Budgeting With a Credit Card: Guide to Spending Smarter With Your Credit Card

Budgeting With a Credit Card: Guide to Spending Smarter With Your Credit Card

While you may think of your credit card as what tends to break a budget, it’s actually possible to budget with a credit card to spend smarter. In fact, there are a number of advantages of budgeting with a credit card. If you spend only what you can afford to pay off each month, you can enjoy earning rewards, building your credit score, and accessing other perks without accruing interest.

It isn’t always easy to set — and then stick to — a budget though, and a credit card budget is no different. Read on for tips on budgeting with a credit card.

Why Use Credit Cards?

Although credit cards can have downsides — especially when someone tends to overspend — they also offer benefits that you can’t get when you pay with other methods. This includes:

•   Fraud protection: It can be easier to dispute charges and fraudulent activity on a credit card as opposed to a debit card or cash.

•   Opportunity to improve your credit score: When a credit card is used responsibly, it can build a person’s credit score.

•   Credit card rewards: Credit cards often come with perks like travel points or cash back.

•   Travel insurance: Some credit cards offer specialty protection benefits like travel insurance.

While you may think of your credit card as what tends to break a budget, it’s actually possible to budget with a credit card to spend smarter. In fact, there are a number of advantages of budgeting with a credit card. If you spend only what you can afford to pay off each month, you can enjoy earning rewards, building your credit score, and accessing other perks without accruing interest.

It isn’t always easy to set — and then stick to — a budget though, and a credit card budget is no different. Read on for tips on budgeting with a credit card.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score?

Why Is Budgeting Important?

Whether using a bank account or credit card, a monthly budget is an essential part of financial wellness. Budgeting can:

•   Help to reach financial goals, such as establishing an emergency fund or saving for a downpayment for a home.

•   Alleviate financial anxiety that can come from uncertainties around finance.

•   Improve credit history through a record of on-time payments and responsible spending.

At first glance, budgeting may seem like a limiting factor, but it actually allows you to spend guilt-free. When budgeters know how much they can spend on certain categories each month and adhere to those guidelines, they don’t have to worry about overspending.

Specific Budgeting Methods You Can Work With

There’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting method. However, here are some popular methods that you might consider trying if you’re interested in creating a personal budget.

The Zero-Sum Budget

In a zero-sum budget, every dollar has a job. However, that doesn’t mean an account should be $0 at the end of the month. Instead, it means that every dollar earned should be allocated to a specific category, with no money left unassigned by the end of the month.

Each time an after-tax paycheck comes in, a zero-dollar budget will assign it to a category, starting with necessities like rent, food, student loan payments, and insurance. The rest goes toward discretionary spending or saving.

Zero-sum budgeting means taking a critical look at each dollar entering a bank account, which can feel frustrating for some but helpful for others. Depending on your preferences, this could be the right type of budget for you.

The Spreadsheet Budget

A spreadsheet or line-item budget groups spending and purchases into categories balanced against monthly post-tax income. In its most basic form, the spreadsheet budget is a list of expenses, shown line by line and grouped by type. Income covers expenses, with surpluses going toward additional savings or debt payoff.

The Online Budget

Apps and other digital tools make budgeting as easy as creating a log-in and connecting existing accounts to track spending. You can also set up budgets for upcoming purchases.

An online tool can be helpful for those who feel intimidated by budgeting prep or prefer a more passive look at spending.

11 Tips for Budgeting With a Credit Card

Using a credit card to budget isn’t so different from a traditional budget. Keep these 11 tips in mind when building a credit card budget.

1. Determine Your Monthly Income

To figure out take-home pay each month, budgeters can consult their bank account or look at paystubs from their employer (typically through an online portal). If your income varies each month, take the average income over the past year to get a rough ballpark figure.

2. Pick a Budgeting Method

A person can’t budget with a credit card if they don’t have a budgeting method in mind. Consider one of the aforementioned methods or an alternative like the 50/30/20 budget, where you allocate 50% of your budget to needs, 30% to wants, and the remaining 20% to savings.

3. Track Your Spending

Some budgeting methods are specific about how spending should be tracked. However, you can easily track your spending with pen and paper, a spreadsheet, or a spending app. No matter the method, it’s important to track each purchase.

4. Categorize Your Spending

When it comes to how to budget credit card payments, it helps to look back at your spending first. Gather financial statements from credit cards and bank accounts for the past month. Break each transaction into a category, such as needs, wants, savings, or something more specific.

With an idea of historical spending, now’s time to put a plan into place moving forward.

