Tips for Wise Credit Card Use

Monday, September 14 at 11:10 AM
Category: Personal Finance

Credit cards need to be used wisely if you want them to positively help build your credit history. Check out these tips to put you on the right path. 

Carefully review your card statements for billing errors and other problems, and report them quickly. The FDIC's Consumer Response Center reports that billing disputes and error resolution problems and processes are one of the most common types of complaints related to credit cards. And, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many consumers are confused and frustrated by the process of challenging inaccuracies on their monthly statements. If you notice a billing error, such as an unauthorized charge on your statement, contact the card issuer as soon as possible. 

Review all communications from your lender. Keep a copy of your cardholder agreement and look at all other mailings from your lender because they may include notices about adjustments to the important terms of your card. For example, a credit card issuer must typically provide customers a 45-day advance notice of an interest rate increase.

Pay on time to limit late fees and protect your credit history. If you miss a payment, you'll likely be charged a late fee. Late payments are also reported to the major consumer reporting agencies, which can harm your credit history.

Pay as much as you can to avoid or minimize fees and interest charges. While it may sound like a bargain to pay the minimum amount due, the long-term costs can be staggering. You will generally be charged interest on the unpaid portion of your balance at the beginning of a new billing cycle and your credit card issuer may start charging you interest from the time of purchase. If you can't pay the full amount, paying even slightly more than the minimum amount due can reduce your interest costs.

If you add an "authorized user" to the account, set rules and monitor transactions. Adding an authorized user can be a way to jointly manage your finances (for your convenience) or to help someone else (such as a relative under 21 years old) establish a credit history. But remember that you will be liable for any charges the authorized user makes with the card, so it's best to have a mutual understanding about your expectations as the account owner. Also consider asking your card issuer to place a spending limit on the card assigned to the authorized user. And, of course, be sure to regularly monitor the account and take appropriate action, if necessary.

Protect your card from fraud. Never provide your credit card numbers — including the account number and expiration date on the front and the security code on the front and/or back — in response to an unsolicited phone call, email or other communication. When using your credit card online, make sure you're dealing with a legitimate company. Also, take precautions at the checkout counter and gas pump, watching for card reading devices that look suspicious, such as a plastic sleeve inside a card slot or other possible signs of tampering.

If you have lost your card or are the victim of identity theft, contact your credit card company as soon as possible. Write down the contact number printed on the back of your card and keep it somewhere else you can quickly access. Federal law protects consumers from unauthorized activity.

To try to resolve a complaint, first contact your card issuer. Before calling, think through and summarize what the problem is and what you'd like done about it. This will help you remember the key points of the issue. In case the financial institution doesn't agree to your solution, think about other alternatives you might propose or accept.

The FDIC and other banking regulators can't settle contract disputes between a bank and a consumer, but they often can assist consumers in other ways, such as helping people understand confusing information, contacting the issuer and initiating a formal review process, and/or taking supervisory actions if the institution is in violation of a law or regulation. To find the regulator for an FDIC-insured institution, you can look online* or call the FDIC at (877) 275-3342.

By being smart about your credit card use, you help make your credit cards a tool and not a vice. 

Information courtesy of FDIC Consumer News.

Links marked with * go to a third-party site not operated or endorsed by Arvest Bank, an FDIC-insured institution.

Tags: Credit Cards, Credit History, Financial Education
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