NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for January 2019

Jan 8, 2019

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New Year's resolutions are about goal-setting: You want to lose those extra pounds, achieve that financial target or reach a professional milestone.

While we can't help you with your boss or your keto diet, we can help you use your credit cards in a way that will benefit your financial life in the new year. Read on for some resolutions that can have a positive impact on your wallet.

Go on a debt diet

NerdWallet's 2018 analysis of U.S. household debt shows that the average household with credit card debt has an estimated $6,929 in revolving balances, or balances that carry from one month to the next. That figure may not seem overwhelming by itself, but combined with other obligations like student loans, mortgages and car payments, total debt can quickly spiral out of hand.

If you've got sizable debt, aim to change your spending habits so you can adhere to a trimmer budget, but be reasonable about how much you can cut back.

One potentially easy way to save money on high-interest credit card debt is to move it to a credit card with a 0% APR offer on balance transfers. These cards offer a period of time — often ranging from nine months to nearly two years — in which you won't pay interest on your balance. During that period, every dollar you pay on the bill will go toward reducing the debt itself.

That can help you pay off debt faster, possibly without making other sacrifices in your budget.

Downgrade to save

Sometimes you're spending money on your credit card without even realizing it. Maybe you signed up for a premium travel card because it offered a big sign-up bonus and you used the rewards toward a special trip. Now it's a year later, the vacation is a memory, and the annual fee of several hundred dollars is due. Is hanging on to that pricey card still worth it?

If not, consider a product change to a card with a cheaper carrying cost. This involves contacting your issuer and requesting a downgrade to a different product within that same issuer's family of cards.

Doing so can allow you to retain your current account number, and therefore the same credit line and length of credit history, without having to open a brand new account. Keeping the same account is beneficial for your credit scores, and you'll have a card that's a better fit for your current needs — and cheaper.

Upgrade and still save

Even if think you don't need another credit card, or that you'd never bother with an annual fee, sometimes it makes good financial sense to get another card, even one with an ongoing cost of ownership.

One such example? A good airline credit card.

Nearly all airline credit cards that charge an annual fee also offer free checked bags with card membership. As of the end of 2018, most airlines were charging around $25 to $30 for the first checked bag one-way on a flight.

That means that even if you fly just once a year with a companion and check bags, you can expect to shell out as much as $120 for a round-trip flight. Many of the best airline credit cards (the ones that allow you to skip these baggage fees) charge annual fees of less than $100, so you'd actually save money by having such a card.

Plus, many airline cards offer in-flight discounts on food and beverages. Some come with plusher perks like priority boarding and lounge access, making them even more valuable.

The same can apply when it comes to hotel credit cards that charge annual fees and offer a free anniversary night each year. Such a benefit can easily outstrip the cost of owning the card.

Annual fees don't have to be a deal breaker, and in many cases, you might come out ahead.

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