Find the best credit cards and use them strategically!
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Smart ways to use your cards while avoiding common debt and credit traps.

Credit cards don’t have to be the enemy of a stable financial outlook. With the right strategy, you can open accounts and use them to your advantage. As long as you understand how to manage high interest rate debt effectively, credit can be a helpful tool in your financial arsenal.

These articles teach you about the latest tips and tricks for using your accounts strategically. They also explain trends that affect how you manage credit so you can maintain a high score and avoid debt. Learn how to avoid common traps and overcome challenges that often lead other consumers into financial distress.

Millennial woman using her credit card online

Are Millennials Better Than Their Parents When It Comes To Credit Cards?

October 16, 2017 | Ryan Lynch

They pay them off more often, but they have too darn many of them.

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Are You Living in Credit Hell?

October 9, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

This spooky map looks at how long it takes to pay off the typical credit card debt in every state.

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How Far Should You Go (Revealing Debt) On Your First Date?

September 28, 2017 | Michelle Bryan

It could be vital to compatibility, but best not reveal too much too soon

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Are Millennials Opening Too Many Credit Cards?

September 25, 2017 | Ryan Lynch

The generation is looking for cards that offer more rewards

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Millennials Are Afraid of Their Credit Cards

September 22, 2017 | Ryan Lynch

The generation is afraid of debt, creating a vicious cycle of bad spending

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CFPB Recovers $14 Million for Ripped-Off Consumers

September 21, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

The federal agency continues to aggressively battle companies that confuse and shortchange consumers.

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Banks Are Helping Hurricane Harvey And Irma Victims

September 14, 2017 | Nate Mills

If your bank is on this list, you might be eligible for free services.

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Millennial Women Know Credit More Than Male Peers

September 6, 2017 | Joe Pye

They’re also more likely to want to learn about credit.

Find credit cards with the best rewards program.

The Worst Rewards Credit Card EVER?

August 15, 2017 | Jason Steele

If the Kroger ‘1-2-3 Rewards Card’ isn’t the worst, it’s close.

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Money on the Street Interviews: Are Credit Cards Bad or Good?

August 9, 2017 | Michelle Bryan

When it comes to credit cards, even good answers have bad elements lying just beneath the surface.

The American Express Green Card

Does The American Express Green Card Still Make Sense?

August 8, 2017 | Jason Steele

The most recognizable credit card in the world is no longer a world-beater.

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What’s Your Dumbest Debt Mistake?

August 4, 2017 | Michael Koretzky

Our favorite answer: Marrying the wrong person.

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BJ’s Has Its Own Credit Card. Is It Worth Having?

July 20, 2017 | Jason Steele

And how does it compare to Costco and Sam’s Club?

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Thanks to the CFPB, We Can Sue Banks Again

July 13, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

For years, credit card companies and banks have avoided class-action lawsuits by writing rules prohibiting them. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just snapped those rules.

When you add it up, rewards mean nothing if you don’t eliminate credit card debt quickly.

Make Money By Being Disloyal — To Your Credit Card

July 10, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Your loyalty program isn’t saving you money, and it’s your fault.

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PenFed Promise Visa Card: The Simplest Card You’ll Ever Find

July 6, 2017 | Jason Steele

Sounds weird, but there’s a credit card that doesn’t feel like making money off you.

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Will I Make More Money Buying A House Or Paying Off My Credit Cards?

July 5, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader and her husband want a new house, but they don’t want old debt, either.

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The 6 Best Credit Cards That Help You Build Credit

June 29, 2017 | Jason Steele

If you can’t get a credit card because you have bad credit, here are your options.

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CFPB Wants Credit Card Offers to be More Transparent

June 28, 2017 | Dori Zinn

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is asking retail credit card companies to end deferred interest card offers since many consumers don’t actually know what that means.

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Will Bankruptcy Keep Me From Buying A Car?

June 28, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader went bankrupt, and now years later, she needs a new set of wheels.

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CFPB Says Low-Income Americans Are ‘Credit Invisible’

June 27, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Low-income consumers are 240 percent more likely to start their credit history with negative records, like a debt collection.

Illustration of man walking towards two paths symbolizing zero percent interest and deffered interest.

Zero Percent vs. Deferred Interest: Do You Know the Difference?

