Monday Money – CREDIT CARDS – What a misnomer!

I like my credit card, it gives me a sense of power, control and a feeling of financial wealth. When I first got a credit card I had a limit of only $2,000, something small and manageable. It was relatively easy to keep in check, paid off at the end of each month and a really convenient way to pay for things. As time progressed the priorities for the budget changed and the paying off the credit card changed, and before long the card was at its limit. Sound familiar. Minimum payments became the acceptable norm for the month, sometimes a little extra went towards the bill. It wasn’t a debt, it was only the credit card.

Through the post came the first increase, an offer from the bank to increase the limit, take the pressure off, and couldn’t I use the extra money. The limit was now $5,000. More power, hey, look at what I can now use to buy things, bigger and better. Stroke the ego somewhat. Great way to pay the various bills on time, and leave the cash for other expenses. It was terrific, but in the long run a huge trap. The card remained out of control soon reaching the limit again, now the problem was even greater. Still the same income, but now the bill has increased, no wait, it is not a bill at all, just the credit card, make the minimum payment and things are sweet. Next bill in, the payment from last month only just covered the interest and charges.

As I said, I like, no, loved my credit card. I eventually let the limit increase to over $20,000. So much power with that amount of money. I refinanced the housing loan a couple of times to pay out the card, the aim was to get rid of it because I couldn’t control it. When completing the paper work the bank encouraged me to keep the card, and I let them. I worked with the best of intentions to keep the card zeroed each month, for the most part kept it that way, then the odd big item on the card, not so easy to get back to zero, slowly but surely it crept back to its limit, back in the same situation.

The name ‘credit card’ needs to be changed! It is not credit at all, and if we change the way we view and use this money then I know that people’s financial situations would be completely different. It is not your money that you are using; it is over and above what you have as an income. This money needs to be returned to its rightful owner, and it comes with additional costs, the money you use is probably going to cost you double what it would if you paid for the item up front with your cash. So the big ticket item that you want, need right now, on the credit card. Intention to pay it off in less than 6 months, at say 20% interest, the catch is that you don’t and the charges keep adding to the original cost.

To replace the credit card with something else is not easy. Firstly you will have to pay off the card, then what is there in its place. I suggest that you pay the card down, attack the debt, have a planned approach to reducing the amount. I liked to see on my statement at the end of each month an increase in the balance available and a decrease in the amount owing. Online banking is great for this as there is immediate gratification as you pay it off. Print out your statement and celebrate your success. Take control of the card altogether and start to reduce the limit available, this doesn’t have to be huge amounts, small is good, as the balance goes down, look at increasing the reductions on the limit as you take charge over the card, not the card over you.

As I thought about the credit card, I realised that to replace the card I would need to have the same amount in savings as I had as a limit. This is a really daunting thought. Think about it, if your card has a limit of $5,000, and then to replace it you have to have $5,000 of your own on in saving account. That is a swing of $10,000 if you are to be in control; perhaps this is why we don’t do anything as the cost of setting this up is beyond what most of us see as even the remotest of possibilities.

Have a look at your credit card statements for the last 12 months, go through and total up the amount of interest that you have paid? Think about the items you purchased and make sure these are items of need, not wants! The money you borrow needs to be for very special, emergency situation, and then a strategy put in place to pay it off as soon as possible. Keep a track of what it is costing you for each item, it will change the way you use the card.

I used this process to reduce the limit that I had on my credit card. I didn’t totally get rid of the card, I have a much smaller limit and basically use the card for emergency purposes only, and the balance is paid at the end of the month if I use the card, costs me nothing otherwise. I now have a Visa Debit card, the convenience of a Visa card, but using the funds that I have in savings. It really means that I have to have the money saved for the purchase, rather than just wanting something.

In the long run, the money you save by not having to pay additional interest and charges will help you gain control of your financial health.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carrie on October 26, 2009 at 10:07 am

    I agree! And how about renaming savings account while we are at it? Mine’s a spendings account!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Capricious on October 26, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    This is so true. Like so many young adults, I was caught out by my first credit card, maxxing it out within a year with no real way of paying it off in a lump sum. And I hate paying it off especially when I can’t even remember what I have used it for. Thankfully, my tax return bailed me out, but it is a horrible feeling to ‘lose’ a lump sum like that.

    I still have a credit card. The limit is $200. The people at the bank were laughing as I explained why I needed the limit dropped so low- I have a credit card for emergencies, but find it hard to differential between emergencies- ie- fabulous shoes on sale, a surprise present for my husband etc. But now, I can pay it off every pay if I need to. In an emergency $200 should be enough to get me to hospital, book a plane ticket or buy me enough time to juggle our mortgage.

    Keep these Money Monday posts coming, I think they are fantastic!

    Reply

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