Using Your Credit Card

When you get your new credit card

You've received your new credit card and a lot of information with the card. Take a look at your disclosures and your cardholder agreement to make sure you got the terms you applied for. For example, you may want to check the credit limit, the APR, fees, and rewards information. File the disclosures and the agreement away in case you need to refer to them later. If you have questions or you don't like the terms you received, contact the credit card company. If you want to close your account, see the Closing Your Account section.

You'll likely need to call the credit card company from your home phone to activate the card. This way they can verify that you are the correct cardholder. Once your card is activated, you can begin to use it.

When you receive your new card, you may also receive access checks. Access checks are checks that are tied to your credit card account. You can use them like checks for some merchants but when the merchant deposits the check, the check amount is charged to your credit card account. They can also be used to obtain cash by cashing them yourself. Keep access checks in a safe place and safeguard them just as you would a normal check. If you don't plan to use the access checks, shred them as you would with sensitive information. You may also receive access checks from your credit card company over the course of the time period your account is open.

When you get your credit card bill

When using your credit card, be sure you're spending within your budget. Each month, you will get your credit card bill. Check your credit card bill to make sure that all the transactions listed are accurate. If there's a mistake or if there is a charge that you don't recognize, contact the merchant or your credit card company right away. Go to the Billing Errors and Other Disputes section for more information.

Make a note of the due date for your bill payment. In most cases, your payment has to be received by the credit card company by that due date. Remember, if your payment is late, you may have to pay a late fee or your interest may go up. In some cases, both may happen. So make sure to give your payment enough time to reach the credit card company by the due date. Check your credit card bill or your cardholder agreement for more information about how much time is needed for a payment to reach the credit card company and when the payments are accepted. For example, some credit card companies only take payments Monday through Friday before a certain time. Others may also take payments on Saturday between certain hours.

Paying your credit card bill

The bill will provide you with different amounts of money you can pay the credit card company. Usually the smallest dollar amount is the minimum amount you must pay the credit card company to be considered current on your payments or to not fall into further delinquency. The largest dollar amount is the amount you could pay to pay your whole balance for the month. If you pay this larger amount, you may avoid having to pay additional interest. You can also pay more than the minimum payment but less than the entire balance. This is actually a smart practice if you cannot pay the entire balance. This way you pay down more of the outstanding balance and you will pay less interest over time.

Your credit card company may offer you several ways to make your payment. Check your credit card bill to determine the ways you can pay your bill. For example, you may pay your bill by mail, telephone, on the credit card company's website, or at the store or bank branch. Before making a payment, check to see if it will cost you extra to pay your bill a certain way. For example, there may be an extra fee to pay your bill by phone or to make an online payment on the due date.

When the credit card company changes your terms

From time to time, the credit card company may decide to change the terms of your credit card account. For example, the credit card company may change your APR, or change or add fees. The change may be for a variety of reasons. They may be increasing fees or interest for all their credit card customers. Or they may be changing the terms for just you if you've paid late or have gone over your credit limit. In any case, you'll get a notice or see the change on your credit card bill. So read any notice and your credit card bill that your credit card company sends to you. If you have any questions or don't like the change, contact your credit card company. In some cases, your credit card company may allow you to opt-out of, or stop the change from happening. They may require you to opt-out by calling or writing them by a certain date. When you contact your credit card company to opt-out, the company may ask you to stop using your credit card, close down the account, and pay off your balance. If you do use your card after these changes have been made, you will have agreed to the new terms. If you don't want to be bound by the new terms you should close your account before you use the card again. You will still have to pay any outstanding balance that exists and interest that accrues after you close the account.