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According to a survey conducted by Bankrate and Psych Central, a Red Ventures partner website, just under half of U.S. adults say that money has a negative impact on their mental well-being.
The pressure of day-to-day expenses and providing for a household can cause significant stress. Pair these responsibilities with the possibility of a recession and high inflation, and it’s no surprise that many of us are feeling worried.
Taking steps to organize and manage your finances may help curtail some of those worries. Strategic use of financial tools, like credit cards, can allow you to put your money to work for you.
For some, credit cards may be another source of stress, given their high interest rates. However, with careful and tactical use, credit cards can also provide an avenue to manage debt, build credit, and earn travel rewards and cash back. If money is a source of stress for you, consider these five credit card strategies that may help.
Pay down existing credit card debt
At least 48 percent of respondents to the survey said debt was a money-related issue that caused a negative impact on their mental health.
A balance transfer is one way to manage existing credit card debt that can give you some breathing room. If you’re approved for a balance transfer credit card, you can move current credit card balances to your new card for a fee, usually 3 percent to 5 percent of the balance. The best cards offer a zero percent intro APR for up to 21 months on balance transfers, meaning you can avoid added interest charges for almost two years. It’s a solid option if you’re exploring ways to pay down debt faster. Just be sure to read the offer details carefully as you navigate how to choose the best balance transfer card.
While balance transfers can be helpful, there are a few caveats. First, you’ll have to pay a balance transfer fee on any transfer you make. It’s also essential to remember that zero percent intro APR offers end. Once the intro APR period is over, you’ll have to pay interest on whatever balance is still on your card.
Build your credit
In general, a higher credit score makes borrowing money much more accessible and possibly cheaper. A good credit score matters because it also improves your ability to access better interest rates on car loans, mortgages, personal loans and more.
According to the survey, 57 percent of participants cited a lack of emergency funds as having a negative impact on their mental health. Better access to credit isn’t a substitute for a personal emergency fund, but knowing that you could borrow money in a crisis might help ease your mind a little.
What’s the best way to build credit? That depends on your current credit score:
- No credit. For people with no credit history, one of the easiest ways to build credit is with a starter credit card. These credit cards often have more relaxed credit requirements, and many are secured, meaning you’re required to put down a security deposit to open the card.
- Bad credit. Most credit cards for bad credit are also secured, but it’s important to remember that having no credit is not the same as having bad credit. Still, both serve a similar purpose: helping you build better credit.
- Fair credit. If you have fair credit, you can likely qualify for a variety of cards. Improving your credit score may help you qualify for top tier rewards cards that are typically only available to people with good to excellent credit.
No matter your current credit score, you’ll build your credit more quickly if you try to follow a few best practices. Always pay your bills on time, and pay in full if possible. Keep any credit card balances as low as you can. Avoid closing older credit accounts, if you have them, since credit history affects your score.
It’s also best to keep your credit utilization below 30 percent, meaning you only use up to 30 percent of the credit you can access. For example, if you have a card with a $1,000 credit limit, you should try to use no more than $300 of that limit.
Lastly, avoid opening too many new credit accounts, including credit cards, too quickly.
Save on everyday expenses
With inflation continuing to take its toll, your dollar may not be stretching as far. Cash back credit cards are one of the best ways to save money on daily purchases. The key to using a cash back card to help you save is picking the right one for your needs.
The simplest way to explain how cash back works is that each time you make a qualifying purchase, you’ll get a percentage of that purchase back. The rate of cash back you get depends on the type of cash back card you choose.
Flat-rate and tiered or bonus category cards will benefit people in different ways. If you prefer to earn the same cash back rate on every purchase, you may opt for a flat-rate cash back card. If you spend a lot in one particular spending category, a tiered or bonus category card that generously rewards that spending category may be your best bet.
Cash back adds up over time, and you can typically redeem your earnings for a statement credit, a direct deposit or shopping online.
Keep in mind that a cash back card is only a good deal if you pay your balance on time every month. Otherwise, your interest charges will quickly exceed your cash back earnings.
Navigate the cost of a large purchase
Even if you have enough funds to cover a large purchase, spreading the cost out over time can help you keep some money in the bank. Whether you’re prepared or not, emergencies happen, and they can be costly and stressful.
Zero percent interest credit cards have long intro APR offers that give you time to pay off big purchases without added interest. It’s possible to use a zero percent APR as an interest-free loan, as long as you remember that it’s strictly time limited. Like balance transfer cards, the longest intro APR offers on purchases currently last up to 21 months. Again, once the intro period ends, you’ll have to pay the card’s regular ongoing interest rate on any balance you have left.
A long zero percent interest offer on a card gives you breathing room to finance a large purchase or cover an unexpected cost without immediately getting buried in interest. Map out a plan to pay off this balance before the zero percent intro offer ends so you make the most of this kind of credit card.
Plan a free (or heavily discounted) vacation
Taking time to rest and step away from the daily grind is crucial to managing stress. Credit cards that offer travel rewards and benefits can make vacation planning a little easier and more affordable.
From sign-up bonuses to high reward rates, you may be surprised how quickly points and miles can add up to free airfare or hotel rooms, or both. However, it’s important to keep in mind that travel rewards cards are only a good deal if you’re in the financial position to pay your credit card bills in full, on time. If you carry a balance on your rewards card, you can easily end up paying more in interest than your rewards are worth.
To start earning travel rewards, pick a card that best aligns with your spending habits. Many of these cards give you the highest reward rates on travel-related spending, but many also offer rewards on everyday purchases, such as dining out, gas or groceries. Be sure to carefully review the rewards details in order to choose the best travel card for you. Some high-end travel rewards cards also come with benefits like travel insurance and statement credits for hotel spending.
The most lucrative rewards and travel cards often have an annual fee, and you’ll have to gauge for yourself if an annual fee is worth it in exchange for the perks. However, don’t assume having bad or fair credit counts you out for securing a travel rewards credit card. The perks and benefits may be less abundant on travel credit cards for people with bad or fair credit, but options are available.
A credit card might not be the first thing you think of when considering ways to manage money-related stress. While these credit card strategies won’t eliminate every financial problem, they may help you get started on a path to a more manageable financial future.