US Credit Card Debt Sets New Record—But Is That a Problem?

Toy car and calculator on the table.

US consumers broke through quite a barrier earlier this year, when total credit card debt topped $1 trillion for the first time since the Great Recession. Then in June, total credit card debt reached $1.021 trillion, besting the previous record set back in April 2008, just as the Great Recession began.

There’s a natural impulse to see this as a bad sign: the last time credit card debt hit $1 trillion, things didn’t end so well. High revolving-debt levels can be an indication that consumers are struggling to make ends meet or that their incomes aren’t keeping up with expenses. It can also indicate that lenders are giving away credit too easily.

Or, it might mean that economic activity is increasing and consumers are optimistic about the future.

Underlying data suggest a bit of both. Read on to learn more about the good and bad, as well as where there may be reason for concern.

The Good: Responsible Consumers Are Building Credit

The credit card debt record isn’t a surprise to people who have been following the industry. In May, TransUnion revealed that access to credit cards had reached its highest level since 2005: a total of 171 million consumers had access to a card, the credit bureau said. Meanwhile, credit limits for the best credit card customers—those with particularly high (or super-prime) credit scores—have also risen quickly; the average total credit line for super-prime consumers rose from $29,176 in 2010 to $33,371 earlier this year. More cards and higher credit limits lead to more spending and more borrowing—and the new debt record.

“The card market went through a transformation after the recession as more lenders opened up access to subprime and near-prime consumers. The competition for super-prime consumers has become fierce, and we are seeing it manifest in higher total credit lines,” said Paul Siegfried, senior vice president and credit card business leader for TransUnion.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) released similar data in late July. It found that the number of new accounts had increased by 8.8% in Q1 compared with the same period the previous year.

“A stronger labor market continues to serve as a bright spot in the US economy, putting more Americans in a better position to establish and build credit,” according to Executive Director of ABA’s Card Policy Council Jess Sharp.

More consumers with access to more credit is generally a good thing. It’s hard to be a US consumer—to rent a car, to book a hotel, and so on—without access to credit cards.

But within these reports lurk some ominous signs.

The Bad: Subprime Card Holder Numbers Are Growing Fast

Subprime credit consumers are the fastest-growing segment of the credit card market, TransUnion found. There are now 2.3 million more subprime credit card holders than there were in early 2015. The growth rate for subprime card holders was 8.9%—much higher than the 2.6% rate of all other consumers. And the ABA found that the average size of initial credit lines being granted to new subprime borrowers was growing at a faster rate than all other categories.

In other words, the increase in card debt might be the result of this fast-growing subprime borrower market.

Credit card delinquency rates are also growing—from 1.50% in 2016’s first quarter to 1.69% in 2017’s first quarter. TransUnion attributes this to the increase in subprime card users but also notes that it wasn’t unexpected.

“The recent surge in subprime cards has contributed to an increase in the card delinquency rate at the start of the year, but from a pre-recession, historical perspective, we are still at low levels of delinquency,” Siegfried said.

That was little comfort to investors earlier this year, when both Discover and Capital One announced a surprise increase in defaults. Shares of both fell about 3% in one day on “here we go again” fears.

The Larger Context: Credit Debt Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

All this is happening with the backdrop of recent concerns about the suddenly slumping auto sales market. A huge increase in subprime car loans helped fuel record auto sales in the past several years, but rising delinquencies have contributed to an alarming slowdown in overall auto sales—and loose comparisons to the subprime mortgage bubble that fueled the Great Recession.

However, it’s far too early to suggest that subprime credit card lending is a sign of trouble, let alone big trouble. Credit card debt is easy to misinterpret because those numbers are meaningless without context. A consumer who charges $6,000 and pays that balance off each month is much better off than one who charges $1,500 and struggles to make minimum payments.

It’s important to remember that the majority of Americans don’t carry a credit card balance from month to month. The ABA says 28.8% of account holders pay their balance in full each month (the so-called “transactors” in the image below), and another 27.2% don’t use their cards at all. The remaining category is the one to watch: the “revolvers,” who carry a balance and often pay high rates. Currently, 44% of card holders carry a balance each month. Their ranks rose 0.3% in the most recently reported quarter, while the share of transactors fell by 0.3%.

