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Managing credit card and bank accounts can be time consuming, and time is money. It can also be a hassle, especially for those who don’t like crunching numbers and sifting through monthly statements. Neglect to stay on top of those tedious tasks, though, and soon it can translate into mismanagement.
The fees start to pile up for missed payments or overdrafts, causing you to lose track of valuable business expenses that make you qualified for tax deductions or credits. Your credit utilization ratio – an important statistic financial institutions use to grade your credit worthiness and calculate your eligibility for credit cards, loans, and lines of credit – then gets all out of whack. The introductory “teaser” rate on a credit card or balance transfer expires and all of a sudden your monthly payment soars when you did not expect it to do so.
Take advantage of free tools offered by credit card companies and banks to help you get a handle on your finances and keep it under control. Setting them up might take a few minutes, but can potentially save you a great deal of time and stress.
Bank Account & Credit Card Alerts
Start by setting up online accounts because you’ll be able to utilize most of the management tools. Once that’s done you have the ability to go to the “preferences” section of your account and start choosing from the available options.
Don’t be afraid to open an online bank or credit card account, because you can be sure that financial institutions are doing a world-class job of protecting their data. Just be sure to shoulder your own responsibilities in that area by following proper security protocols related to passwords, protection of confidential information, monitoring of your credit files, and so forth.
Creative use of account alerts is a great strategy, for example, because that way if your account balance on a bank account dips past your preset level you’ll get an instant email or text notification. A simple protocol such as that may prevent you from bouncing a check. With credit cards you can do the opposite, setting the preferences to alert you when your outstanding balance hits a certain threshold. Then you’ll be notified and can reign in your shopping or schedule a payment to reduce your debt and save yourself from paying unwanted interest charges.
You can also useyour quarterly and annual summary credit card statements to help with taxes by tracking your deductible expenses. For extra help in that department you can leverage the power and expertise of financial management sites like the budgeting leader Mint.com or Expensify.com – a free service that offers a slew of excellent tools to automate expense reports from scanned or photographed receipts. If you’re a credit card owner, major issuers also come with helpful tools like Chase, Discover and American Express.
Chase sets itself apart as an industry leader and innovator with its exclusive Blueprint program, which lets you designate a portion of your total credit card balance and pay it off without incurring interest charges. You may not be able to repay your entire balance, for example, but with Blueprint you can dictate which purchases your payment will be applied toward.
Say, for example, that you owe $500 on your card and you carry that balance forward. Then during the month you add another $200 in new charges. If you only have $500 to apply as your monthly payment when the bill comes due then you are going to be charged interest on the remaining $200. With Blueprint, however, you can earmark your $500 payment to pay off the older balance separately. That wipes out the portion that you are being charged interest on, and leaves you with a new $200 balance that is still within the interest-free payment grace period. Pay it before 30 days is up and you pay no interest.
Blueprint also comes with a “full pay” option. Use it to decide which categories of purchases you want to pay off each month interest-free. Maybe you’re paying off a new washing machine and are willing to carry that balance, but don’t want to be charged interest every time you buy pizza, gas, or groceries. Tag restaurant, gas, and grocery purchases for Full Pay within Blueprint and you’ll be able to pay those off each month, interest-free, while still carrying your washing machine balance. There is also a Split Pay feature that lets you set up a special payment plan to pay off a large purchase over a specific number of months. Chase calculates how much you need to pay and how much interest it will cost you, depending on your chosen timeframe, to help you track the repayment and manage it according to your budget.
Discover’s Spend Analyzer and Paydown Planner
The Spend Analyzer is a free online tool for those who carry a Discover Card, and it gives you an easy snapshot in a graphic pie chart of all your spending patterns and expense categories. That can help you instantly spot weaknesses in your budget to curb unhealthy spending habits.
If you are participating in a rewards program this kind of analysis – which is also offered by some other credit card companies – is a nifty tool for showing you whether you are maximizing your rewards. That’s because most rewards programs give you extra points in specific spending categories and many programs let you pick from a menu of different categories. Knowing exactly where your money goes each month helps you pinpoint which categories are best for generating the most rewards or cash back.
The Paydown Planner, on the other hand, is useful for paying off your plastic in a more effective, efficient way. You log on to your account, set your monthly payment and balance payoff goals, and set a timeframe for repayment. Then Discover will generate charts to show you your monthly spending patterns, your payoff progress, and how much you’ll need to pay in the future to eliminate that lingering balance or finally pay for a major purchase.
Amex Account Manager
American Express has a feature called Account Manager that is pretty unique because it gives you the ability to have a trusted individual access and manage your credit card account. There are two levels of access, limited and full. Naturally, the operative word here is trust because you never want to give that kind of power to just anyone. There are times when it can be a big help, though, to have a set of extra eyes review your statements, make payments for you, dispute suspicious charges, and monitor your account.
Let’s say you’re a busy executive flying all over the world. You can appoint your trusted assistant to help manage your Amex account while you are away. Maybe you have an elderly parent suffering from memory loss and you want more ways to protect them from financial mishaps related to their credit card account. Then again, you may be a parent with a child going off to college and being their designated account manager could be a great way to transition them to credit card independence.
A new year is a traditional time for making resolutions and setting goals. So why not incorporate financial management into the scheme of things so that during 2014 (and beyond!) you aren’t as frazzled over money matters related to your credit cards and bank accounts.
*Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.
*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.