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Credit Card Regret: It’s More Common Than You Think

“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.”

– Frank Sinatra

If you’re the kind of person who prefers to play it safe, there’s a good chance that, like Ol’ Blue Eyes, your list of regrets is mercifully short. But if you’re the adventurous type who’s more likely to yell “YOLO!” than take the time to consider pros and cons, you may have made more unfortunate decisions than you care to admit. Either way, it’s safe to say we all have regrets. And if we’re being honest, some of them are probably related to finances.

Going into credit card debt is one of the most common financial regrets. According to a recent NerdWallet survey, “About 6 in 7 Americans (86%) who have or had credit card debt say they regret it.” With numbers that high, it’s safe to assume most of us would make different credit decisions if given a chance. Have you ever signed up for a new credit card and immediately wished you hadn’t? If so, the following reasons will probably ring a bell. If not, pay close attention. You can learn a lot from others’ mistakes.

Common Reasons for Credit Card Regret

If you’ve ever opened a new credit card account and felt that distinctive twinge that tells you it was a bad decision, there’s a pretty good chance you filled out that credit application for the wrong reason. Bad reasons come in a variety of forms. Here are a few of the most common:

  • You wanted that sign-up swag. – T-shirts. Koozies. Collapsible drink coolers. It doesn’t matter what it is; we love free stuff. Credit card companies know this, which is why they set up promotional tables on college campuses and inside sports arenas. Sure, free t-shirts are cool, but are they really worth opening a credit card that will charge you 26% interest on your purchases?
  • You can’t resist that one-time discount. “Would you like to save 25% on today’s purchase by applying for store credit?” If you’ve ever shopped at a retail store, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this sales pitch at the check-out register. If you took advantage of the offer and suddenly wished you hadn’t, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, almost 75% of Americans have at least one store credit card. Not surprisingly, nearly half of them regret it.
  • You’re in a financial pinch. When your checking account is running low, it can be incredibly tempting to sign up for a credit card just to get some temporary relief. However, credit cards don’t remedy poor financial habits; they tend to make them worse. If you’ve ever signed up for a new credit card “just to cover things until payday,” this regret may feel all too familiar.

OK, you signed up for a credit card and regretted it. Now what?

Before we go any further, it’s important to remember one thing: Just because you have a credit card doesn’t mean you have to use it. Even if your regrettable card carries a 26% interest rate, 26% of $0.00 is still $0.00. However, if you’re worried you won’t be able to resist using your card, you might be tempted to close your account immediately. This could certainly help you avoid charges you can’t afford to repay, but there may be a better approach.

Available credit and length of credit history are two of the main components of your credit score. Having an open, active account you don’t use could actually help you. If you were given a $1,000 credit line with your new card and you don’t make any purchases, you have $1,000 of available credit. If you close the account, you have no available credit. In this case, maintaining the credit line may be beneficial for your credit rating.

As for the length of credit history, that part’s fairly self-explanatory. The longer you maintain a satisfactory account, the more favorably it reflects in your credit score. With this in mind, you might be better off just removing the card from your wallet (and your smartphone’s digital wallet too) instead of closing the account altogether.

Good credit is one of the building blocks of your overall financial health. If you’re trying to find financing options that are right for you, contact your credit union and ask to speak with one of their trained representatives. They’ll be able to help you review your financial situation and recommend the best products and programs for your needs. With their guidance and expertise, you stand a much better chance of managing your credit—and finances in general—with no regrets!

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