5. Create a Plan

Armed with a structure and an understanding of your past spending, now comes the time to plan for the future. When creating a plan, consider:

•   Recurring expenses

•   Savings goals

•   Debt repayment goals

•   Annual subscription costs

•   Emergency savings needs

6. Pay Yourself First

A top priority when budgeting with a credit card should be paying yourself first. That means that when money hits a bank account, it should go toward personal savings goals, an emergency fund, or an accelerated debt repayment plan.

It’s important to prioritize paying yourself first, as many try to budget with the reverse in mind, only setting aside what’s left over at the end of the month. This approach can lead to falling short on savings goals.

7. Calculate Your Expenses

After setting aside money for savings, it’s time to break down the remaining income into monthly expenses. This includes necessities like rent or mortgage payments and wants like dining out or entertainment.

If monthly income can’t cover all of the anticipated expenses, it may be time to cut back on spending. Is there slack in the budget from underused subscriptions? Or can grocery spending go down?

Figuring this out before you swipe can help you to avoid overspending on credit cards.

8. Plan for Debts

The difference between credit card budgeting and traditional budgeting comes when the credit card bill is due. If someone has been primarily spending on a credit card, it’s unlikely they’ll see their bank account change most of the month. However, that changes when the bill comes due.

With each transaction on the card, the budgeter should have enough money in their check or savings to cover the cost. Planning for this debt means avoiding the scramble that sometimes comes with a credit card due date.

9. Simplify Your Billing Schedule

Missing a credit card bill can harm a credit score and add financial stress to a person’s budget. Mark credit card due dates on the calendar each month, and consider paying the bill early or breaking it into multiple payments throughout the month.

10. Use Rewards as a Bonus

The benefit of budgeting with a credit card comes from the various credit card rewards you can earn. Remember to cash in on cash back perks every few months for a discounted bill or redeem the travel miles you’ve earned for an upcoming trip.

11. Avoid Carrying a Balance

Carrying a balance on a credit card could indicate an imbalanced budget due to how credit cards work. When a credit card bill isn’t paid in full, the remaining balance can accrue interest, leading to a ballooning balance that becomes harder to pay.

That’s why upfront planning is essential to budgeting with a credit card. Without a plan in place, there’s a bigger risk of overspending, which can snowball into credit card debt. If you’re using a credit card, it’s important to stick to one of the most important credit card rules of always trying to pay off your balance in full.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Pros and Cons of Budgeting With a Credit Card

There are benefits and drawbacks to credit card budgeting, including:

Pros

Cons

Opportunity to earn credit card rewards and cash back from spending Possible to more easily go over budget with a higher credit limit
Improved credit score with responsible spending Exceeding budget could mean incurring interest charges and additional debt
Option to set up account alerts to better stay on top of account spending Potential to harm credit score with missed or late payments

The Takeaway

There are advantages of budgeting with a credit card, such as earning rewards, gaining access to credit card perks like travel insurance, and building your credit score if you use your card responsibly. By setting up a credit card budget, you can better prevent yourself from spending more than you can afford and ending up owing interest when you can’t pay off your statement balance in full.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How can I manage my budget with credit cards?

Budgeting with a credit card isn’t different from budgeting without one. The key to budgeting credit cards is not to spend more on a credit card than you can afford to pay off at the end of the month.

Should I budget with a credit card?

If someone can stick to a traditional budget, then budgeting with a credit card might make sense. The difference is remembering to stay up to date with payments, as missing a credit card payment can negatively impact a credit score.

How much of a hold does the budget put on your credit card?

Budget should have a pretty serious hold on a credit card. When people can’t pay their credit card bill in full, they’ll incur interest charges, which can cause them to fall into debt over time and potentially drag down their credit score.

How do credit cards affect my personal budget?

If a budgeter isn’t paying attention when using a credit card, it’s easy to overspend. This can result in putting more on a credit card than you have available in cash to pay it off. As a result, you may end up paying more than the sticker price for your purchases due to interest, leaving you less money leftover for your other needs and savings goals.


Photo credit: iStock/Mirel Kipioro

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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What Is a Prepaid Credit Card and How Does It Work?

What Is a Prepaid Credit Card and How Does It Work?

A prepaid credit card is a type of credit card onto which you load money in advance. You can use the card to make purchases online or at brick-and-mortar stores or to withdraw money at ATMs.

While they have “credit card” in the name, prepaid credit cards are actually quite different from a standard credit card. Here’s a closer look at what a prepaid credit card is, the different types of prepaid cards, and the pros and cons of having one.

What Is a Prepaid Credit Card?

As mentioned before, a prepaid card is a card on which you load money ahead of time, similarly to how you would with a gift card. Some of the same credit card issuers that offer traditional credit cards may offer prepaid credit cards.
The amount you load onto the prepaid card is the maximum amount you can spend on the card, similar to a credit limit. For instance, if you load $200 onto the card, you can spend up to $200.

