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Conquer Fear of Credit Cards Now, Reap Benefits Later

Young adults who are afraid of credit cards in the long shadow of the recession usually think only of the risks, rather than the role they play in establishing credit, consumer credit experts say. That can hold them back from building the credit history they’ll need later on if they want to finance a car or get a mortgage.

Data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau show that about half of people ages 18 to 34 had at least one credit card in 2015, compared with 60% to 80% for those 35 and older. Last year, an analysis of Federal Reserve data by The New York Times found that just over a third of these young adults, or millennials, had credit card balances, an indicator of whether people are using their cards.

Credit card issuers in the past marketed extensively to young people, particularly college students, which helped them establish a credit history. That ended with a federal law in 2009 that made it harder for people under 21 to obtain a credit card. Lingering memories of the economic downturn left younger adults wary of credit cards even when they became eligible.

“One of the reasons why millennials are afraid of credit cards is because many of them watched their parents get in trouble during the Great Recession,” says Beverly Harzog, author of several books on credit cards, consumer credit and managing debt, including “The Debt Escape Plan.”

“Fear partly comes from the unknown, from not having used a credit card,” says Mikel Van Cleve, personal finance advice director for financial services firm USAA.

Here are five common questions and answers that can help credit newcomers understand credit cards and conquer their fears.

Why get a credit card at all

Using a credit card is the fastest and simplest way to build a credit history. And you don’t have to go into debt to do it. Use the card to buy only what you can afford — what you would otherwise pay for with cash — and then pay off the balance in full every month.

“Don’t think about debt. Think of a credit card as a tool to build credit,” Harzog says. “You want to build a credit history because it will help you throughout your life.”

Your credit score is a gauge of how much you can be trusted to borrow money: Do you spend within your means? Repay the money on time? Using a credit card responsibly demonstrates your ability to meet your financial obligations and builds your score. A good credit score can make the difference between loan approval and rejection, and it will get you better interest rates.

Aren’t there risks?

Just as using credit cards responsibly can build your credit, using them irresponsibly can damage it. Piling up debt, maxing out the card, paying late or missing payments hurts your score. Fear of these things is what drives fear of credit cards, but these things don’t have to happen: Carrying a credit card doesn’t mean going into debt or buying things you can’t afford.

If you have no credit, can you get a card?

Newcomers to credit have a couple of options. One is a secured credit card. With these, you make a refundable security deposit — say, $200 or $500 — and this becomes your credit line.

“Each month, you make a payment that gets reported to the credit bureaus,” Van Cleve says. In time, with responsible use, you’ll be able to move up to a regular, unsecured card that offers rewards or other benefits.

Another way to get started is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card, such as a parent’s. But not all issuers report authorized-user activity. “As long as the history is being reported, you’ll get credit for it,” Harzog says.

How much will interest cost me?

Credit card interest rates are called APRs, or annual percentage rates. The bad news: Your first card is likely to have a high APR. The good news: “If you’re paying your balance in full, you won’t have to worry about your APR,” Harzog says.

Don’t credit cards have a lot of fees?

Most credit card fees are avoidable, including late fees and cash-advance fees. Many cards don’t charge an annual fee, so look for one of those if you’re anti-fee. Rewards cards often charge an annual fee, which can be worth paying if you get sufficient benefits back.

Avoid cards that charge monthly maintenance fees or that require an application or processing fee before your account is even open.

Ellen Cannon is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ellencannon.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

Buying Your First House: Starter Home or Forever Home?

If you’re a first-time home buyer, you may be wondering: Should you purchase a small starter home to get into the market now, knowing you may grow out of it in a few years? Or, should you stretch your budget — or spend more time saving — to get a “forever home” that will take care of your long-term needs?

Here are some factors to consider as you weigh whether to get a home best suited for the short term or the long haul.

Market conditions: Mortgage rates are historically low, but there’s no telling how long that will last. Also, many real estate markets nationwide are booming; consider whether to jump in before home prices get even higher, or whether they may weaken. • Where you want to live: Consider if you’d be OK living for a few years in the suburbs, where you might be able to find something more affordable, or if you’d rather try to snag a home in a different area where you want to live long-term• How much house you can afford: It ultimately comes down to how much money you have saved and how much you can afford to spend on a monthly mortgage payment. Use a home affordability calculator to see what’s within your price range.• What kind of house you want: For a starter home, you might go for an apartment, condo or townhouse in an up-and-coming area. If you’re thinking forever home, a single-family detached or a house with land to build an addition later could be a better fit — but it’ll be more expensive. • The costs of getting out early: If you do spring for a starter house now, and you end up getting married or having kids or needing to move quickly, you may face penalties, such as capital gains tax

Those are some of the big-picture considerations. Let’s dive into the details on what else you need to think about.

