Credit Card Management Tips
-Nikesh Ghimire, Manager, Laxmi Bank
Unlike Home Loans, Auto Loans, etc. that lets you realize your years of income in present day itself, credit cards simply lets you realize your next month’s income. Following are the basics of how credit cards function with credit card providers in Nepal:
• There are basically three structures in which you can service your credit cards:
• Pay full due every month on the due date
• Pay a certain percentage of your due amount on the due date. Pay the rest at your convenience.
• Pay a certain fixed amount every month on the due date. Pay the rest at your convenience.
Interest free credit period
You pay your credit card dues on monthly basis. For example, even if you purchased an item on September 1st, you will not be billed for it until the 1st of October. On top of that, you receive a 15 day interest free grace period. That means, you are entitled to a maximum of 45 days (30 + 15) and a minimum of 15 (if you purchased on September 30) days interest free period on each payment made through credit card.
Interest rate is very high
Credit card is the most expensive credit product in the financial system. That is why your offer letters have interest rates quoted on monthly base instead of the conventional annual. That is, if it says your interest rate is 2.25% per month, your interest rate is 2.25% X 12 = 27% per annum. Wisest of credit card users never pay interest at all, and simply enjoy the monthly benefits.
Limit approval discretion
It is primarily factor of your monthly cash flows. The basic service credit cards provide is for you to realize your next month’s salary right now—so you do not have to worry about the balance in your account every time you feel like having a shopping spree. Banks set your credit card limits based on how much you can service every month.
Detriments to using a Credit Card
Ignoring common sense is one detriment of foolishly using a credit card. Going into debt over your eyeballs is another. Credit cards were designed to pay for things with the intention of paying off the entire balance at the end of a month. Discipline becomes a major challenge when using credit cards. It has been proven by several researches that consumers are likely to spend more when they pay using credit card. That’s because they do not feel the abstract ‘pain’ of payment when they use a credit card. And, when the monthly bill comes knocking on their door, they realize they need more than a few months to settle their dues. And, the mountain high interest rates make things even more difficult for you to do so.
High costs is undoubtedly the biggest risks in using a credit card. You’d be surprised to realize that First Premier Bank (10th largest issuer of credit cards in the United States) has a record of charging as high as 79.9% p.a. interest rate on its credit cards. When banks only offer 6% to 8% on your savings account, they charge as high as 27% on your credit card. It would be foolish to use up your credit card without making a proper judgment call on it.
While the interest rates are there, customers sometimes ignore the annual fees and commissions merchants pay the bank on each of their purchase. It’s only obvious—it is ultimately the consumer who pays the bank fees, though banks directly charges the merchants. Merchants would have already built in this cost in the quoted price. This way, cards actually make the market more expensive, along with they themselves being the most expensive financial instrument available in the banking industry.
Fraud risk cannot be ignored when it comes to cards. There are several kinds of fraud risks—all to be fairly taken care of, should you be more careful and smart. There are several cases where the waiters in restaurants bill you twice but provide you a receipt for only one. And, they use your other bill to compensate for some other table’s bill where the customer chooses to pay using cash. ‘Tip’ or partial cash payments in the manager’s record will reconcile at the restaurant’s end and the waiter takes some extra cash home. If you are not used to checking your monthly credit card bills and reconcile with your monthly expenses, you will simply never know if you were cheated this way.
Then there are cases where somebody has stolen your card and used it. If you have noticed, POS machine swipes do not require you to press your PIN numbers, but require you to sign the slip. To minimize the risk, the merchant usually checks if your signature on the card resembles the signature on the slip to ensure your card is not being used by the guy who stole it. However, nothing mandates this upon the merchant, nor are these security aspects any popular in our markets. Best practice here would be to keep record of the cards department of the bank that sold you the card. These department service lines are active 24/7 and receive your panic calls anytime. So, call them the moment you realize your card is missing and they will block it for you.
There are many other fraud related issues and precautions on them too, but these two should basically cover up most common problems. Basic other points to note include not letting someone take the card out of your sight, not using the card in un-trusted locations/shops/restaurants, et cetera.
Why take a credit card then?
Of course it is expensive, risky and difficult to manage. But, they are still selling like hot cakes and everybody wants them. The primary benefit they provide is the flexibility in your monthly cash flows. Your expenses are not equally distributed across the months but your salaries usually are. Just because you need a little more money for extra supplies this month, your company won’t advance out the next month’s salary to you. Even if they do, it’s far more complicated than using a credit card for it.
Credit card also acts as a safety cushion. You own one, keep it in your drawer, and use it only when you meet some cash flow mismatch. Slowly settle it over the next few months and then dip it back into your drawer. While this would be a more ‘conservative’ user who is very much risk-averse and scared of using credits or loans, this does highlight one of the primary benefits of owning a credit card. In a way, it also provides you financial security. Even when your bank account is low, you still have a back-up.
Credit cards also add to convenience. Just like any other card, it means you do not have to carry a lot of cash along with you when you wish to buy the month’s groceries, or that 62” plasma TV you planned to buy since last year. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it, manage your money well, and keep it as a last resort to your finances.
Optimum Utilization of a Credit Card
I am sure the 45-day interest-free period struck hard on your mind the first time you read of it. It actually is the coolest offer a credit card can make to a consumer. Consider you are to purchase a particular furniture for 50,000 rupees. If you pay it from your bank account, you stop earning interest on your savings account for that amount from the date of payment. It’s simple logic, the bank won’t pay interest on the amount that isn’t there in your account anymore. However, if you’re using a credit card, then the amount stays. So, you continue to earn interest on that amount. On top of which, there’s no charge on your credit card either. It means, you actually get an interest free credit and yet continue to earn interest on your savings which you would otherwise use to pay for your purchases.
You should not ignore the subscription and annual fees you pay on your card either. Let’s consider a card that charges you a thousand rupees a year in annual fees. If we consider a loan of five lakhs at the interest of 16% p.a., your monthly interest is still lower than one thousand rupees (your annual fee on your credit card). This means, if you plan to spend less than five lakhs a year using your credit cards, you end up paying more on your credit card, even if you always pay in time and never serve any interest on the dues.
To summarize: as long as you pay your credit card dues within the 15 day grace period, you do not pay the brutal interest rates that come along with it. But, if you do not plan to use your credit card wisely and regularly, you might as well never subscribe to one and waste money on subscription and annual renewal fees.