US Credit Card Debt and You

Americans now have the highest amount of revolving credit card debt in US history.  This is horrible news for our present and future.  While consumer spending helps keep the economy moving this amount of credit card debt takes a toll on each person who is stuck in its grips.  Credit card debt has a high amount of interest charged to it which only keeps people stuck in the cycle of not paying it off each month.

It has been almost 6 years since I was perpetually stuck in credit card debt.  The only reason I got out of it was because my new wife at the time bailed me out which is one of my least proud moments as a husband and man.  Since that day, when we took the money she worked hard to save and pay off the debt I built up before we married, I have used that as motivation to be in control of our finances (we share them equally but we each play a critical role).  This has allowed us to be aggressive towards paying down the rest of our 107K of debt and start saving for retirement.

I wish I had taken steps to curb my spending before we got married but I didn’t.  I was too selfish and I want you to do better than I did.  Fortunately, my wife didn’t look at me less for it and was ready to work with me to achieve great things together.  I can’t change the past but I can change the future and so can you.

This study only proves that I was not and am not the only one like this.  So many of us are dealing with these anchors that continue to weigh us down.  The problem is that the happiness I searched for in buying things didn’t buy me that happiness because it brought along so many other problems.  I know that is the case as well with everyone that is a part of these numbers.

Credit card debt is unique in that it slowly builds and just as though we get use to the temperature rising or dropping slowly we get used to a little higher balance each month.  We usually have enough control to not do anything drastic to radically increase the revolving balance but since we feel such little change from month to month we become more and more OK with it.  Student loans hit all at once and are usually something we agreed to take on at 18 or 22 years old with frankly no idea what it means to owe that amount of money.  Reality hits hard when you graduate and payments start but credit cards are different so it is easy for them to start out innocent and then turn into a monster.

It also doesn’t surprise me though that as credit card balances rise you read in the article that student loan balances are also historically high as well.  Since we are worried about making our student loan payments each month we resort to using those credit cards because we just can’t say no to eating out for the 5th time that week or going to that movie.  You know, real hardships.

We pretend that we need to use them to get by but most likely that isn’t the case.   I fed myself that lie for many years and I know that I didn’t need credits cards to have gotten by.  I made the mistake of thinking that my credit card limit was part of my money to use however I wanted.  That is not correct.  The money in my checking account was mine and my credit limit was someone else’s money.  If I used that money I had to pay a big fee for doing so and I was oblivious to it because it was more convenient that way.  I had no clue what those interest rates meant but that didn’t stop me nonetheless.

Now, if you are wondering what caused me to change my behavior and not go back into credit card debt once it was gone it was because I was finally accountable to someone else.  More so though, I had wanted to change but wasn’t willing to put in the effort to do so.  Once I saw that change wasn’t so bad I was less scared of it and saw how nice it was to not be a slave to debt and finally be in control.

There are legit situations where people are literally just trying to survive and do whatever they must do to survive.  That is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about those of us who have more than enough but that isn’t good enough.  We only have ourselves to blame for the situation we are in and the sooner we recognize that the sooner we can take control.

Another type of debt mentioned in the story is related to auto loans.  Most likely, we all need cars, we do not though, need a car loan, and a big one at that.  Car loans and credit cards have a way of telling us we can afford the payment so therefore we can afford it.  That is not the case.  It doesn’t make you a bad person if you have a car loan but that is another cycle that can hurt you long term.  Wake up, pay off your loans, get ahead of your next car and pay cash for what you can afford.

Our worth is not determined by the car we drive or what restaurants we go to.  We are all valuable and what people really care about is how we treat others, how we help when no one else will, how we are honest and trustworthy.  That is real value and if we search for that in a purchase then we’ll get what we ask for.  A bill that won’t go away unless you truly change your mind frame and say good riddance to it.

That was written as much for me as it is you.  I’m not perfect.  Trust me, I am far from perfect.  There are things I wish I could get over that still weigh me down.  I have gotten over this though and want to help others that are in a similar situation.

So, if you are a part of these numbers, and most likely you are, then please take it seriously and don’t be afraid of trying something different to get ahead.  Be different and get rid of this debt.  Don’t wait until your new spouse has to bail you out.