When you’re building an emergency fund, most financial experts will recommend saving up at least enough to cover your living costs for three to six months. This money can function as your lifeline if you ever run into a financial emergency like an urgent home repair, a steep medical bill, or a disruption in your income. With a substantial emergency fund, you’ll be able to cover at least your basic needs without driving yourself into debt by taking out loans.
Some people, however, may not have the means to build up an emergency fund. If you’re living from paycheck to paycheck each month, chances are you won’t have much money left to set aside for a rainy day. In these cases, you may end up having to lean on your credit card when disaster strikes. And while credit cards aren’t usually meant to be a safety net in the event of an emergency, using them smartly can help you survive a crisis while keeping your accumulated debt low.
Here are a few helpful tips for using credit cards during emergencies:
Choose the Right Card
A good credit card Philippines residents can depend on in an emergency will have a low interest rate, which makes paying off debt more manageable in the long run. If you must use credit for an emergency and have several cards in your possession, it goes without saying that you should always use the one with the lowest interest rate to pay for expenses. And if you don’t yet have a credit card, apply for the card with the lowest annual percentage rate (APR) that you qualify for.
A 0% APR credit card is ideal for emergencies, but you’ll want to make sure you have a good credit score before you apply for one. Your chances of getting an approval will be best if you have a credit score over 700.
If you’re lucky enough to have a 0% APR card, do note that these credit cards only work for a limited period of time. Some may only have a 0% APR for around six months, while others may last longer. Do your best to pay off your debts within the allotted time period to avoid interest charges. And if you can’t, just know that your card will start earning interest on the first day of the introductory period and plan accordingly.
Use Any Rewards You’ve Accumulated
Rewards cards with unused points can come in handy if you find yourself in a financial bind. For instance, you can redeem cash rebates with your accumulated points and use these to pay off your monthly bills. Depending on your provider, you may also be able to redeem your rewards points with participating merchants, which can make covering your basic living expenses easier. If you can spend your points at a supermarket or department store, for example, you may be able to minimize your expenses on essentials like food and clothing.
Ask Your Provider for Help
Contrary to popular belief, banks and other financial institutions will generally be willing to work with you to resolve a financial emergency. You’ll find them especially amenable to helping you out if you inform them of your circumstances in advance, rather than waiting until you’re severely behind on your bills before speaking up. Your credit card provider may be willing to temporarily lower your APR or delay your payment requirements until you can get back on your feet financially.
Using your credit card wisely and always paying your bills on time outside of emergency situations will pay off when you do encounter financial hardship. The better your relationship with your provider is, the more likely it is that they’ll agree to lower your interest rate and any other terms you request.
Create a Plan for Paying Off Debt
As soon as you know that you’re about to rack up a lot of unavoidable credit card debt, it’s best to immediately draw up a debt repayment plan. As long as you have a source of steady income, you should be able to set up a plan for tackling debt that works well for your current financial situation.
If you’ve accumulated debt on only one card, make paying off this debt a major financial priority. Make at least the minimum payment each month, but paying more than that when you can will always be better. It’s also worthwhile to review your monthly budget and see what expenses you can cut back on to help settle your debt faster.
You may also find your debts more manageable if you define a concrete timeframe to work within. For example, if you had to charge PHP 30,000 and you wanted to pay it off in 6 months, you’d need to set aside PHP 5,000 a month. While looking at the total amount might be overwhelming, looking at the smaller monthly amount may help make the debt feel a lot more manageable.
As a general rule, your credit card should be one of your last resorts if you encounter a financial emergency. If you absolutely must use one, however, the above tips will enable you to manage debt efficiently and preserve your peace of mind.