CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

4 “Smart” Credit Card Moves that are Actually Dumb

Original image
Getty Images

Used wisely, credit cards can help build your credit score and earn you sweet perks. But to get smart about the plastic in your wallet, you have to shake free from common myths that can actually tank your score or cost you unnecessary money. 

1. YOU RELY EXCLUSIVELY ON A DEBIT CARD.

The perks of debit are clear: It’s harder to overspend than if you use a credit card, and you can’t work yourself into a mountain of debt. That debt aversion might explain why those of us who got our financial footing during the Great Recession are more leery of credit than other generations: According to a Bankrate survey, two-thirds of people ages 18 to 29 don’t have a credit card, compared with only one-third of people over 30.

“But it’s dangerous to assume that all plastic is treated the same way by credit reporting and scoring agencies,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer, who spent years at FICO and Equifax. “Only credit cards make it onto your credit report, so if you avoid them you’re really not doing anything to help your credit score or establish your credit report.”

Even if you don’t plan to apply for a car loan or mortgage anytime soon, when you are ready to apply, those lenders will factor the age of your credit report into their decision. Opening a credit card in your 20s will mean you have a more, ahem, mature credit report than if you open one in your 30s, which can help you get a better or bigger loan—even if your finances are otherwise unchanged.

The Truly Smart Move: Go ahead and apply for a credit card (free services like Credit Karma can help you determine the appropriate card). If you’re worried the new piece of plastic will tempt you to splurge beyond your means, don’t keep it in your wallet. 

2. YOU CARRY A SMALL BALANCE EACH MONTH.

Credit scoring agencies want to see that you’re using your credit cards regularly, because that signals that you can responsibly handle the credit available to you. But somehow that truth morphed into a widespread myth that you shouldn’t pay your bill in full.

“Carrying a balance from month to month will just cost you interest and won’t help your credit score,” says Bethy Hardeman, chief consumer advocate at Credit Karma. In fact, it could hurt it, because lenders look at how the amount of your current balances compares with your total credit card limits. The lower the balance, the better.

So how do you prove regular use and earn your financial brownie points? Relax—credit card companies do the work for you. When you swipe your way to a $200 balance on your Visa, the company reports that amount to the credit reporting agencies at the same time that it issues you a bill. You can then pay that balance (in full!). And keep in mind that regular use doesn’t mean you have to use the card monthly or hit a certain spend threshold. Modest use every couple of months works just fine.

The Truly Smart Move: Set a calendar reminder so you pay your balance in full and on time to avoid getting hit with late fees. And if you find that “regular use” is turning into “regular splurges,” use your card to set up auto-pay on a boring bill instead. It’s tougher to be tempted to go on an electricity spree.

3. YOU DECLINE A CREDIT LIMIT INCREASE.

When Visa mails you an offer to increase the credit limit on one of your cards, you demur. Time for a pat on the back, right? Not quite. When FICO determines your credit score, one of the biggest numbers it looks at is your revolving utilization. Also known as credit card usage percentage or balance-to-limit ratio, this is basically a fancy way of saying how much you owe on your credit cards compared with how much your total limits are. “If you owe $500 on a card with a $500 limit, you’ll have a lower score than someone who owes $500 on a card with a $5,000 limit,” says Ulzheimer. 

To calculate your current revolving utilization, divide your balance by the credit card limit and multiply by 100. Quick example: If you owe $1,000 on a card with a limit of $2,500, your revolving utilization of that card is 40 percent. While 40 percent might sound boss at first blush, consider that consumers with the highest credit scores tend to have revolving utilizations under 10 percent.

One way to better your revolving utilization is to pay down your balances. But another is to increase the credit limits on existing cards. So the next time MasterCard extends an offer, think twice before you decline.

The Truly Smart Move: Many credit card companies will reassess your limit every three years or so, when they reissue your credit cards. But you can also proactively ask for an increase. You’re more likely to secure a higher limit if you’re a low-risk consumer: You use your cards regularly and pay your bill on time. 

