Financial Education: Charge It Right

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Using Your Credit Cards Responsibly

When you get a credit card, start slowly with one credit card with a low limit and use it responsibly. Starting small will help you establish a credit history and keep you from getting into debt problems.

  • Pay your bills on time to keep finance and other charges to a minimum.
  • Keep your receipts to compare charges when your monthly bill arrives.
  • Protect your credit card and account numbers to prevent unauthorized use. Draw a line through blank spaces on charge slips so the amount cannot be changed. Tear up carbon copies of your receipts.
  • Keep a record of your account numbers, expiration dates and the phone numbers of each credit card issuer - in a safe place, separate from your credit card - to quickly report a loss.
  • Carry only the credit cards you think you will use.
  • Pay off your total balance each month. If you can't pay the total balance, try to pay more than the minimum amount.
  • Read the fine print. Low advertised interest rates might not last as long as you think. You might not have a grace period with balances you have transferred from other credit cards.
  • After you have established a good credit history, ask the credit card issuer to waive the fee or lower the interest rate.

Too many cards make overspending tempting. Many people don't control their spending or manage their finances wisely. Many financially responsible people can become overwhelmed by expenses or reduced income triggered by a serious illness, a job loss or some other unexpected event.

There are, however, good reasons to have more than one card, especially if your credit limit is not high enough on one card to cover an emergency.

Many experts agree that two or three credit cards should be enough for the average family. Even with a few credit cards, you can still run into credit problems. As always, be careful.

To correct credit card problems, you can:

  • Reduce your expenses by paying off the balance on your highest rate loans first. These are usually credit cards.
  • Pay for future purchases using cash or a check.
  • Turn to a reliable credit counselor. Some of these can help you for little or no cost.
  • If your credit card is lost or stolen, immediately notify your credit card company. Do the same thing if you spot something wrong in your monthly billing.

Never give your card number, confidential personal identification number or PIN, or similar personal information over the phone unless you have placed the call to someone you know is legitimate.

Under federal law, if a thief uses your credit card or card number, the most you are liable for is $50 per card if the creditor is notified immediately. If you contact your card company before any unauthorized charges are made, you are not responsible for any unauthorized charges.

Credit fraud is a national problem and one reason interest rates are higher on credit cards than on other types of loans. You have certain rights as a credit card consumer. If you think you are a victim of credit card fraud, immediately contact your credit card issuer. There are other organizations you can contact for help such as the Federal Trade Commission and the National Fraud Information Center.

For Further Information:

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs
550 17th Street, NW
Washington DC 20429
1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342)

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
6th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20580
1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)

National Fraud Information Center

You've completed the Charge It Right course. A lot of information was covered including:

  • Credit card characteristics
  • Shopping for the best credit card deal
  • Applying for a credit card
  • Paying your credit card bill
  • Keeping good records
  • Examples of responsible credit card use

You should now be able to describe the costs and benefits of using a credit card.