Credit card mistakes even savvy cardholders can make

Erica Lamberg
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Erica Lamberg
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Credit card mistakes even savvy cardholders can make

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Savvy credit card users understand the importance of paying their account balance on time and in full to avoid interest charges, hefty late fees and mounting credit card balances. But, even organized credit cardholders with healthy credit scores can make missteps regarding credit card management and use. To be better prepared against these sneaky surprises, we asked two credit card experts for strategies and tips to stay on sound financial footing. Here are the mistakes they highlighted:

Not staying on top of due dates

You may have several credit cards due at different times of the month, and this could lead to a challenge to keep a handle on what’s due and when. If you miss a payment, there are consequences.

“Life happens, but nothing will hurt your credit scores more quickly or significantly than missed payments, including missed credit card payments,” said Rod Griffin, senior director of consumer education and advocacy with Experian.

To alleviate the risk of this happening, create a system that works best for you. Setting up automatic payments or calendar reminders can be a helpful way keep to keep track of your payment schedule, Griffin noted. There also may be an opportunity to contact your credit card issuer to pick the date that your statement is due. Perhaps you can align your accounts around the same time of the month to ensure you’re organized.

Not maximizing cash-back offers

Smart credit card users maintain low balances and pay statement balances, but be sure to seize cash-back rewards which could be sitting on the table.

“You may not be maximizing the ways in which credit can be a financial tool by taking advantage of cash back rewards, for example,” Griffin said. If your card offers cash back, he suggested reaching for that card for everyday purchases like groceries or gas, so long as you’re paying your monthly balance in full.

“This approach could help earn money by paying for everyday expenses and is one way to use credit as a financial tool,” Griffin added. Your cash back rewards could be redeemed as statement credits, a check, or could be applied for other offers.

Using debit cards over credit cards for online purchases

In theory, to control spending you may think using a debit card for online shopping is a way to monitor your outlays, but there are risks associated with such purchases.

“A debit card simply isn’t the right tool for online transactions,” said Monica Eaton, a credit expert and CEO of Chargebacks911. “Never use a debit card when buying products or services online. I just can’t say this enough!”

She cautioned that a debit card offers extremely limited protection, and there’s even more to worry about than that. “You could literally lose every last penny in your bank account,” she warned. To that point, Eaton explained that credit cards protect you far more comprehensively. “In fact, 2024 is the 50th anniversary of the 1974 Fair Credit Billing Act that bestowed these federal protections exclusively to credit cards — not to debit cards,” she continued. “Debit cards and credit cards look very similar, but they’re vastly different tools — with different risks, benefits and liabilities.”

Auto-paying for subscriptions you rarely use

True, it can be time-consuming and tedious to pay bills manually, which experts say has led to the rise in auto-pay options, but this can cause consumers to set up payments for accounts and then forget about them.

“It’s a near-seamless fit for subscription services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Peacock, ESPN+ and Disney +, but the same thing that makes it so convenient can also make it so costly and wasteful,” explained Eaton. “Right now, there’s a chance you’re paying for services that you rarely use. It happens to all of us, because we get so overwhelmed by life’s distractions.”

Not realizing that your points can expire

Accruing points through purchases and shopping is a strategy many savvy credit card sharks do successfully, but there’s fine print to be aware of – expiration dates.

“At the end of the day, ‘your’ points and rewards are subject to the terms and conditions of the bank,” stipulated Eaton. “The points belong to you — but only under certain, specific guidelines, and you shouldn’t assume permanent, absolute ownership.” Very often, for example, airline credit card miles will have expiration dates, she noted. “Other credit cards might have your points or benefits that automatically expire after a set number of years. Sometimes they expire for legal or regulatory reasons. It’s your job, as the cardholder, to track this information. Don’t expect the bank to do it for you,” she clarified.

Not opting in or enrolling in all your offers

Your credit card’s annual fee can be steep, especially if it’s a rewards card. Be sure to opt in to all the offers that are available to you for holding that account.

We live in the ‘Age of Automation,’ but not all credit card benefits are automatic,” said Eaton. “Sometimes, you need to overtly opt-in before you can enjoy the special benefits. Perks related to travel, dining, airport lounge access and more could be contingent on your enrollment.” To keep a better handle on your offers, download your credit card’s app so you can easily access your offers and manage your account. “In fact, you might discover extra benefits that you weren’t even aware of,” Eaton added.

Erica Lamberg
Cardratings Contributor

Erica Lamberg is a regular contributor to Fox News, Fox Business, Real Simple, and U.S. News & World Report. She writes about business, travel, personal finance, travel insurance, and work/life balance. She is based in suburban Philadelphia....Read more

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