Starter home considerations

Your lifestyle: Do you want to be in the middle of a big city, or are you fine with the ’burbs if that means you can own a home? If you want to live centrally, where real estate is most expensive, you’ll probably have to start small. Dana Bull, a real estate agent in Boston with Harborside Sotheby’s International Realty, remembers when she bought her first condo at 22, she could afford only one well outside of Boston, and she had some regret as she missed being in the city near her friends. Consider what you’re willing to sacrifice, both in terms of location and size.

Your future needs: Bull says many first-time home buyers assume they’ll be in a home much longer than they actually are. She says young, single people sometimes don’t realize how quickly life can change. A job switch, new relationship or new baby can alter what you need in a home.

Zachary Conway, a financial advisor with Conway Wealth Group LLC in Parsippany, New Jersey, adds that selling a house can be stressful — especially if you’re in the midst of major life changes such as having a baby.

So, if your life is full of flux and you think you would stay in your starter home for only 1 1/2 to three years, it may be less stressful to keep renting until you’re ready for something large enough to meet longer-term needs.

Capital gains taxes: If you set out to buy a starter home for the short term, be careful, Bull says. If you sell soon after moving in, you may owe capital gains tax on your profit from selling the home.

According to the IRS, individuals are excluded from paying taxes on $250,000 ($500,000 if married) of gain on a home sale as long as the house was used as your main residence during at least two of the five years before selling it. That means you may want to think carefully about buying a home you’ll grow out of in less than two years. Consult a tax professional to see how this could affect you.

Consider an exit strategy: If you’re considering going the starter home route, you should think through from the start how you’ll offload it when the time comes to move, Bull says. For instance you might buy a property that you could rent out to cover your mortgage, especially during times of economic uncertainty, she says. This helps ensure you can cover your mortgage payment if you need to move ASAP, or if the market is weak when you hope to sell but you don’t want to take a loss.

You should also carefully research the area in which you’re looking to buy, Conway says, and confirm “there’s enough resale potential to make sure that even in a market that’s heading downward, you still have a likelihood of being able to get out of where you are.”

Forever home considerations

Interest rates: Conway says that if you decide to wait so you can afford a forever home, there’s a chance interest rates could increase from their current historic lows. “You might be able to scrape together some additional funds in the next few years, but maybe at that point, we may be closer back to historical norms of interest rates, and your mortgage is more expensive,” Conway says. Nobody can predict what will happen, but it’s important to keep a pulse check on mortgage rates.

Hot markets: In many major cities such as Boston, property values are rising rapidly, Bull says. There’s also a lot of uncertainty as to whether home values will plateau or keep going up, leaving first-time home buyers wondering if they should give in to the “feeding frenzy,” she says. If you wait in hopes of saving for a larger home, it’s possible prices will rise faster than you can save, she says.

Your cash flow: Considering your lifestyle and life events is certainly important, “but really at the end of the day, it comes down to the math of do we have the cash flow,” Conway says.

If you want a forever home, you have to ask yourself whether you can afford the larger down payment, and whether your salary supports a higher monthly mortgage payment. Conway says it’s key to create a budget and to carefully track what you save and spend, and to be sure you can afford a more expensive home. Don’t assume your salary will be higher in a few years and go for a bigger mortgage, he says. And don’t forget to factor in higher ongoing expenses like property taxes and homeowners insurance.

» MORE: Calculate your monthly mortgage payment

Don’t stress too much

While making the decision between a starter home and forever home is a major move, Bull says don’t fret too much about making the wrong decision. Remember, she says, “there are always options — you can sell, you can rent, you can put yourself in a position where you can go out and buy another house.”

Conway adds that if you decide you’re not ready to buy for a while, that’s OK too, and you shouldn’t look at rent as throwing away money. “I wouldn’t jump into buying something for the sake of the fact that’s what we were told we should do,” he says. “It really comes down to what you’re comfortable with from a cash flow standpoint and what you want in your life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with paying rent.”

