Control Credit Card Debt


For many Americans paying with credit cards is now commonplace. Once the monthly balance cannot be paid in full credit card debt creeps in like a homewrecker – and this is where many people find themselves today, in credit card debt.  In some cases, people are filing for bankruptcy due to their excessive credit card debt.  With so many different things dependent on a person’s credit score, this can be devastating to young families, leaving them without the means to make big-ticket purchases like replacing a refrigerator or stove.

Credit card debt in America

45% of Americans have credit card debt.  8.3% have a balance of over $9,000 on their card accounts.  The average credit card debt is $2,000.  Surprisingly, 23% of Americans do not even have a credit card.

Matt’s note: Betsy and I belong to that surprising 23%. 🙂

These statistics are compiled in part from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances taken every three years.  The 2007 survey showed that revolving debt, which includes credit cards was $904 billion out the total consumer debt of $2.6 trillion.  This figure includes student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and other non-revolving debt.

The numbers may not mean much to you, but if you’re part of that 8.3% perhaps you should take notice.

8.3% may seem like a small number, but the average income for those people is only $48,600 per year.  That $9,000 along with other living expenses and non-revolving debt is usually a lot of money.  On top of the large debt amount are the interest rates credit card companies charge each month for the “privilege” of using their money.  The average credit card interest rate is 16.80%, so if you are paying only minimum payments each month a lot of your debt could be interest charges rather than the principle on the account.

So the general idea – and necessity for some people – is to be part of that 32% or even the 23% in some cases rather than the 8.3%.  This may not be easy to accomplish, given the rising cost of food, fuel, and other necessities, but it can be done.  You have to develop a plan and stick to it, resolving to control your credit card debt, or eliminate it altogether.

Build your debt reduction plan

The key to controlling your credit card debt is in controlling your spending overall.  Of course, American society does not make this easy since our economy relies on spending.  However, in this case, you can’t think of the Country’s economy, but rather your personal economy.  If you have the willpower, you can get a grip on your finances rather quickly.

  • Put your credit cards away for one month.  Instead of pulling out the plastic to make purchases, use cold, hard cash.  This does not include a check.  It’s important for you to see where the money goes, and how fast it can disappear from your pocket.  The only exception to this rule is in paying bills that require a check, like your mortgage or the rent.  Write out the checks and deduct them from your bank account before you withdraw any money to spend.  In using cash instead of your credit card or checking account, you will have a better idea of your spending habits.
  • Free up more cash by reducing other expenses.  Take a closer look at some of the amenities you have.  You may consider changing your cell phone plan to a less expensive one, cancelling or changing your cable/satellite plan, and buying less expensive brands for groceries.  Conserving energy will also put a few more dollars in your pocket.  Take that money you are saving, and use it to pay off debt – especially those high interest credit cards.
  • Buy only what you need, not what you want.  Knowing the difference between your needs and your wants is important.  For example, you need food, but you don’t need dinner in an expensive restaurant.  Transportation is a need, but not in a $50,000 BMW.  Clothing for your children is a need, but not the $100 designer jeans for your 10-year-old that is still growing.

Impulse buying is the biggest culprit in creating credit card debt.  Those purchases are usually wants, not needs.  If there is something you need, then buy it.  But if it’s something you can do without, keep your money in your wallet.  If it is something that you really want, only buy it if you can pay cash for it without compromising your ability to save for retirement or pay off debt; but until you have no credit card debt you should avoid those purchases, no matter how much you want them.  If you stick with your plan, you can be a member of that 32% that does not contribute a single penny to the $904 billion in revolving debt, and you’ll have more money in your pocket to boot!

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