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The Basics of Credit Cards and Credit Card Debt

June 5, 2016

Credit cards are an important component of building a strong credit history. Having a strong credit history will enable you to get future loans, such as a home mortgage and can lead to improved rates. Your credit history is also essential for other things, like getting an apartment or opening a cell phone plan. Credit cards — if used properly — can be effective in helping you to create a credit history in order to reach your financial goals, including becoming a homeowner.

In a continuation of our budgeting series, we will look at the basics of credit cards, how they are meant to be used, and a few tips on how you can get the most out of having them.

  1. What is a Credit Card

A credit card looks just like a debit card, but instead of taking money out of your account when you make a purchase, it borrows money from your bank. Most credit institutions will give users a twenty-five to thirty day grace period with which to pay back the money they borrowed. If you do not pay the amount back within the allotted time, the bank will add interest to the remaining balance. The amount of interest added will be determined by your credit card’s interest rate and the amount of money that you owe for the remainder of the grace period.

  1. Have a Repayment Plan

Users must be careful when making purchases with a credit card. It can be tempting to make a large purchase with a credit card and push the payment off until later. Forbes magazine says, “Credit cards are like DVRs for money,” because like a DVR, a credit card allows you pay now, and then pay it back later. This philosophy is what can lead to bad spending habits. So make sure that you have a plan before you make a purchase on your credit card. Look at your budget, and make sure that you allocate money for the use of paying off your credit card. Credit cards should be used as an extension of your financial accounts, NOT as a supplementary form of income. Making sure that you don’t spend more on your credit cards than you can pay back will ensure that you won’t find yourself in financial trouble.

  1. Recommended Usage

Having a credit card is a great way to boost your credit and establish a good credit history. However, if misused, it can have a negative impact on your credit score. In the financial industry, there are various opinions about how to best use a credit card. What experts can agree on, however, is that there are several important things you can do to ensure that you stay in good standing with your credit provider.

  1. The first things are to make sure that you never miss a payment. Whether you are paying a large lump sum or making a minimum payment — the minimum you can pay to stay in good standing — you must make sure to always pay on time. A missed payment could result in a reduced credit score.
  2. Another great practice is to keep your balance at or below 35 percent of your credit limit. This is the optimal amount for a healthy credit score, says Lucy Duni ofTruecredit.com.

Owning and using a credit card does not have to be a bad thing, and it certainly does not mean that you are going to develop bad spending habits. If you follow these suggestions and make wise purchases, your credit history will be strong, and you will reap the rewards of being in good financial standing.

 

Check Out These Credit Card Myths

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2019-08-03
How Does Student Loan Interest Work?

When you take out a student loan, you will not just be paying back the amount you borrowed – the lender will also charge you interest. The easiest way to think of interest is that it’s the cost paid by you to borrow money. Whether you take out a private student loan or a federal student loan, you will be charged interest on your loan until it is repaid in full. So, when you have finished paying off your loan, you will have paid back the original sum you borrowed (your original principal), plus you will have paid a percentage of the amount you owed (interest). Properly understanding the way that student loan interest affects your loan is imperative for you to be able to manage your debt effectively.  

The Promissory Note

When a student loan is issued, the borrower agrees to the terms of the loan by signing a document called a promissory note. These terms include:
  • Disbursement date: The date the funds are issued to you and interest begins to accrue.
  • Amount borrowed: The total dollar amount borrowed on the loan.
  • Interest rate: How much the loan will cost you.
  • How interest accrues: Interest may be charged on a daily or monthly basis.
  • First payment date: The date when you are expected to make your first loan payment.
  • Payment schedule: When you are required to make payment and how many payments you have to make.
 

How Different Types of Student Loans are Affected by Interest Rates

  • Government-Subsidized loan: If you are the recipient of a government-subsidized direct loan, the government will pay your interest while you are in school. This means that your loan balance will not increase. After graduation, the interest becomes your responsibility.
  • Parent PLUS Loan: There are no government-subsidized loans for parents, and regular repayments are scheduled to begin 60 days after the loan is disbursed.
  • Unsubsidized Loan: The majority of students will have unsubsidized loans where interest is charged from day one. If you have this type of loan, sometimes a lender will not require you to make payments while you are still in school. However, the interest will accrue, and when you graduate you’ll find yourself with a loan balance higher than the one you started with. This is known as capitalization. 
Here’s an example: In your freshman year, you borrow $7,000 at 3.85%. By the time you graduate in four years, this will have grown to $8,078 – an increase of $1,078. Here’s the math: 7,000 × 0.0385 × 4 = $1,078 (
Click here for ELFI’s handy accrued interest calculator.)  

