Wondering how to shore up your credit card habits to keep your debt in check? Here are 10 tips for managing your plastic in 2015.
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1. Be proactive about card security
Issuers will be rolling out EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) chip cards -- which are much harder to counterfeit than traditional magnetic stripe credit cards -- over the course of 2015 as the deadline for new network rules on changing fraud liability approaches. But you can play a part in cutting down on card fraud by monitoring financial statements regularly and setting up alerts to readily spot suspicious charges.
You also can change any behaviors, like throwing paper statements in the trash, leaving smartphones unlocked and responding to unsolicited requests for bank information, that make you more susceptible to fraud.
2. Pull your credit report
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Mysterious line items are a good indication that identity theft is occurring. Federal law entitles everyone to one free credit report from each credit bureau every year. You can obtain three reports -- one from each credit bureau -- all at once or you can spread out the requests across the year to keep an eye on your affairs.
Get your free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are also websites that offer free versions of your credit score that you can -- and should -- check as well.
3. Assess whether that annual fee card is worth it
Some annual fee credit cards are worth it; others are not. Often, the value of these products hinges on your lifestyle and your spending habits. For instance, if you travel often, you're more apt to appreciate a credit card cobranded by your favorite airline that offers free checked bags, lounge access and complimentary upgrades.
Do a little number crunching to figure out if you're benefiting from the fee. This Bankrate calculator can help you determine if you're losing points or miles to interest. If you are, it may be time to switch to a more cost-effective payment method.
4. Don't be afraid to ask
If you do decide an annual fee card isn't worth it, don't be afraid to call your issuer to see if they will waive the fee. They alternately may be able to move you to a fee-free version of the card that will preclude you from closing the account, which will preclude the closure from affecting your credit score.
You also could ask to have your interest rate lowered or your credit limit raised. Of course, issuers are more likely to approve requests from their best customers. These are credit card holders that use the card regularly and make all of their payments on time.
5. Learn what ancillary benefits your card may offer
In addition to rewards, many credit cards offer ancillary benefits, including extended warranties, price protection, purchase protection, trip cancellation insurance and even car rental insurance. These benefits can come in handy when you're out shopping or planning a vacation.
Figure out what perks your credit card entitles you to by reading through its terms and conditions. If the answer is "none" (and your credit score is in good shape), it may be time to shop around for a superior piece of plastic.
6. Read your credit card contract cover to cover
Now may be the perfect time to read through all the fine print of your current credit card contract. It's great to know about the perks, but you also should know about any lesser-known fees attached to the product.
You'll want to check whether your issuer has included in the terms and conditions an arbitration clause, which requires customers to settle disputes with the bank through an arbitrator rather than the courts. Plus, determine if your issuer is permitted to share any of your data with third parties as part of the card's privacy agreement.
7. Make a dent in your credit card debt
One of the best ways to trim your credit card debt is by prioritizing credit card payments. For instance, make larger payments on the card with the highest annual percentage rate first and minimum payments on cards with lower interest rates to curb costs.
You also should consider opening up a balance transfer credit card, which lets you move expensive debt over to a new card that features a limited-time, interest-free period on the balance and even on new purchases. Just make sure to read offers carefully. There could be caveats that prematurely render the interest-free period null and void.
8. Talk to your millennial about building credit
A recent Bankrate survey found 63 percent of millennials (ages 18 to 29) are foregoing credit cards completely, largely to avoid the debts that plagued many of their parents during the Great Recession. While a generation of debt-averse consumers isn't the worst thing in the world, it could cause problems for your millennial down the road. Namely, they could have a tougher time buying an affordable home or getting an auto or personal loan later in life.
Other data suggest the demographic may not be aware of these ramifications, so you might want to sit your college student down this year and go over the finer points of credit reports and credit scores.
9. Pay your credit card bill more than once per month
If you're deep in debt, it's a good idea to keep that credit card on ice for a while. But if you're simply worried about unconsciously running up a big bill you can't pay off at the end of the month, try a different strategy. Link your credit card to your debit card account and pay down the balance as often as every day, once a week or even twice per month.
This tactic keeps you on top of how much money is actually in your bank account and lets you take advantage of the benefits a credit card affords that other payment methods do not, including better fraud protections and rewards.
10. Figure out what type of credit card is best for you
Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular best credit card in the marketplace. Instead, the best product varies from person to person. For instance, if you need to make a big purchase, you should look for a low-interest credit card. On the other hand, if you pay your balances off in full every month, you'll want to look into a rewards card.
This Bankrate quiz can help you figure out what piece of plastic best fits your lifestyle. Compare credit card rates to get the best deal.
Copyright 2014, Bankrate Inc.