Charge Healthy

Keeping a healthy relationship with your borrowing is key to your financial health, especially in tough economic times.  We’ve looked at saving for a big ticket item and buying your holiday gifts with your remaining paychecks for the year.  Now here are five simple ways to keep your credit cards under control.

1)  Check your interest

When you have a credit card, you’re not really getting air miles, cash back or a lower annual fee—you’re paying the card company a lot of money to pay in installments.  So while it’s great for them to offer benefits that fit your lifestyle, the bottom line is how much you’re paying them for that privilege.

Assuming your credit rating is good, shop around for the lowest rate and ask for a lower interest rate if your bank has one.  While it’s worth transferring your balance from a higher interest to a lower interest credit card, know you’ll probably pay a higher “cash advance” interest rate for that amount.  It may be best to just stop using the higher rate card and pay down that balance.  Watch out for debit cards that allow you to use them as a credit card—even though there may be points or a bonus to using the card for credit—you’ve just paid more money (interest) for that service.

2)  Buy-and-pay

Use your credit card as if it were a time-delay debit card.    Know you’ll have the amount of purchase within the month and pay down the balance then.  Even if you incur a small interest amount, you’re not using the card to pay over an unspecified (read: cha-ching) period of time—with unlimited interest.  Of course, if you need to charge sudden  larger purchases like a college class, emergency dental work or car repair on your credit card—that’s what the card is for, unplanned spending when you don’t have the cash.

3) Pay automatically

Why waste time paying bills when you can take a moment to set up a pre-authorized payment plan from your checking account and improve your credit rating with consistent payments?  Setting up a pre-authorized payment for your credit card takes just minutes online or over the phone and saves you time and the hassle of paying individually every month.  Just confirm when your billing cycle is to best time the payments with your paychecks.  Credit card companies are offering some low interest cards and wait for you to pay late just one time—that card could now become a high interest card.  Paying automatically also saves you from this possible increase.

4)  Pay bills out of your checking

In the same vein, don’t pay your bills with a credit card if you can avoid it. It’s a guaranteed monthly expense and you’re now paying sometimes triple the amount of the bill, in interest.  Paying automatically from your checking allows you to know what your budget is really for each paycheck because there are no hidden purchases and interest on your card.

5)  Pre-set spending limits

Some banks are allowing customers to either pre-set a definitive spending limit, as opposed to allowing you to go over your credit limit---for a hefty overdraft fee.  There’s a trend to even allow customers to set purchase limits that fit your monthly budget.   The first product, called in Control by CitiGroup, will allow customers to get an alert at first and then in future, pre-set spending limits.  Other cards are expected to follow this trend.

Making sure you’re still in control of your own spending and your borrowing costs will also be in healthy proportion to your income (read: huge peace of mind)!