What Do You Use Your Credit Card For, And How Do You Pay It Back?

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Jia Tolentino:

I use my credit cards for everything I buy because of reward stuff (cash on one, miles on the other), even though the dangers of this free-money, anti-budgeting habit has probably done more damage than the occasional plane ticket and $200 check has done me good. Over my 9 years of credit card usage I’ve probably paid them off in full about 80% of the time; I’ve spent those other months running up and paying down waves of temporary debt from unpaid internships, delayed freelance pay, and in the case of this last summer (which I’m still paying off) a one-two-three punch of misunderstanding the structure of my graduate school fellowship, flying to too many music festivals, and receiving 17 wedding invitations over the course of the year. I didn’t go to all of them, I barely went to any of them, but my credit card management program going forward is definitely to start behaving in a deeply unfriendly manner to everyone I have ever known, thus negating the possibility of anyone ever wanting me at their wedding for the rest of my new and anxiety-free life.


Meghan Nesmith:

I got my first credit card last year and I am very fond of it. I find it sort of magical, this idea of spending money I don’t actually have. Initially I made the promise to myself that I would only use it for truly important things, like medical expenses or necessary travel. Then I realized important things could be expanded to include clothes and also really nice meals. Then I redeemed my first cash back prize and found such glee in that act that I started using it for everything. Then I maxed it out. Then I grew horrified at my interest rate and spent a totally useless 30 minutes on the phone attempting to renegotiate it following a script I found online and saying things like, “I may be forced to take my business elsewhere.” As my credit limit is only $2,000, they were oddly unmoved by my hardlining. Now I’m paying it off in fairly decently sized increments as I recently got a new, better paying job. I think when I pay it all down I may continue using it frequently to reap those piddling cash-back rewards, but will treat it less like fake money and more like an extension of my debit card. Poor, neglected debit card.


Laura Yan:

I use my credit cards for almost everything that isn’t a cash only restaurant or bar. Impulsive clothes shopping online! Impulsive bus tickets and flights! Lots of impulsive books for my Kindle! Getting cash back gives me the sense that using my credit card is somewhat productive.


Lilly O’Donnell:

I have all of my monthly bills (phone, cable, electric, student loans) charged to my credit card automatically. This way I only have one bill to remember to pay every month and don’t have to live in constant fear of forgetting and ruining my credit, and I get rewards points that add up to a free flight every few years. Then on the first of every month I put everything that’s left in my bank account after I pay my rent toward my credit-card bill. It’s rarely the full balance, but it’s enough to keep it from getting out of hand (except for what’s leftover from the month I spent unemployed, which I’m scrambling to pay down one extra bar shift or freelance editing gig at a time).


Katherine Coplen:

My mother has been completely credit card free her entire life (go, Mom!), but, despite her vocal protests, I applied for a card when I was 19. I’ve had one credit card since I was a sophomore in college — a gas rewards card. For the first several years I had it, I used it almost exclusively for gas, and paid it off every month. But something happened to me this year. Something inside my mind must have gone loose, because I managed to lose my debit card five separate times. (Once, when I was inside the bank applying for yet another debit card, I found the one I was replacing in the recesses of my wallet.) So I’ve been using that credit card in place of a debit card periodically this year, paying it off every month through an auto-pay feature. It just shwooops that money right out of my checking account, right around the 20th of every month.


Jon Custer:

I never had much in the way of credit cards — I had one $500 card and one $1,000 card during and after college, which got me out of a few scrapes (like paying a bribe to escape a foreign airport or springing for a hotel when all the hostels were full in Quebec City — one of the best sleeps of my life!). Usually I would pay them off when I got whatever big chunk of money I was waiting for, then gradually run them back up again when that money run out.

Like many people my credit was destroyed during the Financial Crisis, but I recently was able to qualify for a new $500 card. The original plan was to use up about 20% of that and then pay the minimums, so as to help rebuild my credit and have some left over for emergencies. Of course, thanks to being “just a little short” in the days before payday I’ve now charged that one up near the limit too. I’m not too worried about it because I can easily pay most of it off every paycheck, but it would be nice to get it near-fully paid down and just leave it there. Maybe with my tax return…


Matt Powers:

I use my credit card everywhere possible because I have an Amazon rewards card so it’s like I’m paying myself every time I use it. I especially try to use it at grocery stores and restaurants because I get extra rewards points back at those places. My mom has an LL Bean rewards card which is essentially useless once you have a pair of boots and a nice coat (and maybe a toboggan), so she sometimes offers to use my card when she’s making a purchase on Amazon and then pay me back separately. My mom and I are scamming the credit card company. Please do not tell anyone.


Taylor Jenkins Reid:

In my early twenties, I used my credit card to buy things that I couldn’t afford and then made myself sick thinking about it. But I’m proud to say, a week away from turning 30, I have learned to use my credit card much more effectively. I use it for all of my purchases and I pay it in full at the end of the month. This way, I earn rewards and keep track of my spending on a regular basis. The only problem is that at any given time I can see exactly how much money I’ve spent in a year and it always makes me nauseous.


Brittany Shoot:

I use my credit card for everything I can, and so does my husband. We pay off the balance in full every month, and even though I have premier status on United Airlines and fly most everywhere with them, I get a few JetBlue flights for free every year since I use my credit card so much. I’ve had it for seven years, and I pay a cool $40 annually for the privilege of keeping it. Since I’m never stuck paying interest, it’s a great deal for me/us! (Only downside is that adding my immigrant husband to the account doesn’t actually help his credit score since I’m the primary account holder. Irrelevant to most, a wee bit frustrating for us.)


