The True Cost of Buying on Credit

There's a reason so many consumers are struggling today with sky-high credit card bills. U.S. consumers are addicted to plastic. We use credit cards to buy everything from flat-screen TVs and tablet computers to fast-food cheeseburger and fries meals.

The problem is buying with credit can cause you serious financial pain. Simply put, paying for items with your credit cards is one of the costliest ways to make purchases.

Cash is best

The best way to buy something? Save up the cash you need and then make your purchase. This way, you will not be charged any extra fees or interest on credit purchases. You'll only pay what the item costs.

Of course, this is not always possible. Sometimes you will not have the cash available. In such cases, the next best option is to purchase an item with a credit card but then pay off that card's balance once the bill comes due.

If you do this, you will not be charged interest on your purchase. Also, it is when you do not pay off your credit card balance in full, and the interest starts piling up, that you'll learn just how costly credit can be.

The impact of interest

Say you buy an $800 laptop computer with a credit card that comes with an interest rate of 18 percent. If you pay only the minimum payment on that debt each month -- in this case, $16 -- it will take you an astonishing 94 months to pay off that debt.

What's even more shocking, though, is the amount of interest you'll pay during this time: more than $689.

That means that you'll end up paying nearly $1,500 for that $800 laptop computer.

Consider that is on a relatively small purchase. If you let your credit card debt rise too high, you could end up paying huge amounts of interest if you do not pay off that balance each month.

Other fees

Paying interest is only one of the many ways that purchasing with a credit card can be more costly.

Some credit cards, for instance, charge annual fees that you'll have to pay whether you use the card or not. There are plenty of credit cards available today that don't come with annual fees. There's no reason, then, to sign up for one that charges such a fee, unless the card offers additional benefits that you find to be worth the cost.

If you make your payment late, you might suffer a late fee of $15 to $35. That is not the biggest hurt that comes with late payments. Plenty of credit card companies will boost your interest rate if you pay late. This means that your rate can instantly skyrocket from a reasonable 14 percent to a painful 29 percent.

What if you accidentally go over your credit card's spending limit? Again, you'll potentially face a fee. This is an over-the-limit fee and can run you an additional $15 to $35.

Finally, be careful about taking cash advances on your credit cards. The costs for these vary according to the financial institutions issuing the credit card, but they can be excessively high.

The lesson here? If you use credit cards, be careful. Your best bet is to pay off your balance every month. If you cannot do this, you might be surprised at how quickly that credit card debt grows. 

Information presented in the Northwest Financial Wellness Center is provided for educational purposes only and is not related to actual Northwest products or services. Northwest makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. Northwest recommends you consult a professional for any specific guidance you are seeking.