February 8, 2024

Revolving Credit: How It Works and Affects Your Credit Score

Using a debit card guarantees that you only spend the money you have. But without some form of credit, you’re limiting your flexibility and your credit score.

Revolving credit allows you to borrow money up to a set limit, which often comes in the form of a credit card or line of credit. Unlike installment loans, where you receive a lump sum amount and pay it back in fixed installments, a revolving line of credit allows for continuous borrowing. It’s more flexible and usually accrues less interest.

Here’s how to use this flexible financial tool for managing both day-to-day and unexpected expenses.

What is revolving credit?

Revolving credit provides you with a credit line — a ceiling limit up to which you can borrow. Every purchase or withdrawal you make reduces your available credit, and it's replenished when you make repayments. That way, you have the flexibility to borrow and repay repeatedly as needed.

Examples of revolving credit include:

  • Credit cards
  • Personal lines of credit
  • Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)

Interest plays a pivotal role in this credit arrangement. You're only required to pay interest on the amount you borrow, not the entire credit line, and often after a grace period. For instance, if you have a $10,000 credit line but only use $2,000, the provider charges interest on the $2,000. The interest rate can vary, depending on the lender's policies and the borrower's creditworthiness.

To manage revolving credit effectively, you need to regularly pay off the balance. If you use $1,492 in the month, you should pay back that $1,492 before the provided deadline. For most credit cards, this is about 30 days. These regular payments help you avoid hefty interest charges and keep your credit score looking good.

Revolving credit can be a double-edged sword when it comes to credit scores. Proper management — paying your bills on time without maxing out your credit — can improve your score. Lenders view this as a sign of responsible credit management, so you’d be more likely to get a credit increase or a loan with a better rate. Using too much credit or missing payments on the other hand can drop your credit score, so it's a delicate balance.

Revolving credit versus installment loan

If you need money to cover an unexpected or large expense, both credit and installment loans are solid options. But they serve different financial needs and work in different ways.

Revolving credit through a card or personal line of credit offers flexibility and convenience. It's like a financial reservoir you can tap into, making it ideal for managing fluctuating expenses.

Meanwhile, an installment loan provides a lump sum, which you repay over a set period, usually through fixed monthly payments. Each payment reduces the loan balance until it's fully repaid. This type of credit is often associated with significant, one-time expenses like buying a car or a home.

The interest rate dynamics for these two credit accounts also differ. With revolving credit, the lender only charges interest on the borrowed amount. If you borrow $500, there’s only interest on that $500. With installment loans, the lender calculates and includes interest on the monthly payments from the onset. This offers predictability because the exact monthly repayment amount is clearer, but with all of that interest, you’ll end up paying more than the original amount.

Revolving credit examples

There are two primary types of revolving credit: secured and unsecured.

Secured credit requires collateral, like home equity for a HELOC. This reduces the lender's risk because if you can’t make payments, it can use the home as collateral, often resulting in lower interest rates. Unsecured revolving credit doesn't require collateral. Credit cards are a common example. The lender takes on higher risk, so interest rates can be higher compared to secured options.

Credit cards offer the convenience of paying for goods and services now and settling the bill later. They also come with features like cash back and rewards, enhancing their appeal. But again, interest rates can be high — especially if you don't settle your total balance monthly. Although credit cards are common, they can be risky, so make sure you’re confident you can pay the monthly balance before diving in.

Personal lines of credit, another type of unsecured revolving credit, allow you to access money as you need, up to their limit. The flexibility to borrow as needed adds to their appeal, but they often have high interest rates, so they’re best for large purchases you can pay off or emergency expenses only.

HELOCs are secured, allowing homeowners to borrow against the value of their homes. They combine the flexibility of revolving credit with the borrowing power anchored in home equity, making significant funding accessible for substantial expenses like home renovations. They’re higher risk because the lender could repossess your home if you don’t make payments and are less accessible since you need to have enough money to invest in the home in the first place.

How to access revolving credit

Informing yourself on credit terms and types prevents you from agreeing to unrealistic or unfavorable options. Here are the steps to making sure you’re making the right choice:

1. Assess your credit score. Your credit score is a pivotal element that lenders scrutinize, so you should be aware of it. A higher score increases approval chances and can secure favorable terms, including lower interest rates. You might need to spend some time raising your credit score before taking out credit.

2. Determine your needs. Identify whether secured or unsecured revolving credit suits your needs. Evaluate your financial standing and the credit line that matches with your needs and repayment capability.

3. Research lenders. Explore various lender’s terms, interest rates, and other costs. Compare these factors to find the options with the most favorable terms, and talk to an advisor about any questions you have.

4. Apply. Prepare the documents your lender asks for and submit your application. The lender will assess your creditworthiness, financial stability, and other factors to determine approval.

5. Understand the terms. Before finalizing the agreement, make sure you understand all the terms, including the interest rate, repayment structure, and associated fees. Clarity on these will help avoid potential complications.

6. Watch your credit usage. Once you’re using credit, pay attention to your habits and spend strategically. Maintain a low credit utilization ratio to avoid high interest and keep a solid credit score. It shows you have responsible credit management and enhances your creditworthiness.

7. Pay on time. Being consistent in your repayments avoids additional interest and prevents credit penalties. If you find you’ve taken on too much credit, don’t panic — take a step back and reassess your financial situation. Focus on repaying what you owe before committing to more credit.

Use EarnIn for same-day pay and clear credit

If you need help avoiding debt and keeping your credit clean, EarnIn can help. Our Cash Out tool lets you access your wages as you work — up to $100 a day and up to $750 every pay period, with no credit checks, no interest, and no mandatory fees.

EarnIn also lets you track your credit score, offering insights and analytics to help you understand your credit standing. It's not just about accessing credit, but optimizing it to achieve financial stability and momentum.

Download EarnIn for tools, insights, and support that help you reach your goals.

Please note, the material collected in this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as or construed as advice regarding any specific circumstances. Nor is it an endorsement of any organization or services.

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