You should use credit wisely

Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2011

By WAYNE CURTIS, PH.D. / Guest Columnist

It is a well-established fact that credit is too readily available for many Americans. This allows people to purchase what they want and when they want it. And it has created problems for individual consumers as well as for the nation as whole.

Many individuals are tempted to purchase items on credit when they don’t have the cash to pay for them. Let’s review some reasons why you should use credit—especially credit cards—cautiously.

First, financing your purchases can lead to higher levels of spending. Some people spend more money when using credit than they would with cash. They either purchase more items or more expensive ones.

In addition, remember that interest rates on credit cards are expensive. This can make financing your purchases more expensive. If you don’t have the money to pay cash for an item, you make it more expensive by adding interest to the cost.

Third, keep in mind that credit card interest rates can increase under certain conditions. Assume you get a credit card with a low rate. Unknown to you, this may have been an introductory rate that will increase if you don’t pay the balance in full within a specified period.

A final reason to avoid financing the purchase of goods and services is a psychological one. Great peace of mind comes to many people when they don’t owe money to anyone. This eliminates worry about interest rates, annual renewal costs and late fees.

The best way to get that new laptop you would like to have is to systematically save until you have sufficient funds to pay cash for it. Using this approach, you delay purchasing it until you can truly afford it.

This is not to say that you should never use credit cards. They are appropriate — as well as offering convenience and protection — if you pay your bill in full each month.

Wayne Curtis, Ph.D., is on the board of directors of First United Security Bank and may be reached by e-mail at