Keeping the wrong credit card at the top of your wallet is like being in a bad relationship: Youre stuck giving more than you get, making the most of the terrible terms and defending your choices to your family and friends. But it can be hard to make a change, even when your cards a flop.
Were all cognitively lazy, says Brad Klontz, a certified financial planner and associate professor of financial psychology at Creighton University. Our natural tendency is to stay exactly where we are.
Mental inertia can cause us to make irrational decisionsin all kinds of day-to-day dealings, with long-term costs in well-being. With credit cards, though, the costs areliteral. About1 in 5 cardholders have a card with fees and rewards that are not aligned with their spendinghabits, according to a recentstudy from J.D. Power. For many, sticking with thewrong credit card can be incredibly expensive.
Here are three big ways in which your brain snookers you into using the wrong credit card and what you can do about them.
1. The sunk-cost fallacy
What it is: The impulse to invest more resources time, money, energy into a situation becauseyouve already made an investment and you dont want it to go to waste.
How it tricks you: Suppose you can redeem yourcredit card miles only for flights with an airline you no longer fly with. Youve already paid the annual fee for the year, so you feel like you should keep using your card for all of your purchases, even though themilesare now semi-worthless.Intryingtoget your moneys worth, youre throwing good money after bad, because whether you continue to use the card or not, that fee has been paid, and youre not getting it back.Its a sunk cost.
[People] make up reasons to continue to stick with the thing theyve already invested in, says JoNell Strough, a professor of psychology at West Virginia University. They say, This card has a good reputation. Or There must be some reason I paid that $95 fee.
Younger people are especially susceptible to this kind of thinking, according to a 2008 study co-authored by Strough. Young adults have a bias toward imagining that sticking with a bad choice is going to turn out OK, she says.
How to overcome it: Make decisions based on the information you have now, Strough says.If youre looking for more flexible rewards, try a cash-back credit card. If youre planning on carrying a balance, go with a low-interest card.
Next, ask your issuer about converting your oldcard to a no-annual-fee version. Generally, making this switch wont hurt your credit score, and youll be able to hold onto your rewards for possible use later. But if downgrading isnt an option, redeem your miles as soon as you can, and cancel your account afterward. Dont pay to hold onto a card you dont use.
2. Status quo bias
What it is: A desireto keep things as they are; an unwillingness to rock the boat by making changes.
How it tricks you:Say you owe a lot of money on a card with a high 30% annual percentage rate. Youd really like to do something about that debt. Maybe youve even considered movingitto a0% balance transfer credit card to save on interest.But thanks to the status quo bias, you feel like youre stuck on a hamster wheel. Making a change seems like too much effort for too little return. So when the cashier reads your total, you smile, reach for that high-interest card again and try not to think aboutyour balances.
We put a premium on things that are easy for us, Klontz says.
This bias is closelyrelated to the endowment effect, or the tendency to value what you already havemore than what you dont have,he adds. You might prefer your credit card to other cards just because its in your wallet.
How to overcome it: Take a mental step back and considerthe pros and consof making a change and of not making a change.If youre dealing with high-interest debt, the benefits of switchingwill probably easilyoutweighthe cost.
Start with the easy part: Use a lower-interest card, debit card or cash for new purchases, instead of adding to your high-interest debt. Remember, whatever rewards you might be earning dont outweigh the interest your issuer charges.After that, try consolidating your high-interest debt on a 0% balance transfer APR card. If your credit is strong enough to get approved, the switch might save you hundreds of dollars in interest. Even if you dont qualify, its still a good idea to make paying down your high-interest debt a priority.
3. Regret aversion
What it is: The tendency to fear makinga mistake more than the consequences of inaction.
How it tricks you:Maybe youve heard that opening a new credit card can ding your credit temporarily, so youre worried about making a change. Or youre worried that youll apply for the wrong card. Meanwhile, your friends are asking why youre still using that crummy card you got in college in exchange for a free T-shirt.
You dont want to make the wrong move, Klontz says. And if you think of it biologically, evolutionarily, its making the wrong move that hurts us.
How to overcome it: Youre smart to consider potential pitfalls, but dont let your fears about what might happen stop you from making a switch. The downsides of a changemight not be as awful as you feared. And in some cases like when youre carrying a high-fee, high-interest, no-rewards credit card even though you have good credit almost any change would be for the better.
Opening credit cards can make your scores dip by a few points. But as long as youre not about to apply for a mortgage, it shouldnt be a game-changer. Closing a credit card is a bigger deal, but its usually more costly to keep paying an annual fee for a card you never use.Finally, if youre worried about choosing the wrong card,follow this guideto get it right.
Know when to run
Kenny Rogers once sang, You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.
If your current plastic isnt giving you the best deals, it might be time to walk away to a better card. Whenusing the wrong card is actually worsening your financial situation, though, its time to run. Dont payannual fees onunused cards or rack up large interest charges, especially ifyou cant afford them in the first place.
If youre feeling stuck, start by taking ahard look at the cards in your wallet. Compare them to the other cards on the market. Sort through your options. Then, do the rational thing.
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This article originally published at NerdWallet here