Five Things You Should Know About Credit CardsToo often credit cards seem like easy money. Just hand it over to the clerk or type in the card number for your online purchase and, presto!, you have stuff. But you may pay to play. If you don’t take care of  your credit card balance on time, you can get penalized with late fees and bad credit scores.

While most of us know this on some level, it’s worth the reminder.  Canadians continue to fall further and further into debt, with their love of bank loans, car loans, lines of credit and credit cards leading the way. Last month the average Canadian consumer’s total debt rose $225 to $27,355 according to the latest analysis of credit trends by TransUnion.

So here’s five things you should know about the plastic plunderer in your pocket:

  1. Don’t Live Without Grace: When buying with a credit card you are basically taking out a loan, which means paying interest. Usually the interest is waived if you pay within a “grace” period. Check to see whether your card’s grace period is 30 days, 20 days or one of the lovely “specialty” cards that has no grace period at all.
  2. Minimum Payments Maximum Pain: What’s wrong with just paying the minimum balance cited on your credit card invoice? If you were to figure out how much time and money, in the form of interest payments, you would spend to pay off a balance with minimum payments, you would be staggered.
  3. Never Be Late: Not only does missing the deadline for a credit card payment carry a financial penalty, it may bump up your interest rate and damage your credit rating. Ouch!
  4. Dangers of Juggling: You might be tempted to transfer your balance to a credit card with a lower interest rate. This could be OK if  you pay off the balance during the period the low rate is offered. If not, check the fine print, because you may wind up paying  a higher rate than before.
  5. Doesn’t Advance Your Cause: Doing cash advances with a credit card at an ATM is not a good idea. Not only are you charged a high interest rate there is no grace period. As soon as the money leaves machine, the credit clock is ticking.