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That’s a good question. Here are five suggestions for making the most of your credit these days.

  1. Shop around for better terms with banks. Checking account fees are rising and are being charged by more banks to more customers. Banks that still offer free checking may require higher minimums on deposit or the frequent use of debit cards to avoid fees. Look for banks that offer better terms.
  2. Avoid adjustable-rate debt. Interest rates will likely increase over the next few years. All adjustable-rate loans, including credit cards and mortgages, will become treacherous if that happens, and should be avoided. On the other hand, if you have a low-rate mortgage or home-equity loan, don’t hurry to pay it off.
  3. Don’t panic if your home’s value goes “under water.” If you bought your home to live in for the long term, the value that matters most is its “use value”—not its market value. Therefore, if the price you paid was worth it for you, it was a good purchase and still is even if the home’s market value has fallen. If you enjoy living in the house, you shouldn’t default on the mortgage and ruin your credit rating.
  4. Take the kids or grandkids with you to a restaurant where they eat free. There are a number of restaurants that have “kids eat free” programs. Two helpful sits are Coupon Divas and Mr. Free Stuff. Be sure to call first to make sure the deal is still being offered.
  5. Be careful if you call your credit card company for an interest rate reduction. In the past, this was almost a slam dunk strategy for lowering interest rates. Now, many people are finding that the call actually leads to lower credit limits or a closed account. Before you call, ask yourself if you really deserve a lower rate. If the answer is no, leave the phone on the hook.
Dan Busby is a certified public accountant, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), and the author of the Zondervan Clergy Tax & Financial Guide.