You can use the card to make purchases or withdrawals from an ATM. Prepaid cards might also be used for government benefits or for payroll.

Many prepaid credit cards are also called prepaid debit cards or stored-value cards. While they may look just like a credit card and bear the logo of a major credit card company like Visa or Mastercard, they’re not actually credit cards.

Because you’re not borrowing from a line of credit, you won’t have to worry about accruing debt, making a minimum payment by a due date, or owing interest. Your activity also will not be reported to the credit bureaus, meaning it won’t affect your credit score or history.

Recommended: What Is a Charge Card

Types of Prepaid Credit Cards

There are two main types of prepaid credit cards: open-loop and closed-loop. Here’s how they differ.

Open-Loop

An open-loop prepaid credit card can be used anywhere that accepts the credit card network that the card is within. For instance, if your open-loop prepaid credit card has a Visa logo, then your prepaid card will be accepted at any merchant, location, or ATM where Visa cards are accepted.

Closed-Loop

Also known as a single-purpose card, a closed-loop prepaid credit card can only be used to make purchases from a single retailer or a group of stores. For instance, you may only be able to use the card when you shop at a particular grocery store chain. Closed-loop prepaid credit cards usually don’t have a credit card network logo on them.

How Does a Prepaid Credit Card Work?

You can use a prepaid credit card to make purchases and take out money at ATMs, just as you can get cash from a credit card. Each transaction you make using the prepaid card will reduce the total balance you have available. So, for instance, let’s say you loaded a total of $500 onto your card. Then, you make a purchase for $150. You would have $350 remaining to spend with your card.

Though it depends on the prepaid credit card, you may be able to reload additional funds onto your card. You can do so by depositing money from a bank account or paycheck, reloading the card at a retail location using cash, or buying a reload pack to add a certain amount to your card.

Advantages of a Prepaid Credit Card

Let’s look at some of the benefits and risks of prepaid debit cards, another common name for prepaid credit cards. Here are some of the upsides to weigh if you’re considering getting one.

Doesn’t Require a Credit Check

A credit check isn’t required to open a prepaid card. As such, it may be an option available to those with lower credit scores or a thin credit history. Further, getting a prepaid credit card won’t require a hard credit inquiry, which can ding your credit.

Provides a Safe Alternative to Cash

A prepaid credit card is a safe, easy alternative to using cash. Depending on the network, a prepaid card might come with liability protections similar to those offered by debit cards.

Doesn’t Necessitate a Bank Account

You won’t need a bank account in order to get or use a prepaid debit card. Unlike debit cards, prepaid credit cards don’t require you to draw funds from a bank account, though if you do have one, you have the option to deposit money from your checking or savings account.

Won’t Cause You To Go Into Debt

Since you’re using money that’s already been uploaded to the card, you won’t have to worry about running a balance on your credit card. Further, you won’t have to worry about making payment due dates, one of the cardinal credit card rules, or the possibility of incurring interest if you can’t pay off your balance in full.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Disadvantages of a Prepaid Credit Card

While there are a number of positives to prepaid debit cards, there are disadvantages worth considering as well.

Can Carry High Fees

Fees are probably the biggest drawback of a prepaid credit card. Many prepaid credit cards come loaded with fees, which can include the following:

•   Activation fees

•   Monthly maintenance fees, often around $10

•   Reloading or card replacement fees

•   Purchase fees

•   ATM fees for transactions or balance inquiries

•   Check deposit fees

•   Declined transaction fees

•   Inactivity fees

•   Foreign transactions fees

•   Customer service inquiry fees

Just as you would consider how much a credit card costs before applying for you, do the same due diligence on prepaid card fees before getting one.

Does Not Boost Your Credit Score

Prepaid credit cards aren’t actually credit cards, which offer a revolving line of credit. Because they aren’t a form of credit, your activity is not reported to the credit bureaus. In turn, they aren’t a way to build your credit.

Offers Fewer Fraud and Liability Protections

While prepaid credit cards might come with some fraud and liability protections, they typically don’t have the full suite of protections that standard credit cards offer. Instead, their protections, if offered, may be more akin to those offered by debit cards, which are generally weaker than those of credit cards.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Alternatives to Prepaid Credit Cards

Besides prepaid credit cards, here are a few other options you might consider:

•   Gift cards: A gift card can be used at particular merchants or retailers. There are also gift cards offered by credit card networks, such as Visa or Mastercard, that you can use anywhere these networks are accepted. Like a prepaid credit card, you don’t need a bank account to get a gift card, though using one won’t help you boost your credit. Unlike prepaid credit cards, gift cards don’t typically carry any fees aside from potentially a one-time activation fee.