So that’s a number to watch—much more important than average balances or total credit card debt. If more people can’t pay their whole credit card bill every month, there’s a real problem brewing. And while that group has increased slightly, it’s still below the recession peak.

Perhaps the most positive finding from the ABA report is that outstanding credit card debt as a share of consumer disposable income isn’t climbing. In fact, it fell by a small fraction, to 5.3%. That’s a good indicator that consumers aren’t struggling to pay their credit card bills or increasing their plastic spending at a rate faster than their incomes are growing.

Protect Yourself from Whatever the Market May Hold

So the new record credit card debt is truly a mixed signal. With subprime lending and defaults up, auto loans in a bit of trouble, and some investors worried, this milestone is a good time to pause and evaluate whether America is once again heading down the road of too-easy credit followed by recession. But by itself, $1.02 trillion is just a number, and it might not indicate anything.

Either way, it’s a good idea to stay on top of your credit report—which you can check for free at Credit.com—to ensure you’re in a good place, regardless of what the coming years might bring.

Image: istock

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These Balance Transfer Credit Cards Can Help You Pay Down Debt

When considering a balance transfer card, be sure to check the introductory APR and any transfer fees.

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

If you’re trying to pay down a large credit card balance and you feel like you’re getting nowhere, one potential solution is to move your debts to a balance transfer card. Balance transfer cards often offer introductory periods of 0% interest, giving you time to pay down your balance without accruing additional debt.

If you’re looking for a balance transfer credit card, you should be examining the introductory period, transfer fees and any additional benefits the cards provide to help you decide which one is right for you. To help you get started, check out these cards, which all offer solid intro periods for you to pay down your balances interest-free. (Paying your debt down means you’ll be on the path to improving your credit utilization and, in turn, your credit scores. You can see two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

Chase Slate

Balance Transfer Fee: $0 for 60 days, then $5 or 5% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% intro APR for 15 months, then variable 15.74% to 24.49%

Annual Fee: None

Why We Picked It: This card has a lengthy 0% intro period and cardholders can avoid balance transfer fees for 60 days.

Benefits: Fifteen months is a solid intro period, and you can save further by completing your balance transfers within 60 days to avoid transfer fees. There’s also no penalty APR if you make a late payment.

Drawbacks: After the initial 60-day window, balance transfers incur a $5 or 5% transfer fee, which is higher than many competing cards.

Citi Simplicity

Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater

APR: 0% intro APR for 21 months, then variable 14.24% to 24.24%

Annual Fee: None

Why We Picked It: Citi’s 21 months of interest-free financing is impressive. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)

Benefits: With 21 months interest free, Citi Simplicity sets the bar high for balance transfer cards. That’s almost two years to pay down your balance. There are no late fees or penalty APRs.

Drawbacks: There are no rewards policies.

Alliant Visa Platinum Rewards Card

Balance Transfer Fee: None

APR: 0% to 5.99% intro APR for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 23.99%

Annual Fee: None

Why We Picked It: Alliant Credit Union’s rewards card offers no balance transfer fees and a year with no interest. Plus, cardholders earn rewards points for valuable redemptions.

Benefits: Qualifying cardholders get a year of 0% APR and no balance transfer fees. They’ll also earn two points for every dollar spent in purchases and 5,000 bonus points when spending $500 in the first three months. Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, cash back and more.

Drawbacks: You’ll have to be an Alliant Credit Union member to access this card, although a simple $10 donation to Foster Care to Success can make you eligible. Beyond that, you need the right credit to qualify for the 0% intro APR offer. If you don’t, Alliant may impose an intro APR up to 5.99%.

Discover it

Balance Transfer Fee: 3% of the transfer amount

APR: 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers (6 months on purchases), then variable 11.74% to 23.74%

Annual Fee: None

Why We Picked It: Discover it offers 18 months of 0% APR on balance transers and earns cash back with a nice bonus the first year.

Benefits: Eighteen interest-free months is a solid time frame to catch up on debt. Cardholders also earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases for quarterly rotating spending categories such as gas, dining and home improvement. All other purchases get unlimited 1% cash back. Discover matches all earned cash back for the first year of the card.

Drawbacks: Earning cash back requires spending on the card, which may be counterproductive if you’re trying to pay down debt.

