More than 80% of U.S. households have at least one credit card. Given how much you put your plastic to use, we hope that you're taking full advantage of the inherent perks that come with the connection.
There's more to rewards than miles. Consider these:
Convenience: No need to bundle up a few gees to take on our tour of the canals of Venice or to hit Nordstrom's annual shoe sale (sigh). All you need to carry with you is one slip of plastic that can pay for your purchases down to the dime.
Organization: Each month, you get a master receipt -- an itemized rundown of where your money went. Some lenders categorize your purchases and send quarterly or annual summaries on your spending -- including percentage breakdowns on what you spent at retail, dining, and dog-grooming merchants. They've done the hard part; now go ahead and use their record to help track your spending.
Reputation: Frankly, there's no better measure of your creditworthiness than how you handle a credit card. When a lender wants proof of your gold-hearted ways, he consults your credit history for a black-and-white snapshot of your ability to: (a) be deemed creditworthy by other lenders, and (b) pay your bills on time and avoid spending benders. (Had a few of those? Time to enroll in our Achieving Perfect Credit seminar.) Use your credit card to establish a firm borrowing history, especially if you are going to apply for a large line of credit, like a mortgage or car loan.
Free loan: Most credit cards offer you a grace period (if yours doesn't, dump it now). That means that if you have no balance on your card at the time of a purchase, you have anywhere from 20 to 30 days during which your lender will not charge you interest on your purchase. It's a great breather for unexpected expenses. It also saves you from paying interest on a purchase that you eventually return.
Corporate might: When you make any purchase with a credit card, you've got someone -- a big someone with a lot of corporate pull, a Fool's reputation, and possibly a baseball stadium named after them -- on your side.
When buying a high-priced item, putting it on your credit card gives you immediate purchase protection that you just don't get when you pay with cash or an ATM card. Most cards boast of their purchase protection program -- saying they'll replace an item you bought with your card if it is lost or stolen (be sure to check the fine print). Some credit cards automatically extend your product warranty. And if the merchant doesn't deliver on his promise to you, your lender can take up the fight on your behalf. After all, it's ultimately their money on the line. Let them be the big heavy for you.
Cop on call: If you're the victim of theft, first call your mother to let her know that you're OK. Then call your lender. Most credit cards are very responsive about working with customers to resolve theft issues. Fraud is one of the industry's biggest money busters; it costs issuers nearly $1 billion each year, according to CardWeb.com.
Most lenders hold you liable for just the first $50 of a crook's spending spree. (Many will even waive that amount if you ask kindly, between sobs.) With the growth of online account access, customers are able to spot fraud well before their next card statement arrives via snail mail. Take advantage of a special offer from TrueCredit to peruse your rap sheet today.
Love your credit card. Be one with your credit card. Take a deep cleansing breath. Together now: "Om. Visa Ommmm."