•   Debit cards: Another option you might consider is a debit card. These do typically require a bank account, however. Like a prepaid card, you’re only using the funds available in the account connected to the card. As such, getting a debit card does not involve a credit check nor will you have to pay interest since you’re not borrowing funds. There may be fees involved though.

•   Secured credit cards: If you have a low credit score or a thin credit profile, a secured credit card — one of the different types of credit cards available — can help boost your credit if you’re using the credit card responsibly. Secured credit cards require a deposit, and the deposit amount is usually the same as the card’s credit limit. Secured credit cards usually have lower fees than prepaid cards, but they do have interest fees. Plus, a credit check is required.

The Takeaway

Contrary to its name, a prepaid credit card isn’t actually a credit card. You aren’t accessing a line of credit with a prepaid card, and you can’t build credit. Instead, you load cash onto the prepaid card, which effectively acts as your credit limit. You can then use the funds to make purchases or withdraw money from an ATM.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Do prepaid cards require monthly payments?

Prepaid cards can have a monthly maintenance fee. The amount of this fee varies, typically ranging from $10 to $15 a month. The money is drawn from the existing balance on your card.

Do prepaid cards cost money?

Prepaid cards usually do have fees. This may include an activation fee, ATM fees, reload fees, and foreign transaction fees, among others. Before getting a prepaid credit card, make sure to check what fees are involved.

Is an account needed for a prepaid credit card?

A bank account is not required for a prepaid credit card.

Do prepaid cards help build your credit?

Prepaid credit cards do not help you to build credit. That’s because they’re not actually credit cards and don’t offer a revolving credit line. In turn, your payment history isn’t reported to the three credit bureaus.


Photo credit: iStock/towfiqu ahamed

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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What Are Credit Card Convenience Checks and How Are They Used?

What Are Credit Card Convenience Checks and How Are They Used?

If you have an active credit card account, you might be offered or have already received unsolicited credit card convenience checks. A credit card convenience check lets you draw a portion of funds from your available credit limit without swiping your card.

Although convenience checks offer the benefit of using your credit line toward other bills — either as a cash advance or a check-based payment for a purchase — they also come with their fair share of issues. Keep reading to learn more about what a convenience check is and how to get one from a credit card.

What Is a Credit Card Convenience Check?

Also known as cash advance checks, access checks, or balance transfer checks, credit card convenience checks let you borrow money against the credit card limit that is available beyond your credit card balance.

Card issuers offer this option as a way to encourage spending on your card account. You can use these checks to pay bills, borrow money, make a balance transfer, or transfer loans to your credit card.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Pros of Credit Card Convenience Checks

Convenience checks have downsides, but there are pros to them as well:

•   They let you make purchases when using a credit card isn’t accepted.

•   You can use one to pay off other debt.

•   You can access cash quickly with a convenience check.

•   A convenience check borrows against your existing credit line, so you don’t need to undergo a credit check for a new line of credit.

Cons of Credit Card Convenience Checks

There are also a number of drawbacks of convenience checks to consider before using one. These include:

•   You’ll incur an additional fee each time you use a convenience check.

•   Using a convenience check might activate a higher credit card APR for the check amount.

•   You don’t get a grace period, so you’ll start incurring interest immediately.

•   You’ll have fewer protections if your purchase is defective and you need to withhold payment.

•   Your check purchase might not qualify as an eligible purchase under the card’s rewards program.

Factors to Consider Before Getting a Credit Card Convenience Check

Since convenience checks are treated like a cash advance by your credit card issuer, you’ll incur cash advance fees when the funds are drawn from your account. For example, your card issuer or bank might charge a minimum fee of $10 or 3% of the check amount, whichever is greater. Also, if you exceed your available limit and don’t have sufficient funds in your credit card account, you might be charged another fee.

On top of these extra fees, the interest on the check amount accrues immediately at your cash advance APR. Cash advance interest rates are typically higher than the APR charged for swiping your card for purchases at places that accept credit card payments.

If your account is a rewards credit card, purchases or draws using a convenience check are often ineligible for earning rewards. So not only are you paying more money to use the check, you’re losing the benefits of your rewards credit card program.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

How to Get Convenience Checks From a Credit Card

You’ll often get convenience checks in the mail. If you have an existing credit card account, your card issuer might include the checks in your monthly statement. A card issuer might also mail you a promotional offer with convenience checks inside to encourage you to apply for a credit card.