4. YOU CANCEL SOME OF YOUR CREDIT CARDS.

Maybe your wallet is crazy cluttered with a million cards and you’re looking to streamline. Or maybe you’re sick of all the temptation that comes with having multiple cards. Or maybe you think having one card is safer when it comes to identity theft. No matter what your motivation, closing a credit card will ding your credit score, because it reduces your revolving utilization.

“Never, ever close a credit card,” says Ulzheimer. “The only time a card should be considered for the chopping block is if it has a huge annual fee and you’re planning to never use it again.” It’s especially worth waiting, he says, if you plan to apply soon for any type of credit, including an auto loan or student loan.

As for identity theft, keep in mind that if your account info is somehow stolen, all four of the major credit card networks offer total fraud liability. That means, if you spot a suspicious charge on your statement and you report it to the credit card company, you’ll pay nada.

The Truly Smart Move: The best way to kill both clutter and temptation—without wounding your credit score—is to shred the plastic you don’t want to use anymore. If you ever decide to start using that particular credit card again, you can put in a call to the company and have the card reissued at no expense.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Weird
Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
Original image
iStock

Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

Original image
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Lists
14 Things You Owned in the '70s That are Worth a Fortune Now
Original image
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

From old toys and housewares to books and records, these pieces of '70s memorabilia have aged (and increased in value) like fine wine.

1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS KNICKERBOCKER PLAYSET

A vintage ringwraith toy from Lord of the Rings by Knickerbocker toys, still on the yellow blister pack.

eBay user butamaru999

Peter Jackson wasn’t the first one to take a crack at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In 1978, Ralph Bakshi directed an animated version with the voices of John Hurt, William Squire, and Anthony Daniels, among others. There was a toy promotion to go along with the movie, of course, and though the action figures look a little cheap by today’s standards, they’re anything but. According to eBay, a complete set can sell for up to $17,000.

2. DAVID BOWIE’S DIAMOND DOGS ALBUM

Photo of David Bowie
RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images

Check your old vinyl! In 1974, David Bowie released the Diamond Dogs LP, which featured artwork of a cartoonish Bowie-dog. The top half of the creature was Bowie, while the bottom half was all canine—including its genitals. Right before the album was released, RCA decided to avoid controversy and had the artwork retouched to remove the offending parts. However, some enterprising employees were able to snag some of the originals, and in 2003, one of them sold for $3550.

3. LUKE SKYWALKER ACTION FIGURE

Luke Skywalker action figure still in the Kenner packaging from the 1970s.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

OK, you probably didn’t own this exact Luke Skywalker action figure with double-telescoping lightsaber when you were a kid, because there are only 20 known toys in existence. If you are one of the lucky few, though, get thyself to Sotheby’s: In 2015, this 1978 Kenner toy sold for a whopping $25,000.

Even if you don’t own this ultra-rare figure, don’t despair: Your old Star Wars toys could still be worth hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars.

4. THE SEX PISTOLS’S “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN”/“NO FEELINGS” 45

The Sex Pistols
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The infamously offensive Sex Pistols signed to A&M Records in 1977—and were dropped by the label exactly six days later for proving to be just too much to handle. But in those six days, 25,000 copies of the band’s “God Save the Queen” single had already been pressed. Just nine copies have surfaced over the years, making the rare records worth a pretty penny: In 2003, a copy with the paper sleeve sold for £13,000 (about $17,600).

5. WALK LIVELY STEFFIE BARBIE

Walk Lively Steffie doll

Image courtesy of bklyngrl44 on eBay

Remember Barbie’s friend from the 1970s, Steffie? Not many people do—which may be why a mint condition Walk Lively Steffie doll that's still in its box can be worth nearly $800.

