Smart credit card use after Hurricane Irene

Smart credit card use after Hurricane Irene by Peter Andrew 

As people up and down the eastern seaboard continue to clear up in the wake of Hurricane Irene, many are likely to be looking to their credit cards to help pay for repairs and the replacement of wrecked household goods. Its depressing work, and especially distressing for those who are uninsured, either completely or just for flood damage. Business Insider recently quoted one source that suggested that up to 95 percent of all affected homeowners fall into this group.

Low interest credit cards versus rewards credit cards

Wow! Thats a colossal and genuinely shocking figure. And it suggests that huge numbers of victims may be forced to fall back on their plastic just to restore their lives to something approaching normalcy.

If youre one of them, youre likely to be pretty short on silver linings at the moment, and might be attracted by even the minor one offered by rewards credit cards. While youre spending all that money, you may think, you might just as well get some cash back, travel miles, points or whatever.

Good idea. But it may not be the smartest move for all your purchases. For many of those, you should probably be pulling your low interest credit cards from your wallet instead.

Credit card rates, rewards credit cards and credit card calculators

Thats because, on average, interest rates are higher for rewards credit cards than those for ordinary ones. Indeed, at the time of writing, IndexCreditCard.coms credit card rates monitor says that the average annual percentage rate (APR) for consumer non-rewards cards is 14.72 percent, while that for consumer rewards cards is 17.30 percent.

Youd need a spectacularly generous rewards card for it to make sense for you to charge items to it that you know you wont be able to pay down for a long time. Generally speaking, the rule is that its good to use rewards credit cards for purchases that you know you can clear quickly, and low interest credit cards for those that are going to take you longer.

You can use credit card calculators to see how long it should take youand how much it should cost youto pay down balances at your own cards different interest rates. Then you can work out what your personal strategy should be.

Balance transfer credit cards

If your credits good and youre having to load your cards a lot post-Irene, then you might want to consider applying for a balance transfer credit card. There are two reasons why this could be a good idea:

  1. A number of thesemostly from Citioffer zero percent APR on transferred balances for 21 months. Others make a similar offer for 15 months. That could provide you with just the breather that you need to get over the hurricane.
  2. Your credit score could suffer if the balance on any of your cards is higher than 30 percent of its credit limit. So even if you can manage paying down your credit card debt easily, you could be better off spreading the load across more plastic.

Credit card companies human!

One tiny positive revelation that emerged in the aftermath of Irene is that credit card companies are human. Thats not necessarily in the sense that the U.S. Supreme Court thinks, namely that corporations are people. No, its in the sense that theyre run by real-life, breathing and occasionally sentient human beings. Many of them announced that those affected by the hurricane could see their late payment and/or other penalty fees waived, though only for a strictly limited time. Awww. Aint they sweet?

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