Credit cards can be an incredibly valuable part of your financial toolbox. With the amount of credit card advice offered on the Internet or by friends and family, it can be difficult to separate fact from reality. Suggestions about the best way to cook eggs so that the shells peel off easily or chop an onion without crying may contain more fiction than fact, but these innocent pieces of misinformation aren’t especially harmful. Credit card myths, on the other hand, can be damaging. Here are six credit card myths that you may have heard before and maybe even repeated. The corresponding facts will clear up the confusion:
1) Credit or Debit? It Doesn’t Matter
Unless you have a personal assistant who does all of your shopping, you are probably asked “Credit or debit?” several times a day. If you answer, “It doesn’t matter,” then you are perpetuating this first myth. Even if your credit card has the same logo as your debit card and you monitor them on the same site, they don’t do the same thing for your finances. Only purchases made on your credit card affect your credit score. If you use your credit card reliably and pay your bill responsibly each month, you will build credit, so stop to consider this next time you swipe your card. Your credit score can also be harmed if you do not use any credit at all.
2) You Need to Pay Only the Minimum Balance
A credit card statement lists several figures in summary of the previous month’s activity. These include the balance of the previous statement period, minimum amount due, APR and total available credit. Checking your statement online gives even more information, including current balance, current available credit and activity since the previous statement. With all these numbers to consider, you may zero in on the phrase “amount due” when you write your check or pay online. The minimum amount due is not the most important figure, however, because it is only the amount of money that you need to pay to avoid a late fee or other penalties. The total balance of the previous statement period is actually the complete amount owed. If you pay only the minimum balance, you will be charged interest on the remainder. This is how credit cards make money and why they typically suggest such low minimum balances.
Furthermore, if you avoid paying your full balance because you’ve heard that having a balance is better for your credit score, you are paying interest for no reason. MSN Money contributor Liz Weston clears up the confusion, stating that “your credit reports and scores don’t ‘know’ whether you’re carrying a balance or paying it off in full every month.”
3) You Should Always Pay Your Current Total Balance
If you have focused on the total balance of your online statement, you are in better shape than are those who pay only the minimum but don’t fully understand how much they owe. Paying off the full balance is important, but it is the full balance from the previous statement period that matters. The total balance includes both the previous statement balance and all activity since that statement. You will not be expected to repay those new charges, however, until they appear on your next statement. Paying just the previous statement balance and not the total balance will not hurt your credit or accrue interest.
4) There Is No Minimum Credit Card Purchase
If your desk drawers are full of packets of gum that you’ve grabbed in check-out aisles to bolster your bill to a minimum credit card purchase amount, you may be interested to know that this practice is not technically legal. Although not usually enforced by credit companies, there is no true minimum purchase necessary to use your credit card. Stores enforce this to offset the fee they pay on each purchase made with a credit card. If you are uncomfortable with this practice, you can seek out local businesses that do not enforce minimums or that charge a small fee for credit card transactions on small purchases, which is a more transparent policy.
5) Your Fixed Interest Rate Will Stay Fixed
If you have a fixed interest rate, you may think that the case is closed, but that is not so. In fact, you may find that your rate increases if you miss a monthly payment, fail to pay the full amount, transfer your balance to a new card or take a cash advance. Make sure to find out how much you will be penalized for these activities in order to decide if they are worth the price.
6) You Should Use All of Your Credit
Even though you are allowed a certain amount of credit, you do not have to use all of it. Yes, using little or no credit can negatively affect your credit score, but so can using all of your credit. Paul Sisolak of the website GoBankingRates.com says that “creditors also make use of a term called ‘low utilization,’ which means that using a smaller amount of credit in your account looks better to the credit bureaus, and subsequently, your credit score.” Monitoring your credit score can help you determine if you are using an appropriate amount of your credit.
Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.