According to a recent study commissioned by Bankrate and compiled by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 63% of millennials between the ages of 18-29 do not have a credit card.
I read the article, nodding my head. As an older millennial, I got my very first credit card two years ago at the age of 28.
I used to wear my credit card free status like a badge of honor. I was proud. I didn’t need credit cards. I went 28 years without having one, and I got by just fine. By repaying my student loans on time I was able to build my credit and achieve a score of 720. This, in turn, allowed me to rent my own apartment.
The truth is, I didn’t want a credit card. Although I find myself immersed in student loan debt, I’ve always been conscious of not spending above my means. With my trusty debit card I was able to keep my finances under control. I never bought something I couldn’t afford and I always knew exactly what was in my back account.
But after 28 years, I gave in — and not for reasons you might think. I didn’t apply for my first credit card in an attempt to build credit, but for purely selfish reasons — travel hacking. Travel is one of my passions, but being on a budget and paying off debt doesn’t really afford much wiggle room for such a luxury. Claims of free flights, discounted hotels and more lured me, so I set off and applied for my first rewards credit card. It was a certainly a learning experience, but after a few hiccups, I feel as though I’ve gotten a handle on being a responsible credit card user. Here are my best tips.
Don’t Spend More Just Because You’re Using Credit
I got my credit card and almost immediately I noticed a 20% increase in my spending. It was so insidious; I hardly knew it was happening. After looking over my first few bills, I realized that I was psychologically motivated to get more miles and that in turn motivated my spending. For the first time I was experiencing the slippery slope of credit card debt.
After the initial shock, I started cutting back. Currently, I only use my credit card for fixed expenses like bills and utilities. I know exactly how much goes on the card every month, and make sure I have enough to pay it off. My “fun money” is kept entirely in cash. This helps me to keep from swiping whenever I feel the desire to go out.
Pay Your Balance in Full (or as Close to It)
If you’re not able to pay your balance in full every month, it means you’re spending too much on credit. It also means you’re subject to increased fees and interest. By clearing your statement every month you’ll be able to take advantage of the great perks (my credit score has increased from 720 to 766 in one year because of my credit cards), but also keep your spending under control.
Don’t Fall Down the Slippery Slope of Additional Cards
Before I even had a job, I was getting offered credit cards. I felt strong and empowered by saying “no.” Now that I’ve gotten my first credit card, the barrage of offers have continued. Each one claims that I’m pre-approved; selling my on their latest perks. I can see how one credit card often leads to another; it’s a slippery slope. In turn, it can be hard to keep track of balances and payments when you have multiple cards. If you do choose to have more than one card, make sure you can maintain control over those accounts — create a system that works for you, and stay organized.
In the personal finance world, there are many opinions about credit cards. Some people are staunch cash-only folks, while others are travel hacking evangelists who swear by the benefits of credit cards. I find myself somewhere in the middle – I love the fact that I’m accumulating some rewards, but still prefer to rely mainly on cash.
Ultimately, whether you decide to be cash-only, credit-only, or a mix, it’s a personal choice. Just make sure you’re responsible about it.