“There’s a sale at the fashion boutique!”
“With Mall Madness you get it all, a bank account AND you’re own credit card!”
Alright 90’s ladies, do the following phrases ring any bells?! That’s right: I’m talking about the electronic Mall Madness board game (sorry fellas, I’m not quite sure what the board game equivalent was for you guys – but maybe if you were lucky enough to get convinced by a sister to play this board game, you know what I’m talking about). I spent quite a few of my childhood days competing with my neighborhood gal pals. The objective of the game was straightforward, the first person to buy everything on their shopping list using fake credit cards labeled “EASY MONEY” wins! Buy it all, and you reign as the Mall Madness champion. It is almost heart wrenching to realize that even before I reached my teens, this was the first introduction to what credit cards could offer: a frenzy of an unlimited shopping spree with all my best girlfriends…
Fast forward several years, and the days of Mall Madness & movies like Clueless with prevalent use of credit cards seem like a distant mirage. Recognizing the effects of the recession and what happened to all those around me – the idea of utilizing credit cards at all seemed
FORBIDDEN. I just didn’t quite get it…why in the world would anyone want to utilize a credit card? It seemed like such an awfully scary thing. Until I started to learn that a credit score is pretty vital throughout your lifetime. If you are ever looking to purchase a home, buy a car, or partake in any purchases that requires borrowing funds, it is essential to improve or maintain a strong credit score. Various lenders will utilize your credit score to assess your risk level and the likelihood of you paying back the money that you owe (Investopedia.com). So I know that we may have grown up viewing credit cards with unrealistic expectations (charge it!), but if we break through the non-sense we can reverse our mindsets. By utilizing credit cards in a responsible manner, we can recognize that they can be an incredibly powerful tool.
I think I might be scared to use a credit card, how can I get started?
You are totally fine to think that – I was once there too (actually, petrified is more like it)! One of the first mindsets I had to overcome about using credit cards was that, even if you are using a credit card doesn’t just mean you do not have the funds present at the time to make a purchase. My original thought process a long time ago was that people who used credit cards did so because they did not have the money available at that present moment, but they would (hopefully) in the future (boy…all the learning I have done has come a long way). The truth is, people who utilize credit cards typically have the funds available at the time if they were to make that purchase with cash, or with a debit card. They just use the credit card to increase their credit score (or earn rewards points!), and then pay off the card in a responsible and timely manner. I do recognize that in dire situations, people may turn to credit in absolute emergencies even if they do not have the funds available. This is where I am going to do a plug on the importance of an emergency fund that you put money towards – that way in the event of an emergency you do not have to rely solely on credit (more to come on that topic in a later post)! There are many first credit card options that can fit your needs, so do research, talk to your bank, or gain advice from family and/or your network.
Here is a little personal story of my first credit card-
I was absolutely skittish to start using credit. My first job I received out of college required overseeing a territory of 19 accounts I had to visit each day. I was averaging about 500 miles of drive time each week. I looked into signing up for a credit card that would help capitalize off of purchasing gas so much (1 to 2 times a week at the pump – yikes)! I was able to sign up for a credit card that throughout different quarters I could receive 5% cash back on gas purchases. Since I was a bit terrified to venture with the use of credit, I only used it to purchase gas for several months. This allowed me to get into the ebb & flow of using credit, and learn to pay it off easily because I was not making too many transactions. I viewed my credit card like a debit card (and still do) – if the funds were not available in my checking account then there was no way I was going to use that credit card. After my first year of using the credit card, I was able to do a majority of my Christmas shopping through using my earned rewards points (my credit cards bring all the points to the yard)! Now how does that sound for incentive, receiving rewards by responsibly managing your credit card. That’s top banana status right there.
How is my credit score determined?
You credit score is determined by different factors, and according to Investopedia.com here are the five biggest factors:
1. Payment History (35%)
Think paying your bills on time, in full, and not having any late payments.
2. Amounts Owed (30%)
How much credit do you use, and what are the varying types of loans you have.
3. Length of Credit History (15%)
How long have you been using credit, is your track record of this history positive.
4. New Credit (10%)
Have you signed up for any new accounts recently, and do you keep those sign-ups to a minimum.
5. Types of Credit in Use (10%)
Varying loans and the total number of them.
There are various nuances and ways to improve your credit score. I suggest reading Investopedia.com’s The 5 Biggest Factors That Affect Your Credit, myFico.com’s What’s In My FICO Scores, and Creditreport.com’s What Affects my Credit Score for more detailed information.
I think I’m comfortable with credit now, what’s the right card for me?
That’s a great question that may have a different answer varying from person to person! Each one of us has our own personal lifestyles, habits, and frequent purchases that we may make. Do you travel a lot for work, or maybe enjoy satisfying your wanderlust? There are cards that can earn you points for all things travel related. Frequent the grocery store often, or like to check out the latest flicks in theaters? You better believe there are credit cards that offer cash back/rewards points for those purchases as well. I also highly recommend checking out Nerdwallet.com – this site is amazing. It allows you to compare different credit cards and what they offer all in one central location. That way, you do not have to complete all the deep investigation of which credit card is best all on your own!
From the introduction of fake, plastic “unlimited” usage of credit cards in my 90’s childhood – to discovering that real credit cards are actually an incredible tool if used responsibly, I’d say my journey with credit has sure been one wilde ride so far. I encourage you (if you have not already) to look into how your credit score can affect you, what you can do to strengthen the factors that comprise of your credit score, and use your responsibility to your advantage by earning some killer rewards!