DEPARTMENTBy Scott SteinbergSpend smarterA popular trend out of the pandemic shows that consumers are using credit cards to pay regular bills. Is that smart? Yes, it is. Here’s why.
Despite many households tightening their belts during the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s largest financial providers report that debit and credit card spending levels are up over pre-pandemic levels — to the tune of nearly 20%.American Airlines Federal Credit Union
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But while the economy continues to rebound, with in-store credit card transactions alone expected to increase by double-digits since last year, consumer spending habits have clearly been impacted in other ways as well. For example: In addition to now using credit cards more than once a week, we’re also seeing shoppers using credit to pay their bills more frequently — and to speedily accrue benefits such as loyalty rewards. Among many emerging trends expected to continue long after the pandemic recedes, it presents a helpful way to build one’s credit responsibly and make the most of financial incentive programs.

In fact, Americans opened nearly 6 million new credit cards accounts in March 2021 — a gain of almost 25% over March 2020. Considering that, it’s no surprise that consumer spending has also grown significantly in many categories such as retail, restaurants and apparel in parallel.

Noting that many credit cards offer incentives — such as the Credit Union's Rewards Visa's Connection Points, which are redeemable for things like airline miles, rental cars, hotel stays and more — these shifts only make sense. In effect, leveraging credit cards to make these and other sizable purchases not only allows you to extend your household buying buying power and pay off purchases as you go or when you can, it also helps you build a stronger credit history while boosting your credit score.
Make the most of your credit and new credit card-based opportunities going forward:
  • Consider paying your monthly bills on your credit card, then paying off your credit card in turn in a timely manner. Doing so can help you build your credit score, establish a winning credit history and build trust (potentially leading to better interest rates and offers) with financial lenders.
  • Understand your credit card’s rewards programs before applying for a certain card. From loyalty points and cash back to complementary rental car upgrades and steep discounts at preferred retailers, each offers unique perks and upsides for signing up and spending.
  • Think about where you’re spending the most each month and where your household can benefit the most from different incentives. Find the card that integrates your lifestyle with your financial style.
  • Remember to ask about flexible credit options – many credit cards offer interest-free payment installment plans and other helpful budget-planning solutions.
  • Make a point to consider any extras and support services – interest rates, fees and borrowing terms and conditions.
  • Understand the card’s security. When it comes to identity theft and its potential impact on your credit history, an ounce of prevention can far outweigh a pound of cure. Remember it’s also helpful to use one card for online services.
As you can see, getting the most from your money takes a little bit of strategic planning. But the process doesn’t have to be difficult, time consuming or expensive.