Emily Starbuck Crone is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: emily.crone@nerdwallet.com.

Why Your Friend Has a Better Credit Score Than You

Tia Chambers checked her credit score for the first time at age 23, after watching a friend check his, she says.

“I said, ‘Oh boy, my credit score has to be better than that,’” says Chambers, now 31, who blogged about her experience on her website, Financially Fit and Fabulous. To her surprise, it was worse. “My credit score was a lot lower than I expected. It was actually in the mid- to high 500s.”

She felt deflated. “I thought, ‘Man, I pay my bills on time. Why isn’t my credit score higher?'”

If you’re new to credit, you might wonder the same thing. Why does your credit score pale in comparison to your friend’s, even though you checked it on the same website, using the same scoring model?

“For someone who has a low credit score, there is always — and I mean always — a logical explanation for why that score is the way it is,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who formerly worked for credit-scoring company FICO and credit bureau Equifax. “It’s never random. It’s never anecdotal.”

These factors might be working more in your friend’s favor than in yours.

Consistent record of on-time payments

You and your friend might be in the habit of paying bills on time, but even one forgotten payment can drag down a credit score.

That’s part of what happened to Chambers, of Indianapolis. When she checked her credit report, she says, she discovered a forgotten, unpaid medical bill in collections. She paid it, negotiated to get the collections account removed from her credit report and noticed a slight lift in her score afterward, she says.

Payment history is a key factor for both FICO and VantageScore Solutions, the two major credit-scoring companies in the United States. It accounts for 35% of your FICO score, and VantageScore characterizes it as “extremely influential.” Payments more than 30 days late are reported to the credit bureaus and, like other negative marks, can stay on your credit report for seven years.

“[A negative mark] is much easier to avoid in the first place, rather than trying to get it off after it already has happened,” Ulzheimer says. If you negotiate with a collections agency to get a collections account removed from your credit report, get that promise in writing.

Less debt

If you never talk to your friends about money, you might not realize that their financial situations are different from yours. Becky with the good credit score might have less debt than you.

Using a smaller percentage of your credit card’s available limit and paying down student loans can boost your credit. The amount you owe accounts for 30% of your FICO score. For VantageScore, percentage of credit used is a “highly influential” factor, and total debt is “moderately influential.”

Chambers says she worked second jobs and trimmed spending to pay down her high credit card balance and thousands owed to her college.

“I saw at least 100 points improvement by the time I paid off that debt,” she says.

Longer credit history or varied account mix

Your age, gender, sexual orientation, race, location, religion and political views don’t affect your credit score. Having a high income won’t goose your score, either.

So what else counts? The length of your credit history, for starters. This makes up 15% of your FICO score and is “highly influential” for VantageScore. Your friend may have started using credit earlier than you did.

Applying for new accounts can also ding your credit, but generally only a little. Maintaining a mix of accounts — for example, carrying both loans and credit cards — can help.

Steps to improve your credit

To see what’s hurting your scores, pull your credit reports for free from AnnualCreditReport.com, a federally authorized website. Then, take these steps:

  • Dispute inaccuracies. Report errors on your credit reports to the corresponding credit bureaus.
  • Pay down debt. In particular, reducing high balances on credit cards can boost credit significantly.
  • Piggyback. If your parents have excellent credit, ask them to add you as an authorized user on a credit card.
  • Open a credit card and use it responsibly. Start with a student card or a secured card, one that requires cash collateral. Those under 21 may need a co-signer.

Finally, don’t pay too much attention to what others are doing. Credit scores vary because people’s financial paths vary. “Everyone’s journey is different,” Chambers says.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7. This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Are You Cut Out for a Work-From-Home Job?

Telecommuting has become synonymous with convenience, flexible schedules and, yes, pajamas. You don’t have to commute, spend money on transportation or dress up. But despite the appeal and laid-back reputation, there are challenges.

“Not everybody is cut out for working from home,” says Jack Aiello, a psychology professor at Rutgers University.

From your work style to your work space, here’s what to consider before working from home.

Your personality

Certain personalities make effective at-home employees.

“Above all else, two things are required to be a successful work-at-homer: the ability to be a self-directed, focused planner and a healthy dose of introversion,” Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor emeritus at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, said in an email.