If you have an existing credit card account but haven’t received convenience checks in the mail, you can request them directly. Contact the phone number printed on the back of your credit card, log onto the credit card issuer’s website, or check its app to reach a customer service agent. Make sure to ask about fees you might incur by requesting printed convenience checks, as different types of credit cards carry different fees.

Using Credit Card Convenience Checks

There are many ways to use a convenience check, including:

•   Using it as a cash advance. In this case, you’d write a convenience check to yourself and cash it to access physical currency.

•   Using it to pay off other debts. This could include a loan or other credit card balance. In this scenario, the convenience check acts like a balance transfer vehicle that pays off a third-party credit account. You’ll then repay that balance, plus fees and interest, through your card issuer that provided the checks.

•   Using the checks to pay for goods and services directly. This might come up if you’re dealing with a merchant or vendor that doesn’t accept credit card payments but accepts checks.

If you decide to use a convenience check, it’s more like a physical check from your personal checking account as opposed to how credit cards work. A convenience check has the same familiar fields as a personal check, including a place to write in the date, payee name, amount, optional memo, and your signature.

How Credit Card Convenience Checks Can Affect Your Credit Score

A convenience check borrows money against your existing credit card line, so your credit isn’t verified when using a check. Since convenience checks let you access your credit line through another method other than swiping or tapping your card, they can encourage you to borrow more from your account.

If you borrow large amounts from your credit card account, it can increase your credit utilization ratio. Keeping a high credit utilization ratio can adversely impact your credit score. However, if you repay your balance responsibly and are mindful of your utilization — both key credit card rules to follow — convenience checks can have minimal impact on your credit.

Alternatives to Credit Card Convenience Checks

Although convenience checks are a viable option when you need cash, there are other lower-cost options than turning to your credit card.

Personal Loans

Borrowing a personal loan gives you access to cash at what is probably a lower, fixed APR compared to the variable cash advance APR from your credit card. Some lenders also don’t charge fees of any kind for personal loans. However, you’ll need to undergo a credit check and have strong credit for the most competitive rates.

Earning Extra Income

If time is on your side, increasing your cash flow can help you avoid high interest charges and fees for your next large purchase. Consider selling items that are taking up space in your garage, picking up additional shifts at work, or perhaps starting a side gig, like tutoring, for some additional income.

The Takeaway

A convenience check can be a fast way to access cash or make a purchase when a credit card isn’t accepted. However, the disadvantages of using convenience checks, like costly fees, increased APR, and no grace period, often negate the perks.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Is a convenience check linked to your account?

Yes, convenience checks from credit card companies are tied to an existing credit card account you have with that card issuer. The amount that you write on a convenience check will directly be added to your credit card balance, plus potentially fees and higher interest charges.

Can I write a convenience check to someone else?

Yes, you can write a convenience check out to another person or business as a method of direct payment. For example, you can use a convenience check to pay for a utility bill or as rent to your landlord. Keep in mind that this will mean you’ll pay more toward that purchase, thanks to fees and a higher APR. Proceed with caution.

Where can I cash a convenience check?

You can cash a convenience check anywhere you would cash a personal check. Your personal banking institution can cash the check for you, or you can visit a third party, like a check-cashing establishment.

What are the disadvantages of using credit card convenience checks?

The biggest disadvantage when using a convenience check from your credit card company is the added fees and interest you’ll pay. Each check incurs a flat fee or a fee based on a percentage of the check amount. Additionally, convenience checks are considered a cash advance, which incurs a higher APR on the borrowed amount. Plus, there’s no grace period so interest starts accruing immediately.


Photo credit: iStock/Ivan Pantic

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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How Long to Keep Your Credit Card Statements: What You Should Know

How Long to Keep Your Credit Card Statements: What You Should Know

Typically, you only need to keep credit card statements for 60 days, unless they are tax-related. It can be wise to keep copies in the short-term so you can scan the charges and wrangle your budget.

Keep reading for more insight if you’re wondering how long you should keep credit card statements. Different situations may require differ guidelines on the timing.

Why Should You Keep Your Credit Card Statements?

Aside from sharing your credit card statement balance or current balance, your credit card statements contain some pretty helpful information that can come in handy down the road — especially come tax season. If payments are made by credit card, it’s possible to review old statements to look up business expenses (perhaps Ubers taken for work purposes) or other write-offs like mortgage, student loan, or tuition payments that you put on your card.

It can also be helpful to keep credit card statements in case so you can review them for errors or signs of fraud. It’s easy to overlook mistakes when quickly reading a credit card statement while sorting the mail. It can be valuable to take the time to look more closely.

Online vs Hard Copy Statements

If you want to avoid holding onto a lot of paperwork, you also have the option to access online statements for your credit card. Credit card issuers may store this information for a while — though they won’t necessarily hold onto old statements forever.

