Credit cards are wonderfully convenient — and that’s how they are designed. The credit card companies want you to forget about carrying cash so that you’ll yank out those cards and use them for everything from lunches with your friends to impulse buys online. In fact, they’re counting on the idea that you’ll eventually rack up more charges than you can pay off in a given month. After all, that’s how they make money.
Credit card companies aren’t above using other tactics to encourage consumers to spend. Some of the most common traps for unwary credit consumers include:
- A 0% introductory interest rate: While these terms sound great and encourage balance transfers, they’re often illusory. Only certain transfers or purchases may qualify for that rate. Plus, if you’re the slightest bit late on a payment, you’ll quickly find yourself paying ordinary interest rates (or higher).
- Changing interest rates: Even making your payments on time doesn’t guarantee you a decent interest rate, however. Credit card companies can hike your rate for all kinds of reasons — including the fact that you’re using too much credit.
- Minimum payments: That affordable minimum payment a credit card company offers you on your bill isn’t designed to help you. Instead, you end up paying mostly interest without touching the principal. That means you’ll eventually pay as much as four times what you charged.
- Annual fees and inactivity charges: Credit cards can cost you money even if you don’t use them. Annual fees and inactivity fees can eat away at your funds even when you haven’t placed a charge in a year.
- Late fees: Missed a payment? Just a few days late on one? Either way, expect your interest rate to go sky high. You’ll probably be paying 29.99% interest on all your charges for the foreseeable future.
The plain truth of the matter is that banks go out of their way to hook unsuspecting consumers on credit — and then they make it nearly impossible for the debts to be paid off. If you’re struggling under credit card debt that you accumulated before you really understood the risks, it may be time to talk about filing bankruptcy.