As soon as you turned eighteen, it seemed like credit card offers started flooding your mailbox. Offers appeared even if you did not apply for a credit card.
Do you find yourself dropping multiple credit card offers, many of them pre-approved, into the shred pile? Are you tired of dealing with the letters–not to mention all the wasted paper that comes along with them? Are you worried that your information may have been shared with more companies? This guide can help you understand and handle those offers.
Why Are You Getting So Many Credit Card Offers?
The three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, start collecting information about your financial history. This includes:
- Existing credit accounts, including credit cards, car loans, or mortgages
- Payment history on those credit accounts
- Reports from billing agencies, like your power company or telephone company.
The credit reporting companies sell your information to other companies who use the data to deliver relevant offers. Keep in mind that this information isn’t public. You don’t need to be concerned with anyone having this data and it isn’t likely to lead to identity theft.
These agencies collect and sell data about your finances. Often, they sell very general data about a large group of people. This means that credit card companies can take a look at your financial data and decide if you are a good fit for their credit cards. For example, they may look at:
- Your current and past lines of credit
- How likely you are to make payments on time
- How much credit you can afford
Instead of sending out their credit card offers to everyone, these credit card companies narrow down their results. Someone who has just gone through bankruptcy, for example, may not receive the same offer as someone with a known history of always making payments on time. It is easier for credit card companies to make money from customers with better credit history. Credit card companies typically follow these tactics:
- Customize offers based on the customer profile
- Find customers who are more likely to accept those offers
- Include incentives like cash vouchers, travel rewards, or discounts for setting up automatic payments
What Should You Do With Those Offers?
Credit cards often get a bad rap. You may think that avoiding credit card use will decrease your risk of going into debt. Many popular financial advisers suggest that you should avoid credit card debt at all costs. This is especially relevant during college, when the temptation to overspend may rise faster than your income. It is possible to use credit cards responsibly and in a way that can help you build a credit history. Before accepting an offer make sure you consider some of these important details.
Pre-Screened Offers May Get You Better Deals
Before you toss those credit card offers to the side, make sure you carefully read through the fine print and ask yourself this:
- Do you want or need a credit card? If you do, accepting one of these offers may be your best option. Do your research to learn what credit card companies are offering and how that may fit with your needs. Often, when you’ve been pre-approved and selected, the credit card company will offer you a better deal than you can get by simply applying through their website. You might get better interest rates, fewer fees, or other incentives.
- What offer is the company making? A credit card offer in the mail may have lower interest rates or come without monthly fees. The company’s usual card, by contrast, may have higher interest rates or a set monthly fee even if you don’t use the card. Do your research before deciding which offer you want to go with!
Take the time to read through a few of your credit card offers to choose the best one. Look for an offer with manageable interest rates and low or no fees. You might also want to consider the credit limit, or amount of credit, available and how it fits your needs. If you make payments on time, pay off your balance, and have a good credit history, you can even reach out to your credit card provider to request an increase in credit.
Credit Card Offers May Contain Personal Data
Take a careful look at the information contained in that offer before throwing it away so you don’t become a victim of identity theft. The paperwork for a pre-approved credit card may make it easy for a scammer to access your information if they’re willing to dig through the trash to fetch it. Take the time to shred any paperwork that contains private information.
Look Into the Process
Most credit card companies have steps in place to help decrease the odds of identity theft. Not all of them, however, are going the extra mile for your protection. Take a moment to consider how easy it would be for somebody to misappropriate your information. You want to make sure that you’re not giving scammers an opportunity to pull the paperwork out of your garbage and activate the card without your knowledge. If the process to activate the card is easy, make sure you dispose of the paperwork properly.
Do You Want to Stop Getting Credit Card Offers?
The credit card offers only create more paperwork or shredding to deal with. Keep in mind that pre-screening has no impact on your credit score. When you’re pre-screened for a credit card, it may appear as a “soft” inquiry on your credit history. A “soft” inquiry will not damage your credit score.
If you want to stop receiving credit card offers altogether, there is a solution. If you’re tired of opening and shredding, every offer that comes your way, simply visit OptOutPrescreen.com. By filling that information out online, you can stop credit card offers from coming your way for up to five years. If you print, fill out, and mail in the paper form you can stop them indefinitely. You can opt back into receiving credit card offers at any time.
What If You Do Want a Credit Card?
You’ve decided that you do need a credit card. You may want one for emergencies, to help you build credit, or to add an extra layer of security to your payments. You’ve done your research and selected an excellent credit card company with reasonable interest rates and fees you can afford. Credit cards are not a problem if they are used responsibly. Follow these tips to ensure that you are protecting your financial future.
Using a Credit Card to Build Credit
Take out your first credit card with a relatively low spending limit and pay off your card at the end of every payment period. Only placing expenses you already budget for, like groceries and gas, on your credit card will assist you with paying it back on time. “Borrowing” for normal budget items can increase your credit without sending you spiraling into debt. Set payments to come out automatically on or before your statement pay period. That way, you never miss a payment.
Setting Aside a Card for Emergencies
Many college students find that having a credit card for emergencies offers them a sense of security. Follow these steps if you have a card for emergencies:
Clearly define emergency for yourself. You should define an “emergency” as an unexpected medical bill or important car repair, not a new outfit or a trip that you don’t have funds for. Keep your credit card in a secure location at home if you struggle with borrowing responsibly.
Pay back any emergency withdrawals as soon as possible. If you must use your credit card, make sure you pay those funds back before the end of your statement period or create a payment plan! The longer you wait to pay your credit card off, the more you will pay in interest over time.
Credit card offers are a rite of passage to responsibly managing your finances. Fortunately, you can navigate credit card offers safely, whether you choose to accept one of those offers or to eliminate the temptation completely.