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Managing cash flow with disciplined credit-card spending

Credit-card grace periods - the time from when you buy something to when you have to pay your credit-card bill - amount to an interest-free loan, as long as you pay off the full balance.

Here's a way to stretch those reprieves. It takes disciplined spending and attention, but it can give you two or more extra weeks each month before you have to pay the piper.

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Get two cards, one with a monthly bill sent on the 15th, the other with one sent on the 1st. (Many lenders will adjust your billing date, but you have to ask.) By juggling cards and grace periods, and by paying each card's bill in full every time, you can carry interest-free balances for longer than if you had just one card.

Always use the card whose bill was generated most recently. You shouldn't have to pay those charges for at least five weeks and maybe as many as seven weeks. (This is approximate. Grace periods vary. And card companies may change billing and due dates periodically so keep a careful eye on these deadlines. Check your account online to stay up to date.)

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If you had only one card that billed on the first of the month, and you charged something on the 30th, you would have to cover that item in as soon as three weeks.

The best way to improve cash flow, of course, is to stop buying stuff you don't need. Every household's No. 1 recession command is to reduce card balances that often carry interest charges of more than 20 percent. Using cash in stores instead of plastic can help do that.

Once you're in a position to pay off balances each month, an extra card with a different due date can stretch your dollar a little further.

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