1) Apply for a credit card for the sign-up gifts
Different sales agencies may offer different types of credit card gift rewards as an incentive to sign up with them, even if the cards are from the same bank. It helps that many deals are now available for online comparison as well. Once you receive the gift, make sure that your debt is fully paid off then cancel the card! No commitment, no extra spend, one free gift = check.
But wait! There are hidden terms and conditions involved - there’s no such thing as a free meal. For example, Standard Chartered Bank offers a 24” Condotti Luggage Bag worth RM499 for free when you apply for cards such as the Cashback Platinum Mastercard and the JustOne Platinum Mastercard
You’re only eligible for the bag if you’re an applicant who has not held a Standard Chartered Bank credit card as a principal cardholder within the past six months, AND you’ll also have to spend RM1,000 within 60 days from the credit card approval date.
Find out what each bank is offering and choose the right gifts that match your lifestyle. Once you’ve decided which gift you’d like….
2) Use specific credit cards for specific purposes
This is especially true for cashback credit cards. Different cards give different rebates depending on the spend category. For example, you sign up for a card that gives a 1% rebate on all online transactions; another card that gives a 5% rebate on petrol purchased on weekends and phone bills; plus one more that gives a 2% rebate on groceries. Who’d say no to free money??
Again, make sure you read the fine print, especially the rebate caps on each card. Take the AmBank CARz Gold Visa card, which allows you to pump at any petrol station. It has a cashback of 3% for petrol but requires you to pay the minimum or partial amount of your credit card bill before you’re eligible. With a maximum rebate of RM50 per month, you could easily be saving up to RM600 a year.
It may sound like too many to keep track of, but if you’re the type who regularly pays off your balance every month and have the self-control to only swipe for purchases you’d be paying for anyway, these cards can help you save a fair bit of money in the long run. Everyone else, BEWARE!
3) Pay off your credit card debts in full each month
This has been parroted one too many times: pay your monthly statements in full every time. You get to enjoy the interest-free periods, otherwise, the high interest charges will outweigh all the benefits of getting a credit card.
But how you choose to make those payments is important too! If you make multiple payments a few times each month, you aren’t proving that you’re responsible in paying back what you owe. In fact, frequently clearing the balance makes it look like you’re NOT using any credit at all. And that’s going to weaken your credit score - which looks at your credit utilisation ratio - among other things.
This may sound unrealistic, but it’s better to accumulate your credit balance and pay off all at one go (ideally before the due date) each month. This demonstrates your ability to have a track record of using borrowed funds for expenses and then paying them all off. Unless….
4) Unless it’s a Zero Interest Repayment Plan
Certain merchants (based on which bank is chosen) offer a Zero Interest Repayment Plan or Easy Payment Plan for pricey products or services. ALWAYS go for it. That large sum of money you’re about to blow on the 70” OLED TV? Stash it and invest in a Fixed Deposit account instead, so you can earn extra money in the form of interest!
This plan allows for a monthly repayment contract, without having to fork out extra for the interest rate. As always, the terms and conditions are extremely important, notably minimum spend required. Credit cards like the BSN Visa Platinum card have a straightforward plan where you’ll be eligible as long as you spend at least RM500.
Others like the Bank Islam Infinite Visa card have a range of amounts from RM150 to RM1,800 with their respective repayment periods from three to 36 months. However, did you know that your bank has the right to retract this plan without notifying you, if you happen to miss your instalment payments?
If this happens, you’ll be charged the normal interest rate which could be up to 18%, depending on the card issuer. Which leads us to…
5) 0% Balance Transfers
People who carry a balance on their credit cards (some call them the bank’s favourite suckers): REJOICE! Hunt for suitable balance transfer credit cards out there, some of which not only give you an upfront cash back upon a successful balance transfer, but also charge you zero interest. The catch: as long as you manage to repay within X amount of months.
While that sounds rosy, banks are actually counting on you to add MORE to the balance, so they can then start charging you interest based on the amount outstanding. It’s when most people don’t keep track of the zero-interest rate period that it gets painful. Many people expect their banks to inform them as soon as the plan is drawing to an end, but that hardly happens. Why? Because of course banks would want to take advantage of the fact that they would soon be able to surprise you with a higher interest rate!
So do yourself a favour and keep the spending on this type of card to a bare minimum (or not at all), so you can quickly pay off everything you owe, and lead a debt-free life once more.
Are you ready for a credit card?
This begs the question: Will having too many credit cards wreck your credit score? The answer is a resounding NO if managed properly, since it's ultimately your payment history that carries the weight. So as long as you make your payments on time every month, there's nothing to worry about and they can be a useful financial tool indeed.
Notwithstanding the great rewards and benefits that these pieces of plastic are able to offer, it’s also important to do your researching and comparisons properly, so that you’re ready to use credit responsibly. Here’s hoping these hacks are able to set you on the right path!