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Careful Credit: Using a credit card is fine, as long as the purchase makes sense

If you’re one of those careful shoppers and utterly pensive and prudent spenders, you realize that credit cards are a last resort.

They’re not meant for every day shopping, nor should they be whipped out for clothes, shoes, large-scale purchases or anything else that you can simply use cash to buy. You understand that credit cards are emergency funds only, such as a roof leaking or a major car repair that might wipe out whatever money you might have saved.

Somewhere between never using credit cards and using them all the time is a happy medium. They’re not quite as bad as some make them out to be, but then again you shouldn’t be using them to pay bills or go grocery shopping, or even if you’re intent on taking a trip and don’t have the funds to do so on your own.

So when exactly is the right time to use a credit card, keeping in mind that your financial future rests on that credit score, debt to income ratio and how consistently you’re paying off your bills? While no answer is technically right or wrong, it truthfully depends on the person using the cards.

Some use credit cards frequently, for promotional reasons or points mostly, and end up getting various discounts as part of swiping that card. What they do after the fact, however, makes or breaks their credit path. The smart ones typically pay off the balance in full, so as to reap the reward portion and then walk away unscathed essentially.

Purchases that don’t match up well with credit cards seem to be obvious. You should never charge certain items or events on credit cards, no matter how easy it seems to be. Your picture perfect wedding is a cash business, plain and simple. Sure, you can maybe use credit cards for last minute expenses, such as when the DJ at the wedding tells you that he needs $200 for the next hour since he’s ready to pack up and leave.

Anything related to vacations or medical expenses, no matter how vast and different they are or how large the sums, should never find their way on to a credit card statement. Medical bills can be negotiated to a monthly, interest free payment and vacations are luxury items that we all can’t afford and shouldn’t force the issue financially.

But we tend to do that with credit cards, but have to remind ourselves that not all plastic purchases are created equally.

How to pay off your credit card debt the right way

Who doesn’t want to eliminate their credit card debt?

Ask around, and you’ll have no trouble finding more than handful of people who want to pay off that debt, but are stuck in minimum payment purgatory. In that place, you’re paying the very least you have to, and rarely getting ahead in terms of the actual balance changing.

In fact, what is happening is interest is accumulating and quite simply you’re never getting ahead.

Of course, paying something versus missing a payment is better, but the idea behind paying on the credit card should go far beyond just making a payment for the sake of doing so. So with that, how exactly do you avoid swimming in debt and watching it go up or remain stagnant with your payments?

Far too often, the average consumer looks at their debt as a whole entity, rather than focusing on one particular line of credit or card specifically. You need to take stock and inventory of what your debt looks like and start with the most pressing, which usually means the one with the highest interest rate.

Tackling debt that is no interest or part of a promotional period is perfectly fine if it is your only debt to speak of; you have to figure that a card or line of credit that is tipping the scales at 10% or higher is more pertinent than one that has zero interest. That said, the zero interest card is only for a small amount of time, so that means you have to pay attention to accumulating interest rates not crushing you when that period is up.

One line most take is the balance transfer, which is something that is certainly doable if you find the right deal. Most include a transfer fee, which is a percentage of the balance being sent from old card to new one. Those are fairly standard, but the interest rate is key as is the term. A balance transfer only works as good as the person committing to it, meaning you should really try hard to not transfer balances unless your plan of attack is to pay off the balance within the agreed upon time of the interest rate promotion.

Debt certainly can cast quite the shadow over your money and subsequent financial future, so the wanting and willingness to pay it off certainly is there. But doing so has to come with decisions that are smart and focus on elimination rather than simply extending.

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