I’ve always hated debt. When I started college, I took out student loans only because I naively believed that I had no other option. I thought I’d be flipping burgers for the rest of my life if I didn’t use debt to finance my degree. But, while I racked up $75,000 of student loan debt during college and graduate school, I avoided all other forms of debt. I drove an old car and never had a car loan. I didn’t use a single credit card.
As I started chipping away at my student loan debt and thought about buying a home after my loans were paid off, I knew I had to do something to raise my credit score. I want to get the best mortgage rate possible when I purchase a home, so my credit score needs to be excellent. My credit score used to be great (thanks to my student loans), but the more loans I pay off, the more my score decreases.
Read More: How to Use Credit Cards Wisely
Still, I stubbornly resisted when anyone suggested that I get a credit card to raise my credit score. Massive debt takes an emotional toll on a person, and the idea of taking on another form of debt filled me with anxiety. But, objectively, I knew getting a credit card was a smart move financially.
I’m naturally a frugal person, so I had no reason to be concerned that I’d be tempted to overspend. I’m also hyper-organized, and there’s no rational reason why I should worry that I’d miss a payment. I went through every worst-case scenario in my mind and ran through 100 “what ifs.” My reasoning was purely emotional and had no basis in fact.
After years of hesitation, I finally bit the bullet and applied for my first credit card. I was approved for a card with a $150 sign-up bonus, consistent cash-back rewards and no annual fee. I immediately set up automatic withdrawals from my checking account so I could ensure that my balance would be paid off in full (and on time) every month. The entire process was surprisingly simple and hassle-free.
Check Out: Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit
Several months later, everything continues to run smoothly with my credit card. I’ve earned some cash back, I’ve raised my credit score significantly and I haven’t paid a dollar in interest. I’m not tempted to overspend and I only charge a small amount (usually gas) to my card each month.
I’ve learned a few key lessons from this experience. First of all, credit cards are not inherently evil — it’s how you use them that matters. For a spender, it might be hard to resist the temptation to overspend. On the other hand, someone who’s naturally frugal can use credit cards responsibly to build credit.
More on Credit: 30 Things You Need to Know to Build Credit
I’ve also learned that I need to worry less and make decisions that are based on facts instead of emotions. It’s easy to stick with what’s familiar, but sometimes I need to break out of my comfort zone and do things that make me uncomfortable. It pays off — literally!
More From Our Smart Money Squad
- Confession: Micromanaging My Finances Makes Me Feel in Control
- I Paid Off My Mortgage With a Credit Card — Here’s How
- Why My Wife Wouldn’t Marry Me Until My Student Loans Were Paid Off
- Watch: Money Matters: Cash vs. Credit
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