Barclaycard Ring MasterCard

Balance Transfer Fee: $0

APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months, then variable 13.74%

Annual Fee: None

Why We Picked It: This card has 15 months with no interest, no balance transfer fees and a decent APR once interest kicks in.

Benefits: For 15 months, cardholders can pay down their balances with no interest. They’ll also pay nothing for balance transfer fees. Once the interest kicks in, it’s a decent rate.

Drawbacks: The card’s Giveback rewards program is a profit-sharing feature that offers cardholders little control.

Choosing & Using a Balance Transfer Card

Assuming you intend to use your balance transfer card to pay down large balances, there are some things you should know about selecting and using these cards.

Before you apply for any card, you’ll want to check the APR that kicks in after the 0% intro period. If it’s higher than the APR on your current cards, think twice about applying. If you don’t manage to pay off your balance transfers before the intro period runs out, a card with a higher APR will slap you with a worse interest rate than you currently have.

The balance transfer fee also requires close attention. Some balance transfer cards won’t charge a fee on transfers, while others will charge $5 or 3% to 5% of the transfer amount. Depending on your current balances, this could wind up costing hundreds of dollars.

When you open a card, transferring your balances immediately will pay off. That’s because you’ll get the full intro period to pay down your balance interest-free. Also, if your card only offers free balance transfers for a limited time, you’ll want to take advantage while you can.

Finally, you’ll want to use the card in the most fiscally responsible way. Paying off your entire balance within the intro period will save you the most money, so you may want to figure out the minimum monthly payment required to accomplish that. Using the card for everyday spending will add to that balance, and if your focus is reducing debt, you’ll probably want to limit or completely avoid using the card for purchases until the balance reaches zero.

Image: Geber86

At publishing time, the Chase Slate, Citi Simplicity, Discover it and Barclaycard Ring MasterCard credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

The post These Balance Transfer Credit Cards Can Help You Pay Down Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

Average Household Credit Card Debt in America: 2017 Statistics

Even as household income and employment rates are ticking up in the U.S., credit card balances are approaching all-time highs. What’s behind the growth of credit card spending among consumers? In a new report on credit card debt in America, MagnifyMoney analyzed credit debt trends in the U.S. to find out exactly how much credit debt consumers are really taking on and, crucially, how they are managing their growing reliance on plastic.

Key Insights:

  • While credit balances are increasing, the amount of debt that households are carrying from month to month is actually much lower than it was leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. As of December 2016, households with credit card debt owed an average of $8,158, down 22.9 percent compared to October 2008, when household credit card debt peaked at $10,588.
  • Credit card balances and credit card debt are not the same thing. The 73 million Americans who pay their bill in full each month have credit card balances reported to the major credit reporting bureaus.
  • Assessing financial health means focusing on credit card debt trends rather than credit card use trends.

Credit Card Debt in the U.S. by the Numbers

Credit Card Use

Number of Americans who use credit cards: 201 million1

Average number of credit cards per consumer: 2.32

Number of Americans who carry credit card debt: 125 million3

Credit Card Debt

The following figures only include the credit card balances of those who carry credit card debt from month to month.

Total credit card debt in the U.S.: $527 billion4

Average credit card debt per person: $4,2055

Average credit card debt per household: $8,1586

Credit Card Balances

The following figures include the credit card statement balances of all credit card users, including those who pay their bill in full each month.

Total credit card balances: $784 billion as of January 2017, an increase of 7.4 percent from the previous year.7

Average balance per person: $3,9058

Who Pays Off Their Credit Card Bills?

42 percent of households pay off their credit card bills in full each month

31 percent of households carry a balance all year

27 percent of households sometimes carry a balance10

Understanding Household Credit Card Balances vs. Household Debt

At first glance, it may seem that Americans are taking on near record levels of credit debt. Forty-two percent of American households11 carry credit card debt from month to month, and, if you look at the total credit card balances among U.S. households, the figure appears astronomical — $784 billion. But that figure includes households that are paying their credit debt in full each month as well as those that are carrying a balance from month to month.

While credit balances are increasing, the amount of debt that households are carrying from month to month is actually much lower than it was leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The total of credit card balances for households that actually carry debt from month to month is $527 billion.

