We’ve all heard the following personal finance advice:
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“Don’t spend more than you make.”
“Pay your credit card off at the end of every month.”
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
While it’s all good advice, following these basic budget rules is easier said than done. Incurring debt can happen quickly (unexpected medical bills) or gradually over time (spending more than you make each week), and hurt your credit score and your financial future.
Here are three major money mistakes to be avoided at all costs.
Money Mistake No.1: Making Money Decisions Not Based on Facts
It can be alluring to transfer outstanding credit card debt to a card offering a 0% annual percentage rate (APR) to help lower the payments and make it easier to pay off the balance. However, experts warn 0% cards often come with added and fees and charges that make the process even more costly.
“There’s also an excellent chance the APR going forward, after a particular grace period, is going to be at least as high as it was before,” says Mike Sullivan, chief education officer at Take Charge America.
“People need to be honest with themselves,” he adds. Before transferring any debt, take the time to read all the fees, rate hikes and charges and then do the math to determine if transferring balances will actually save money.
Money Mistake No. 2: Not Having the Right Credit Card
Making rash decisions without taking into account the long-term monetary implications is also a source of trouble.
We’ve all been on an airplane when the flight attendants come down the aisle with a stack of credit card applications that promise enough miles for a free flight just for signing up today, right this minute. The same thing happens when you’re at the checkout counter at any retailer and you’re offered a discount and “loyalty rewards” if you sign up for the company card. Sounds good enough—both offers will save you money, right? That is the wrong assumption, says Sullivan.
“There’s a psychological factor that explains this behavior,” he says. “The less people know about a given topic, the more they assume they understand it fully. It’s human nature, and it could end up costing you a fortune if you’re not careful.”
Having the right credit card for your situation is critical to your financial success. For instance, if you are an avid traveler, you might want a card that doesn’t add foreign exchange fees, or if you drive a lot, look for one that offers bonus points for fill ups.
Experts say the best way to get the right card is to compare rates, benefits and services that best fit your needs. There are a variety of websites that help compare credit cards and don’t be scared to call a company and ask about certain cards if you have questions.
Money Mistake No.3: You Don’t Take Out Responsible Loans
Certain purchases tend to require taking out a loan: college, a home and a car. And not all debt is considered bad debt, unless of course, you take out an irresponsible loan.
According to Sullivan, a major mistake many people make is financing their auto loan through a car dealer
“In all likelihood, you’re not getting the best deal through the dealer,” he says. “People tend to skip the research and just go with whatever the car dealer says is the best deal. You’ll likely end up spending a lot of extra money paying for even more money.”
The same goes when taking out a mortgage. This lending process can be long and complex, and oftentimes people don’t understand the terminology or the lending terms. Many people aren’t entirely aware of what a “point” is, says Sullivan, and this can hurt them. When it comes to mortgages, “discount points” are a type of pre-paid interest in which one point is equivalent to one percent of the total loan amount. The idea is to reduce the interest rate on a loan and get a lower monthly payment in exchange for an up-front payment. But in reality, you could end up paying more than you would for a loan with a higher interest rate.”
The goal is to be completely aware of your financial situation, and to make decisions based on facts about what you can and can’t spend. Do your homework and know all of the available options before selecting one option over another. And don’t forget to agree to a loan that you understand and can afford.