June 26, 2017 | Dori Zinn

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants you to avoid falling into the trap of promotional credit card offers.

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Is There A Free Credit Card With Maximum Travel Points?

June 22, 2017 | Jason Steele

Yes, and it has an annual-fee cousin that’s even better.

Do you know about the value of EMV credit cards?

The Best Prepaid Debit Cards Available Right Now

June 15, 2017 | Jason Steele

They can really cost you. But you can outsmart them – and even profit from them.

What if I stopped paying my credit cards?

Middle Class Millennials Struggle With Employment

June 13, 2017 | Joe Pye

Having a credit score under 700 is related to difficulties holding onto jobs and living on your own.

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Don’t Take Advantage of Credit Card Cash Advances

June 8, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Consumers are paying much more in cash advances than what they take out. Here’s a breakdown of the costs.

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Are You Paying the Wrong Debt First?

June 6, 2017 | Dori Zinn

We’re paying off unsecured personal loans faster than auto loans, mortgages, and credit cards and we probably shouldn’t be.

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Banks Warn Customers About Fraud More Often

May 25, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Whether it’s a text message, phone call, email or letter, your banking institution can let you know when fraudulent activity occurs on your account. Do you get fraud alerts?

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Can “Debt Tech” Robots Keep You From Going Broke?

May 22, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

With self-driving cars already taking to the road, is it so far-fetched to think robots can keep you out of debt?

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Ask The Expert: How Do I Hide Debt From My Girlfriend Till We Get Married?

May 3, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader is looking for a “hack” to avoid telling his girlfriend the truth.

Skimmers allow your bank card information to get hacked just for banking at the wrong ATM

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April 13, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Debit card compromises are up dramatically and ATMs are a huge part of it.

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April 4, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

This month, Debt.com answers all your questions – in under a minute.

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How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?

March 22, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader’s husband doesn’t use half his cards. Should he keep them for emergencies or get rid of them?

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What Does Your Cellphone Say About Your Credit Score?

March 21, 2017 | Joe Pye

Users with Apple products have higher FICO ratings than other smartphone companies.

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3 New Polls that Depress Me about Americans and Money

March 20, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

How can the greatest country on Earth not be so great with its money?

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Credit Card Debt: When “Typical” Is Horrible

February 13, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Here’s a new statistic that should strike fear into your family. Here’s what you can do about it.

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Ask The Expert: Is This The Dumbest Idea You’ve Ever Heard?

February 1, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

This week: How Trump, gold bullion, and credit cards don’t mix.

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Two-thirds of young adults have an actual fear of debt, even though they plan their spending on a constant basis.

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Gas Rewards And Credit Card Perks Still In Demand

January 23, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Gas rewards are the number one loyalty program preferred by consumers, more than credit card rewards, coupons, and even instant discounts at the cash register.

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A reader has skipped Black Friday and Cyber Monday — and every other shopping day so far.

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A reader is offended by her fiance, but she’s got an amusing plan to even the odds.

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Millions of Americans Spy on Credit Card Statements of Others

November 17, 2016 | Dori Zinn

Turns out that 24 percent of higher-earning and lower-earning Americans are equally likely to snoop on the credit report of someone they share an account with.

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November 15, 2016 | Dori Zinn

38 percent of Americans will charge their holiday purchases to a credit card, and almost half of those said it’s to earn rewards.

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8 Traps to Avoid That Lead to Debt and Credit Problems

#1: Interest charges offset any rewards you earn quickly

If you don’t pay off your debt in-full at the end of each billing cycle, you offset any rewards you earn with interest charges. That’s true whether you earn 1.5% cash back on everything, 5% on specific things, airline miles or points. Since credit cards have such high interest rates, it doesn’t take long for 22% APR to eat up that 5% you earned on groceries.

Let’s say you have a credit card that offers 1.5% cash back on everything. You make a big $1,000 purchase for a new TV on that card. Great, you just earned $15 cash back. However, the card also has 19% APR.

