Credit card debt can carry with it a feeling of shame. Many of us feel we should be further along in our careers, and a blot of debt hanging over our heads is a constant reminder that we’re not. But most of us have at some point accumulated debt, and that’s okay. Indeed, having debt does not necessarily mean you’ll have a poor credit rating.
The highest interest rate you’ll ever pay is on your credit cards, so in the pecking order of debt repayment, this should be at the top. If you’ve chosen a card because it has a low introductory or transfer rate, that’s great: It will lower your payments significantly. Nevertheless, there are a couple of traps to watch out for:
Low Rates Don’t Last
Stay tuned for when the low rate ends, because at that point your interest rate will balloon. If you have a consistent on-time payment history, don’t be afraid to ask your card issuer to give you a lower rate when the introductory period is over. It won’t let you keep the original low rate, but it may be willing to work with you. If it won’t, then move the balance over to another lower-interest card, if you have one.
Late Payment Penalties
If you make even one late payment on one of those low introductory (or transfer) rate cards, the issuer will instantly cancel that fabulous low rate and unceremoniously bump you up to a much higher rate for the life of the balance. Remember: Low transfer rates sometimes come with a fee for making the transfer, equivalent to a percentage of the balance you’re transferring (this fee varies from card to card), so carefully compare cards to find the lowest transfer fee. Doing this can save you hundreds of dollars.
Choose the Right Card
Most of us get several new credit card offers a month, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best offers. Carefully weight up the benefits of each credit card before you apply. We have a selection of cards we recommend, including cards suitable for people with bad credit (in which we would recommend that the sole intention of using them would be to improve their credit score).
Skip cards that charge annual fees; credit cards are a very competitive market, and you’ll always find one with the same interest rate but without the fee. Cards that offer airline miles or “cash back” only work if you’re able to pay the balance in full every month; these cards rarely offer the lowest interest rates, and the “added value” will probably be eaten up by the higher rate.
Keep a Healthy Credit Rating
If you’re making payments on multiple cards, closely monitor when each payment is due, as billing cycles vary from card to card. Miss a due date, and you’ll not only pay a fortune in late fees, which average more than £30 a month, but also the late payment will be reflected on your credit report, affecting your ability to get lower interest rates on other credit cards, car loans, and mortgages.
Having debt isn’t necessarily bad for your overall credit score. That’s because it isn’t how much you owe but how much outstanding debt you have relative to your total available credit. You may owe a lot, but that amount may be well below your total credit limit, which is what you want. No specific number qualifies as a “good” ratio, but lower is always better.
Lastly if you’re thinking of canceling an old credit card to improve your credit rating, don’t. Creditors look to see not only how well you’ve been paying your bills but also how long you’ve had credit in your name. Canceling an old card may make you look like you’re a credit risk when you’ve had a good, long history of paying your bills on time.