Credit cards: Is it better to manage them well or give them up?

It's hard to use them without encouraging credit card debt or overspending.

Damian Dovarganes/AP/File
A traveler uses a Delta SkyMiles credit card to buy an airline e-ticket at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., in this 2007 file photo. Stop using credit cards. It's too easy to go overboard, either with credit card debt or overspending.

Maybe you’ve heard someone say that they can “manage a credit card” and keep it under control. They go into a long explanation of how credit cards can benefit an individual with rewards, easy payments, and the building of a FICO score. Perhaps you believe this yourself!

I’d like to explore another viewpoint. What if credit cards really couldn’t be managed well? What if the so-called “benefits” of a credit card were merely illusions? What would happen if one rejected credit cards altogether?

Credit card offers are everywhere: School campuses, billboards, internet ads, television ads, our mailboxes, and on and on. Living in today’s world, it’s difficult to see how it is possible to handle money without incurring debt.

Waging war on credit cards starts with a solid conviction that you really can’t manage credit cards to produce a better financial future. Allow me to present three reasons why credit cards ultimately will be a curse in your life, not a blessing.

Reason 1: Using credit cards lowers your potential to raise your income.

Speaking from experience, I know that owning a credit card allowed me to trust in its ability to provide easy money rather than trust in my ability to produce an income on my own. I was working a minimum wage job part-time, and was completely satisfied where I was at.

Maybe you make more money than that and you’re currently using credit cards. Perhaps you don’t feel like the credit cards you own are holding you back from anything more. But trust me, just having the ability to use someone else’s money discourages you from improving your income.

Sure, maybe you pay off your credit cards in full each month, but remember that adhering to the idea of credit takes away some feeling of financial responsibility. Personal finance becomes much more personal when you force yourself not to rely on other people’s money.

Reason 2: Using credit cards to earn rewards promotes more spending.

3% Cash Back! Free Airline Miles! Free! Free! Free!

Free sells. Think about it for a second. The credit card companies are offering rewards for a reason. They know that rewards lure customers to spend more, maintain a balance, and ultimately pay more in interest.

Even for those who pay off their credit cards every month, you’re probably spending more by using the card. Cash is very difficult to spend when it is all you have designated for discretionary expenditures. Try the envelope system instead of your credit card! It’s more difficult to spend cash, isn’t it? There’s an emotional reaction that goes on when you lay down the Benjamin’s to make a purchase. You develop a sense of attachment to your hard-earned money, and it’s much harder to let it go.

Reason 3: Using credit cards sets you up to hold a balance and get charged interest and fees.

I’ve met too many people who “intend” to pay off their credit cards every month and “intend” to manage their credit cards well, but ultimately they end up paying the price in interest and fees. And that, friends, is exactly what the credit card companies were hoping for. Good intentions don’t always keep us from falling into a trap. Instead, we need to cut up the credit cards and get out of debt.

The last thing you want to do is pay interest to some corporate power. Right? Learn how to destroy your bad financial habits and stay free from credit cards.

Do you still think you can manage your credit cards well?

Not convinced yet? I encourage you to truly contemplate how getting rid of credit cards might benefit you. Remember, there is an entire industry out there whose sole purpose is to take your money by charging you interest and fees. Do you really think you can outsmart them? Maybe you can outsmart them – by shredding those credit cards!

Have you been living credit card-free? Would you ever go back? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

John Frainee is a personal finance writer at

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