As of the second quarter of 2017, households with credit card debt owed an average of $8,158.3 That is a decrease of 22.9 percent compared to October 2008, when household credit card debt peaked at $10,588.12b

And as household incomes have risen in recent years, this has helped to lower the ratio of credit card debt to income. Today, indebted households with average debt and median household incomes have a credit card debt to income ratio of 14.4 percent.13 Back in 2008, the ratio was 19.1 percent.

Per Person Credit Card Debt

Once we adjust for these effects, we see that an estimated 125 million Americans carry $527 billion of credit card debt from month to month. Back in 2008, 5 million fewer Americans carried debt, but total credit card debt in late 2008 hovered around $631 billion.16 That means people with credit card debt in 2008 had more debt than people with credit card debt today.

Average credit card debt among those who carry a balance today is $4,205 per person2 or $8,158 per household.3 Back in 2008, credit card debtors owed an average of 23.7 percent more than they do today. In late 2008, the 115 million17 Americans with credit card debt owed an average of $5,567 per person12a or $10,689 per household.12b

Delinquency Rates

Credit card debt becomes delinquent when a bank reports a missed payment to the major credit reporting bureaus. Banks typically don’t report a missed payment until a person is at least 30 days late in paying. When a consumer doesn’t pay for at least 90 days, the credit card balance becomes seriously delinquent. Banks are very likely to take a total loss on seriously delinquent balances.

In the second quarter of 2010, serious delinquency rates on credit cards were 13.74 percent of all balances owed, nearly twice as what they are today. Today, credit card delinquency rates are down to 7.38 percent.14

Our Method of Calculating Household Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt doesn’t appear on the precipice of disaster, but the recent growth in balances is cause for some concern. Still, our estimates for household credit card debt remain modest.

In fact, MagnifyMoney’s estimates of household credit card debt is two-thirds that of other leading financial journals. Why are our estimates comparatively low?

A common estimate of household credit card debt is:

This method overstates credit card debt. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) does not release a figure called credit card indebtedness. Instead, they release a figure on national credit card balances. Representatives of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank both confirmed that the CCP includes the statement balances of people who go on to pay their bill in full each month.

To find a better estimate of credit card debt, we found methods to exclude the statement balances of full paying households from our credit card debt estimates. Statement balances are the balances owed to a credit card company at the end of a billing cycle. Even though full payers pay off their statement balance each month, their balances are included in the CCP’s figures on credit card balances.

To exclude full payer balances, we turned to academic research outside of the Federal Reserve Banks. The paper, Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards, by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, found full payers had mean statement balances of $3,412. We used this figure, multiplied by the estimated number of full payers to find the statement balances of full payers.

Our credit card debt estimate is:3

Credit Card Debt: Do We Know What We Owe?

Academic papers, consumer finance surveys, and the CCP each use different methods to measure average credit card debt among credit card revolvers. Since methodologies vary, credit card debt statistics vary based on the source consulted.

MagnifyMoney surveyed these sources to present a range of credit card debt statistics.

Are We Paying Down Credit Card Debt?

A Pew Research Center study25 showed that Americans have an uneasy relationship with credit card debt. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans believe that loans and credit card debt expanded their opportunities. And 85 percent believe that Americans use debt to live beyond their means.

Academic research shows the conflicting attitude is justified. Some credit card users aggressively pay off debt. Others pay off their bill in full each month.

However, a substantial minority (44 percent)26 of revolvers pay within $50 of their minimum payment. Minimum payers are at a high risk of carrying unsustainable credit card balances with high interest.

In fact, 14 percent of consumers have credit card balances above $10,000.27 At current rates, consumers with balances of $10,000 will spend more than $1,400 per year on interest charges alone.28

Even an average revolver will spend between $58130 and $59731 on credit card interest each year.

Credit Debt Burden by Income

Those with the highest credit card debts aren’t necessarily the most financially insecure. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances, the top 10 percent of income earners who carried credit card debt had nearly twice as much debt as average.

However, people with lower incomes have more burdensome credit card debt loads. Consumers in the lowest earning quintile had an average credit card debt of $3,000. However, their debt-to-income ratio was 21.7 percent. On the high end, earners in the top decile had an average of $11,200 in credit card debt. But debt-to-income ratio was just 4.9 percent.

