100 Tips for 2011
Leslie McFadden
credit cards
10 canny credit card tips for 2011

Tip 8Maintain a high credit score 

Because of the tight lending environment, it's more important than ever to have a good credit score to obtain loans and credit cards at attractive terms. Even if you aren't applying for new credit, maintaining a good credit score can help you avoid paying more to rent an apartment, hook up utilities or get a new mobile phone.

Use your credit cards wisely to keep your credit score high. Pay on time, keep balances low even if you pay in full every month and apply for new cards only when necessary. For additional tips, check out the Credit Card Adviser column.

Tip 9When shopping for a new credit card, make sure your credit score meets the grade 

On credit card comparison sites such as Bankrate.com, you'll notice that each card offer tells you how good your credit score needs to be. Don't waste a ding to your credit score applying for a card that's beyond your credit reach. Get your score range for free using this FICO score estimator. For best results, answer the questions using a recent copy of your credit report.

While there aren't universal score cutoffs used by all lenders, this scoring product sample from Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, gives you a general idea of how your FICO score ranks. With a better understanding of your credit score, you can then shop for a credit card appropriate for your credit level.

Tip 10Make a payment plan if you have credit card debt 

If you have balances on multiple credit cards, use a pay-down strategy to reduce your debt. One approach involves making a larger payment on the card that has the highest interest rate while making minimum payments on all other credit card accounts. When the most expensive balance is paid off, you then tackle the card with the next-highest APR and so on until all balances have been eliminated. In another approach, you make larger payments on the card with the lowest balance, and minimum payments on all other cards, so that smaller debts are paid off more quickly.

Paying down high-interest debt makes the most financial sense, but reducing the number of credit card bills you receive may feel more rewarding. Go with the strategy you can follow.

To figure out how long it will take to clear your debt, try our pay-down calculator.

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