3 Things You Should Never Pay For with a Credit Card (and One You Always Should)

This guest post was written by Jason Bushey. Jason is a personal finance blogger, and he runs the day to day operations at Creditnet.com.

Credit cards shouldn’t scare you; when used correctly, they’re actually the most rewarding form of currency available today.

Seriously, when’s the last time you were rewarded with airline miles for using cash?

And while it’s highly recommended that everyone should apply for a credit card as early as possible to begin the process of building credit, there are a few things you should simply not charge to your card. Generally, these are big-ticket items that might take you a long time to pay back. And when it takes you a while to pay back a credit card purchase, eventually you end up paying interest. A lot of it.

The single easiest way to fall into credit card debt is to make a big-ticket purchase and spend the next several months paying it back in very small increments. That’s what they call the “Snowball Effect” — wherein you make minimum payments, half of which go to interest – and it’s a legitimate credit killer.

The trick to staying out of credit card debt is to make small, semi-regular purchases and pay the entire balance every month.

With that in mind, here are three things you should avoid paying for with your credit card … and as a bonus, one purchase we ALWAYS recommend using a credit card for.

Hospital Bills

Don’t EVER put your hospital bills on a credit card. Medical bills are expensive as it is; the last thing you want to do is add high interest fees to those bills, too.

The fact of the matter is you can get on a payment plan with lower interest rates if you need to pay back your medical bills over time. Credit card interest rates range anywhere from 10% to 30%; you can get a much better rate through a payment plan initiated through the hospital. So take the time to sort this option out before sticking it all on your credit card.

Student Expenses

Student debt is brutal, but the fact of the matter is student loan interest rates are, by and large, a lot lower than the average credit card interest rate. So it’s highly recommended that you don’t charge off some or all of that student loan payment since, ultimately, you’ll end up paying a lot more in the long run.

Along those same lines, it’s not recommended to charge your tuition bills. It’s MUCH cheaper (OK,   maybe “cheaper” is the wrong word here … how about “less expensive”?) to take out a student loan or apply for a scholarship than it is to simply swipe your way through school.

Think about it: the average yearly cost to attend a public university is $22,261, according to CNN Money. Add 15% in interest to that and that’s another $3,300 — IN INTEREST ALONE.

Sorry for yelling, but hopefully you get the idea here: Keep the big-ticket items — especially the ones with lower interest options — off of your charge card.

Your Dream Wedding

Unless you’ve got a feeling your wedding gift-pile will be something akin to Henry Hill’s in Goodfellas (i.e. a pile of envelopes stuffed with cash), then it’s probably a good idea to scale back that dream wedding you had in mind to something more manageable.

I’m not married and I’m certainly not a relationship counselor, but it can’t be a good idea to begin your first days of marriage swamped in debt because you decided to fly in your entire extended family for a destination wedding.

Getting hitched is a celebration of love, not luxury. Stay within your means when planning your wedding and you’ll be more likely to enjoy your party.

That said, if you need to go into debt to fund the open bar, then we’ll make an exception.

(Just kidding. Kinda of.)

So, while we recommend putting the plastic away for the above purchases, there’s still one HUGE category of items we always recommend using your credit card for:

Online Purchases!

Why? Well, the dirty secret your bank doesn’t want you to know is that most credit card issuers offer better identity theft protection than that of the biggest banks. Not only that, but in the event that your credit card account is hacked, the damage will usually be limited because your credit card accounts aren’t synced with your personal bank accounts, savings accounts, etc.

Besides, the only credit card networks worth applying to have purchase protection, so you’re covered in the event of fraudulent charges. Not so with your debit card…

By using your debit card online often, you’re increasing the chance of foul play.

So you see, credit card purchases are actually recommended in some cases — especially if your card offers you cash back, rewards or miles.

Just be sure to keep the most expensive purchases — the ones that no matter how you slice it are simply out of your reach — off your charge card. By doing so, you’ll save yourself the burden of interest fees and debt for years to come.

Photo Credit: bfishadow



Comments

  1. 2

    mb says

    I would disagree with #2 in certain instances. I am taking classes towards an MS degree and my employer reimburses me after the term. I used to pay upfront and use the money to pay for the next course – but right now there are VERY good offers out for balance transfers (0% interest – 0% cost). I pay with one credit card transfer the balance at no cost and pay it off when I get reimbursed (I do have to make the minimum payments). I even even get the credit card bonus for the first charge. That said, the card I transfer the balance to, does not have any other charges (I think those would accrue interest) and other than this I never carry a balance. It works well and I hope I finish before these credit card terms end (1 more class after the one I am taking now).

  2. 4

    says

    I fundamentally agree with you on why you shouldn’t make those three types of purchases on credit. But only if you intend on financing them. If you objective is to pay them off hten why not take advantage of the cash back or points and then either pay it off or fund a payoff via another, more economical method?

    • 5

      says

      Jose – you definitely have a point. If you’re going to pay back your big-ticket purchases in full right away, then it’s absolutely worth it. But the fact of the matter is that many consumers either a.) use cards for financing or b.) SAY they’re going to pay back their purchase right away but don’t actually follow through. So yes, both our arguments are solid in theory – just depends who’s using the charge card.

  3. 8

    says

    I would add a fourth item you should always charge with a credit card and that is airline tickets. I got ripped off by a travel agent once and went through a very lenghty legal process to get my money back. If I had of used a credit card, they would have just cancelled the charge.