Although high-income earners have more manageable credit card debt loads on average, they aren’t taking steps to pay off the debt faster than lower income debt carriers. In fact, high-income earners are as likely to pay the minimum as those with below average incomes.32 If an economic recession leads to job losses at all wage levels, we could see high levels of credit card debt in default.

Generational Differences in Credit Card Use

  • Boomer consumers carry an average credit card balance of $6,889.
  • That is 24.1 percent higher than the national average consumer credit card balance.34
  • Millennial consumers carry an average credit card balance of $3,542.
  • That is 36.1 percent lower than the median consumer credit card balance.35

With average credit card balances of $6,889, baby boomers have the highest average credit card balance of any generation. Generation X follows close behind with average balances of $6,866.

At the other end of the spectrum, millennials, who are often characterized as frivolous spenders who are too quick to take on debt, have the lowest credit card balances. Their median balance clocks in at $3,542, 36.1 percent less than the national median.

Better Consumer Behavior Driving Bank Profitability

You may think that lower balances spell bad news for banks, but that isn’t the case. Credit card lending is more profitable than ever thanks to steadily declining credit card delinquency. Credit card delinquency is near an all-time low 2.34 percent.14

Despite better borrowing behavior, banks have held interest on credit cards steady between 13% and 14%37 since 2010. Today, interest rates on credit accounts (assessed interest) is 14%. This means bank profits on credit cards are at all-time highs. In 2015, banks earned over $102 billion dollars from credit card interest and fees.38 This is 15 percent more than banks earned in 2010.

How Does Your State Compare?

Using data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax, you can compare median credit card balances and credit card delinquency. You can even see how each generation in your state compares to the national median.

Median Credit Card Balance by Age (All Consumers) by State

Footnotes:

  1. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”

    The October 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations shows 75.02 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit showed 268 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 201 million credit card users.

  2. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit , Page 4, Q1 2017, 453 million credit card accounts. 459 million credit card accounts / 201 million credit card users1 = 2.3 credit cards per person.
  3. The 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households reports 58 percent of credit card users carried a balance in 2015. 201 million1 * 58% = 116 million people with credit card debt.

    Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows that 67 percent of credit card users were not “full payers.” This results in a high estimate of 135 million people with credit card debt.

    Average estimate is 125 million with credit card debt.

  4. Using data from the 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households, 201 million credit card users * (58 percent not full payers) * $4,262 per individual5 = $496 billion in credit card debt.

    Using data from Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate 201 million credit card users * (67 percent not full payers) * $4,148 per individual5 = $558 billion in credit card debt.

    Average estimated total credit card debt is $527 billion.

  5. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $784 billion in outstanding credit card debt. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33 percent full payers, we calculate:

    [$784 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 201 million credit card users1)] / (201 million credit card users * (100% – 33% not full payers)) = $4,148

    Using their estimate of 42 percent full payers, from the 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households and the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:

    [$784 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 42% full payer * 201 million credit card users1)] / (201 million credit card users * (100% – 42% not full payers)) = $4,262

    Average estimated credit card debt per person is $4,205.

  6. Average per person credit card is $4,2055 and the average household contains 1.94 adults over the age of 18. $4,205 * 1.94 = $8,158.
  7. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Compare Q2 2016 to Q2 2017, outstanding credit card debt (Page 3).
  8. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Page 3, Q2 2017, credit card debt $784 billion / 201 million1 = $3,905.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017. National Balance on Bankcards — average of $5,551.
  10. Page 30, 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households.
  11. 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports 37.1 percent of U.S. households carry credit card debt. There are 125.82 million U.S. households.

    Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw reported that 46.1 percent of U.S. households carried a balance the month prior to the Survey of Consumer Finances.

    Between 48 million14 and 58 million15 households carry credit card debt. Using the average of the two estimates, we believe 53 million households out of 125.82 million households carry credit card debt.

  12. a. CCP data shows 76.6 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit showed 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.

