Start smart with your first credit card
First-time credit card? Use it wisely now and boost your buying power down the road.
Your first credit card is independence, convenience and opportunity all rolled into one. By handling it responsibly, your first credit card can help you build credit and improve your ability to borrow money in the future. Here are 7 basic steps to making the most of your first credit card.
- Know your credit score
When you go to borrow money, the first things the lender looks at are your credit history and credit score. The score is basically a measure of how reliable you are about borrowing and paying back money. The higher your score, the lower your interest rate and the better your loan terms.
- Use your first credit card for important stuff, not impulse purchases
One rule of thumb for building a strong credit history is to spend no more than 50% of your available credit line. Using your card as ready cash can burn through your available credit in a hurry. So keep your card for planned purchases, take your time hunting down the best deals, and make sure you have a plan to pay off the purchase before you swipe your card.
- Pay on time
This may seem pretty obvious, but you may not be aware of the consequences of missing a payment. One missed or late payment can lead to interest charges and late fees, not to mention a potential ding on your credit history.
Pay more than the minimum
You’ll not only strengthen your creditworthiness. You can save serious money by increasing your payments.
Example: You buy a tablet for $300 with a card that charges 18% interest, and your minimum payment is $20.
What you pay: # of payments: Total cost with interest: $20 minimum 18 $345 Entire amount 1 $300
- Keep your first credit card unblemished — check your credit report once a year
Three major credit bureaus keep track of your credit history — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’re entitled to a free report from each of them once a year. Just visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1.877.322.8228. Check your reports to make sure there are no mistakes that could hurt your credit score.
- Take advantage of online banking
Using online or mobile banking can help you keep up with your account anytime, anywhere. Instead of waiting for a monthly paper statement, you can spontaneously check on account activity, review your spending habits and spot opportunities to cut back. Depending on your card issuer, you may even be able to get automatic alerts telling you when you’re close to your total credit line, when bill payments are due and more.
- Protect yourself from fraud
Review your bank's privacy and security policies to find out how you’re protected in case your credit card number is stolen. Learn how to protect yourself from fraud and what to do if you become a victim. A few simple tips: Never give out your credit card number over the phone unless you initiated the call, memorize your passwords and PIN numbers and keep them in a safe, secure location and check your account often to monitor for unusual activity.