Opinion

Credit card debt is growing too quickly again

Posted November 8

The U.S. is on track to break $1 trillion in outstanding credit card debt for the first time in history. (Deseret Photo)

In quarter two of 2016, U.S. consumers accumulated $34.4 billion of debt on credit cards. Compare that with the second quarter of 2007 (six months before the start of the Great Recession) when $31.9 billion was reached. Cumulatively, Americans have effectively borrowed a total of $912 billion of credit card debt as of the end of quarter two of 2016. Again, it may be useful to compare that figure with the accumulation of credit card debt at the end of the second quarter of 2007, when this type of debt reached a total of $898 billion.

The U.S. is on track to break $1 trillion in outstanding credit card debt for the first time in history. Other reports discuss Americans’ obsession with spending money through credit cards, stating that the average American household has $15,675 of credit card debt. Certainly this must be the wake-up call for all of us to review our spending habits.

We live in a consumerist society. One scholar even dubbed our era the “consuming life,” where we live to impress, to play and to shop, regardless of the amount of money we actually have. We are not the only ones who love this life. Credit card companies love our behavior. Attractive “0 percent rates,” “low initial fees” and “money back” offers are all part of the marketing tactics commonly used by credit card companies. They work rather well. In fact, credit card companies reported a hefty profit of $95 billion in 2014. With such high profits, it is no surprise that credit card companies will keep marketing, keep selling and keep putting new cards in the hands of anyone who qualifies for one.

You may have a good excuse for getting into a high-debt situation: your kids are going to college, you have emergency hospital visits or you need to repair your car, among many other legitimate reasons. However, eliminating your credit card debt should be one of your top financial goals. Eliminating credit card debt brings with it not only peace of mind but a path toward financial independence.

Search on Google for reduction of credit card debt and you find pages and pages of solutions to tackle the personal debt epidemic. There are even nonprofits geared toward helping people get out of credit card debt. In researching dozens of articles and comparing many suggestions, I have compiled a short list of the most popular and common ways to get out of credit card debt:

1. Consolidate: If you have a number of credit cards, see if you can transfer balances to one card. The process of getting all debt on one card helps organize the debt and makes it seem easier to handle.

2. Improve your credit card interest rates: Simply call the credit card issuer and ask for lower rates.

3. Budget: Have a budget and stick to it.

4. Stop using your credit cards: This step is pretty simple and self-explanatory. Don’t immediately cancel the credit card, though, as this can affect your credit score.

5. Motivate yourself and show willpower: Decide to only buy the things you need. Cut out the things you want.

Regardless of where you are with your credit card usage, I hope you will spend some time reviewing your own credit card spending and make a plan that will help you reach financial independence. Remember, it isn’t a problem if you pay the credit card off each month. But it is not in your best interest to make the consistent payment of credit card interest a way of life.

John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development. David Wright, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.

John Hoffmire teaches at Sa√Źd Business School at the University of Oxford.

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