When you make a credit card purchase, you do it with the understanding that you’ll repay that purchase either all at once or over time, depending on your credit card agreement. Each month, when you sit down to pay your bills, you have to decide the best amount to send your credit card issuer. Put some real thought into how much you're paying rather than come up with an arbitrary number.
Paying the Full Balance is the Best
Ideally, you should pay your balance in full every month and there are several benefits to doing it this way. First, you can take advantage of your credit card’s grace period and avoid paying interest on the balance. Second, you’re never plagued with credit card debt. Lastly, paying your balance in full leaves your credit limit open and available for new purchases.
When you don’t pay your balance in full every month, you’ll have a finance charge on your next billing statement. The longer it takes to pay off your balance, the more you’ll pay in interest.
The Minimum Payment is the Least You Should Pay
At the very least, you should pay the minimum on your credit cards every month. The minimum payment is necessary to avoid paying a late fee on the card and to avoid a late payment notice on your credit report. It’s a widespread myth that it’s ok to pay what you can, even if it’s less than the minimum payment, and that’s not true. You can’t just send a $10 payment to your creditor and expect them to understand that you’re having trouble this month. If you can’t pay the minimum, you should contact your credit card issuer and make other arrangements.
When You Can’t Pay in Full
In between the most (full balance) and least ideal (minimum) credit card payment amounts is the amount you can afford to pay toward your balance. Look at your income and expenses and decide how much you can put toward your balance. Anything above the minimum will help reduce your balance, the more the better.
When You’re Paying Off Debt
When you’re paying off several credit cards at one time, you can combine these strategies by paying as much as you can on one credit card and paying the minimum on all the other credit cards. This is the most effective way to get rid of your credit card debt. You’ll eliminate your balances one at a time, but it’s better than paying just a little toward your debts each month and much better than paying just the minimum on all your accounts.
You can also use a credit card repayment calculator to help you decide what credit card payment you need to make to pay off your debt. Most calculators will show you a monthly payment schedule based on either the total payment you can afford to make or a deadline by which you want to be debt-free.
Think About Your Credit Score
While your credit card payment doesn't directly impacts your credit score, it can influence your score (and your recent payment amount is reported to the credit bureaus). Your credit card payment does influence your credit utilization, the ratio between your credit card balance and your credit limit, a factor that significantly influences your credit score. The best credit scores belong to consumers with the lowest credit utilization, typically below 30% utilization.
As you decide what credit card payment to make, think about how much is necessary to bring your credit card balance below 30% of the credit limit.
Here’s the rule of thumb for deciding your credit card payment: pay the full balance or as much of the balance as you can afford. If you’re trying to pay off several credit cards, pay as much as you can toward one credit card and the minimum on all the others. But, if you’re struggling and can’t afford to pay much, make at least the minimum.