A credit card can help you to purchase dire necessities, even if you don’t have the cash on hand. But you need to be responsible about it. Seek out a lower interest rate, use rewards if you've got 'em, and keep making your monthly payments to avoid spiraling credit card debt.

In an ideal world, you’d always be able to pay off your credit card bill in full every time your next due date rolls around.

But we know that sometimes the world isn’t ideal. And with high inflation still kicking at our budgets and rumors of a recession (and a possible spike in unemployment) on the horizon, you may be more tempted than ever to turn to your credit card.

We get it. Finances are tight right now. And many of us don’t have emergency funds. So, while we won’t tell you not to use your credit card if you’re stuck, we will tell you there are ways to do it responsibly.

Here’s how.

Use Your Credit Card With the Lowest Interest Rate First

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Credit cards make their money by charging you interest. And even though you can’t escape interest rates entirely, you can mitigate the damage to your budget.

Firstly, if you have multiple credit cards, check which one offers the lowest interest rate. Use that one. Sure, it might mean losing out on some perks that the higher interest card offers, like travel rewards, but if funds are tight, you’re probably not planning for a vacation right now anyways.

Alternately, consider switching your credit card to one with an introductory 0% APR promotion. That’ll buy you some time — just keep in mind that once the intro offer period is over, the rate could jump to an eye-popping level. Make sure you know in advance what you’re signing up for.

Also, make sure you can take a temporary hit on your credit score. No need to get yourself into worse financial trouble if your score can’t take it. 

Read more: Best 0% APR Credit Cards

Ask Your Credit Card Company for a Lower Interest Rate

As surprising as that may sound, it is possible to ask your credit card company for a helping hand. 

Credit card companies are known to offer lower interest rates and waive fees when their cardholders are in financial distress. Of course, there’s no guarantee that your credit card company will grant your request for help. But it is definitely worth a shot.

Simply call the customer service line of your credit card company. Start the conversation by providing information about how long you’ve been a customer of the company. Then ask for assistance. In some cases, it might be that easy. But more likely, you’ll have to take your request up the chain of supervisors. 

Be flexible with your ask for either a lower interest rate or waived fees. You might be surprised by what the credit card company is willing to offer you. This is especially true if you are a long-term customer with a track record of making on-time payments. 

If Possible, Continue Making On-Time Payments

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You might not be able to pay off your balance in full each month. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t make on-time payments. If at all possible, try to make the minimum monthly payment on time each and every month. 

Although sticking to just the minimum monthly payment will prolong paying off your credit card debt, it’ll at least help keep your credit relatively intact. That’s because your payment history makes up 35% of your credit score. Making that minimum payment is critically important to your credit health.

Read more: How Credit Works: Understand The Credit History Reporting System

Use Any Rewards You Have

If you have any rewards available through your credit card, now is the time to use them.

Many credit cards offer statement credits or gift cards to popular stores as rewards. Although it would be nice to save these points for greater value such as flights or free hotel stays, you should take advantage of the slight cushion these rewards can provide in a difficult financial situation. 

Personally, I usually allow my rewards to accumulate for a big purchase of some kind or another. But in an emergency, those rewards points could save the day. Take a minute to jump on your credit card portal. If you find a cache of points, use what you have available if absolutely necessary. 

Read more: Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Stick to Your Needs

Although this probably goes without saying, you should only use a credit card to cover the bare essentials during economic hardship. The fewer charges you can put on your card, the easier (and faster) it will be to pay off your debt.

The first reason to stick to the bare essentials is that fewer charges preserve your ability to extend the use of your credit as necessary. Depending on your credit limit, you could extend this reserve for weeks or months. 

Beyond the preservation of spending power, limiting your spending will create a smaller hole to climb out of when sunny skies return. 

Make a Plan to Get Out of Debt

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Speaking of climbing out of that hole, you should start making a plan to get out of credit card debt now. Without a plan, it can be incredibly easy to slide into a mountain of debt that’s simply too big for your finances. But if you tread carefully, you can keep the end goal of paying off this high-interest debt in mind. 

Although you are leaning on your credit card now, you should be brainstorming ways to pay it all back. That might include selling off big-ticket items around your house, permanently downsizing all of your expenses, or choosing to pursue a more lucrative career. 

Read more: How to Get Out of Debt in One Year

If You Can Find an Alternative to Credit Cards, You Should

Even if you use a 0% APR credit card to cover emergency expenses, there’s no surefire way to eliminate the potential of you paying the high-interest debt. Unless of course, you pay off your balance in full before the 0% introductory period ends.

That said, it is incredibly important to consider all of your other options before tapping into the available credit you have. If you are at the end of your financial rope, these other avenues could provide the reprieve you’ve been hoping for.

Ask a Family Member for Help

If you have a family member or friend that you can rely on, consider asking them for help. Of course, their own finances may or may not allow them to help you out. But reaching out for assistance could help you avoid unwelcome interest charges. 

Consider Other Loans

Personal loans and home equity loans, for instance, can offer single-digit interest rates if you have excellent credit. Plus, they offer a set repayment term that lets you know exactly when you’ll be finished paying off the debt.

Read more: Best Personal Loans: Compare Loans for Any Credit

Avoid Payday Loans

A couple of loans to avoid altogether include payday loans and auto title loans. Both of these loans typically charge triple-digit interest rates. Plus, you’ll generally only have two to four weeks before the loan comes due.

Read more: What Is a Payday Loan and Why Is It a REALLY Bad Idea to Get One?

Consider a Side Hustle

Although a side hustle is likely not the silver bullet to solve your cash flow issues, the right side hustle could provide an influx of extra cash when you need it most. 

The good news is there are plenty of side hustles out there with a low barrier to entry. Here are some.

Summary

If used responsibly, a credit card can help you cover unanticipated expenses. But it’s rarely a good idea to bank on it. Due to high interest rates and the lack of a set repayment schedule, putting emergency expenses on a credit card could end up crippling you financially.

Explore all other options to finance your emergency expenses rather than a credit card. As a last resort, if you must use a credit card, make sure to use one with the lowest interest rate, or better yet, pay your balance off in full to avoid paying interest.

Featured image: Doucefleur/Shutterstock.com

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About the author

Total Articles: 60
Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer covering retirement, investing, debt, savings, credit cards, mortgages, and student loans. Additionally, she is the founder of Adventurous Adulting, a personal finance blog dedicated to helping readers tackle their money and take control of the adventure of life. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.