Credit card use is a controversial topic. Whenever a blogger or finance expert shares tips to leverage credit card rewards for earning cash back, trips, discounts on gas or more, scores of well-intentioned readers comment on the “evil” of debt and the dangers of using credit cards.
Using credit cards can get you in big trouble. That purse you had to have because it was on sale winds up costing three times more than its regular retail price because you used your credit card to pay for it. As people pay thousands of dollars toward their credit cards each month, they realize how much extra cash they could have, right now, if they weren’t saddled with debt.
But not using your credit cards can cost money, too. Let’s explore some of the reasons it may not be smart finance to live without credit.
1. Wise use of credit cards builds up your credit score and credit history.
Your credit score affects dozens of things: mortgage rates, car loan rates, even the apartment or job you can get. Using, and paying off, credit cards counts toward a portion of your credit score, which is important for more than just getting more credit.
Let’s say you want to save your money and pay cash for your new car. You’ll probably get a much better deal. That’s great! But did you know your credit score also affects your car insurance rates?
2. Making purchases with your credit card can protect you if something goes wrong.
Most credit cards today offer purchase protection. If your purchase is charged incorrectly, you can file a dispute with your credit card company and you may not be responsible to pay for the error. Also, you may get extended warranty protection when you use your credit card — often doubling the manufacturer’s warranty.
3. Credit cards are safer than cash.
You’re on vacation and you lose your wallet. No worries. You can call and cancel your credit cards and, in some cases, have a new one sent to your hotel overnight. The cash in your wallet is, most likely, gone forever.
Studies also show that credit cards are healthier than cash. Think about it: No germ-filled paper money changes hands. If you swipe your card and then sign electronically, you have minimal contact with other people’s germs. (You can even use a tissue to hold the stylus, or clean it with an anti-bacterial wipe first.)
4. Credit cards provide a safety net that you can use any time, any where.
In an ideal world, we’d all have hefty savings accounts with plenty of cash to use in an emergency. You can slowly build this up by putting aside 10 percent (or more) of your income into a savings account. But if you need to access more than approximately $800 when your bank is closed, (for instance, to finish a big home improvement project while you have the time) you may not be able to get to your money.
If you don’t have a decent-sized savings account (or any savings), having one credit card for emergency use only is a smart financial move. Whether you need gas for your car to get to work or diapers for your kids, sometimes there’s just too much month left at the end of the money. (Note: If this continues happening, consider re-budgeting and putting a tighter rein on your finances so you don’t have to use your emergency credit cards often, if ever.)
5. Using credit cards can earn bonuses.
If you have cash in your account for a big ticket purchase, but opt to use your rewards credit card instead, you can actually earn money. Just make sure to pay off the credit card before you’re charged interest, (read the fine print on your statement to find out the grace period) or that extra cash goes out the window.
Who Shouldn’t Use Credit Cards?
That’s not to say everyone should have and use credit cards; it would be irresponsible of me to recommend that.
If you’ve ever had a problem managing credit in the past, if you can’t resist impulse purchases or a good sale, or if you are already deep in debt, build up an emergency nest egg by putting 10 % of your income in to an emergency savings account and skip the credit cards.