The length of time your records are stored will vary by financial institution. Some credit card issuers only provide the past 12 months of statements, while others hold onto them for up to seven years. In many cases, five years is a common timeline.

If an old statement isn’t appearing online, the account holder may be able to call their credit card issuer and request a copy of an older statement. Still, there’s no guarantee that this will work; you might not be able to get what you’re searching for. It can also cost money to get a copy of an older statement if it is accessible.

Factors That Determine How Long to Keep Credit Card Statements

Like the rules around keeping financial documents in general, how long to keep credit card statements depends on each consumer’s unique needs. That being said, a good rule of thumb is to keep them at least 60 days, to have time to scan them for signs of erroneous charges or fraud and to reconcile your budget.

If you use your credit card for purchases that might be tax-deductible, then it can be wise to at least hold onto them until it’s time to prepare taxes for the year. (Again, you may not have to keep hard copies since you may be able to download statements from your credit card issuer’s website or app.)

If you do use your credit card statements to help prepare your taxes, you should hold onto them for at least seven years just in case the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) comes knocking with any questions.

How Long Should You Keep Your Credit Card Statements?

It’s worth noting though that consumers may have different needs than business owners when it comes to holding onto old credit card statements. Here’s a closer look.

For Consumers

How long consumers should keep credit card statements depends on how someone uses their statements. In general, it’s wise to keep your credit card statements for 60 days due to credit card rules. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), credit card issuers must receive written notice of any errors within 60 days of them sending the consumer the statement containing the error.

However, it might be smart to keep your statements for longer in the following scenarios:

•   If you use your statements to make deductions on your taxes: In this case, it’s wise to keep statements for seven years. That way, if you’re ever audited by the IRS, you’ll have those statements handy as supporting documentation for deductions.

•   If you decide to dispute charges: If you’re disputing charges on your credit card, it’s best to hold onto the statement in question for 90 days, as that’s how long the dispute process can take.

•   If you want to track your spending: Those looking to learn more about their spending habits and create a better budget may find that holding onto a year’s worth of statements is helpful. That way, they can sit down on January 1 and get a clear picture of how you spent your money in the last year and where you can cut back. This can help with using a credit card responsibly.

•   If you have an extended warranty: It’s also helpful to hold onto statements that contain purchases that came with extended warranties. For example, if you buy a TV with a three-year warranty, the credit card issuer may offer an extended one-year warranty as a cardholder benefit. Keep that statement at the ready as a proof of purchase in case that extended warranty is needed.

For Business Owners

Similar to consumers, business owners can benefit from holding onto credit card statements for at least a year in order to track business expenses. If referenced for tax purposes, it’s wise to keep credit card statements stored away for seven years to help resolve any future tax issues that may arise.

When You Should Keep Credit Card Statements Longer

As mentioned earlier, if you are going to use your credit card statements to help you prove deductions on your taxes, you’ll want to keep your own copies of your credit card statements (whether you save them on paper or digitally) for seven years. This is generally the longest you might need to keep statements for.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit

Different Ways to Store Statements

Because credit card statements contain sensitive personal and financial information, it’s important to keep them safe. Here are a couple ways to store them:

•   In a password-protected file on your computer: If you download a digital copy of your statement, you can store them in a password-protected file on your computer.

•   In a safe: If you want to hold onto hard copies, keep them in a locked, fireproof safe to protect them from both theft and damage.

Different Ways to Dispose of Statements

Once you are ready to dispose of your credit card statements, it’s important to destroy the documents so no one can find them and glean information from them. Here are your options to get rid of your old credit card statements:

•   Shredding or cutting them up: Shredding old documents is ideal, but if you don’t have a shredder, you can cut the statement up into very small pieces using scissors. Then, throw away the various pieces into different garbage cans.

•   Deleting all files: For digital copies, simply delete the files fully from your computer — including any backup copies — once you no longer need them.

Managing Online Statements: What to Know

When it comes to online statements, you can easily save those digitally if you don’t like storing paper documents or if you’ve opted to receive paperless statements. All the cardholder has to do is download their statements and keep them stored in their digital files, ideally with password protection.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

The Takeaway

How long you should keep your credit card statements depends on your unique needs, but 60 days is a good rule of thumb. If you have extended warranties through your credit card issuer, you may keep statements for the length of their warranty in case you need a reference. Or, if you use the statements to help with your tax deductions, it can be a good idea to hold onto them for up to seven years in case any questions arise.

Further, holding onto your credit card statements can help you easily see your spending habits and how well your credit card is serving you.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How can I get old credit card statements?

