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02.07.24

How to Use a Credit Card Responsibly

Credit cards can be an important tool in your financial toolkit. When used responsibly, a credit card can help you build credit and gain rewards for purchases you would already be making.

Choose your card carefully

The first step to using a credit card is to get the right one. Start by researching cards and seeing what they offer. You should consider your spending habits and priorities when it comes to rewards. Are you an avid traveler who wants to earn miles? Or maybe you’d rather just get cash back? If possible, it's wise to avoid cards that have extremely high interest rates. Plus, you'll want to know if the card has an annual fee and decide if the benefits of the card are worth it in your situation.

You should only apply for a card once you feel fully confident that this card will suit your needs and give you the best deal. Plus, you want to figure out if you are likely to qualify. Keep an eye on your credit score, and look for cards that usually approve people with your score. If your credit score is too low and you get denied, it could negatively affect your credit score.

Decide how to use your card

Once you've been approved for a card, using it and paying it off can help your credit score. Decide what purchases you will make on the card and stick to that. While simply having a card can have a positive impact on your credit score, it will be much more helpful if you actually use it. It’s important to be responsible with it – never use your card for more than you can comfortably pay back, except for emergencies. A credit card offers revolving credit. With a credit card, as soon as you pay off the amount you've used, that amount is available for you to use again.

Consistent use and responsible payments builds your credit history and shows potential lenders that you can borrow and pay back money responsibly.

Pay off your balance on time every month

The best thing to do with your card to build your credit score and protect your finances is to pay off what you owe on time. And, when possible, don’t just make the minimum payment. Whenever possible, pay off everything you bought that month. That way, you won’t be carrying an unpaid balance that will start to accrue interest. That makes your original purchase cost more than if you had paid with cash. Plus, if you are still behind the next month, you’ll end up paying interest on the interest you already accrued, which can lead to a cascading effect that catches some consumers by surprise and puts them deeper in debt.

If you've found yourself falling behind, don’t panic or ignore the situation. Make a plan to start paying off what you owe and get on top of your monthly payments.

Diversify

If your main goal is to improve your credit score, the more positive information a credit agency has about you, the better. If you’re an Atlantic Union Bank customer, you can go into your account and use Savvy Money to test certain scenarios to see how they affect your score. Building your credit score requires balancing multiple credit types where you consistently make your payments without overwhelming yourself or opening too many accounts all at once. And, if you’re looking to close an account, try to keep your oldest credit card open as long as possible because length of credit is a factor in determining your score.

Be aware of how much you’re borrowing

When you’re approved for a credit card, you’ll be given a credit limit. This is the max amount that the credit card company will let you borrow at one time. If you constantly get close to that limit, creditors can view you as a high risk borrower. The percentage you use of available credit is your credit utilization ratio. General guidance is to keep your ratio under 30%; going any higher than this can damage your score. If it isn’t always possible to stay below that number, do your best to pay your balance down as soon as possible to make it less likely that the higher amount will be reported to credit monitoring agencies.

Now you have more information about how to responsibly use a credit card. A credit card can be another tool in your financial toolkit that helps your achieve your goals.

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