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Our best money tips from 2015 to help you in 2016

Credit Card Staff

December 30, 2015

In 2015, we learned to dip our cards (sometimes) instead of swiping them and faced the Fed’s first interest rate increase in nine years. 

As the year comes to a close, we asked our writers for the one tip or the most interesting thing learned this year that might help all of us out through 2016 and beyond. The answers covered cultural traditions, ways to protect yourself from rewards fraud and the importance of keeping your credit utilization low.

Here’s what they said:

‘Start the year debt-free’

“There are so many little nuggets I’ve learned this year,” says Matt Alderton of Chicago. “To me, the most interesting things I learned were the facts I took away about multicultural money lessons. All the customs I wrote about are interesting to me, but as we head into the New Year, the Filipino tradition of clearing debts on New Year’s Eve seems especially relevant.

“Filipinos believe that whatever your financial state at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve will be your financial state for the rest of the year,” Alderton says. “Starting the year debt-free, therefore, is extremely important.

“I loved this idea: That how you start the year — financially and otherwise — sets the tone for the rest of the year ahead!”

‘Rewards fraud was a real eye-opener’

“I’m really into maximizing my credit card rewards — without going into debt, of course,” says Susan Taylor Johnston of Port Angeles, Washington, “so learning about rewards fraud was a real eye-opener for me.

“Tips like tracking your account closely and not using the same password for every account are common sense, but they’re a good reminder in this era of frequent security breaches and could protect both your rewards and your credit card itself.

“Even if fraudulent credit card transactions or rewards redemptions are later resolved, it’s better if you never have to deal with that headache.”

‘Use credit cards to get ahead, not live behind’

What’s San Francisco-based writer Erica Sandberg‘s best bit of advice for the year ahead?

“Have confidence that you can get and stay out of debt,” says Sandberg, who writes two CreditCardGuide.com columns a week.

“Work hard, sacrifice, learn and change,” she says. “It’s amazing what you can do when you’re focused and committed. And always remember: Use credit cards to get ahead, not live behind.”

What does she mean by that? “Ask yourself if the charge will be for something that will enhance your life, with no financial regrets later,” she says. “For example, you borrow the money to buy an interview outfit that you’ll wear to secure a job. Or maybe to earn bonus points that you can trade in for cash or miles.

“Regularly turning to plastic to make up for a budgetary shortfall, however, is a disaster. If your income can’t support your lifestyle, credit cards are not the answer to your troubles.”

‘Keep your balance below 30 percent of available credit’

In 2015, Allie Johnson, of Columbus, Georgia, wrote stories and blog items that included ways to deal with a loved one’s dementia and credit, how a good credit mix can improve your FICO score and four credit-building tips to land you in the 700 club.

Paying your credit cards off in full every month is just the first step to managing credit responsibly, says Johnson.

“It’s still important to keep the total of your balances at less than 30 percent of your available credit at any given time,” she says.

“Depending on when your credit card companies report to the major credit bureaus, your account may show a balance, which, if too high, can drag down your credit score.”

‘No more impulse buying for this gal!’

In 2015, writer Dawn Papandrea applied to her own life some of the financial advice she’s been writing about for years.

“In this, the year that I finally paid off my credit cards,” says Papandrea, ”I can truly say that taking a breath before a purchase will drastically reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ you spend your hard-earned money on.

”No more impulse buying for this gal!”

Her favorite tip? “I almost always leave items in online shopping carts for a day or two before I go back and complete the purchase, and at least half the time, I end up not buying something,” says Papandrea, of Staten Island, N.Y.

“When grocery shopping, I try to stick to the store perimeters and aisles that include items on my list,” she adds. “Better yet — I order groceries online when I can. Even with the delivery fee, I save because I’m not throwing extras I don’t need into the cart.”

What can we expect in 2016? Well, more Fed interest rate hikes for starters, and while that’s good news for savers because banks will increase interest rates, it will be bad news for people carrying balances on their cards.

Expect new mobile payment options, as the last months of 2015 saw Wal-Mart and Target getting into the race with their own systems. Both retailers would join a growing field that includes Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay.

We hope that in 2016 and beyond you’ll continue to turn to CreditCardGuide for news to help you make smart financial choices and live a debt-free, richer life. Happy New Year from the writers and editors at CreditCardGuide.

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