Credit cards have long been helping people pay for things they need or want. You may be very familiar with them or you may be a newbie in the world of credit who is contemplating applying for your first card. Effective utilisation or misuse of credit cards can make or break your financial well-being.
Before we go through the complexities of credit cards, you must first understand what credit is. Credit is the means to borrow money/access goods or services with the mutual understanding that you’ll pay later. Have you ever borrowed money from a friend for lunch or a colleague paid for your coffee because you left your wallet at home? That effectively is them giving you credit! Of course, with the intention and trust that you’ll pay them back later. We use credit all the time and credit cards are just one of many financial tools used to attain a set amount of credit, commonly via a licensed financial institution such as a bank.
One of the defining benefits of credit cards is the fees, charges and interest associated with using the card. Commonly there would be a fee to set-up the card which is generally charged annually, there are late payment and overdraw fees and also varying levels of interest depending on how you’ve spent the credit. There are often substantial fees associated with taking cash out using a credit card and in general, if you don’t pay off your card in full at the end of each month interest will be charged and backdated too!
Pros of credit cards
- Easy to carry and use – Easily fit in your wallet, pocket or phone case!
- Safer than cash – With the exception of contactless payments, it’s generally quite limited before you have to enter a pin for the purchase.
- Buy now, pay later – Which is the one crucial benefit of a credit card. As of late, there have been a series of different options in the BNPL space but we’ll touch on that in a different session.
- You’re protected – Fraud protection and monitoring are generally facilitated by the card provider and you’re generally not held liable if your card is stolen or misused.
- Freebies! – Which to some is the one major benefit of using a credit card. Rewards and frequent flyer points are commonly associated with mid-top tier credit cards and the benefits can easily outweigh the associated fees if used correctly.
Cons of credit cards
- High-interest payments – Credit card interest rates are applicable if you don’t clear the outstanding balance at the end of each month. These rates are generally much higher than a standard home loan or personal loan and it would be wise for any financial minded individual/family to avoid these payments at all costs.
- The associated debt spiral – A common trap of the credit card is that you only have to miss one payment and interest will start to add up. Unless you pay off the FULL amount each month, interest will be charged on the FULL amount owing regardless if you’ve paid off half of the balance, 80% of the balance of 99% of the balance. If you get into the habit of not paying it off in full, your debt situation will quickly spiral out of control.
- Additional fees – As well as interest there is generally annual fees, overdrawn fees or late payment fees. These can sting quite a bit and more importantly, you may have to pay interest on it!
- Expensive to use abroad – Some cards are a bit friendlier and designed for travellers but most cards will charge excess fees when used in a different country than its origin. Often an additional 1-3% of fees on each purchase which can add up whenever you decide to go on a nice holiday!
To conclude, there are a ton of benefits in owning a credit card, such as flexibility with managing your cash flows and access to additional free benefits. But this can come at substantial a cost if not managed correctly and you can easily fall into financial stress if you get silly and spend on things that you cannot afford!
Please note this article provides general advice only and has not taken your personal, business or financial circumstances into consideration. If you would like more tailored advice, please contact us today.