Skip to main content

What happens if you max out a credit card?

minute read

    Credit cards can offer convenience and rewards for everyday and major purchases. Although credit cards are attractive tools for personal finance, misusing or maxing out a credit card can lead to a host of financial problems.

    This article delves into what happens if you max out a credit card and explores ways you might avoid this type of situation.

    Consequences of maxing out your credit card

    Maxing out a credit card means you have spent all of your card’s available credit, also referred to as a credit limit. That’s the maximum you can spend with your credit card, hence the term “max out.” But exactly what happens next?

    Declined transactions

    One consequence of maxing out your credit card may be noticeable right away: New purchases can be declined when you try to pay for them using that card. If you’re unaware of your current credit card balance, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise the next time you’re at the store. Your card can continue to be declined until the end date of your billing cycle.

    Over-limit fees

    Some credit cards offer you the possibility to continue spending with that card even after you have maxed it out as long you pay over-limit fees. In other words, if you agree to this type of fee being applied, you may still spend with a maxed-out credit card. However, these fees can add to your debt burden and make it even harder to pay down your balance.

    If you’ve opted in to allow over-limit fees, you can usually opt out at any time. When you’ve opted out, additional purchases will simply be declined if you max out your credit card.

    Can maxing out your card impact your credit score?

    Credit utilization, which measures the percentage of your available credit in use, is a key factor in calculating your credit score. High credit utilization can lower your score, so if you max out most of your credit cards, your credit score may impacted, making it difficult to qualify for loans or obtain favorable interest rates in the future.

    Chase Credit Journey® is a free online tool that can help you keep on track when pursuing your financial goals. In addition to tracking your credit score, you can use Credit Journey for identity monitoring and enroll in a personalized action plan provided by Experian™ to help improve your credit score over time.

    Ways to pay off a maxed credit card

    When it comes to credit card debt, some strategies are tried and true, but they all begin with your budget. What can you afford to pay? That usually determines your options.

    As your budget allows, here are some ways to pay off a maxed-out credit card:

    • Pay more than the minimum: Whenever possible, pay more than the minimum amount due on your credit card statement. Unless you have a promotional APR, paying only the minimum may keep you trapped in a cycle of debt. Strive to pay off your balance in full each month.
    • Prioritize high-interest debt: If you have multiple credit cards with varying interest rates, focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first. After paying off that card’s balance, focus on paying down the card with the next highest interest rate. This approach can save you money on interest.
    • Consider a balance transfer: If you have high-interest credit card debt, you may consider making a balance transfer to a new credit card account with low or 0% intro APR. This can buy you some time to pay down your debt without accumulating more interest. Keep in mind that balance transfers typically come with a fee—even when they offer a 0% intro APR.

    How you can prevent maxing out your credit card

    Though maxing out a card may seem far away, it might happen. So, here are some ways you might avoid maxing out a credit card:

    • Build and follow a budget: Create a monthly budget that outlines your income and expenses. Stick to your budget to ensure that you only use your credit card for planned expenses. Regularly monitor your credit card transactions to stay on top of your spending.
    • Set a credit limit that matches your spending budget: Credit cards with high limits may sound appealing. But if your credit card limit aligns with your monthly spending budget, you may be far less likely to overspend. Just as you can typically request a credit limit increase, you can also ask for a lower credit limit if you feel your existing one is too high, but this could impact your credit score.
    • Avoid impulse purchases: Before making a purchase, especially a significant one, think carefully if you are approaching your credit limit. Delaying non-essential purchases can be a great debt management strategy, and your future self might thank you for making wise spending decisions.
    • Emergency plan: Develop a financial emergency plan to handle unexpected expenses without resorting to credit cards. This can include creating a dedicated savings fund for such situations. Having an emergency fund can help you avoid overly relying on credit cards for unexpected expenses.

    In conclusion

    Maxing out a credit card can sound frightening. With careful planning and responsible financial habits, you may be able avoid this situation or pay off your full balance if you find the situation unavoidable. Managing your credit wisely not only protects your financial well-being but also opens opportunities for a brighter financial future.

    What to read next