Credit cards are a great financial tool, but they can be hazardous if misused. CardRatings and OP4G recently asked 2,000 Americans (ages 25 and older) about their biggest credit card fears. Read on to learn more about these fears and how to face them.
Overspending was a top fear in our survey, with 28.69 percent of overall respondents picking this option. Young people (ages 25 to 34) were especially afraid of overspending, with 33.04 percent of them listing it as their biggest fear.
It's an understandable concern, but one you can confront.
If you use a credit card for expenses, it's essential to create and stick to a budget for tracking your spending. You also don't have to wait until the due date to make a payment.
"A good first step is to only use one credit card for all purchases and record each amount in the checkbook just as though a check had been written," suggests Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "When the money is gone, stop spending. That way, when the credit card bill arrives, you'll be able to pay it in full, as the money to do so actually still remains in the checking account."
Fraud or theft
Credit card fraud was the biggest fear among older age groups -- 28.74 percent of respondents ages 55 to 64 and 27.75 percent of respondents 65 and older said this is what scares them most.
With so many headlines reporting hacked customer accounts, this is another fear that's not unfounded. But Michelle Black of credit education program HOPE4USA.com points out that it might help to understand that the best credit cards come with fraud protection.
"If a consumer carries around cash in his wallet and loses that wallet or, even worse, the wallet is stolen then the consumer is out of luck. There will be no regaining the lost cash," she says. "However, if a consumer loses his credit card or if a thief steals his credit card number then the consumer has recourses to recover any lost money."
Black says that according to the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers are only liable to pay up to $50 for fraudulent charges in the event of credit card theft or fraud.
"In reality, consumers never pay even $50, however, because all major credit card companies currently have a zero-fraud-liability policy for their customers," she says. "Credit cards are built to protect consumers from fraud, making them actually a much safer payment choice than cash."
You can protect yourself against fraud by knowing your credit card company's policy and monitoring your transactions regularly. If you have a fraudulent charge on your account, you'll have to go through the process of calling the credit card company to file a claim.
Further, the Federal Trade Commission suggests a few more precautions:
Never sign a blank receipt (draw a line through any blanks spaces).
Don't give your account number to anyone over the phone, unless you know the company you're calling is reputable. Do an online search for reviews or complaints.
If you're traveling, notify your card issuer.
The third-most common fear (16.74 percent) among our poll participants was paying credit card interest. Credit card interest can add up and make it nearly impossible to pay off your original debt. It's a problem that goes hand-in-hand with overspending.
"The only way to completely avoid those annoying charges is to pay your bill in full each month," says Jeremy Mozlin of credit card processing company Century Business Solutions. "If that is absolutely impossible, you can cut down on your monthly premiums by paying off as much of your bill as possible -- this way, you won't be completely scot-free, but you'll be better off than you'd be if you didn't pay at all."
Also, if you're stuck paying interest, it doesn't hurt to give the credit card company a call and ask if they can lower your rate. The worst they can say is no.
Incurring fees was a top fear for only 6.5 percent of our respondents. Younger age groups were more afraid of this than older age groups. While 10.87 percent of those in the 25-34 age group said it was a top fear, only 3.45 percent of those aged 55-64, and 2.87 percent 65 and up, made the same claim.
Paying your balance in a timely manner, obviously, will help you avoid the late payment fee. If you will miss a payment, consider calling your card and asking if they'll waive the fee as a courtesy.
Some cards, particularly rewards points cards, come with an annual fee. Before applying for a credit card, check the fine print to see if it comes with this fee. Sometimes, banks are willing to waive this, too, says Mozlin.
"It might serve you to pay a visit to your bank and simply threaten to close the account if the fee is small enough," he suggests. "I got Wells Fargo to remove a $45 annual fee associated with one of the rewards programs."
It's worth noting that 24.44 percent of poll respondents said they're not scared of using credit cards at all. Heed the advice, and you needn't be, either.