How is Student Loan Interest Calculated?

When you begin to make loan payments, the amount you pay is made up of the amount you borrowed (the principal) and interest payments. When you make a payment, interest is paid first. The remainder of your payment is applied to your principal balance and reduces it.    Let’s suppose you borrow $10,000 with a 7% annual interest rate and a 10-year term. Using ELFI’s helpful loan payment calculator, we can estimate your monthly payment at $116 and the interest you will pay over the life of the loan at $3,933. Here’s how to determine how much of your monthly payment of $116 is made up of interest.   1. Calculate your daily interest rate (also known as your interest rate factor). Divide your interest rate by 365 (the number of days in the year).  

.07/365 = 0.00019, or 0.019%

    2. Calculate the amount of interest your loan accrues each day. Multiply your outstanding loan balance by your daily interest rate.  

$10,000 x 0.00019 = $1.90

  3. Calculate your monthly interest payment. Multiply the dollar amount of your daily interest by the number of days since your last payment.  

$1.90 x 30 = $57

 

How is Student Loan Interest Applied?

As you continue to make payments on your student loan, your principal and the amount of accrued interest will decrease. Lower interest charges means that a larger portion of your payments will be applied to your principal. Paying down the principal on a loan is known as amortization.  

How Accrued Interest Impacts Your Student Loan Payments

The smart money approach is avoiding capitalized interest building up on your loan while you are in school. This is because choosing not to pay interest while in school means you will owe a lot more when you come out. The more you borrow, the longer you are in school, and the higher your interest rates are, the more profound the impact of capitalization will be.  

How to Find the Best Student Loan

When looking for the best student loan, you naturally want the lowest interest rate available. With a lower interest rate, the same monthly payment pays down more of your loan principal and you will be out of debt more quickly. Talk to ELFI about our private student loan offerings by giving us a call today!  

Learn More About ELFI Student Loans

  Terms and conditions apply. Subject to credit approval.   NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – The bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
2019-07-27
The Importance of a Good Debt to Income (DTI) Ratio

It is evident to most people that having more income and less debt is good for their finances. If you have too much debt compared to income, any shock to your income level could mean you end up with unsustainable levels of debt. Every month you have money coming in (your salary plus additional income) and money going out (your expenses). Your expenses include your recurring bills for electricity, your cell phone, the internet, etc. There are also regular amounts that you spend on necessities, such as groceries or transportation. On top of all of this, there’s the money you spend to service any debts that you may have. These debts could include your mortgage, rent, car loan, and any student loans, personal loans, or credit card debt.  

What is the Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)?

The Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI) lets you see how your total monthly debt relates to your gross monthly income. Your gross monthly income is your total income from all sources before taxes and other deductions are taken out. Below is the formula for calculating your DTI:

DTI = (Total of your monthly debt payments/your gross monthly income) x 100

  Example: Let’s suppose the following. Your gross monthly income is $5,000, and you pay $1,500 a month to cover your mortgage, plus $350 a month for your student loans, and you have no other debt. Your total monthly payments to cover your debts amounts to $1,850.  

Your DTI is (1,850/5,000) x 100 = 37%

Here’s a
handy calculator to work out your DTI.  

Why is Your DTI Important?

Your DTI is an important number to keep an eye on because it tells you whether your financial situation is good or if it is precarious. If your DTI is high, 60% for example, any blow to your income will leave you struggling to pay down your debt. If you are hit with some unexpected expenses (e.g., medical bills or your car needs expensive repairs), it will be harder for you to keep on top of your debt payments than if your DTI was only 25%.  

DTI and Your Credit Risk

DTI is typically used within the lending industry. If you apply for a loan, a lender will look at your DTI as an important measure of risk. If you have a high DTI, you will be regarded as more likely to default on a loan. If you apply for a mortgage, your DTI will be calculated as part of the underwriting process. Usually, 43% is the highest DTI you can have and likely receive a Qualified Mortgage. (A Qualified Mortgage is a preferred type of mortgage because it comes with more protections for the borrower, e.g., limits on fees.)  

So, What is a Good DTI?

If 43% is the top level DTI necessary to obtain a Qualified Mortgage, what is a “good” DTI? According to NerdWallet, a DTI of 20% or below is low. A DTI of 40% or more is an indication of financial stress. So, a good rule of thumb is that a good DTI should be between these two figures, and the lower, the better.   

