Ten worst credit card mistakes

1. Cancelling your first credit card

If you’re like many Canadians, your first credit card was a student credit card that you got in university before you had much choice. But as you build credit, your options broaden, and you might find yourself not using that old college card as much anymore. Resist the urge to close that account! Your first credit card and the length of your credit history are closely entwined so cancelling it can be one of the worst credit card mistakes you make.

READ MORE: The best credit cards for students in Canada

2. Ignoring the interest rate

Legal jargon and run-on sentences, all laid out in 6-point font? It’s not called the fine print because folks love it. Still, it’s important to understand your credit card terms to avoid ugly surprises come billing day. Be aware that many credit cards carry a similar purchase interest rate of around 20%. But there are also low-interest credit cards available in Canada, where you might snag an interest rate below 12%.

READ MORE: The best low interest rate credit cards in Canada

3. Missing payments

Credit cards are essentially short-term loans by a friendlier name. Every time you use plastic to pay for something, you’re using borrowed money to foot the bill — money that you’ll have to pay back within a specific time frame. How reliably you do this has a direct impact on your creditworthiness. In fact, estimates suggest that your payment history accounts for a whopping 35% of your total credit score, making it the single most important determining factor. Don’t miss a payment. Be prepared to pay at least the minimum payment each and every month.

READ MORE: What affects your credit score?

4. Making only minimum payments

That being said, do not only make the minimum payment listed on your credit card statement. Doing this will balloon your debt, getting you deeper into the red and making it increasingly difficult to pay off your debt. If you find yourself unable to pay down your outstanding debt, a good strategy is to transfer it to a balance transfer credit card — a credit card that offers low or no monthly interest on balance transfers, usually for 9-12 months. Some even offer 0% interest for a limited time.

READ MORE: The best balance transfer credit cards in Canada

5. Overspending

If you have a credit card, you know that overspending is super easy and super bad. What you might not know is that it can negatively affect your credit score.

Aside from being hit with costly interest charges, carrying credit card debt can affect your credit utilization rate. Credit utilization refers to how much money you owe relative to how much you can borrow, and if you’re regularly carrying a balance, your utilization rate will be high. If you’re accumulating debt, consider getting a balance transfer credit card or consider a debt consolidation loan.

Another option to curb your spending: get a prepaid credit card. They’re more like debit cards or gift cards because you’re not borrowing money or paying interest. Instead, you tap into the funds that you’ve loaded onto the card. Some even offer cash back on your purchases!

READ MORE: The best prepaid credit cards in Canada

6. Maxing out your card

Wait, didn’t we just talk about this? No, we did not. While you might overspend and max out your credit card, the very act of spending close to your limit (whether you’ve budgeted for it or not) can increase your credit utilization rate. This signals that you’re over-leveraged and borrowing too much.

If you’ve maxed out your credit card, do what you must to start paying off your debt ASAP. If approaching your limit is a regular occurrence, ask for a credit increase from your credit card provider.

READ MORE: How to pay off credit card debt faster

7. Loaning out your card

It can be tempting to loan out your card, particularly if it means you can double dip on rewards or cash back. Bad idea! You’re responsible for paying the bill—not the person to whom you loaned the card. This goes for loans of your primary card and additional cards on the same account. Unpaid debt can be a real hit on your credit score. Unless you’re prepared to pay for all the purchases, never loan out your card.

8. Failing to get rewards or cash back on yourspending

This mistake won’t hurt your credit score, but it will affect your wallet. Credit card companies court your business by offering valuable rewards. A little shopping around should net you a healthy kickback in the form of travel rewards, program points, or cold, hard cash back on spending you’d be doing anyway. If you’re a travel junkie, get yourself a travel rewards credit card. If cash is king, use a cash back credit card and earn money back on card purchases.

READ MORE: The best credit card offers and welcome promotions

9. Applying for too many cards at once

Once you’re hip to the possible rewards available with credit card spending it can be easy to get carried away. If you’re considering getting a bunch of cards with different rewards simultaneously – don’t. This is one of the worst credit card mistakes you can make because each application affects your credit score. The impact is small for each card but can add up with multiple inquiries and can also signal to creditors that you’re having a financial problem. Instead, try to space out your applications and really think about how many credit cards should you have.

Additionally, the annual fees on multiple cards add up fast. Your best bet may be to carry one or two credit cards with no annual fees. Some no annual fee credit cards even offer rewards.

READ MORE: The best no annual fee credit cards in Canada

10. Not carrying a credit card at all

With all these caveats, you might think that carrying a credit card is just too risky, but not carrying a credit card is one of the worst mistakes you can make. It prevents you from building a credit score, and without that, you’ll have a very hard time getting a loan, buying a car, or securing a mortgage.

READ MORE: The best credit cards in Canada

Final thoughts

A credit card that’s paid off regularly provides lenders (such as banks) with proof that you can be trusted with money. The longer you possess your credit card and use it wisely, the higher your credit score will be. And, if you follow our tips, you’re sure to maximize the benefits of credit cards—like rewards and cash back—while minimizing any costly mistakes.

If you have bad credit, it’s not game over. One option is to get a card for bad credit, and by using it responsibly, improve your credit score over time. That’ll get you back in the black.

READ MORE: How to improve your credit score in Canada

Keph Senett is a Canadian freelance writer whose areas of expertise include personal finance, travel and sports. When not writing, she spends her free time trying to figure out how to qualify for a soccer squad in Asia, Australia, or Antarctica.


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