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When It Is and Isn’t Time To Use A Credit Card

When I got my very first credit card as a young adult, I had a bit of an existential crisis. Within that little plastic rectangle was a whole world of potential spending power, as well as a universe of potential financial pain. I’d had it drilled into my head that the freedom of a credit card can be a dangerous thing, but that’s not entirely true. A credit card is only a tool; what really matters is your own sense of financial responsibility.

The primary use for your basic, no-frills credit card is building credit. If you want to buy a home or a car or some other large thing, you may need to submit to a credit check. If you don’t have any credit, they won’t have any proof you’re a responsible person. Use your credit card to make simple, necessary purchases. I only use mine to buy groceries, gas, and take-out, for example. These kinds of purchases are easily tracked for your records, won’t run your bill too high, and earn you more rewards.

Speaking of rewards, that’s the secondary use of credit cards, earning rewards. Different cards will give you a percentage of cash back depending on the kinds of purchases you make. If you’re either shopping at a particular retailer or buying a particular brand of product, a card with their branding can net you more cash back. Remember, though, keep it simple. Don’t start buying things at random because you want more cash back, because I guarantee those rewards will be absolutely eclipsed by your bill.

That brings us to the most important tenet of credit cards: pay your bill. When your due date comes up, don’t dilly-dally. Pay the bill on time and in full. If you absolutely can’t afford it, then at least pay some of it so the bill doesn’t accrue as much interest. Ideally, though, if you’ve been keeping your purchases responsible like I’ve been saying, it won’t come to that. A credit card is only a means to an end, not a bottomless pit of money you can draw from infinitely.

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