5 Key Steps To Becoming Credit Card Smart

Nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling offers tips to help consumers manage their credit this National Credit Education Month.

Boston, MA – March 6, 2015

Financially savvy woman holding credit cardsWith credit card debt once again on the rise in the U.S., national financial education non-profit American Consumer Credit Counseling today announced five steps to becoming credit card smart.

Credit card debt is the third largest source of household debt, behind only mortgages and student loans. As of December 2014, Americans owed $11.74 trillion in debt – an increase of more than 3 percent over last year. The average credit card balance is about $1,224.00 per card, according to Equifax.

“Credit cards are a significant source of debt for millions of Americans, and that’s why it’s so important to develop the knowledge and skills to manage them effectively,” said Steve Trumble, President and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling.  “In today’s fast-paced world, consumers need to be more credit card smart than ever before, and there are simple steps they can take today to ensure they are using credit responsibly.”

March is National Credit Education Month – an ideal time to get smart when it comes to using credit. Here are five tips to become credit smart and ensure you don’t get in over your head:

1. Understand your credit card and any fees associated with it.

It’s important to do your research to find the best deals and interest rates. Understand your annual percentage rate (APR) and how it is calculated by your provider. It can make a difference in how much you pay each month. In addition, be aware of any fees associated with your card, as these hidden costs can add up.

2. Pay on time.

Problems can escalate quickly for your wallet if you miss a payment. Missing payments can lead to late fees and higher interest rates and can even cause a drop in your credit score. It’s worth contacting your credit card company and request that the late fee be waived if you have a good reason for missing the payment.

3. Don’t get hooked on minimum payments.

If you only pay the minimum on your bill, it can take a long time and a lot of extra money to pay off your debt. For example, if you owe $5,000 on an account with an 18 percent APR and pay a minimum of 2 percent of the balance, it will take more than 7.5 years to pay it off. Just as bad, you will have paid $4311.25 in interest.  Paying even a little more each month can substantially reduce the time it takes to pay off the debt and decrease interest.

4. Avoid special services, programs and goods that credit card lenders offer with their cards.

Most of these are extras, and include items such as fraud protection plans, credit record protection, travel clubs and life insurance. More often than not, much better deals on these services can be found elsewhere.

5. Never max out your card. 

You will be hit with over-limit fees. Keep in mind that it’s best to use only 30 percent of your maximum credit allowed. Using more than that can cause a drop in your credit score.  In addition, be aware of unsolicited increases to your credit limit. Lenders generally increase limits for consumers that they think will carry a bigger balance and pay more interest.

ACCC is a 501(c)3 organization, that provides free credit counseling, bankruptcy counseling, and housing counseling to consumers nationwide in need of financial literacy education and money management. For more information, contact ACCC:

  • For credit counseling, call 800-769-3571
  • For bankruptcy counseling, call 866-826-6924
  • For housing counseling, call 866-826-7180
  • For information on financial education workshops in New England, call 800-769-3571 x1980
  • Or visit us online at ConsumerCredit.com

About American Consumer Credit Counseling

American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering consumers to achieve financial health through education, counseling, and debt management. ACCC provides individuals with practical solutions for solving financial problems and recognizes that consumers’ financial difficulties are often not the result of poor spending habits, but more frequently from extenuating circumstances beyond their control. As one of the nation’s leading providers of financial education and credit counseling services, ACCC works with consumers to help them with the best plan of action to reduce their debt and regain financial stability. ACCC is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and holds an A+ rating. It is also a member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. For more information or to access free financial education resources log on to ConsumerCredit.com or visit TalkingCentsBlog.com.