If you didn’t save your old credit card statements, you can look for them in your online account or can call your credit card issuer to request them. A charge may be involved for this service.

Do you need to keep credit card receipts?

Often, a credit card statement will give you a record of the information you need without needing to keep receipts.

How long should you keep credit card statements with tax-related expenses?

If you use your credit card statements to help figure out tax deductions, you should keep old credit card statements for up to seven years. That way, if the IRS has questions about any deductions, you can have the documentation to back them up.

How can you keep digital credit card statements safely?

If you download a digital copy of your statement, it’s best to store them in a password-protected file on their computer. Once you no longer need the statements, fully delete the files from your computer.


Photo credit: iStock/Rawpixel

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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What Is a Credit Card Sign-up Bonus?

What Is a Credit Card Sign-up Bonus and How Does It Work?

A credit card sign-up bonus, aka a credit card welcome bonus, can come in the form of cash back, discounts on purchases, or other rewards, such as airline miles that you can put toward travel. These bonuses are a way for card companies and branded partners — such as airlines and other merchants — to incentivize you to sign up for a new card.

Sign-up bonuses can be a great way to get extra value out of a credit card in its first year. Just beware that there may be strings attached. Here’s a closer look at how sign-up bonuses work, their pros and cons, and how to make the most of them.

How Do Sign-Up Bonuses Work?

Rewards are offered through a variety of credit cards, including co-branded cards and even prepaid credit cards. In order to receive your credit card sign-up bonus you must open a new account. Then, depending on the reward you’re being offered, you’ll usually have to meet one of three criteria:

•   First, and most simply, you may receive your bonus after your application is approved or after your first purchase.

•   If your new card is from a branded retailer, you may need to make a purchase with them before you can earn your sign-up bonus.

•   Finally, you may have to spend a certain amount of money over a set period to trigger the bonus. For example, you may have to spend $500 on purchase within the first three months of account opening.

Sign-up bonuses vary by card, as will the amount you’ll have to spend and the timeframe within which you have to do it. You may have to spend thousands of dollars in a short period of time to earn your bonus on some cards, while other cards may have no spending requirement.

Earning Sign-Up Bonuses

Spending requirements to earn a sign-up bonus on a credit card can be high, ranging into the thousands of dollars. The amount usually must be charged to your card within a set period of time, often the first three months after opening your account.

Make sure you can afford to meet these spending requirements before you decide on a particular card. Even if you technically can afford to meet the requirement, avoid the temptation to overspend on things you don’t need just to earn rewards.

Also, it may take a month or two for your bonus cash or points to appear in your account. If you’re planning to use them for something specific, say to buy a plane ticket to a friend’s wedding, be sure to take this timeframe into account.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Types of Credit Card Bonuses

There are different credit card rewards, depending on the card company and on branded partnerships. An airline is much more likely to offer points toward a flight, while a big box store is more likely to offer you an in-store discount. Here’s a look at some of the most common bonus types.

Cash Back and Bonus Points

Perhaps the two most common sign-up bonuses are getting cash back with a credit card or rewards points that you can use toward booking a hotel room or buying an airline ticket. For example, you might earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000, or you might receive a cash credit after you make your first purchase.

You may receive the bonus all at once, or there may be a tiered system in place with different eligibility requirements you’ll need to meet to earn the full reward.

Purchase Discounts

Another common sign-up bonus is a discount on a current or future purchase. For example, a retailer might offer you 20% off your next purchase when you sign up for their in-store credit card. These cards are often co-branded with a major credit card issuer, and they may be offered by brick-and-mortar stores or online retailers.

Your reward may come in the form of an immediate discount when you’re approved for the card. You could also receive a coupon or discount code. Or you might get a credit when you make your first purchase with the retailer.

Additional Spending Rewards

In addition to rewarding you for spending in the months shortly after opening your account, your credit card company may offer rewards for spending throughout the first year.

Waived Annual Fee

Rewards cards can be a little bit tricky with their various requirements, and there can be credit card costs involved. Often, rewards cards charge an annual fee that helps to offset the cost of the rewards they provide. As part of the sign-up bonus, some rewards cards will waive the card’s annual fee for the first year.

Pros and Cons of Sign-up Bonus Credit Cards

When determining whether or not you want to open a credit card with a sign-up bonus, it’s important to consider both the pros and cons:

Pros

Cons

Sign-up bonuses may include cash back, rewards points, or discounts on purchases made with co-branded partners. You may be limited in how you can use your bonus. For example, you may be able to use airline points online only at certain airlines.
Annual fees may be waived for the first year. Cards may have steep annual fees and high interest rates to help credit card companies offset the cost of rewards.
The right card can allow you to reap benefits from purchases you’d make anyway. There may be high spending requirements you must meet before you can claim your bonus.
Using your credit card responsibly can help you build credit. If you can’t pay off your credit card bill each month, you may miss payments, which can damage your credit.