Yarrow says extroverted workers prefer more person-to-person contact than many at-home jobs provide.

Telecommuters interact less with co-workers than their workplace counterparts. After all, you can’t chat at the water cooler on your break or stop by a colleague’s desk on the way to lunch. That solitude can be hard for those who are sociable, Aiello says.

But don’t count yourselves out, social butterflies. Yarrow says personalities aren’t black and white. The “mildly extroverted” can make telecommuting work if they have an after-work social life, for instance. Renting a co-working space can also provide a social outlet for remote employees.

Your environment

If you live with other people, Aiello says, it’s essential to have a separate space where you won’t be interrupted. You need at least a door that closes you off from the rest of the house.

Be realistic about potential distractions. “Some people can’t help but go on eBay,” Aiello says. “Some people can’t help themselves from playing computer games. There are all kinds of things that get in the way when they don’t have someone over their shoulder.”

And while society may paint a picture of at-home workers on the couch binge-watching Netflix, some telecommuters have a tendency to work too much because they never leave their work environment. Many check their email at night, Aiello says.

Remedy this with boundaries, says Cassidy Solis, senior adviser for workplace flexibility with the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade association. Solis, a telecommuter herself, sets expectations; she won’t respond to emails outside regular working hours unless there’s a pressing deadline.

Your employer

Finally, your employer and supervisor will have a lot to do with your success at home.

IBM made news in May when it called telecommuters back to the workplace. As companies re-evaluate telecommuting, so should employees.

Ask about whether you’ll be included in meetings and how frequently you’ll get feedback from management. Teleconferencing and regular check-ins can help alleviate feelings of isolation by fostering a team environment, Aiello says.

You’ll want to discuss your schedule as well. You may work more efficiently in a position that allows for time at home as well as in the office.

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found that employees who spend at least some of their time working remotely have higher engagement than employees who never work remotely. The magic formula for engagement happens when employees spend 60 percent to 80 percent of their time working off-site, the report found.

Solis says it’s important to build in time for face-to-face contact. “I think it’s good to show your face,” she says. “It’s good to see your co-workers. It’s good to feel connected. It’s good to feel part of a community of work.”

It’ll also keep you in the eye of leadership, she adds.

Will it work?

If you fit the criteria and want to explore telecommuting, Solis recommends checking your company’s existing policies, drafting a proposal and starting with a trial period.

Even if you don’t check every box on the ideal-telecommuter checklist, working from home could still work for you.

“Most people, with the right mindset, can actually enjoy … not having to put that suit on for the day or do that commute,” Aiello says.

If not, there’s always the office.

Email staff writer Courtney Jespersen: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

This article was written by NerdWallet and first published by The Associated Press.

‘Gen Z’ Off to Strong Start With Credit, Analysis Shows

The oldest members of “Generation Z” have barely crossed the threshold into legal adulthood, but they’re already demonstrating financial prowess, according to an analysis released this week by the Experian credit reporting bureau. In fact, Experian reports that 18 to 20 year olds are more likely to pay off their balances each month than younger millennials, those ages 21 to 27.

Of course, members of Gen Z have also had less time to make money mistakes and incur obligations. “They don’t have as much debt yet,” says Kelley Motley, director of analytics at Experian. Many still live with their parents and don’t yet have a mortgage or children to support. That might help explain why they’re good at staying on top of monthly payments.

Many members of Gen Z also have impressive credit scores: 37% already have at least a “prime” score, which Experian defines as 661 or better. On average, they have a slightly higher credit score than young millennials. Prime scores typically qualify borrowers for lower interest rates on loans.

The data is based on consumers ages 18 to 20 who have credit files, meaning their name is on a student loan, credit card, auto loan, mortgage, or other type of credit account that has been reported to Experian. In many cases, 18 to 20 year olds might have opened the account jointly with someone else, such as a parent.

Experian’s findings offer lessons from Generation Z for millennials and others:

Pay in full every month

Paying your credit card balance on time and in full each month keeps you out of debt and can save you hundreds of dollars per year in interest and fees. Two in three members of Gen Z who have credit cards pay them off in full each month, compared with fewer than half of young millennials.

Build a strong credit history

Members of Gen Z are most likely to have a credit file because of student loans, followed by auto loans and credit cards. By making regular payments on these accounts, they’re building a solid credit history. “Those decisions they make today are going to be important for their future credit behavior and access to lower rates,” Motley says.

