One pitfall of credit cards is the cash advance. Most credit cards will issue you a Personal Identification Number (PIN) so that you can withdraw cash at any ATM, just like a debit or bank card. Although the convenience is great, so is the cost. Cash advances from credit cards rarely, if ever, have a repayment grace period. In other words, interest accrues on your cash advance the minute you pull a greenback out of an ATM machine. This is in contrast to a purchase, where you might be afforded a period in which interest does not accrue.
Additionally, credit card companies charge more for cash advances than they do for purchases. If you read the fine print on your credit card fee schedule, you might find that the APR for cash advances is different than that of purchases or balance transfers. Not only do you pay interest from the minute you withdraw cash, you are paying more interest than normal. You might save more money if you purchased an item and sold it yourself.
Some credit cards will also charge you a cash advance fee on top of the higher interest rate. Add to this the ATM fees that banks will charge, and you have perhaps the most expensive way to put cash in your pocket. It’s always good to have the option to withdraw cash from your credit card, but only use it in an extreme emergency situation.
Another pitfall of credit cards is fraud. The new buzzword these days is “identity theft.” With the proliferation of shopping over the internet, it has become increasingly easy to use a stolen credit card to make purchases, not to mention telephone and catalog purchases. Further, pre-approved credit card offers can be swiped from mailboxes. Sometimes these offers will come pre-printed with personal information, including your name, address, phone number, and even your date of birth and social security number. This makes it extremely easy for another person to open an account in your name, or even represent themselves as you with your existing accounts.
Make sure you dispose of any pre-approved credit card offers securely if you choose not to take advantage of them. If you have no intention of obtaining a credit card from these offers, you can write to the address contained in the offer to remove your name from any further solicitation.
When a credit card bill arrives, some people never actually read the bill. They only read the minimum payment due, and maybe the balance. By doing so, you could be missing out on any potential fraudulent charges, or even honest overcharges. Scrutinize your bill to ensure that all charges are legitimate. You should also scrutinize the amount charged, as you might have been overcharged for something you bought. This can happen if the amount of your charge is manually entered into the credit card machine, instead of the machine obtaining the information from the cash register.
You should pay special attention to your APR and the finances charges. Credit card companies can increase your interest rate with no prior notice or warning, and they are within their rights to do so. The fine print of their cardholder agreement outlines the instances in which they can increase your rate. These events can include a late payment (even if it’s only 1 day late), going over your credit limit, and even the lowering of your credit score.
If you find that your APR is higher than when you applied, find out why. If it relates to your credit score, you might be able to get your rate back down to the original level if you raise your score. Get a copy of your credit report, find out your score, and take the necessary steps to boost it. You’ll save hundreds of dollars in interest charges in the long-run.
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