When we think of retirement finances, what often comes to mind is living purely off your savings.
While the money in your 401(k), IRA or brokerage accounts may cover a majority of your retirement expenses, people often forget that using a credit card in retirement can also be beneficial. If you don't have a retirement credit card, here are some reasons to consider one and tips for how to use this financial tool wisely.
1. Use Your Card To Boost Your Credit Score
There are five main factors that affect your credit score:
Your payment history (35%)
Your current debt (30%)
The length of your credit history (15%)
Your credit mix, or the different types of credit you have (10%)
New credit accounts (10%)
Using a credit card responsibly, even in retirement, can help you maintain good credit or boost your score. Making payments on time every month can be really impactful since this accounts for 35% of your credit score. Though you might think you don't need to worry about your credit score in retirement, you may want to downsize and buy a smaller home, buy a new car or even take out a loan to start a new business — all of which require good credit. Getting a retirement credit card could strengthen your payment history and diversify your credit mix (if most of your credit is in the form of a mortgage, auto or personal loan), making you a more attractive borrower to a potential lender.
2. Expand Your Credit Access Before Retirement
If you think you may need a credit card in retirement, it's best to get a card before you retire.
Credit card issuers will look at your credit score, credit history and income when they decide whether to approve you. If you have employment income, it may be easier not only to get approved but also to get a higher credit limit. There's a big difference between a $5,000 and $20,000 credit limit. Your retirement income may be less than your employment income, so it's best to apply for a card well in advance of when you plan to retire.
3. Take Advantage of Rewards
Rewards are another benefit of using a retirement credit card.
Some credit card issuers offer travel rewards cards that allow you to earn travel points for your spending. Once these points accumulate, you can use them to pay for airline tickets, hotels, rental cars and other travel-related expenses. You also could sign up for a cash back credit card, which lets you earn cash rewards for a certain level of spending or for making purchases in certain categories like travel, dining or gas. For example, you could earn 2% cash back for every purchase, which would equal $2 in cash back for every $100 of spending. You can then take these cash rewards and use them for other purchases or transfer the money into your checking or savings account.
4. Gain More Financial Flexibility
When you pay cash for an item, the money is gone immediately, but when you use a credit card, you often enjoy more financial flexibility.
Credit cards come with a 30-day float, meaning you usually have 30 days to pay your bill. On your payment due date, you can either pay your balance partially or in full. Just keep in mind that if you only pay part of the balance, you'll have to pay interest every month until the balance is cleared. However, if you've signed up for a credit card that offers 0% APR or no interest for a year or more, then you'll have even more flexibility. You'll just need to pay off your balance in full before the interest period expires.
A 30-day float on a retirement credit card may be beneficial if you need to make a big purchase and would like to hold on to more cash.
5. Keep Your Card Open
Once you get a retirement credit card, it's best to keep the account open. Remember, your length of credit history accounts for 15% of your credit score, so closing accounts prematurely could hurt your score.
Even if you don't use the card that often, it's best to keep it open as a backup for emergency expenses — whether it's an unexpected home repair or medical bill. Just make sure to use your card from time to time, as your credit card issuer may close it if you go years without a single swipe. Consider using your card for ordering takeout or buying discretionary items like clothing. You could even put your newspaper or streaming service subscription on your retirement credit card, just to keep it active.
Using a Retirement Credit Card to Your Advantage
Credit cards come with several pros and cons, but if you use them responsibly, the financial advantages often outweigh the disadvantages.
A retirement credit card can increase your financial flexibility, allow you to earn travel and cash back rewards and help you maintain or boost your credit score — as long as you pay your bill on time. Being retired doesn't mean your retirement savings are the only part of your financial picture. Taking advantage of and wisely using other financial products, like credit cards, can help you maintain an enjoyable retirement lifestyle.