There are benefits to using credit cards in some situations. If you’re buying merchandise that will be delivered at a later date, credit cards give you ample dispute rights if the item isn’t what you expected. If you’re shopping or traveling, cards can be safer to carry than cash because if they’re lost or stolen, your losses are limited.
In places like restaurants, gas stations or hotels, you don’t run the risk of having a hold put on your bank account for more than your purchase amount, as you do with a debit card. In some cases, you can earn benefits like discounts, points, miles or cash.
But cards are another way to pay, not something you reach for when you can’t afford to buy in the first place. When you carry a balance, any financial benefit — like miles or points — is pretty much out the window.
One of the biggest problems consumers faced this year? Too much debt and not enough savings, says Ira Rheingold, executive director and general counsel of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. As a result, when emergencies come up, they reach for the plastic.
“What 2007 will teach people is not to buy things they can’t afford,” he says.
It’s like your retirement account in reverse, and that compound interest really adds up. With minimum payments, “the amount of debt you have is going to grow, and grow greatly,” says Rheingold.