6. THE GARDEN OF ABDUL GASAZI BY CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG

A copy of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

Your book collection provides you with hours of entertainment, and can also be a great source of extra income. A first edition of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, a 1979 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, is worth nearly $1000 (if it's in “Fine” condition). If you have a collection of Van Allsburg first editions, by the way, you’re doing well: A first edition of Jumanji from 1981 is worth hundreds, if not thousands, and a signed first edition of The Polar Express from 1985 is worth $2500.

7. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE BY GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ

The green, floral, leafy cover of the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Image courtesy of cnos.mich on eBay

Who knew an exclamation point was worth so much? In some early copies of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first paragraph of the dust jacket blurb featured an exclamation point instead of a period. That little mistake makes a first edition with the exclamation point worth $740. (Even the version with the intended period is worth some cash, though—about $400.)

8. LIMITED EDITION VERSION OF THE FIRST STAR WARS COMIC BOOK

Star Wars Comic Book
Image courtesy of heisman1944 via eBay

Here’s a riddle for you: When is five cents worth $7500? Answer: When rare Star Wars memorabilia is involved. When the first issue of the Star Wars comic book was released in 1977, Marvel published about 1500 limited edition copies for 35 cents instead of the usual 30 cents. Spending that extra nickel 40 years ago is worth more than $7000 today—and there’s currently one on eBay being sold for more than $10,000.

9. REMCO BATMAN UTILITY BELT

A vintage Batman utility belt stilli n packaging, with plastic handcuffs, decoders, and watch.

This Remco Batman Utility Belt from the 1970s came with all of the bells and whistles: a communicator, decoder glasses, a toy watch, handcuffs, a Gotham City decoder map, a secret identity card, and a secret message, among other things. Not only is it cool, that’s a lot of little pieces to keep track of, so you can see why a complete set in decent condition sells for more than $3000.

10. ALPINE MAN PEZ DISPENSER

Image courtesy of tobor1010 via eBay

To commemorate the 1972 Olympics in Munich, PEZ released the “Alpine Man” Pez Dispenser. There were two variants—a mustachioed figure in a green Alpine hat and a clean-shaven one wearing a brown cap. The green hat can be worth up to $3000; the brown one is worth “considerably more,” but is apparently so extremely rare that no pricing seems to actually exist.

11. ORIGINAL MEGO ROBIN ACTION FIGURE

Tom Simpson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Mego company doesn’t produce action figures anymore—it went bankrupt in 1982—but for a decade, it was considered “The World’s Greatest Action Figure Company.” Many of their figures are worth a nice chunk of change today, but the original Robin the Boy Wonder figure from 1973 takes the cake. The first version came with a removable mask, while later versions came with the mask painted on. As you might imagine, that teeny little piece of cloth was often lost by the kids who played with the toy, so finding a Robin in good condition with the mask is pretty rare; one sold for $7357.

12. IKEA FURNITURE

A car topped with boxes of IKEA furniture
iStock

IKEA has become known for their affordable furniture and housewares, but certain vintage pieces will set you back a bit more than a $9.99 LACK table. Today, a teak bookshelf and cabinet combo from the 1970s can fetch up to $3000—surely a good return on investment.

13. PYREX DISHES

A green Pyrex mixing bowl with red ribbons and holly on it, sitting on top of three pyrex collecting books.

Image courtesy of qualityqueen62 via eBay

Your parents and grandparents shouldn't have passed those Pyrex dishes down—they're worth a lot of dough these days. Whole sets of certain patterns or colors can go for thousands of dollars, but even single bowls can fetch hundreds, like the above Christmas bowl from the early '70s, which is going for $370 on eBay.

14. THE ADDAMS FAMILY LUNCHBOX

They’re creepy and they’re kooky ... and they’re worth a lot of money. This metal lunchbox by King Seeley depicts the cartoon version of everyone’s favorite ooky sitcom family. A good-condition set containing the lunchbox and matching thermos can be worth up to $325.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios