"I'm resisting the urge to say cut the BS."

- Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS

If you're a fan of the hit show NCIS, then you're used to seeing characters like Director Shepard, Ziva, and even Tony DiNozzo come and go. We keep coming back because of Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. It's his wit, wisdom, leadership, and signature rules that make him the heart and soul of the 12-season detective show. So profound and lasting are his insights, that they can even be applied to some of the most vexing problems we face in our lives, dealing with our credit cards. We combed over Gibbs' Rules to help you stay on top of your finances like an NCIS Special Agent, and not make any Probie mistakes.

What are you waiting for? Grab your gear!

"Don't believe what you're told. Double check." - Gibb's Rule #3

Bad guys have a hard time getting away with anything on NCIS because Gibbs and his team always check everything out - including the fine print. When applying for a new credit card, don't make assumptions based on advertising or even recommendations from your friends. Go directly to the credit card issuer website and read the terms and conditions. By law, a credit card's interest rates and fees are required to be displayed in a standard format that's easy to read.

The same is true when it comes to credit card reward benefits. For example, the Virgin America Premium Signature Card offers "$150 off a companion ticket every year you're a cardholder." But any self-respecting NCIS Special Agent who double checks the fine print would quickly realize that you have to buy a full fare ticket to use this discount, which costs well over $150, obliterating any savings.

"Never be unreachable." - Gibb's Second Rule #3 (Yes, there are two)

Not answering a call from Gibbs is a sure-fire way to get slapped on the back of the head. Likewise, it's easy to miss a payment if you never get your statement in the first place. When you miss a payment, you can expect to get hit with costly late fees. In fact, credit card fees currently make up the majority of revenue for card issuers, even more than interest payments.*

If you get your statements through the mail, be sure to quickly update your address every time you move. If you receive statements by email, be sure to add your card issuer's address to your contacts, so they don't end up in your spam folder. If you haven't already, provide your card issuer with your telephone number so that you can receive phone calls and texts for fraud alerts and payment reminders.

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"If you need help, ask!" - Gibb's Rule #28

The team at NCIS knows that they can always count on each other for help with any problem, no matter how tough. Yet when credit card users have trouble with debt, too many of us don't reach out for assistance. If you're having trouble paying your credit card bills, be sure to talk to someone as soon as possible. You can speak with your credit card issuer or find a non-profit credit counselor to talk to. Some credit card issuers will work with you to create a payment plan. Remember, you can always find a non-profit credit counselor to talk about debt at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.*

"Never take anything for granted." - Gibb's Rule #8

When it comes to credit cards, people tend to make a lot of assumptions about the future, based on their experiences in the past. For example, you might get a credit card offer with a zero percent annual percentage rate (APR) for balance transfers and just assume that there will be another one available when the promotional financing expires. That's not a good idea. Don't take it for granted that you can leap from one promotional offer to another in the future.

Be especially careful setting up a new card to buy a big ticket purchase assuming that you can pay it off later. You might, but if you can't, then the cost to your wallet and credit score could be disastrous. It always pays to be prudent and cautious.

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"Clean up your messes." - Gibb's Rule #45

If you use credit cards long enough, you'll probably end up making a mess one day. It happens to the best of us. You might misplace your card, accidentally miss a payment or overspend. If one of these things happens to you, you have to clean up your mess, not avoid it. If you misplace your card, quickly report it lost and have it replaced. If you miss a payment, make one immediately and then contact your card issuer and ask it to waive late payment fees and interest charges. And if you've overspent, take a break from your credit cards while you pay off your balance.

"Always work as a team." - Gibb's Rule #15

When NCIS is investigating a case, they always work as a team. Couples who manage their finances together can also use teamwork to manage their credit cards. For example, both of you need to be aware of each other's spending, so it doesn't get out of control. And if you are trying to earn the most rewards, couples can work as a team to earn two sign-up bonuses, or to hold complimentary reward cards.

What kind of card would Gibbs go for?

Gibbs always tries to be prepared for any eventuality. We wouldn't be surprised to find an American Express Platinum card in his wallet. It offers a range of travel insurance and purchase protection policies, as well as access to three different airport business lounge programs. But as a relatively simple guy, and a Marine (remember, there's no such thing as a "former Marine"), he might also carry the Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature from USAA. It earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with no annual fee. Regardless of which card Gibbs carries, you can bet he follows the rules.


Bottom Line: Embrace your inner Gibbs. Read the fine print. Don't miss payments. Ask for help when you need it.

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