Use online tools

“They are very savvy. They have the internet. Boomers and Gen X didn’t have that available,” Motley says. As a result, members of Gen Z have more resources to learn the basics of responsible credit use — or at least they know where to look.

Gen Z might be young, but their baby steps into the world of credit look firm.

Kimberly Palmer is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: kpalmer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KimberlyPalmer.

5 Ways Marriage Affects Your Student Loans

Marriage legally binds you to your spouse — but that doesn’t mean saying “I do” to another set of student loans. Each of you remains responsible for loans you took out before your wedding. But marriage can affect your loan payments, loan-related tax breaks and ability to pursue other financial goals. Here’s how.

1. Your monthly payment could increase

Federal loan borrowers can enroll in one of four income-driven plans to lower their monthly payments. One, the Revised Pay As You Earn plan, determines married borrowers’ payments based on their combined adjusted gross income and loan debt, no matter how they file taxes. This usually means a higher monthly payment.

But married Pay As You Earn, Income-Based Repayment and Income-Contingent Repayment enrollees who choose the tax status “married filing separately” pay based on their individual incomes. Filing separately, though, means missing out on tax breaks joint filers receive.

“We run both scenarios just to see what the tax liability will be for both of them, and I have yet to find a situation that ‘married filing separately’ is better,” says Ara Oghoorian, a financial planner and owner of ACap Asset Management in Encino, California. Ask your tax preparer to check your tax bill for both options.

2. You could lose the student loan interest deduction

The student loan interest deduction lets you deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest paid in the previous tax year from your taxable income. But if you and your spouse together earn more than $160,000, you’ll lose the deduction. You can’t claim it at all if you file separately.

3. Your spouse’s payments could affect your finances

If you co-sign your spouse’s private student loan, you’re legally responsible for repaying it if he or she can’t. The loan will also appear on both of your credit reports, where it could impact your ability to take on new credit or debt, such as a mortgage.

And if your spouse takes out a student loan during your marriage and then defaults, creditors in some states can go after both of your wages and assets — or, if you file jointly, your tax refund.

4.Your spouse may chip in on payments

If you and your partner decide to help each other repay your loans, consider creating a written agreement outlining the terms. It’s not an official document unless you have it drawn up by a lawyer, but it could help you avoid arguments in the future, especially in case of a divorce if one spouse depends on the other for financial help.

But remember: “The other spouse may agree to pay on the loans of his or her spouse, but the federal government doesn’t care about that because the loans remain only in the borrower’s name,” says Adam Minsky, a Boston-based lawyer specializing in student loans.

5. You may be responsible for debt after divorce

Debt you bring into a marriage typically remains your own, but loans taken out while married can be subject to state property rules in divorce. And if one spouse co-signs the other’s private student loan, he or she is legally bound to the loan until obtaining a co-signer release from the lender.

To avoid post-divorce legal squabbles over student debt, couples can create a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. But these agreements have limitations.

“Too often people think it will get them out of paying the debt and it’s not going to do that,” Minsky says. “But if the couple is concerned about a worst-case scenario and have agreed to do something in private that differs from the student loan agreement, then putting that in writing would be possibly really important down the line.”

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.

How to Ensure Your Gift Cards Don’t Go to Waste

Gift cards have a funny way of sinking to the bottom of your purse or hiding beneath a mountain of papers in your cluttered junk drawer. It’s like they’re begging not to be used. But leaving them to collect dust is a missed opportunity.

Here’s how to avoid squandering your gift cards.

Use them sooner rather than later

By law, money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased or from the last date money was added onto the card, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Many cards won’t have an expiration date, but check the fine print so you don’t hang onto yours for too long. Expiration dates must be clearly disclosed on the card. When in doubt, use it up.

Look into alternatives

If you’re not so hot about the gift card you received as a gift, explore other options. You can use some gift cards at more than one retailer, so you may find one that better suits your taste. For instance, you can redeem a Gap gift card at other Gap Inc. brands such as Banana Republic and Old Navy.

Another option is to sell your card for cash or swap it for a card you like better at online exchange marketplaces like Gift Card Granny and CardCash. You’ll generally get only a fraction of the value back — not the full amount that’s currently on the card. But it might be worthwhile if you have no plans to use the original card.