  • On a standard 2% payment schedule, the minimum payments would be $20.
  • If you only make minimum payments, you pay $1,697.81 in interest charges over 169 payments
  • In fact, in the first $20 payment, $15.83 goes to cover accrued interest charges. You effectively pay more interest charges than the rewards you earn

The only way to avoid the offset is to use an account that started the billing cycle with a zero balance. If you pay off the $1,000 within that first billing cycle, you don’t incur any interest charges. But the instant you let the balance carry over to the next billing cycle, you just wasted that cash back you earned.

#2: It’s time to pay up when introductory periods ends

Introductory or promotional periods on new accounts are extremely beneficial. You can pay off your debt interest free for a period of time. This can be useful for big-ticket purchases like that TV from the example above. It can also help you to pay off debt quickly if you consolidate with a balance transfer credit card.

However, you need to be very aware of when your introductory periods end. At that point, interest charges will apply to whatever balance you have on the card. If you consolidated to pay off your debt fast, you want to finish before this period ends. Otherwise, you’re essentially right back in the situation you were before you transferred the balances.

Also be sure to check if the interest is simply set to zero during the introductory period or deferred. If interest is deferred then you absolutely can’t afford to let the balance carry over at the end of the promotion. With deferred interest, you must pay interest charges on the full balance even if you just have a small percentage of debt remaining.

#3: Purchase acceleration pushes you to spend more

Purchase acceleration is where you spend more on a credit card specifically for the purpose of earning rewards. It often drives people to go over budget and buy things they really don’t need. You make extra purchases at the airport to earn more miles. You charge incidentals to a credit card because you’re close to a certain point total. This is not a wise way to use credit, so recognize that it happens and avoid it.

#4: More than 30 days means credit damage

If you miss a payment by more than 30 days, federal law requires the issuer to report it. They notify the credit bureaus and you get popped with a negative item on your credit report. This negative item remains on your report for seven years from the date the issuer reported it.

You get a new penalty at 60 days, 90 days and 120 days. Then the creditor writes off the account and moves it to charge-off status. This is typically when you encounter collectors.

If you miss a payment by a few days, you usually don’t have to worry about credit damage. It’s usually only when you’re late by 30 days or more.

#5: Minimum payments aren’t meant to be efficient

Creditors don’t set minimum payment schedules to help you pay off debt effectively. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Interest charges are how creditors earn revenue from you. So, it’s in their best interest to keep you in debt as long as possible. More months in debt means more opportunities for interest charges. That’s why they let you pay $20 on a $1,000 for 169 months. They end up making more money than what you initially charged.

Always try to set up your own repayment schedule to pay off outstanding balances faster.

#6: Penalty APR can lead to negative amortization

Check the terms on your credit card agreement carefully to see how and when penalty APR may apply. Penalty APR is a higher rate that a creditor charges once you make a late payment. In some cases, it can be double your regulate rate. This quickly piles on interest charges on the debt you owe.

In normal circumstances, APR eats up about one half to two thirds your monthly payment. If you have 15% APR, it’s about half; at 20% APR it’s two thirds. So, if you double that rate you can get into a bad situation with negative amortization. This is where the minimum payment doesn’t cover the accrued interest charges on the account. As a result, you can make a payment and end up with a higher balance than when you started.

By law, a creditor must remove penalty APR if you make 6 consecutive payments on time. Then the creditor restores the original rate on the account.

#7: Creditors won’t give you better rates unless you ask

Speaking of rates, it’s a good idea to check what’s happening with average credit card APR frequently. You want to know where average rates sit so you can negotiate effectively with your creditors. Negotiation is key, because your creditors will never volunteer to give you a better rate.

They increase your rates when the Fed raises their rate. They’ll give you a better credit limit so you can spend more money. But they won’t just offer you a lower rate, even if you have perfect credit. You have to call to ask.

#8: As long as you pay the principal, it doesn’t cause credit damage

One final trap to note is the idea that you have to pay what you owe using traditional means. It’s the idea that if you have $7,500 of debt to pay back at 23% APR that you’re stuck slogging through that with traditional payments.

It’s not true! As long as you pay back the principal– i.e. the original debt you incurred – it doesn’t cause credit damage. You can negotiate for lower APR, restructure your debt payments or consolidate. If the solution you use pays back the amount you borrowed, your credit shouldn’t be hurt. This is why a debt management program can help you build credit by paying off your debt. However, a debt settlement program hurts your credit because you only pay back a portion of what you owe.