Credit cards get a bad rep - unfairly, we might add. They're a great addition to your financial repertoire and, used correctly, they can offer plenty of benefits. So, how can you make your card work hard for you?

We've listed ten hints and tips below to help you get the most from your credit card, avoid sneaky charges, and ensure that your credit score's boosted - not trashed - by your card.

  1. Pay off your credit cards regularly. Your repayment history represents the single most important element in your credit score. Set up your repayments automatically - you will forget to do it manually!

  2. Get all fees waived by your card. If you are paying any annual fees or service charges for your credit card, you shouldn’t be! Ring up your credit card provider and ask them (firmly but politely) to waive the fees, or change your card.

  3. Negotiate a lower interest rate (APR). Your APR, or annual percentage rate, is likely to be around 16% or higher. Ring up your credit card company and ask for your APR to be lowered. If they ask why, tell them you are planning to pay off your credit card more aggressively and you know of other providers offering better rates. This approach works around half the time.

  4. Get more credit (but only if you have no debt!). It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you have been paying off your balance regularly, increasing your credit limit can help boost your credit score. Why? It demonstrates to lenders that you have unutilised credit - and you're capable of self-control.

  5. Keep your cards for a long time and keep them active (but don’t have too many). Lenders like to see a long history of credit, so the longer you have an account, the better for your credit score. Don’t forget to keep your cards active (even if it’s just the odd transaction), as having more than one active card with unused credit can boost your credit score.

  6. Use your rewards. If you're going to be using your card a fair amount, make sure the rewards are something you value, such as Air Miles.

  7. Avoid the credit card offers you receive in the mail and search online for the best deal. Falling for the offer that comes through your letterbox may be the easy decision, but it’s rarely the smart one. The best way to find a card that is right for you is by researching different offers online. Out of 1,000 people who receive credit card offers in the post, on average, four people accept them. Out of every 1,000 students, 150 accept them. Students – and younger people generally – are more susceptible to these offers, often because they don’t know any better.

  8. Avoid store cards. They are usually sold at point-of-sale with juicy phrases such as: “Apply now and save 10% in just 5 minutes”. They forget to mention the high APRs (normally much higher than regular credit cards) and onerous terms. Stay well away from them.

  9. Never, ever get cash out on your credit card. Not only do you pay a transaction fee (and possibly interest on top if you don’t immediately repay), but many lenders see this as evidence of poor money management skills.

  10. Don’t make the mistake of paying for your friends with your credit card and keeping the cash. You'll wake up the next day and think you’ve got an extra £100 in your wallet. You haven’t!