So when I was 22 I decided to open my first credit card. I honestly didn’t want to because growing up black, how many of our parents told us to “stay away from those credit cards?” Or who had a parent open one in their name young and never paid it so you thought you couldn’t ever get one?

Well I had both. My parents had over $10,000 in credit card debt and begged me to stay away from it but in the same breath, opened a credit card in my name when I turned 18 without my knowledge. I didn’t learn about it until I started getting notices sent to my college dorm.

I didn’t think I would ever get another offer until that card was paid off, but I received one a few years later after the card had been in collections for quite some time.

I was very hesitant to open the card, but I did anyway. And like many people I had the wrong mindset going into it. I thought hey, I could swipe, swipe, swipe and then pay it back later and just do the minimum payment until I got back on my feet. And after I started paying my bill on time, even though it was just the minimum, I started to get more offers in the mail.  Long story short I had 5 credit cards in my hand by the time I was 23 and all of them were either maxed out or damn near at the limit.

The worst part about it was ALL of the cards were at an interest rate of 20% or above.

I couldn’t get those balances down to save my life paying just the minimum payment. I was paying around $250 a month just in minimum payments to keep these cards afloat. Mind you the limits were all relatively small, $500, $700, $650,$700, and $300. It’s taken me 5 years to pay off 3 of the cards and now carry just a small balance on the other two.

5 YEARS!

You would think it would be easy to pay off such small limits but factoring in my other bills and daily living expenses, I realized I was using money I didn’t have the means to pay back.

Lessons Learned: DO NOT use a credit card for something that you are not able to pay back in full EVERY month. If you aren’t able to pay off the balance in full but want to still open a credit card , first look at the interest rate. If you can’t get one that’s between 7%-14%, it’s honestly not worth it. That interest will add up so fast and you’ll be paying back more than the limit and it’ll take years to do it if you’re not paying more than the minimum each month. Also, if you can’t pay the balance in full, at least double your minimum payment so you can see that balance go down significantly. And if you can, pay something on it each paycheck.

#WYSD-What You Should Do: When you want to open your first credit card, don’t just accept the first offer you see. Shop around for a card with a decent interest rate at the least. But I do recommend you getting something with rewards so that you’re getting something back for spending. A lot of credit cards offer rewards such as cash back, airline miles, and points you can earn to redeem on a variety of things. There’s a dope credit card comparison tool over at nerdwallet.com that you can use if you’re simple like me and want someone else to do all the research.

Credit is so important but HAS to be used wisely. So don’t do what I did.

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