Financial Literacy

Credit Card Dos and Don'ts

The Basics: A credit card is issued by a financial company that gives the holder an option to borrow funds, usually at the point of purchase. Credit cards charge interest and are used primarily for short-term financing. Interest typically begins to be charged one month after a purchase is made, and borrowing limits are pre-set according to an individual’s credit rating.

If you're like me, you probably receive multiple offers weekly from credit card companies seeking new customers with easy to complete applications. In fact, I'd be willing to bet you have one or two sitting in your mailbox right now! These of course are almost always unsolicited. Before you sign on the dotted line and mail in one of those application, you need to know more. Here are some dos and don’ts regarding credit cards.

 
"Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving."
                                    - Warren Buffett
 
 

Dos

Shop around. The credit card industry is very competitive, so compare interest rates, credit limits, grace periods, annual fees, terms, and conditions.

Read the fine print. The application is a contract, so read it thoroughly before you sign it. Watch for terms such as “introductory rate,” and be sure you know when that introductory rate of interest expires.

Pay your bill in full each month. Pay off your statement each month in full and on time; otherwise, you will begin paying interest charges and may be charged late fees. Paying off your bill each month can also help ensure that you stay out of debt.

Track your spending. Look closely at your credit card statements each month to be sure that you actually approved the charges that appear. Mistakes can happen, and you don’t want to pay more than you agreed to.

Pay attention to changes in your credit agreement. Occasionally, the credit card company will send you updates on the contract you have with it. If you don’t pay attention, you could miss something important.

 
 

Don’ts

Don’t spend money you don’t have. Buying things without the money in your savings account can lead you down a dangerous path. Before you know it, you could be in a lot of debt with no way to pay it off.

Stay below your maximum credit limit. Creditors want to see that you know how to use your card wisely. Keeping your balance low and making payments in full are good ways to do that. Just because the option to spend more is there doesn’t mean that you should take advantage of it.

Don’t sign up for store credit cards just to receive a discount. Opening a credit line at a store to obtain a discount on a purchase then and there may not be a good idea. Remember that credit cards affect your credit score and that opening too many can actually hurt it. Plus, store credit cards tend to have much higher interest rates than those offered by financial institutions.

Don’t apply for additional credit cards if you have balances on others. Pay your balances on existing cards before you open new accounts. Getting in this habit will make you less likely to open too many accounts.

Don’t give your credit card to someone else. Whether you authorize it or not, giving your credit card to someone else to use is against the law.

 

Although having a credit card is important in helping you to establish a credit history, they are often misused. A credit card can be a powerful tool in the hands of a responsible individual, but it can be even more powerful in a destructive way in the hands of someone who is unaware of its pitfalls. Keep these tips in mind before obtaining and using a credit card.

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

You, like most people, probably believe that identity theft is something that could never happen to you. Then, one day, you’re reviewing your monthly bank statement, and see a list of charges made to your account from a country you’ve never dreamed of visiting.  Just like that - you’ve become one of the millions of identity theft victims that occur in the U.S. every year.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard, hackers recently accessed the personal information of over 143 million people within Equifax’s database. Unfortunately, these hackers were able to access financial information putting many of us and the people we care about at risk.

Fortunately, there are many ways that you can protect yourself from potential identity theft and fraud. Most of these actions are common sense, but they’re often overlooked. Here are 7 tips you can follow to help protect yourself:

 
  1. Be wary of emails or social media messages asking you to log into a financial account. Your bank, mortgage company, investment account, or the IRS will never request personal information by email. Never click on links embedded in those emails; instead, always log into your accounts by manually typing the web address into your browser.

  2. Never give out personal information in response to a phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS or a financial institution. If you get a suspicious phone call, hang up and call the organization directly for more information.

  3. Protect your sensitive information by collecting mail promptly and shredding documents containing account numbers, credit card numbers, or your Social Security number.

  4. Never use the same PIN or password for multiple accounts or websites. Doing so increases the risk that a single attack could compromise your identity or result in fraud.

  5. Monitor your financial and credit card statements carefully to identify suspicious activity. If you find fraudulent transactions, report them to the relevant institution immediately to reduce your financial liability.

  6. Check your credit report often. You can check your report for free at creditkarma.com. If you find fraudulent accounts or activity that you don’t recognize, immediately file a report with all three agencies.

  7. If you don’t anticipate purchasing a home, new car or opening a new line of credit, you may want to consider placing a security freeze with the three different credit bureaus. You can learn more about this by clicking here.

 

No one wants to be the victim of identity theft, and it’s up to you to control whether or not you are adequately protecting your personal accounts and information. By following these tips, you will be on the path to stronger security. If you would like to discuss ways to deepen your protection from identity theft, we are more than happy to help.

National Financial Literacy Month

Did you know that April is National Financial Literacy Month?

What started out as a financial-literacy awareness day more than a decade ago is now a month-long campaign. The program is designed to highlight the importance of financial literacy and teach people of all ages how to manage their money wisely. And, according to recent surveys, Americans have a lot of room to improve in their financial knowledge.

About 40% of those surveyed spend less than they earn. The other 60% are either breaking even or spending more than they earn, which means they are unable to save money steadily.

It’s no surprise then that the study also shows that 50% of Americans don’t have a “rainy day” fund to cover expenses for three months — in case of emergencies such as sickness, job loss or economic downturn. Those without an emergency savings face unexpected financial blows that not only compromise their personal financial stability, but decrease overall economic stability as well.

Let’s look at three tips that could enhance your financial literacy, or that of one of your friends or family members.

Set and Follow a Budget that Works for You

There are norms in budgeting, but those are variable and defined by influences out of your control, including your zip code and tax bracket. Ask yourself what your normal is. An estimation tool you might use is the 50/30/20 rule. That ratio breaks down like this:

  • 50% of net income: Spend about 50% of your take-home pay on “fixed costs” — bills that are about the same amount each month. This might include things such as rent/mortgage, car payments, utilities, cell phone service, and memberships or subscriptions (Netflix, gym, Spotify).
  • 30% of net income: In the 50/30/20 plan, about 30% of your net pay would go toward flexible spending — also commonly called disposable income or lifestyle expenses. These might include costs for hobbies, shopping, and entertainment. We will include gas and groceries in this category because even though they are needs, how you spend your money on these things might vary. One month, you might travel, which means you might spend more that month on gas and food/groceries.

  • 20% of net income: Reserve about 20% of your net income for your financial goals. Three important goals to think about are paying down credit-card debt, saving for retirement, and building that emergency fund.

Manage your habits; change them if needed so they work for you. And remember that financial stability doesn’t necessarily mean mortgages and car payments. Determine your normal.

Start Saving Now

Saving money is easy to put off doing, since the consequences of not steadily saving may not be noticed or felt until later in life when you try to buy a house, send your kids to a top college or retire at a certain age.

So, start now — one of the easiest ways to make regular savings deposits is to pay yourself first from each paycheck. That way, it’s gone before you even notice it’s missing. Though saving for retirement usually is priority, you might also want to make sure you have financial reserves for emergencies.

Set Specific Financial Goals

It's never too soon, or too late to set financial goals.The first steps to setting financials goals include:

  • securing a steady source of income;

  • making sure you have financial reserves;

  • protecting yourself and your family from financial upheavals or disaster by buying the right insurance for life, health, disability income, and possessions.

Getting further ahead each year takes patience and planning. If your reserves stay flat, inflation will diminish its value. Stay alert and ready to go after opportunities to grow your money.

Think about what your personal financial goals are — sorting them by wants or needs might help. Decide which ones are long-term or short-term goals and prioritize them. Choose goals you’re enthusiastic about to help you reach them.

With your 50/30/20 budget, you should be able to distribute your limited resources in ways that make it possible to reach your goals.

We specifically designed Wealth Wise to offer the next generation an opportunity to start now. If you have questions or would like to learn more about certain financial topics, we are happy to talk. If you think you're ready to start planning, check out Wealth Wise Plan.