If you’ve been using your debit card for all your purchases for years — carefully tracking your checking account balance and not spending more than what you have in the bank — shifting your spending to a credit card can be a big change.
I used to be one of those people who pay for everything with their debit card because they’re afraid of racking up debt. I thought debit cards were the safe spending option since you can’t spend more money than what you have in your account. I thought that was what financial responsibility looked like. But my perspective changed as my interest in travel grew and I learned that I could earn big rewards by signing up for and using credit cards.
Related: Credit vs. debit cards: Which is the smarter choice?
Maybe you already have a rewards credit card or two but are hesitant to shift all of your spending to credit cards. You’ve possibly signed up for a credit card and charged enough to meet the minimum spending requirement for a bonus, but after that, you always return to using your debit card. If you’ve been on the fence about switching your spending from debit to credit, here are a few tips to help you make the change.
Adjust your mindset
When I first decided to shift my spending to credit cards, I knew I wanted to be a responsible credit card user. I didn’t view a credit card as free money or a long-term loan to pay back over time through minimum payments. I didn’t want to pay interest, which meant not charging more than I could pay back each month.
Related: The best way to pay your credit card bills
One thing that helped me is that I treated my credit card just like my debit card. That meant not spending more than I had in the bank. Even though my credit card did not withdraw directly from my checking account for every purchase (as my debit card did), I acted as it did.
Maybe you made only minimum payments on credit cards in the past. If so, paying it in full will require adjusting your mindset. View your credit card just like a debit card. Don’t spend more than you can pay back every month.
Related: TPG’s 10 commandments of credit cards
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Know your credit limit
You’ll want to avoid accidentally exceeding your credit limit on a lower-limit card. If you do, transactions may be declined, or you may be charged fees. But you also shouldn’t view cards with high limits as available money for maxing out.
Keeping your balance within a reasonable limit of your available credit can boost your credit score. Your credit utilization ratio makes up 30% of your FICO score, so keeping your balance in check is important.
Start with just one card
Maximizing your points- and miles-earning often involves strategizing which cards to use for different purchases. As many cards come with category bonuses — bonus points for different types of spending, such as restaurants or gas stations — it can be quite lucrative to use different cards for different purchase categories. That might mean using an American Express® Gold Card for 4 points per dollar at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar) and switching to the Citi Premier® Card for 3 points per dollar when filling up your gas tank.
However, remembering which card to use for each purchase can feel overwhelming if you’re new to travel rewards and using your credit card for everything.
Related: 4 ways to manage your spending on multiple credit card accounts
A good way to maximize points earned using only one card at a time is through new card sign-up bonuses. Open a new credit card and use only that card until you meet the minimum spending requirement (which is required for earning the welcome bonus), being sure to pay off your balance in full every month.
Once that’s complete, apply for another card and shift all your spending to that card. You’re generating lots of points by receiving sign-up bonuses, even though you may not utilize all of the bonus categories you could maximize by juggling multiple cards. But remember that some issuers — including American Express, Chase and Bank of America — limit the number of cards you can be approved for.
Related: The ultimate guide to credit card application restrictions
Once you’re comfortable with consistently paying your balance off in full every month, you can add more complexity, like switching your spending to different cards to take advantage of category bonuses.
Shift any automatic payments
Automatic payments make life easier by knocking one more thing off the to-do list. If you have automatic transactions using your checking account or debit card and use your credit card for other purchases, tracking your finances can complicate your finances. There’s more to manage. Keep it simple by shifting as many automatic payments as possible to your credit card.
You likely can’t use your credit card to autopay everything. Your mortgage and car payment are good examples. Thus, you’ll still have to track those in your checking account. Yes, some services will accept your credit card for a fee and send a check to your loan company or other merchants, but you’ll have to weigh whether the fee is worth it for you.
For your other bills — such as cellphone, utilities, fitness club membership, streaming services — it should only take a few minutes to update your payment online, then you’ll start earning rewards for those purchases.
Review your transactions
Whether you check your credit card account daily or monthly, it’s important to take the time to ensure all your transactions post correctly. You’re not just reviewing transactions for the correct amounts, but you should review your points earned to verify you’ve earned the correct amount of points. And check for any statement credits you expect to receive, such as from Chase Offers or Amex Offers.
Set up autopay or schedule manual payments
You don’t want to forget a payment, thus incurring late fees and interest. While some card issuers may waive late charges and interest as a one-time courtesy, you shouldn’t get in the habit of paying late.
Determine a payment schedule that works best for you., Some people pay weekly; others pay monthly. If you’re afraid of overspending and not having the money in your checking account to pay the bill, don’t wait until the due date. You can make multiple payments, even paying off balances daily or weekly.
You should set up autopay for your full balance (ideal) or the minimum balance by the due date if you’re concerned you may forget to pay your bill.
I’m a long-time travel rewards enthusiast, and I spend significant time and energy learning how to maximize my spending and earn rewards. However, it can feel like everyone is signing up for new credit cards (and spending thousands of dollars on them) to generate points for first-class flight redemptions and luxury hotel stays.
But that’s not the case. Even still, I’m still surprised when a friend or family member pulls out a debit card to pay for a purchase. Even though they may be interested in travel rewards, moving from a debit to a credit can be nerve-wracking, and I understand that.
Switching from debit to credit is one of my best money moves. My only regret is not doing so sooner.
Additional reporting by Ryan Smith.