By

Women may be more apt than men to think of shopping as retail therapy, but if they rack up credit card debt, they certainly may be paying more than men, a new study finds.

Published by FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the study, called "In Our Best Interest: Women, Financial Literacy and Credit Card Behavior," found that compared to men, women were not only more likely to use credit cards in more costly ways, but they also were charged higher interest rates than men.

FINRA based this study on the 2009 National Financial Capability Study, an online survey encompassing over 28,000 people across the United States. It discovered that women were slightly more apt to engage in behaviors that cost them more money. Women were four points more likely to only make minimum credit card payments, and six points more likely to incur late fees.

Additionally, the "In Our Best Interest" study found that women pay slightly higher interest rates than men, about a half a percentage point more, even when taking income and education into consideration. With the average credit card user having 3.7 credit cards in her wallet and an outstanding balance of over $5,600, continually making risky moves with credit cards could leave women at a financial disadvantage. "Missed and late payments, as well as exceeding credit limits, can lead to higher fees, higher interest rates and lower credit scores," writes author Gary R. Mottola, Ph.D. in the study.

FINRA found that of five negative behaviors involving credit card usage, including carrying a balance, paying only the minimum fee, incurring late fees, being charged over the limit fees and using cash advances, women scored higher than men in all metrics except cash advances, where men scored slightly higher than women.

In terms of positive behaviors such as paying the full balance each month and comparison-shopping for credit cards, men fared better than women by a difference of six percent.

Women were also more apt to have two or more problematic behaviors in their credit card usage.

To close this gap, women might be well served to increase their financial literacy, an area in which FINRA says they also score lower than men. "For women, having a high level of financial literacy appears to pay off," said FINRA Foundation president Gerri Walsh in a statement. "The gender gap for costly credit card behaviors disappears for women with high levels of financial literacy, and after controlling for demographic characteristics like age and income. Becoming more financially literate is a great step that any woman can take to keep more of her hard-earned money in her pocket."

FINRA's study found that when women had a greater sense of financial literacy, the gaps between the genders in terms of credit card behaviors disappeared. Those with better financial literacy also used their credit cards more wisely and were less likely to engage in risky behavior with their cards. Those with higher financial literacy also benefitted from having marginally lower interest rates on their cards. In total, FINRA found that when men and women improved their financial literacy, both genders had better credit card usage; however, women can improve their behavior by 60 percent more than men.

Many online resources offer tools to help people improve their financial literacy. The U.S. government has a learning portal called MyMoney.gov, which has resources and information around a number of financial topics including managing debt and credit. It even has a section geared toward women and their unique financial needs.

Another online resource is the Institute for Financial Literacy, located at financiallit.org. It contains a number of planning tools, such as budgeting worksheets, spending logs and financial goal action plans. The site also contains links to financial resources, including credit bureau and debt collection information.