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How US Can Curb Exploding $1 Trillion Credit-Card Debt

How US Can Curb Exploding $1 Trillion Credit-Card Debt
(Alain Lacroix/Dreamstime)

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Wednesday, 21 February 2018 03:06 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Earlier this year, the U.S. achieved yet another dubious milestone: that of hitting its highest level of credit-card debt ever.

Americans now owe $1.023 trillion on their card, according to the Federal Reserve. That’s an increase of $11.2 billion in just a few months, and represents between $15,000 and $16,000 per indebted household.

This trend is powered by more than overspending and inadequate savings habits. Several ongoing trends have contributed to this increase.

Here’s what they are, along with tips on how consumers can control their debt.

A Strong Economy

Several factors that drive consumer spending are positive aspects of a flourishing economy, but these factors can also contribute to consumer debt.

  • Strong market: Having one of the strongest markets in recent years has given consumers confidence. Consumers are spending money—putting it back into the economy—and are more likely to take on debt for purchases. The cycle continues and perpetuates the strength of the financial market.
  • Willing lenders: More consumers, most with subprime credit history, are gaining access to credit. 16.3 million borrowers with below-average credit scores were able to apply and receive credit cards in the first quarter of 2017.

Some Key Expenses Have Risen Sharply in Cost

While the growth in average household income has outpaced the rise in the cost of living overall, certain expenditures like medical costs and housing expenses have outpaced income growth. Those surging expenses have prompted some consumers to use credit cards to cover some of the gap, often carrying over the charges from month to month. Indeed, up to 27 million U.S. adults are now charging medical expenses to personal credit cards, and racking up more than $12 billion a year in interest expenses in the process.

Steps Consumers Can Take to Reduce Debt

Most credit card applicants seek a card with the best intentions to use it judiciously. But then setbacks, like a layoff, illness or injury that prevents work, may cause them to overuse the card, and begin to accumulate debt that quickly becomes unmanageable. Alternatively, perhaps, a period of responsible use results in a higher spending limit, which then triggers overspending. To avoid future financial headaches with credit, consider these steps and strategies:

Live within your means. Impulse purchases can easily get you into trouble. If you do not need a particular item or cannot afford it right now, don’t buy it. If you cannot purchase it with cash, or make a large cash down payment towards its cost, wait until you can do so.

Pay more than the minimum balance. Only 35% of credit card users pay off their bill in full every month. Those most prudent of cardholders then have no balance to carry over, and so do not incur interest payments or late-payment fees.

Consider consolidating your debts. Some households have several credit cards, all with exorbitant interest rates and fees for late payments. To help relieve yourself of some of these burdens, consider a balance transfer credit card. Look for one with a long period in which the card provides a 0% introductory annual percentage rate (APR). This time will give you an opportunity to pay down on some of your debt, interest-free. If you can’t qualify for a balance transfer card, consider an unsecured personal loan. These generally offer rates lower than credit card APRs, so you can save money on interest.

Finally, consider if you can use credit wisely at all. For some consumers, a credit card provides a temptation to spend that is too great. If you’re among those people, and have already got into debt trouble, credit counseling companies can help you out of your current debt situation and help you in future to use credit as it was intended to be used.

Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.

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MaximeRieman
Earlier this year, the U.S. achieved yet another dubious milestone: that of hitting its highest level of credit card debt ever.Americans now owe $1.023 trillion dollars on their card, according to the Federal Reserve.
credit, card, debt, consumer, economy
673
2018-06-21
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 03:06 PM
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