Amanda Green:

After inheriting a healthy fear of credit card debt from my parents, I now use one credit card for almost everything and then pay off the balance each month. I do it for love and airline miles — I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for about a year-and-a-half.


Heather Sundell:

My father is a chill hippie man with only real parenting rule: Don’t use your goddamn credit card, Heather! He gets this from his father, my grandfather, a staunch FDR advocate who lived through The Depression, and learned to never put anything on credit. As such, he has instilled the fear of compound interest in my heart, and I’ve remained relatively out of credit card debit during my twenties. Obviously, I want nice things like Coachella tickets, sweaters from Madewell, and even a plane ticket to NY. Obviously, I cannot always pay for these things at once. So, I use my credit card. My debit card is my day to day mode of payment, and I use my credit card to buy bigger ticket impulse purchases. I do this partly because I can’t pay for the entire sum at once, and partly because if it goes on my credit card, I don’t really see it and it doesn’t exit. Ipso facto, I don’t need feel buyer’s remorse.

When I was in my early twenties, I would put big purchases on there without adding up the numbers in my head and ended up paying the minimum every month, cutting down big chunks if I fell into a birthday windfall. It felt impossible to get out of, always seemingly like I was $1k in debt. As I got a little older, I started being able to pay off my balances quicker, and became more discerning about what I put on the card. Also, I wised up and got myself a card that at least earned cash back, which I use as my main credit card, in addition to an older back up card I keep in a drawer somewhere. Now, most months I have a small balance on the primary card that I use, except this month because all my Dad asks for as a birthday present every year (it’s next week) is that I pay off my credit card. Happy birthday Dad, no debt!”


Miranda Popkey:

I have one credit card, almost maxed out. I used it to buy treats like sweaters and bourbon and fancy dinners for one, please, and yes I will have that second glass of wine. Then I got paid for a freelance assignment I’d completed months ago and had basically forgotten about and I paid my credit card off completely! So liberating. A few weeks later, I bought tickets to LA. And here we are again.


Rebecca Pederson:

I have two credit cards, which I use for the exact reason that gets people in financial trouble: to buy things I technically don’t need and definitely can’t afford. This year, I used credit cards to buy roundtrip plane tickets from San Francisco to Chicago for a “just because” vacation to see an old friend, stuff for the four weddings I attended this summer, and a washer/dryer set that cost $2200.

Despite these big ticket purchases, I currently have no debt on either. When I have an outstanding balance on a card, I will put all of my paycheck towards the next payment, minus literally like $50 for emergency afterwork happy hours.

I choose which cards to pay down aggressively based on which purchases I’d be most embarrassed to explain to my financial advisor. Example: I bought four different dresses for these summer weddings that all look basically the same except for their varying shades of green. I paid those off immediately, so now we can pretend like it never happened. Honestly, I don’t even know what my credit cards’ interest rates are. Is that bad?


Cara Dudzic:

I use my credit cards for paying for things online, or for when it would be awkward to pay for a purchase with small bills. I always have some cash because I work a couple of different tipped jobs, but sometimes it’s more than I can bear to count out $80 in ones and fives to buy groceries. I pay them off with some difficulty sometimes. I don’t like depositing cash in the bank, and sometimes I’ll overspend on my credit cards, because it’s too easy. A few months ago I got a credit card through the same company that holds my mortgage, and added my husband to it. It gives us some tiny percentage of our spending as a rebate on our mortgage, so spending with that card feels falsely virtuous. Like, here we go, score another one for paying off the house. Thanks, card. But we just agreed to limit our use of it, because the statement is separate from our regular bank accounts, and we don’t have a reminder of our spending like an account balance dropping. More like, oops, you just spent a giant amount of money on nothing. I really try not to carry a balance month to month on any card unless it would mean I was overdrawing or definitely setting myself up to overdraw.


Christian Brown:

I use my credit card mostly for income smoothing. That is to say, I am a freelancer, so sometimes I get paid my checks on time, and sometime I don’t. When I don’t, I’ll float myself a one-month loan, basically, by putting it on a credit card. I’ve had one or two month gaps where I don’t get any pay at all (even though I’ve been working) and being able to smooth that out with short-term credit is great. I pretty much am able to get my income often enough on a month by month basis that I can pay it down to zero every month, although there were a few times this summer when I chose to let it ride a month and pay about half of it off. (This mostly is because of House Things, like renovations and furniture, that were jostling up against some late checks.) So far, I’ve managed to avoid letting it build up because if anything credit cards feel MORE like “real money” to me than cash does.


Abby Dalton:

I use my credit card for most purchases over $10, because paying with a credit card for something less than that makes me feel guilty about incurred fees for small businesses (which I should probably feel guilty about for purchases over $10, but carrying around more than $40 at a time makes me nervous). I pay the card off in full every month, and sometimes multiple times a month, because looking at a balance makes me nervous. I have one of those cards that gives you money for “points,” which I redeem a couple of times a year for cash, which promptly gets spent on nonsense.


Shannon Palus:

I use mine for absolutely everything I can use it for. I think its a rewards card, though I’m actually not really sure because I only started using it recently. When I lived in Montreal I had a rewards card and every now and then a $50 credit showed up on my statement, so I got into the habit of using the card for everything so that would happen as often as possible. My current card linked to my checking account, so every time (or so) that I log in to check my balance (daily, because that’s how I budget), I just pay off whatever is on it.


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