit card debt like this can be overwhelming and prevent you from saving for future financial goals. Luckily, there are plenty of steps you can take to avoid accumulating large amounts of debt.

 

Spend within your means

The best way to avoid credit card debt is to pay your balance in full each month. In order to reach this goal, make sure you’re only spending within your means. Your credit card is a tool to build credit and pay for larger purchases in small increments, and you shouldn’t use it as a way to buy things you can’t afford to pay off within your billing cycle. Only putting purchases on your card that you’ll be able to pay off is the simplest way to prevent credit card debt.

 

Make monthly payments on time

Along with paying your balance in full, make sure you’re paying your balance on time. Many banks let you set up automatic payments, so money from your checking account can go directly to your card before it’s due every month with the U.S. Bank mobile app. Making your payments late can lead to fees that increase your existing balance, and eventually make it harder to keep up with regular payments. Consider making multiple payments a month if it works with your budget.

 

Keep a low utilization ratio

Ideally, you want to pay your balance in full each month, but if that’s not possible, try to keep a low utilization ratio. Your utilization ratio is the percentage of credit currently in use. Let’s say you have a credit line of $5,000. If you have $2,500 in purchases on your card at a given time, you have a 50 percent utilization ratio. Using a high percentage of your available credit can make it harder and harder to pay off debt and can lower your credit score over time. Plus, you’ll end up paying more interest in the long run. As a general rule, keep your utilization ratio below 30 percent of your available credit.

 

Understand your credit card terms

Knowing the specifics of your credit card agreement can help you avoid unexpected fees and keep track of your payments. Different credit cards will have different interest rates and potential fees. Before you use your card, read through the agreement to understand when you will be charged a fee, how interest will be applied to your account, and when that interest rate will increase. Choose a card that fits your spending habits and financial goals.

 

Don’t open too many accounts in a short period of time

There are lots of credit cards with attractive terms and features but opening too many lines of credit at once gives you more places to accumulate debt. More credit cards to keep track of also makes it difficult to keep track of your spending and pay dates. Plus, opening too many accounts at once could negatively impact your credit score and you may be denied if you open multiple cards within a few months.
 

When used wisely, a credit card can help you be financially secure and establish solid credit. Stick to this guidance, and you’ll avoid overwhelming credit card debt and feel more financially secure. 
 

Looking for a credit card that meets all your needs? Make an appointment with one of our bankers to explore your options. Learn more about how you can earn 25,000 bonus points and pay no annual fees when you use the Altitude Go credit card.

 

 

[1] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/#footnote-two