How veterinarians can avoid losing the credit card game


Get over your hangups and start getting ahead of your debt with these dos and donts.

You've heard it before: Credit card debt equals bad debt. However, there can be an upside to keeping a choice card or two in your wallet. As a veterinarian earning an average salary-if you have a sustainable monthly budget in order and are getting used to living on less-you are in a prime position to win the credit card game for good.

The key to working this game to your advantage lies in this phrase: if you have a sustainable monthly budget in order. If you're in practice, you're doing pretty darn well in terms of job security, and you're receiving relatively predictable income per pay period compared with the U.S. population as a whole. What this means is that you have the “luxury” of being able to reliably pay off credit cards before they become due. Got it? Great, let's get started.

Getty ImagesDO start racking up points, miles or whatever rewards you decide to pursue. There are some good options out there, but beware-many of the better rewards cards charge a yearly fee. That 60 bucks or so a year is definitely worth it if you accumulate enough rewards to buy the luxury item you wanted but couldn't budget for, send a little extra cash to your family or go on your dream trip. Find the best card with the rewards that mean the most to you, then use it for every purchase you would make anyway.

DO NOT rack up a bunch of credit card debt for stuff you don't need that will cost you more than 19 percent interest while making minimum payments and hence become financially crippled for life.

DO pay the credit card company early every month, before the bill is due, before any interest is applied to the account, for things that you were going to purchase anyway and that fall within your budget. Voila, free money. This tactic amounted to a super-cheap trip to Europe for my wife and me last year, and I highly recommend it. Another huge plus with this method is that you will be establishing a good credit history. Which leads to my next point.

Veterinarians and credit card debt

Whether practice owners or associates, veterinarians are no strangers to credit card debt. Here's the breakdown, courtesy of the 2014 VPI-Veterinary Economics Financial Health Study.

DO NOT opt out of credit cards completely. Whether you like it or not (and I truly don't), you have to play the game if you plan on taking out a loan for a vehicle, home or practice one day. So use credit cards as tools to build credit. Of course, the credit card company still wins, so you need not feel bad for them. They took a piece from every vendor for every transaction. They also have countless indebted individuals who are more than paying for the little perks the company has to give you, thou master of the working-the-credit system.

DO realize (preferably before you start heating up all that plastic) that all of those little rewards and perks are just a little ante for a much bigger wager. Credit card companies are betting that at some point you-even you, perhaps the most educated and talented individual in your demographic-will eventually fall on some hard times and need that credit card. And this is where they get you! If something unexpected happens, if you find yourself in a position of negative fiscal balance (a good analogy for those of you who remember negative energy balance from animal physiology way back in undergrad), then it is time to cut up that card.

DO NOT allow yourself ever to be in a position where you need a credit card. Remember, you only took on the card because you wanted the points and the good credit. Can't pay them anymore? It's time to get rid of the card and rework your budget. The tables turn quickly when your cozy feelings about using the card to get free stuff lull you into pulling it out during a time when you can't pay it off before getting dinged with the interest. Of course you've read all of my other articles and have a nice emergency fund set aside, so you never need a credit card-right?

My best advice to avoid losing the credit game? Use the card to your advantage when you can and get rid of it when you foresee a situation when it may become a burden.

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