The DTI Bottom Line

Your DTI is an essential measure of your financial security. The higher the number, the less likely it is that you’ll be unable to pay down your debt. If there are months when it seems that all your money is going toward debt payments, then your DTI is probably too high. With a low DTI, you will be able to weather any financial storms and maybe even take some risks. For example, if you want to take a job in a field you’ve always dreamed about but are hesitating because it pays less, it will be easier to adjust to a lower income. Plus, debt equals stress. The higher your DTI, the more you can begin to feel that you’re working just to pay off your creditors, and no one wants that.  

DTI and Student Loan Refinancing

Your DTI is one of several factors that lenders look at if you apply to refinance your student loans. They may also assess your credit history, employment record, and savings. Refinancing your student loans may actually decrease your DTI by lowering your monthly student loan payment. This may help you, for example, if you want to apply for a mortgage. ELFI can help you figure out what your DTI is and if you are a good candidate for student loan refinancing. Give us a call today at 1.844.601.ELFI.  

Learn More About Student Loan Refinancing

  Terms and conditions apply. Subject to credit approval.   NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – The bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Recent college graduate wondering when he should begin paying back student loan debt
2019-06-12
Should You Pay Off Student Loans Immediately or Over Time?

When you start your post-college career, you may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. Before you do that, you have important decisions to make. You’ll have to stretch your paycheck to cover your new lifestyle and associated expenses: a furnished home or apartment, vehicle, insurance, and hopefully a 401K contribution. If you are like 70% of college graduates, you also have student loans that need to be repaid.   In most situations, it's going to be most beneficial to pay off your loans as quickly as possible so that you are paying less towards interest. The average college graduate's starting salary, however often cannot allow for enough additional income to cover more than the regularly scheduled student loan payments.  Most student loans have a six-month grace period so you can do some budgeting and planning first - if you need to. We don't suggest using the grace period unless you find it necessary to organize your finances. During a deferment such as a grace period, the interest could still be accruing depending on the type of loan that you have.   If you determine that you may be better off establishing sound financial footing and a workable monthly budget before you begin repaying those daunting loans. Keep these tips in mind as you formulate a strategy for debt payoff.  

Student Loans Have Advantages

Varying types of debt are governed by different laws and regulations. Banks often base interest rates for consumer credit loans on your established credit rating. Interest rates for auto loans or credit card debt tend to be higher than a mortgage or student loan interest. As you review your debt load and make a plan, remember: student loan debt comes with a few "advantages" that other types of debt don’t offer.  
  • Preferential tax treatment: With a new job, you will be paying taxes on your income. Student loan interest is deductible up to $2,500 and can be deducted from pre-tax income.
  • Lower interest rates & perks: Federal student loans have lower interest rates and are sometimes subsidized by the government.
  • Lender incentives: Private student loans may come with incentives from the lender that make them a better deal than other credit types. These include fee waivers, lower interest rates, and deferment options.
  • Flexible payment plans: Options for lower payments and longer terms are available for both federal and private student debt.
  • Build your credit score: You can build your credit score with student loan debt. Now, depending on whether you’re making on-time payments or not, you could negatively or positively affect your credit. If you chose to make small payments during deferments, or a grace period, and regular on-time payments you will be more likely to establish a favorable credit record and reduce the amount of interest you pay overall.
 

Programs to Help You With Student Loan Payments

There are few options for loan forgiveness with regular debt, but student loans offer opportunities to reduce or eliminate your debt. These may come with commitments and tax implications, so be sure you fully understand them if you decide to take advantage of these programs.  
  • Loan forgiveness: Federal student loans may be forgiven, but you'll want to be sure that you're following all of the requirements needed of the program. Be sure before choosing this option that the federal loans you have qualify for the program. Also, keep in mind there could be taxes due on the amount that is forgiven. Some student loan forgiveness programs include PAYE (Pay as You Earn) and REPAYE (Revised Pay as You Earn), Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.
  • Loan Consolidation: Multiple student loans can be consolidated into one payment with the interest rate determined by a weighted average of your current loans - interest rates. Combining multiple loans may be easier to manage on a modest starting salary. Consolidating federal loans usually doesn’t require a good credit score, either.
  • Refinance, and you could achieve a lower interest rate: Lenders like Education Loan Finance specialize in student loan refinancing, and have options like variable interest rates and flexible terms. Refinancing your debt could make student loan debt easier to manage than other types of credit.
 

Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

Before you decide to pay off your student loans, think about the financial obligations you’ll be taking on. Instead of carrying a credit card balance or making low payments for an auto loan, it makes sense to continue your low student loan payments and pay off more expensive debt first or debt with a higher interest rate. In the long run, you’ll save money and build your credit score.   If you still have doubts about not paying off student debt first, consult a professional financial advisor for help prioritizing your goals and setting up a budget that lets you achieve them.  

Click Here to Learn More About Student Loan Repayment