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My Biggest Credit Card Mistake: Experts Share Their Stories

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Nobody’s perfect. Even when you spend all day trying to learn everything you can about a subject, you still make mistakes. For instance, even some of the top credit card experts have made some embarrassing moves, yet we were all willing to share them so that you can learn from our experiences.

Brian Kelly

Brian is the founder of The Points Guy, a website that teaches credit card users how best to earn and spend their credit card rewards. Here are some of his biggest mistakes:

I once missed out on a sign-up bonus because I thought the time to spend the minimum started at card activation, but it actually starts for most issuers at card approval. In fact, you may not even know when your card is approved, because new applications often go into pending status and get auto-approved sometime later.

I’ve also seen my score drop big when I have big balances and pay by due date. Even if you pay on time, the credit card company will still report your charges as debt, and your utilization can increase dramatically, thus lowering your score. This happened right before I wanted to lease a car and I had to sweat it out and do major convincing. In the end, I was able to show that I paid the bills before they approved me for the lease and handed me the keys.

Gerri Detweiler

Gerri is Director of Consumer Education for Credit.com and the host of the host of a live weekly radio program Talk Credit Radio. She shares a few of her learning experiences:

I made a payment on a credit card online — or so I thought I did — but apparently did not hit the final submit button to complete the payment. This was pre-CARD Act, so I suffered the triple-whammy: my interest rate went up to something like 29%, I was charged interest since it wasn’t paid in full, and I was hit with a late fee. I believe I managed to get the rate back down, but I think I still ended up paying interest and a late fee.

Another mistake was using a 0% card from a home improvement store to rehab our rental property. This was at the start of the real estate meltdown — which hit our part of Florida hard — and our tenants left us with a property in shambles. We used the 0% offer fully intending to pay it off by the time the offer expired but the next tenant didn’t pay his rent and caused a second round of damage. Of course, that was around the time that the balance transfer offers stopped coming so transferring the balance to another card wasn’t an option. The long story short was that we did pay interest on that card for a while and the rate was high. That was painful. I paid that card off a while ago but I haven’t closed it, though I have no intentions of ever using it again.

Sean Bryant

Sean is a personal finance blogger and founder of the credit card site Card Journalist. His teachable moment:

The biggest mistake I have made with a credit card was being too loyal to one. When I first became serious about earning travel rewards through my credit cards, I used my Citi American Airlines card for everything, even though I knew that other cards in my wallet offered more rewards for things like gas or restaurants. Ultimately, I realized that I needed to always use the right card at the right place in order to earn the most rewards.

Beverly Harzog

Beverly is a national credit card expert and author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made. Here’s how she turned her biggest mistake around:

What was my biggest credit card mistake? I have a lot to choose from! I’d say my first mistake was applying for way too many credit cards and then maxing them out. At one time, I had seven credit cards maxed out. I couldn’t pay the minimums on some of the cards I had. When I finally got out of debt, I learned how to use cards responsibly and I even profit from them now.

My Biggest Mistake

I was an early adopter of online banking, and one of the reasons was so that I could pay my entire credit card statement balance every month on exactly the right day, without having to rely on the vagaries of the post office. Yet every year or two, I get a credit card statement that shows I owe interest charges, and sometimes even late fees. At first, I am usually convinced that my bank’s bill pay service is at fault, but each time I’ve come to realize that I was ultimately responsible for issuing the right payment to the wrong card.

If I mixed up two cards issued by the same company, I am usually able to call the bank and have the payments applied properly. But in other cases, I am left to plead for a waiver of the interest charges and late fees, which has always been granted. Now, I have to remind myself to double-check every aspect of the payment before I enter it, and like Gerri, I always have to remember to hit the submit button.

How to Learn From Our Mistakes

Credit cards are so popular because they are secure, convenient and very easy to use for spending. But behind this simple facade, we all must take extra precautions to ensure that we are using our cards responsibly, and accurately paying our bills.

While it’s true that a mistake — whether missing a payment or maxing out your cards — can lower your credit score, if you identify the problem and work to get back on track as soon as possible, you can be on your way to better credit. You can see how your credit cards are impacting your credit score for free on Credit.com, where you’ll get two scores updated every month, plus a personalized plan to help you get back on track.

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