It’s better to pay off your credit card than to keep a balance. It's best to pay a credit card balance in full because credit card companies charge interest when you don’t pay your bill in full every month. Depending on your credit score, which dictates your credit card options, you can expect to pay an extra 9% to 25%+ on a balance that you keep for a year. For example, if you spent $100 on a card with a 15% purchase APR, you would owe $115 at the end of a year. A good APR is anything below 18%, as that’s roughly the average for new card offers. And even that’s not very low. Plus, most credit cards have a grace period, which means if you pay off your full balance every month before the due date, you won’t have to pay interest. But you lose the grace period if you don’t pay in full one month, and you’ll have to pay your entire balance for two consecutive billing cycles to get it back.
Some people think you need to carry a balance in order to see positive information on your credit report, but that’s simply not true. You don’t even need to use your credit card to build credit. Simply keeping an account open and in good standing is enough to affect your score for the better. Using your card regularly helps because having a credit utilization ratio between 1% and 10% is slightly better for your credit score than 0%. But credit utilization is based on your statement balance, and your monthly statement comes before the due date. So you can still pay your bill in full every month while doing right by your credit score. In fact, you should pay in full whenever possible.
Of course, it’s a different story if you’re using a 0% credit card. During the 0% APR introductory period, your balance – whether from a purchase or balance transfer – won’t accrue interest as long as you pay the minimum amount required by the due date each month. But if you don’t pay in full by the end of the 0% period, interest will come into play.
Here’s why it’s better to pay off your card than to carry a balance:
- If you pay your bill in full each month, you won’t be charged any interest. However, if you don’t pay in full one month, you’ll lose your grace period, and your purchases will begin accruing daily interest right away. You can get your grace period back by paying in full for two consecutive billing cycles.
- You don’t need to carry a balance for a credit card to help your credit score. What matters most for credit building is meeting due dates and keeping credit utilization below 30%.
- Paying your bills on time doesn’t require you to pay your balance in full each month. You just have to make the minimum payment listed on your statement. But if you take on too much debt, you may find it hard to make your monthly payments.
- Carrying a balance makes it harder to keep your credit utilization low, since your everyday spending will be added on top of the amount you’re carrying from month to month. It’s best to use less than 30% of the credit made available to you.
So, to recap, it’s better to pay off your credit card than to carry a balance because it builds your credit history just as well without subjecting you to interest charges. And remember, not carrying a balance does not mean you have to stop using your credit card. There is a middle ground. A balance will be listed on your credit card statement whenever you make purchases, but if you pay that amount by the due date, you won’t really be carrying a balance.
If you’ve got some credit card debt you’d like to get rid of, a 0% balance transfer credit card could help you save a lot of time and money. And if you’re trying to improve your credit, WalletHub’s free daily credit scores and credit analysis can will get you on track.