The average credit card balance in America ballooned to $5,910 in 2022. This figure is up 13.2% from the year before according to Experian, and it spells out a worrisome (and costly) trend for consumers. After all, credit card interest rates were on the rise throughout all last year and well into 2023, mostly due to changes to the federal funds rate by the Federal Reserve. The fact is, consumers with credit card debt pay an average interest rate of 20.92% as of February 2023, compared to just 16.65% in the second quarter of 2022.
Fortunately, you have the power to use credit cards to your advantage — and to avoid paying exorbitant interest rates altogether. Consider these tips to master credit cards instead of letting them rule over you this year.
- Plan purchases so that you don’t need to carry a credit card balance While interest rates are incredibly high right now, you can use credit cards without paying for the privilege. Instead of racking up balances and hoping you can afford the bill, use credit cards for planned purchases only — and for spending that’s backed up by money in the bank. Provided you pay your credit card balance in full each month, today’s sky-high interest rates can’t hurt you.
- Consolidate high-interest debts. You can get a break from today’s high rates by consolidating credit card debt you already have with a 0% balance transfer credit card. Many cards in this niche give you 0% APR on balance transfers, purchases or both for up to 21 months. This gives you time to pay down your balance with zero interest, which can help eliminate debt faster and save money along the way. Make sure you investigate any balance transfer fees which you may need to calculate into your decision.
- Earn rewards for your spending. If you’re still using your old credit card from college or haven’t bothered to upgrade in the last few years, you could be missing out. Today’s credit cards let you earn as much as 2% cash back on spending with no annual fee, or you can opt to earn generous rewards for travel instead. Just make sure you carry no balance, as interest rates on these cards can be even higher than regular credit cards.
- Put your perks to work. Finally, check whether your credit card has other, often unpromoted, benefits. Depending on your card, you may have access to perks like purchase protection against damage or theft, extended warranties on items you buy that come with a manufacturer’s warranty or even travel insurance protections. If you already have access to these benefits or others, knowing ahead of time is the best way to put them to good use.
Credit cards offer convenience and a range of features you can benefit from, but they can either be a blessing or a curse for your finances. Ultimately, your best bet is taking control of your credit card use before it controls you.