Credit card tips might be easier to understand when they are binary — do this, don’t do that — but that advice usually doesn’t apply to everybody. In fact, some advice could hurt more than help.
Here’s a sampling of conventional wisdom on credit cards and why it might not apply to you.
‘Never use credit cards’ Cardholders can get in trouble by charging too much, then paying finance charges. That downside is real. Credit cards have many benefits, including convenience, building credit, rewards and fraud protections.
“There is a stigma associated with credit cards, but they can be effective money-management tools as long as you use them correctly,” said Paul Golden, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education. “Much of the bad reputation originates from irresponsible use, overspending and using a product that isn’t quite right for you.”
‘Always use credit cards’
For those who regularly incur credit card debt or know they can’t trust themselves not to overspend with plastic, credit cards can be a lousy idea. Instead, cash and debit cards can help to curb spending.
‘Never pay an annual fee’
Plenty of good credit cards charge nothing to hold them. But cards with annual fees typically offer rewards and benefits. They might include sign-up bonuses, airport lounge access and hundreds of dollars in travel credits.
‘Don’t transfer balances from card to card’ The idea behind this is that moving debt to different cards doesn’t address the problem of paying it off. In fact, fees could add to debt. But the upside is, balance-transfer cards can provide breathing room for carrying balances without finance charges — often more than a year. That’s useful when you can’t pay now but likely could pay later.
‘Always use a rewards card’
If you use a card as a payment tool and pay the balance in full every month, a rewards card is ideal. But for those who carry balances and pay finance charges, the interest would be more than the rewards.
‘Never close a credit card account’ Closing an account can hurt your credit rating, because scoring formulas like to see that you aren’t using more than 30 percent of your available credit (less is better) and a lengthy credit history, both of which suffer with a closure. Still, you might want to cancel an unwanted card to avoid paying an annual fee — if the issuer won’t let you downgrade to a no-fee card.
“If you’re paying a hefty annual fee, you will have to decide if it’s worth the credit-score hit to close the account,” Golden said.
‘Always pay your bill in full’
You should pay off your credit card bill monthly to avoid paying finance charges. An exception might be during times of hardship, when paying for a necessity, such as rent or food, trumps paying the credit card bill in full.
Or you might be within a 0 percent interest period on your card and decide to use cash to address a different financial priority.
“Carrying a balance can be a costly proposition, so if it becomes difficult to manage the debt you owe, it is best to have a conversation with your creditor and consider getting help from a nonprofit credit counseling agency before things get worse,” says Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Gregory Karp is a writer at NerdWallet E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @spendingsmart