By Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)
Since the recession first hit, credit card use has slowed substantially. The Federal Reserve reported that consumer borrowing fell again in August as consumers cut back on credit card use for the 24th consecutive month. That said, however, the majority of American families have credit card debt. There are varying reports of how much credit card debt the average American family holds—anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000—so it’s important to keep a few good financial guidelines in mind, especially during this time of year when larger purchases may be in your plans.
Here are some smart consumer tips on credit card use, in part provided by the New York State Consumer Protection Board:
· Shop for the card with the best terms. Beware that “affinity” credit cards that are affiliated with a group or school may not have the best available terms.
· Look for low or no annual fees on cards.
· Seek low-interest rates or finance charges. Some offer an introductory rate of 0 percent but watch out for balance-transfer fees and do the math. A list comparing credit card terms and some of the better credit cards is available at http://financialtools.money.msn.com/best-credit-cards/
· Refrain from using your credit card for cash advances and transfers. The fees and interest on such transactions are higher than for credit card purchases.
· Remove your name from marketing lists by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT and eliminate the temptation of applying for new credit cards.
· Track your spending. Incidental and impulse purchases add up.
· Set a spending limit.
· Don’t “max out” or exceed your card limit.
· Review your billing statement carefully to ensure all charges are correct
· Pay what you owe. Paying the so-called “minimum payment” is a trap: in some cases, just $1,000 of debt could take 12 years to pay off if you send in the minimum payment.
· Pay bills no later than the due date to avoid late payment fees, which can increase your balance and cause a hike in the annual percentage rate charged to your account. In many cases, these late fees are $35.
· Review all notices from your credit card issuer, including changes in terms and conditions relevant to your account and privacy policies. Doing this may prompt you to change credit card companies or banks, especially with all the new Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act forces credit card companies to spell out in plain English to the consumer. (To learn more about this law that became effective in February, visit www.nysconsumer.gov/educating/credit_and_finances.)
· Secure and review your free annual credit report and learn about your credit score at http://www.ftc.gov/freereports
The New York State Consumer Protection Board keeps a list of helpful links to help people learn more about personal finances. This list can be viewed at http://www.nysconsumer.gov/educating/consumer_resources_and_links/consumer_links.htm
For help with debt management, visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at www.nfcc.org. Many scams focus on “fixing debt” when in reality, some of these companies only add to a person’s debt load. Be aware of these types of false promises if looking to repair credit or climb out of debt.
There are a number of debt calculators which account for interest rates that can help you manage your credit cards. These can help you establish a payment that you can afford. One can be accessed at the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.ftc.gov/creditcardcalculator
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.