Mismanaging your credit card can lead to dramatically overpaying for the privilege of carrying plastic in your wallet. The good news is that most costly credit card mistakes are avoidable and in the event of a credit disaster, you can always try to negotiate with your credit card company.
"If you are spending more than 20 per cent of your paycheque on non-mortgage debt repayment, run -- don't walk -- to your nearest non-profit credit counselling agency for help," says Hannah.
Below are eight errors that represent fast ways to accelerate credit card debt, with tips from Scott Hannah, president and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society on how to avoid those pitfalls in the first place.
Mistake No. 1: The minimum payment trap
Paying only the required monthly minimum can keep cardholders indebted for decades. Based on the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's credit card calculator, a $10,000 balance on a card with a 19.99 per cent APR can take more than 25 years to repay if you only make minimum payments. Contribute an extra $300 monthly, and the payback period shrinks by 21 years.
How to avoid: To eliminate the minimum payment trap, consumers should reduce their monthly and seasonal expenses so they are living within their income. They then have the ability to pay down their credit cards without using them until balances are paid in full.
Mistake No. 2: Cash advances
Cash advances are shockingly expensive, and can quickly lead to out-of-control debt spirals. Advances are typically subject to a 3 per cent flat fee, and a higher interest rates that start immediately when you take out the cash advance. It's the same story for credit card convenience cheques.
How to avoid: No matter how tempting, just say no to cash advances.
Mistake No. 3: Impulse spending
Impulse spenders often experience deep regret after blowing their income on unplanned purchases, a post-sales reaction known as "buyer's remorse." Using credit cards for mood-based spending often starts a vicious cycle of financial difficulties.
How to avoid: Setting meaningful goals and saving up for purchases will keep you from using cash and credit for unbudgeted expenses.
Mistake No. 4: High-interest cards
Cardholders who carry outstanding balances can save by opting for a low-interest credit card, preferably one free from annual fees, if their credit is good enough to qualify for one. For example, Scotiabank Value Visa Card's APR is 9.99 per cent, while the SmartLine Platinum MasterCard charges 5.99 per cent for three years. Another cost-saving approach is to apply for a balance transfer card which can lower costs even further, albeit for a shorter period. Most balance transfer cards charge a one-time fee, so do the math first before you apply for a balance transfer card to see if it makes good financial sense.
How to avoid: Call your card issuer to ask if it will lower your card's interest rate. The worst-case scenario is they refuse.
Mistake No. 5: Credit card penalties
Miss just one monthly payment, and the APR for cards like the TD Green Visa spikes to 25 per cent. For American Express Canada cards, failing to pay on time automatically results in 30 per cent interest. In addition to late payment penalties, TD Green Visa cardholders must pay a $42.50 fee for any dishonoured payment, plus a $25 over-the-limit penalty if their account is maxed out.
How to avoid: Be an early bird when it comes to paying your credit card bills.
Mistake No. 6: Credit balance insurance
Credit balance insurance is a great money-maker for insurers, but usually represents a poor deal for cardholders. Though credit balance insurance will cover monthly payments in event of death or serious injury, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, you can expect to pay a premium of around 90 cents per $100 on your balance. Instead of a credit insurance policy that only covers minimum monthly payments after a claim is approved, one alternative is to build a healthy emergency fund.
How to avoid: Remove any card insurance coverage that protects the payment of your debt. The best insurance for this is a paid-in-full credit card.
Mistake No. 7: Failure to regularly shop for better
Many consumers don't search for superior credit cards because they believe it's a hassle, or think they can't get a better deal. This is one expensive mistake. People who take the time to shop around usually pay less in interest and fees, while earning higher rewards.
How to avoid: Visit internet quoting sites like CreditCards.ca, and set up a spreadsheet to compare new offers.
Mistake No. 8: Not asking for help
To get overwhelmed cardholders going in the right direction, a lot of people need guidance and a little support. If a person is having a problem getting started or can't go from point A to point B by themselves, help is close at hand. Unfortunately, many people ignore those opportunities until they're head over heels in debt.
How to avoid: Consumers lacking a friend or a family member who they trust and is really good with money can get help from a licensed and accredited credit counsellor.
"Non-profit credit counselling agencies provide free credit and budgeting guidance to help consumers get back on track with their finances," adds Hannah.