Andrew Schrage is one of the team members of Money Crashers, a website geared toward helping readers make good choices when it comes to a whole host of money related topics, including education, spending habits, investing, real estate, insurance and of course managing credit and debt. Recently he sat down and talked with us about staying in control of credit cards, a very hot topic these days.
I become involved with Money Crashers in 2008 at the height of the recession. The goal of the site is to educate its readers on ways to make better spending and saving decisions. Progress was slow and steady in the beginning, but we've recently enjoyed a significant increase in traffic and subscribers due to our ever-increasing presence on social media websites.
While I consider myself and the site's contributors to be experts in the personal finance realm, we are not so bold as to think that we have all the answers. We strive for a neighborly feel to the website, which invites readers to participate in various discussions. Since our respondents can count on their opinions being heard and their questions answered, we feel that they can rely on us for help with their everyday finances.
People are becoming more aware of the financial toll that carrying credit card debt can take on their lives. So much hard-earned money is wasted on unnecessary interest payments, and with the current economic crisis, people are now more interested than ever in finding ways to get rid of this debt.
At Money Crashers, we wanted to take an organized approach to the content we post. So we created the Eleven Indispensable Principles so that our readers will have some basic understanding of what our core values and beliefs are. We feel that if these principles are put into place, achieving financial success is possible for anyone.
Credit cards can make you lots of money when used correctly, but can cost you big time if they're abused. Here are my top five tips:
- If you can't afford to pay for something by the end of the month, then you just can't afford it.
- Before you reach for your plastic to purchase an item, ask yourself one simple question: "Do I really need this?"
- Limit the number of credit cards you carry with you at any one time (two at the most) for safety reasons.
- Do not close unused credit card accounts, as this lowers your credit score. Keep them all open and use these cards every so often so the issuer doesn't close them for you.
- If you pay your balance off each month, put all your purchases on credit cards to boost your rewards card balance. You can even sign up utility bills to be paid with credit cards if your provider allows it.
I currently use the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. I get 6% cash back on groceries and 3% on gas. I also use the Chase Freedom card, which provides a 5% discount on all purchases at checkout across rotating categories throughout the year. I also use the Chase Ink card for business, which offers significant cash back and no annual fee. My key credit card tip is that if you're in good financial shape and have the discipline not to get into credit card debt, the best option for you is cash back credit cards. These provide an unbelievable return on your money and make it extremely unwise to pay cash for your purchases.
The one card I use for business is the Ink card, which I mentioned above. While business credit cards do have benefits, keep in mind that you can often take better advantage of cash back and other perks by sticking with personal credit cards. Also, business credit cards aren't protected under the recent credit card legislation.
I pay for office supplies, software subscriptions, professional memberships, marketing initiatives, and Internet fees with credit cards. The more purchases I pay for with credit, the higher my cash back rewards payouts.
Good debt is any sort of borrowing that you do which is for something that will eventually (or hopefully) give you a decent return on your investment. Taking out a mortgage to buy a house or using student loans to pay for college are two good examples. Your house will hopefully improve in value over time, and the benefits of a college degree may include getting a higher-paying job. Taking out a loan to buy a car is another example. The car won't appreciate in value, but it's a necessity for most people in order to hold down a job and earn a salary. Bad debt is basically all other forms of debt, with credit card debt at the top of the list.
There are interest rates associated with each type of good debt. If you carry significant credit card debt, pay your credit card bills late, or go over your spending limits, the bank will charge you a higher rate of interest. This is just one more reason why heavy credit card debt takes such a financial toll.
If your finances are a mess, this can lead to increased stress and poor physical fitness. However, instead of signing up for an expensive gym membership, consider getting cheaper or free methods to get yourself back into shape. You can walk or jog in your neighborhood, swim at local public pools, and exercise at home with an affordable set of dumbbells and a jump rope.
Examine your diet as well. If you replace prepackaged and processed foods with more fresh fruits and vegetables, you'll save money and live healthier at the same time.
Andrew certainly covered lots of ground in this interview! I had a great time at FINCON 2012 and we will be talking with some of the other leading experts I met there in the coming weeks, to bring you the latest information on money, credit and finance.