April showers bring spring flowers, they say. So here's a sprinkling of tips to help you blossom into a savvy credit card user.
Financial Literacy Month
Twenty years ago, the National Endowment for Financial Education and the Jump$tart Coalition promoted April as Financial Literacy Month. Their websites are full of resources for grade school, high school and college financial literacy programs, as well as more general information. In honor of the month, we're going to remind you about three of the many protections you get from the Credit Card Act of 2009.
The practice known as “universal default” is now banned. Previously, credit card companies could raise your interest rates based on how you managed other credit accounts. For example, if you were late on your car payment, your credit card APR could rise as a result. Now, a card issuer can hike your rate after a misstep only if it involved that particular card.
Cardholders cannot be charged over-limit fees unless they have opted in to them. If you don’t opt in, you may be embarrassed when your credit card is denied — but you won’t incur heavy fees for blowing past your limit.
Your monthly statement now shows you how long it will take to pay off your balance if you pay only the minimum amount due. Providing this information is supposed to encourage you to pay more than the minimum, and you should take the hint.
Get your credit report
With data breaches so common, make a habit of checking one of your credit reports every four months. Why every four months? Because you’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Go to annualcreditreport.com and download one of yours this month. Then, check it for mistakes or accounts that don’t look familiar. If you find a mistake, dispute it. By checking your credit reports at four-month intervals, you’re creating a DIY credit-monitoring service.
Take stock of your credit cards
Are you paying an annual fee for a card you aren’t using? Would a cash-back card serve you better than a travel rewards card? Could you benefit from a 0% interest card to pay down debt? Do a little spring cleaning in your wallet, and consider swapping out one that doesn't fit your lifestyle with one that works better. If you don’t want a new credit card, just get to know all the benefits your current card offers. For instance, if your card’s issuer has an online bonus mall, see what discounts or extra rewards are available for using it.
Activate your quarterly bonus categories
April brings new rotating bonus categories on the Chase Freedom® and on Discover cards with cash-back rewards. With these cards, you earn 5% cash back in quarterly categories that you activate, on up to $1,500 in combined spending per quarter, and 1% back on all other purchases. Categories for Chase Freedom® in the second quarter of 2017 are grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) and drugstores. Discover's categories are wholesale clubs and home improvement stores.
File your taxes (but not with your credit card)
Procrastinators get more time to file their taxes this year. The deadline is Tuesday, April 18. When the filing deadline — April 15 — falls on a weekend, the deadline moves to the following Monday, which would be April 17 this year. However, April 17 is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia, a legal holiday, so the filing deadline moves to April 18.
The IRS allows you to pay your taxes with a credit card, but we advise against it, since it's costly and could even end up dinging your credit score. If you've got credit card debt to pay down, however, your tax refund is perfect for that. Check out NerdWallet’s tax section for more tips and advice.
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