How You Can Learn From My Credit Card Mistakes

These credit card mistakes happened to me -- but they don’t have to happen to you.

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Getting my first credit card was an exciting milestone, and one I took very seriously. I knew from the start that I would absolutely need to pay my bills on time and in full every month to avoid racking up interest charges and damaging my credit. And thankfully, I’ve managed to uphold that rule consistently throughout the years.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t messed up on the credit card front. In fact, I’m here to share three notable mistakes I’ve made so you don’t have to repeat them.

1. Letting rewards expire

Several years ago, I opened a store card at a retailer I frequent to snag the reward points involved. The process was simple: I’d shop for things I needed or wanted, rack up points, and wait for my store dollar reward certificates to arrive in my email. There was just one problem: Those rewards would generally expire within 45 days, and if I didn’t want or need to use them immediately, they’d get lost in my inbox and sit unused. Often, by the time I remembered I had them, they’d no longer be valid

It was really annoying, because aside from those reward certificates, there was no real benefit to using that store card over my cash-back card. I eventually wound up canceling that store card and racking up cash back that didn’t expire instead.

2. Buying things I didn't really need just to get a sign-up bonus

A couple of years back, I signed up for a credit card with a sweet sign-up bonus: $500 for spending $3,000 within my first three months of opening the account. The only problem was that I wasn’t planning any major purchases or vacations, and the bulk of my bills were automatically set to get paid on another card -- a setup I didn’t want to change.

As those three months drew to a close, I realized I’d only spent about $2,000 of the $3,000 needed to snag the bonus, so I decided to go on a shopping spree. I bought some big-ticket items that were nice to have, but that I technically didn’t need, to reach that $3,000 mark and claim my bonus. In hindsight, it’s a move I regret, because I didn’t actually gain $500 -- if anything, I wasted $500.

Sign-on bonuses are great if you’re able to capitalize on them organically. But forcing yourself to spend money just to get cash back like I did really makes no sense.

3. Not asking for a late payment fee to be waived when it was my first one

I’m the type of person who hates clutter, so I always sign up to receive electronic notifications when bills come in. Years ago, I signed up for electronic credit card statements, and one month, my normal statement email somehow wound up in my spam folder. As such, I failed to schedule my payment on time, and didn’t realize it until I received a late notice from my credit card company.

Needless to say, I felt silly and aggravated. Though the interest I’d accrued by being late was negligible, I had to pay a $35 fee for failing to make my minimum payment on time. But rather than push back, I paid that money, only to realize long after the fact that had I asked my credit card company to waive it, chances are, it would’ve complied.

If you neglect to pay a bill and get slapped with a late fee, ask for some leeway if it’s your first offense. Granted, that $35 wasn’t a life-changing sum, but it easily could’ve bought dinner or some other treat I would’ve enjoyed.

The upside of making mistakes? Learning from them. Thankfully, I’ve realized the error of my ways and have taken steps to avoid repeating the above blunders. And now that I’ve shared them publicly, I’m hoping others will benefit from my foolishness and avoid the same traps.