When used responsibly, your credit cards can offer you more security and convenience than other methods of payment, along with useful benefits and valuable rewards. They can also allow you to build a credit history, which can be helpful in the future — like when you’re ready to buy a home.

With every credit card, self-discipline can be key. Some people who don’t use credit responsibly do so because they lack organization, or they lose track of how much they spend and when they have to pay it back.

This handy guide can show you how to use your credit cards responsibly.

1. Avoid Credit Card Debt

2. Make On-Time Payments

3. Keep Your Credit Card Secure

4. Examine Your Monthly Statements

5. Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

1. Avoid Credit Card Debt

Credit cards can offer convenience and rewards, among other benefits, but also allow for some risks. A credit card allows you to spend money that you may not have in-hand at that moment, which creates debt. And while you may want to use a credit card to pay for some smaller items in the short term, you should avoid incurring large amounts of debt that can take a long time to pay off.

To avoid debt, it’s important to only spend within your means and avoid utilizing the majority of your available credit. It’s also critical to pay off as much of your outstanding balance as possible each month and not just make the required minimum payment.

The ideal way of using your credit card is to responsibly charge and then pay off your balance. To do this, make a few purchases each month and pay your bill in full and on time. By not carrying a balance, you not only avoid paying interest on purchases, but are using a time-tested strategy for building credit.

2. Make On-Time Payments

Typically, the most important factor in your credit score is your payment history, and making on-time payments is essential to responsible credit card use. Many credit card issuers offer resources to keep payments top of mind. For example, you can use email and text reminders of your payment due dates. In addition, many card issuers allow you to configure automatic payments from your bank account.

  • Payment Alerts. Even the most organized person misses a payment now and then. But when you are trying to build credit, that’s one time too many. Avoid this scenario with payment alerts that remind you of your bill’s upcoming due date. You may choose to set up a “Payment Due” alert with your issuer and be texted, or manually put together a monthly “alarm” that notifies you a week before your bill is due.
  • Auto-Pay. Still concerned about making your payment on time? Perhaps the easiest plan is to enroll in automatic payments, which allows your issuer to automatically deduct the monthly balance from your bank account so you don’t have to keep track of bills.

3. Keep Your Credit Card Secure

Another part of using a credit card responsibly is keeping your credit card information safe and secure. You should always keep your credit cards in a secure place, keeping them out of view in your car or at your workplace. Also, you should never loan your cards out to be used by others. If one of your cards is lost or stolen, it’s important to immediately contact your card issuer.

If your lost or stolen credit card is used in an unauthorized purchase, you’re only responsible for the first $50, and some issuers will even waive that. You can cancel it online or on the phone, or even freeze it, in the case of Discover. You can typically examine transactions online and set up a dispute for charges you haven’t made. Try doing that with lost or stolen cash.

4. Examine Your Monthly Statements

When you’re wondering how best to use a credit card, you’ll want to make sure you’re well aware of things like interest and fees charged, your spending limit and your annual percentage rate. These items can be found on your credit card statement.

If you carry a balance, which accrues interest, you may want to use your credit card as sparingly as possible — or only for emergencies — to avoid quickly finding yourself burdened by high-interest debt. However, if you pay off your card balance every month, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to maximize your credit card rewards by using your credit card more frequently.

5. Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

Many credit cards offer rewards of some type to attract potential customers and provide additional value. When you’re choosing a rewards credit card, the right card for you is the one that rewards the way you live and spend — whether that means cash back, travel rewards, points or miles. Whichever reward currency you prefer, there is no reason why you shouldn’t get something back for things you need to buy anyway.

By taking a few of these steps to use your credit cards responsibly, you can continue to enjoy all of the benefits of card membership while minimizing the risks.

Originally published, June 30, 2017.

Updated January 17, 2020.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.