Making the Most Out of Your Credit Card Bonus

Before choosing a credit card with a sign-up bonus, consider these ways that you can take advantage of credit card bonuses.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Pick the Most Suitable Card

Reward cards often offer flashy bonuses that are real attention-grabbers — but make sure the card you choose has a bonus you’ll actually use. For example, sign up for a card with an airline you fly often or a retailer you frequent. Or, make sure that you’ll receive cash back rewards on purchases that you already make or will need to make in the future. It doesn’t make sense to sign up for a card that gives you a bonus you won’t actually use.

You also may want to consider applying for cards with a high spending requirement in the first three months when you’re planning to make a series of big purchases anyway. That way, you won’t be buying anything that you don’t need already, and you’ll be rewarded for the purchases you were going to make. For example, maybe your car is scheduled for major maintenance or repairs, or perhaps you’re planning a wedding and will put some of the costs on your credit card.

It’s always worth considering how signing up for a new card will affect your credit. Applying for a new card will trigger what’s known as a “hard inquiry,” which can bring down your credit score temporarily. The damage to your credit may not be worth it, especially if you’re unlikely to use the bonus, you won’t really need the credit card later, or you’re planning to seek out other loans in the near future.

Look for Special Offers

From time to time, credit cards may offer special sign-up bonuses that are much bigger than usual. Keep an eye out for these, and make sure that you hit the application deadlines. These are usually limited-time offers, so be sure the offer is still valid before you sign up.

Ensure You’re Eligible for the Bonus

In some cases, you may not be eligible to sign up for a credit card and receive its bonus. For example, if you’ve had a specific card and canceled it in the past, you likely won’t be able to sign up for that card again and receive the bonus.

Before you apply, make sure you read the terms and conditions to understand your eligibility and to see if there’s any reason you might not receive your bonus if you sign up. Also, know that if you’ve recently opened several new credit cards, you may be declined automatically for a new bonus card.

Make Sure You Can Pay Down Your Debt

Before signing up for a bonus card, it’s crucial that you understand your ability to pay your bills on time. Bonus rewards cards often carry extremely high interest rates, meaning that any balance you carry from month to month can end up costing you a lot of money, quickly outweighing the rewards you earned initially.

Consider, too, that carrying a high credit card balance can have a negative impact on your credit score. Ideally, you should keep your credit card utilization ratio — calculated by dividing your total credit card balance by your total loan limit — below 30%. If you can, aim to keep your ratio at 10% to give you the best shot at maintaining a high credit score.

You’ll also want to be sure that if you pick up a rewards card, you’ll still be able to make on-time payments on all of your other obligations, as this is another crucial component of a healthy credit score.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Redeeming Your Bonus Reward Points

Depending on your card, you may have a variety of options to redeem your rewards. For example, if you sign up for a card with a co-branded retailer, you may receive a coupon or rebate for a purchase at the store. Meanwhile, airline or hotel points may need to be redeemed by booking flights on certain airlines or rooms at certain hotel chains.
Cash back rewards could be received as a credit card refund by having your rewards applied to your credit card balance, transferred to a bank account, mailed to you as a check, or converted into rewards points.

Check your card’s terms and conditions to find out rules for redeeming your points so you can start to put them to use.

The Takeaway

Sign-up bonuses can offer credit card users a lot of value. However, it’s important that you do your research before jumping on an offer. Make sure the bonus is actually something you’ll use and that you have the means to meet eligibility requirements without damaging your overall financial health and credit score. Read all terms and conditions carefully before you sign up.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

When do you get a credit card sign-up bonus?

When you sign up for a bonus rewards card, you’ll receive your bonus when you meet the card’s eligibility requirements. This could mean simply making a purchase, or you may need to spend a certain amount over a set period of time. The card could also require you to spend money with a particular merchant.

Are sign-up bonuses taxable on credit cards?

The bonus rewards that you receive are not taxable. They’re considered a rebate as opposed to taxable income. That simplifies things come tax time, when you will not have to claim your bonus as income.

Can you open multiple cards to get more sign-up bonuses?

Technically, you can open multiple cards to receive more signing bonuses, but there are limitations. You won’t be able to open the same card multiple times, though you may be able to open a number of different cards. However, you eventually may get automatically declined if a card company sees that you’ve opened several recent accounts. Opening several accounts also may not be a good idea, as hard inquiries when you apply for credit have a negative impact on your credit score.


Photo credit: iStock/nuchao

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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