Watch out for bankruptcies

Finally, stay on top of retail news, especially in light of brick-and-mortar store closures. Shelley Hunter, the gift card expert for GiftCards.com, says those cards become vulnerable once a store files for bankruptcy.

Hunter explains that stores in risk of closing frequently stop accepting gift cards after a certain date, and customers don’t always get the memo. “Where that gets confusing for consumers is oftentimes the stores are still open,” she says.

So how do you know when your retail gift cards are in trouble? If you’ve had one sitting around for a while, check the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Gift Card Watchlist for 2017 at GiftCards.com. Here you’ll find a list of deadlines to use up gift cards at stores that have filed for bankruptcy and links to file a claim for stores that closed before you got a chance to redeem your card.

Gift cards are one of the most convenient presents to give. Follow these tips, and they don’t have to be complicated to receive.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

 

 

How to Assess Your Credit Card Needs After Divorce

Of all the things that need your attention after a separation or divorce, credit cards are probably low on your list. But making the right moves early on can set you up for a smooth return to managing credit as a single person.

In a recent survey by the Experian credit reporting firm, 50% of divorced people surveyed said their former spouse ran up credit card debts on joint accounts, and 59% said finances played a role in their divorce.

To get started on the road to financial recovery, you need to get a handle on the accounts you have and evaluate your credit card needs.

Don’t worry — we’ll walk you through the process.

How many accounts do you have?

Even if financial infidelity — dishonesty in the handling of joint money — was not a factor in the breakup, it’s still a good idea to be aware of all the credit card accounts with your name on them. You can request a credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year for free. You can also sign up to get a free credit score from NerdWallet.

Go over those reports carefully. They’ll show a complete list of your credit cards and loans, along with each account’s status. The account balances shown on the credit report may be a little out of date. To get current balances, you may need to log in to the online accounts or call the credit card issuers.

Once you know what’s there, work with your ex to figure out who will be responsible for which accounts.

Who keeps the existing credit cards?

The impulse may be to close all the shared credit card accounts and start from scratch, but consider the implications before cutting up the plastic.

The average age of your credit card accounts is part of how your credit scores are calculated. Older accounts, especially if they’re in good standing, are valuable for boosting the average age of accounts.

So consider removing one person from each account and letting the other keep it open. The easiest way to do this is for the primary account holder to keep the account and revoke the other person’s authorized user status. Even if it’s a joint account, the issuer may still be willing to remove one of the account holders.

When removing the former spouse from a credit card account, ask the issuer to change the account number at the same time. That way, the existing account stays open, but even the sneakiest of exes won’t be able to use the old account numbers to make purchases.

How will spending change after divorce?

Your budget will probably change as much as your living room decor once you’re on your own. For example, you may spend less on fuel now that your ex’s gas guzzler is parked across town instead of in your driveway.

Once you’ve removed yourself from some joint cards and removed your spouse from others, track your spending for a few months. That will give you an idea of what kind of credit cards will best suit your needs. You may be just fine with the cards you have, or you may want to add a new one.

Here are a few cards that may work well for the new you:

  • If you spend a lot on groceries and gas: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express pays 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in spending at U.S. grocery stores each year and an unlimited 3% back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores. Terms apply.
  • If you love to travel: The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is a flexible travel rewards card that allows you to redeem miles on any airline. Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel. The card has an annual fee of $0.
  • If you have a credit card balance to pay off: The Chase Slate® doesn’t charge a fee to transfer your balance within the first 60 days, as long as you’re not transferring a balance from another Chase card. It offers an introductory annual percentage rate of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.74% - 24.49% Variable APR.
  • If you don’t carry a balance: The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer pays an unlimited 1% back on every purchase and another 1% back when you pay those purchases off. It has an annual fee of $0.

» MORE: Use our credit card tool to find the best card for you.

How many credit cards is too many?

We generally recommend that people shoot for three to five cards to maximize rewards and keep their credit score healthy. But if it’s been a while since you were in charge of managing the household finances, it might be better to stick with just one card. That way, you’re less likely to forget to make a payment, something that can deal a heavy blow to your credit score.

If you do have older accounts that you want to keep open to help your credit score, that’s a great plan, especially if those cards don’t have an annual fee. If it’s expensive to keep the accounts open, though, it may be better to close them and use the money saved for something more worthwhile.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.

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