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Sweat It Over Credit?

"I can't wait to get a credit card. It will be cool to buy whatever I want, whenever I want." Look out - that kind of thinking will get you into trouble! A lot of people think that credit cards are "magic money." But a credit card is just a financial tool that lets you borrow money, which you have to pay back.

teen with credit cardIt's important to know what you're doing with a credit card. If you use it wisely, you'll build good credit. See other good reasons to have a credit card, too.

How Credit Cards Work
When you use a credit card, you are borrowing from the credit card company to pay for your purchase. The company will send you a bill once a month showing everything you charged.

On that bill, the credit card company lets you choose whether to pay the full amount back at once, or just pay part and carry a balance over to the next month. If you do that, you will have to pay interest on that amount next month. Your credit card will have an annual interest rate, such as 15%.

Credit Card Pitfalls
The fact that most credit cards let you roll over your balance from month to month can be convenient, but it's not in your best interest. Why:

  • Rolling over the amount you owe can quickly add up. It's tempting to put off paying the full amount till next month. But you could wind up not being able to pay off the full amount next month, either. Plus, then the amount will have gotten bigger, with the added interest and anything else you charged in the meantime.

  • Paying interest makes everything you buy more expensive. If your credit card has a 19% interest rate, then you are paying 19% MORE for everything.

  • Paying only the minimum payment can dangerous. Most credit cards require only a tiny "minimum payment" each month, about 2% of what you owe. If you only make the minimum payment, it will take YEARS to pay your balance off.

    alarm clockFor example, if you buy a mountain bike for $1,000 with a credit card charging 18% interest, and only make the minimum payment each month, it will take you 12 years and 9 months to pay it off and you will pay $2,115 for that $1,000 bike!
The Best Way to Use a Credit Card Is...
Charge only as much as you can afford to pay back every month. Why?

You won't have to pay any interest... You won't build up a big debt... AND You'll build a good credit record.

When you're ready to get a credit card, don't just pick the first one that sends you an offer. Here's how to compare them, and some alternatives to credit cards.

arrowLINK: For more valuable information on getting credit, credit reports, credit scams, identity theft, and credit FAQs, see the Federal Trade Commission's website Getting Credit (www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/gettingcredit/)

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