In today's world of online shopping and bill servicing, credit cards have become almost an essential part of our everyday lives. No one would argue that they don't make life easier, but it's also true that they have a dark side in that it's all to easy to build up debt.
Of course, it's simple to advise against getting into debt by overspending with your card, but that advice is perhaps a little hollow for people who have already built up a balance. If you're lucky, that balance is not yet too much of a problem, but one almost guaranteed way of setting your debt on the slippery slope is to continue spending with your card while only making the minimum monthly repayment required by your card issuer.
Each month when you receive your statement, the minimum amount you have to pay will be clearly shown, and many people choose to have this amount repaid automatically through their banks. This makes it easy to keep your account up to date, and gives the illusion that you're keeping on top of your card balance.
The problem lies in the size of the repayment you're making. In the early days of plastic, the minimum repayment level was generally around 5% of the balance, but over the years this has drifted inexorably downwards with 2.5% to 3% being the norm nowadays, with some cards going as low as 2%.
Why is this a problem? Surely a lower repayment amount is attractive, as your credit will cost you less each month, putting less pressure on your budget? This is true to an extent, but the problem lies in the long term. To get an idea of how bad an idea only paying the minimum is, we need to look a bit more closely at your credit card statement.
As well as showing the familiar annual interest rate, or APR, your card statement will also show the monthly rate of interest charged on your balance. A typical card might show a rate of around 1.6% a month. In simple terms, this means that each month you will be charged 1.6% of your balance in interest. Compare this to a 2% repayment, and you'll see that over three quarters of everything you pay is swallowed up in interest charges, leaving your original debt virtually untouched.
This situation is bad enough, but it gets worse when you consider that the interest rates charged on other ways of using your cards such as instant cash or overseas use can be much higher. Monthly rates for withdrawing cash, for example, can be nearly as high as the minimum repayment percentage. If you withdraw a significant amount of cash within a month, it's quite possible that the whole of your repayment can go towards interest, with your debt level not reduced at all.
So even from this quick look at repayment levels, it's plain to see that if you only make the minimum payment required on your statement, you'll be prolonging the life of your debt by many years and vastly increasing the amount of interest you'll be paying in total. How can you avoid this?
The best way is to set up automatic payment of the minimum, so that you'll be sure that every month you'll at least be staying within the terms of your credit agreement and not risking damage to your credit rating. Then, at the end of the month, make an extra payment of as much as you can afford without borrowing from another source. Even if you can't afford to pay a large amount, every little helps especially as all of it will count towards reducing your balance and not servicing interest charges.