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Managing your credit cards isn’t a one-and-done task — you need to keep at it to get the most from your plastic. Every month, the Nerds round up a new set of tips to help you maximize rewards and minimize costs with every swipe. For September 2015:
1. Transfer your balance.
Got a large summer vacation balance on your credit card? Or perhaps you’re watching the interest grow after buying a pool, grill and patio set. No need to panic. You can temporarily avoid accruing interest by moving that balance to another credit card.
Certain credit cards offer 0% interest periods — some for a year or more — on transferred amounts. Other cards offer low interest on balance transfers. But look out for cards that charge balance transfer fees, which can be as high as 3% of the transferred sum.
A balance transfer could save you hundreds of dollars in interest, making it easier to pay off your bills and enter the fall with less stress.
2. Get a card that offers a free FICO score.
FICO itself does not offer scores to consumers for free, but a growing number of card issuers are including them as a customer perk, making it easy and affordable to access your score.
While there are a number of credit scoring systems, most lenders use scores that come from the Fair Isaac Corp., FICO for short. Understanding your FICO score can help you improve it and get approved for cards with lower interest rates.
3. Set up bill and balance alerts.
September is a busy month. Vacations are over, kids are back in school and the new TV season is starting. It's easy to lose track of your bills.
Most credit cards allow you to set up alerts that notify you when a bill is due or when a balance reaches a certain threshold. That can help you avoid missing a payment and keep your credit utilization ratio in check, which can assist in improving your credit score.
You can set up alerts by calling your issuer's customer service line or logging in to your card's online dashboard. We recommend setting up notifications for bill pay and balance amount — if your balance reaches 30% of your credit line, for example. Most issuers provide other alerts, too, such as for potential fraud.
Taking steps to manage your credit this fall can help you have your finances in order in time for the holiday shopping season.