How to use your year-end credit card summary to audit your finances
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Credit card issuers often send year-end summaries that compile all of your purchases with that card over the year. These reports typically arrive sometime in January, but you can often view that data ahead of time. I think these documents can be helpful financial planning tools in several ways.
One good way to put these documents to use is for budgeting purposes. I like to put as much of my spending as possible on credit cards because it’s convenient and the rewards can really stack up. An added benefit is that, unlike cash, credit cards provide an easy way to track everything you bought.
Take this opportunity to revisit where your money went in 2022. Are you being charged for monthly subscriptions you’ve forgotten about or are no longer using much? Our research shows that 51 percent of U.S. adults who have had a subscription or membership account incurred unwanted charges at some point. Free trials that turn into paid subscriptions without your knowledge are a particular pain point.
Can you uncover other potential money leaks such as excessive takeout ordering, rideshares or impulse buys? Sometimes we spend mindlessly. Especially if you don’t value those expenses, cutting back can yield big savings, especially with inflation and interest rates at multi-decade highs.
Reviewing your debt payoff plan
The American Bankers Association says that 53 percent of active credit card accounts revolve debt from month to month. If this describes you, your interest rate should be your top priority. The average credit card rate is 19.20 percent, the highest since we started tracking these in 1985. If you only make minimum payments toward the average credit card balance ($5,474, according to TransUnion) at 19.20 percent, you’ll be in debt for 200 months (more than 16 years!) and will owe a whopping $7,365 in interest.
My top tip for getting out of credit card debt is to sign up for a 0 percent balance transfer card. These allow you to pause the interest clock for up to 21 months. If you have credit card debt, forget about rewards for now. In fact, it may be best to use a debit card or cash for all of your spending for a while.
Transfer that high-cost credit card debt to a new card with a lengthy interest-free balance transfer period. Divide what you owe by the number of months in your 0 percent term and try to stick with that level payment plan. This could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest charges. You can do the math yourself with our balance transfer calculator.
Revamping your rewards strategy
If you can pay your credit card bills in full each month, it’s time for the fun stuff. Rewards are probably the best perk of using credit cards. Some people prefer to redeem for travel and others like cash back. Consider which is best for you, and ensure that your cards are leaning into the right spending categories.
Your year-end summary can help you in this quest. Since different cards prioritize different types of spending, make sure that your strategy is well-aligned. If you’re spending a lot at the grocery store, for example, are you using a card with strong grocery rewards? Ditto for dining, travel, gas and other key categories.
After reviewing your year-end summary, you might be surprised at how much you spend in some areas. Assuming those are things that you value and will continue buying in 2023, consider signing up for a new card that will fill a hole in your existing card strategy. The new card can be doubly beneficial if it comes with a sign-up bonus offer.
Remember that the best sign-up bonuses generally require you to spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars within your first few months with the card, so make sure you’ll be able to hit the benchmark with money you would have spent anyway. I especially like signing up for a new card in tandem with a natural spending spike such as the holidays, a big trip or a home renovation. The sign-up bonus alone could put more than $1,000 back in your wallet.
The bottom line
As we prepare to turn the page from 2022 to 2023, it’s a natural time for reflection. Your lifestyle changes and the credit card market does, too. Take some time to sift through the year-end summaries provided by your credit card issuers and consider ways to further optimize your spending in the new year.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help.