  4. 9

    says

    I went against this and just put my medical expenses on a credit card. They only reason I did this was because I have 18 months of 0% interest. I plan on paying it all off in 3 months. I didn’t want to have interest at all and the hospital didn’t want to give me 0%!

    If my card did not have 0%, then I wouldn’t have done it.

  5. 12

    says

    We hardly carry cash with us and everything goes on credit cards. The rewards we have gotten from using our cards, well like you said cash can’t give you. We’ve never paid a lick of interest in our life so it’s worth it for us.

  6. 13

    says

    With cashback/reward cards, if you intend on paying off the balance fairly quickly, putting things such as medical/college expenses could actually benefit you. I think you need to think carefully about how long the debt is likely to remain on the card rather than just outright decide that these items will never be paid for on a card.

    • 14

      Len Penzo says

      Great point, Ed. I agree. If you are going to pay off the card balance in full at the end of the month, then there is really no harm/no foul. And if it is a rewards card, you get to enjoy the bonus.

      • 15

        says

        Agreed with all of that. Credit cards, when used correctly, are the most rewarding form of currency available. (Other than gold, maybe? Is that currency?) But the fact of the matter is many consumers just don’t have the discipline to pay in full right away, and the result is serious, snowballing interest. (Average credit card debt currently is a little over $5k for the average American.) I’d say if there’s ever a doubt you’ll be able to pay these purchases off quickly, it’s best to set aside the charge card. That’s just me though.

  7. 16

    says

    It depends how you repay your credit card debt. Many folks use credit cards but have never had plans how they will repay the debt. Most Americans who have trouble repaying credit card debt fall into this category. They are quick to borrow but extremely slow to repay.

  8. 17

    says

    I use credit cards (a) to smooth cash flow when I would pay it off every month, (b) as a short term loan if they are offering 0% (maybe a balance transfer from another card) (c) for travel because we have one card that has proper travel insurance built in and (d) for big ticket items (which I would pay off) exactly because there is legislation here that if the product becomes faulty or doesn’t arrive and it is more that £100 and less than £30,000, the bank shares the risk. I once ordered a computer for over £1000 but the supplier went bust. I got the money back from the bank. I guess that isn’t available in the US.

  9. 18

    says

    Jason, all good points. I would add that charging vacation packages to your credit card can be a good idea (if you can afford to pay in full) because there are many scams out there. I paid for a one month condo rental with my credit card and it gave me peace of mind knowing I had the backing of the card.

  10. 19

    Jon says

    We actually put most of our wedding on a credit card at 0% for 21 months. I then divided the total by 20 months and set up an ING Direct sub account with direct deposit specifically for this card. Just finished paying it off. I normally pay my credit card balance in full every month unless I am taking advantage of a 0% offer.

  11. 20

    says

    Jason, if I have the cash, why not charge those things, and pay the bill in full as we always do?
    We’ve always paid in full, else we wouldn’t buy whatever it was. When we bought our cars, I was disappointed I couldn’t charge the full amount, only the deposit, $3,000 if I recall.

    Len – I’m with you, when I caught the title, I was imagining a cartoon I’d seen years ago, a father giving a son advice, “always pay cash for two things…..”

  12. 21

    Al says

    we only use 1 credit card for anything online. that way, if anything bad ever happens, we just cancel and get a new one. i like your point on debit card online.
    i like to use a credit card to keep track of all monthly purchases – they list it out for you – nice.

  13. 22

    Sue says

    I have used reward credit cards for over 30 years. I always pay my balance to avoid any interest. I would not be afraid to say I have probably earned over $10,000 rewards in that time. I just cashed in a $500 reward to splurge on C’mas gifts! It is like literally picking up free money off the sidewalk!
    Further, I too have had the need on 3 occasions to have the card stand behind me in poor business transaction disputes! It is great knowing they have your back! I got my money back in all cases, even though 2 merchants fought hard not to.
    I have seen people go into debt with cards. I have a friend who has repeatedly done so. They are in bankruptcy for the 2nd time now and will loose their home this time. It is ridiculous to me that some people think a CC is a money tree!I have never treated them as such. And if I can’t pay it at months end I don’t buy it! It’s a mindset of some people and the opposite with others. I cannot imagine using them any other way. It is nice to have the knowledge if the unexpected need arises I could use them though. My aforementioned friend has no where to turn if something breaks down or a real need arises. I could not sleep if I were in that circumstance.
    Someone mentioned the “no pain” paying with plastic vs the “pain” thus the restraint of paying with cash. Not so for me! I KNOW the bill is coming at the end of the month, and I see the cash then, as I deposit it into my account for payment. Perhaps that is why so many do fall into the trap of minimum payments. There is that not wanting to let go of your cash, and with the minimum payment amount looking so enticingly low…yes I can see how that happens, but only an imbecile would fall into that trap. As you must know the interest will eat you alive.
    One more point I would like to make on the intelligent use if cards is the great credit score you build up with consistent use and payment. I just checked my score and it is 780. That is a real benefit in today’s world effecting everything from your insurance rates to your job prospects. So many agencies look at your score to determine a lot about your responsibility and character. Places that are not involved in money lending at all. Using cash doesn’t get you a great credit score.

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