People on our online discussion boards share thoughts every day on how to be smart about credit cards. On our College Fools discussion board, for example, people have posted messages discussing credit cards and how tempting and dangerous they can be to college students. (Much of America's whopping credit card debt begins in the college years.) The consensus is that card bills should be paid off in full each month. Fool Steve Koch had this interesting contrary take, though:
I just wanted to point out that credit cards aren't as bad as you make them out to be. You say you only use credit cards if you have to. I believe in the opposite -- I use my Yahoo!, Visa, or Discover card at every possible opportunity, even when buying my $2.39 lunch. My wife does the same.
Then, we get a bill from First USA and Discover every month for $1,200 or so, due in a few weeks. You know what my wife does? She writes a check from our Waterhouse [now TD Ameritrade] Securities money market checking account, puts it in an envelope, and notes on the outside of the envelope the last possible day to send in the check (usually seven days before due, I believe).
This means that we pay for most of the stuff we buy more than a month after we receive it. We average about $1,500 in debt at any given time. But, the funny thing is, we pay 0% interest on this debt and, because of the debt, our money market account has roughly $1,500 extra in it at all times. That works out to about $70/year extra cash, beyond the 1% cash back and 1% gift certificates we receive.
So, while your system is good, I believe you are missing out. Interest-free debt is not a bad thing, as long as you are not living from paycheck to paycheck. If you don't trust yourself to pay off the bill, then by all means, take your credit card out of your wallet. But once you can trust yourself, I believe a smart move is to start taking money back from First USA. Believe me, I feel no burden whatsoever from my credit card debt.
If you or someone you care about is mired in credit card debt, learn more in our Get Out of Debt area and in this special feature on credit card debt. You can also read these articles on how to improve your credit rating. Did you know that the Motley Fool even offers a Foolish credit card?
If you've got your personal finances under control and would like to make the most of the money you'll be needing in the next few years, visit our Savings Center, where we offer you some good deals on interest rates.
This article, updated by Foolish research associate Katrina Chan, was originally published on June 19, 2006. Katrina owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned. Yahoo! is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool has a full disclosure policy.