    The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $866 billion in outstanding credit card debt in Q3 2008. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33 percent full payers, we calculate:

    [$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 183 million credit card users)] / (183 million credit card users * (100% – 33% not full payers)) = $5,365

    U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2008 Panel, Wave 4shows 44.5 percent of all households with a credit report have credit card debt. Using this along with the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:

    [$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * (100% – 44.5%) full payer * 240 million people with credit reports)] / (240 million people with credit reports * (44.5% not full payers)) = $5,769

    Average estimated credit card debt per person is $5,567.

    b. Average per person credit card is $5,56712a and in 2008, the average household contained 1.92 adults over the age of 18. $5,567 * 1.92 = $10,689.

  13. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Real Median Household Income in the United States [MEHOINUSA672N], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N, September 6, 2017.
  14. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit , Page 12, % of Total Balance 90+ Days Delinquent, Credit Cards
  15. Statement balances are the balances owed to a credit card company at the end of a billing cycle. Full payers will pay off the entirety of their statement balance each month. Finding an estimate of full payers” statement balances was not an easy task. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York does not provide estimates of full payers compared to people who carry a balance.

    In order to get our estimates, we turned to academic research outside of the Federal Reserve Banks. In the paper, Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we found robust estimates of the statement balances of “full payers.” According to their analysis (see Table 1-A), full payers had mean statement balances of $3,412 (when summarized across all credit cards) before they went on to pay off the debt.

    We multiplied $3,412 by the estimated number of full payers to get the estimated balances of full payers.

  16. CCP data shows 76.6 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.

    The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $866 billion in outstanding credit card debt in Q3 2008. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33 percent full payers, we calculate:

    $866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 183 million credit card users) = $659 billion

    U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2008 Panel, Wave 4shows 44.5 percent of all households with a credit report have credit card debt. Using this along with the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:

    $866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * (100% – 44.5%) full payer * 240 million people with credit reports) = $587 billion

    Estimated credit card debt is $623 billion.

  17. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”

    The October 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations Shows 75.02 percent of the adult population uses credit cards. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 267 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 201 million credit card users. Page 30, 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households shows that 58 percent of households with credit cards sometimes or always carry a balance.

    201 million * 58% = 116 million people with credit card debt

  18. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”

    The October 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations Shows 75.02 percent of the adult population uses credit cards. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 267 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 201 million credit card users. Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows that 67 percent of credit card users were not “full payers.”

    201 million * 67% = 135 million people with credit card debt

  19. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports 37.1 percent of U.S. households carry credit card debt. There are 125.82 million U.S. households.
  20. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw reported that 46.1 percent of U.S. households carried a balance the month prior to the Survey of Consumer Finances.
  21. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports a median credit card debt of $2,300 per household with credit card debt.
  22. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw used CCP data and determined a more realistic median credit card debt of $3,500 per household. Two-person households systematically underreported their debt.
  23. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports a median credit card debt of $5,700 per household with credit card debt.
  24. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw used CCP data and determined a more realistic average credit card debt of $9,600 per household.
  25. The Complex Story of American Debt, Page 9.
  26. Table 1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  27. Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing.
  28. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Commercial Bank Interest Rate on Credit Card Plans, Accounts Assessed Interest [TERMCBCCINTNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TERMCBCCINTNS, September 7, 2017.

    May 2017 interest rate on accounts assessed interest 14%: $10,000 * 14% = $1,400.

  29. Table 1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  30. $4,1482 * 14%28 = $581
  31. $4,2622 * 14%28 = $597
  32. Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  33. 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017. Average credit card balance for baby boomers is $6,889 compared to a national average of $5,551.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017. Average credit card balance for millennials is $3,542 compared to a national average of $5,551.
  36. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Commercial Bank Interest Rate on Credit Card Plans, Accounts Assessed Interest [TERMCBCCINTNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TERMCBCCINTNS, September 7, 2017.
  37. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Sources of Revenue: Credit Card Income from Consumers for Credit Intermediation and Related Activities, All Establishments, Employer Firms [REVCICEF522ALLEST], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/REVCICEF522ALLEST, September 7, 2017.
  38. CCP data shows 76.6 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.

    The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Page 3, Q3 2008, credit card debt $886 billion / 183 million = $4,720

  39. State Level Household Debt Statistics 1999-2016, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, May, 2017. All average credit card debt balances are calculated using the following formula:

    (Total Credit Card Balancea – Balance of Population Not Carrying Debtb) / Population Carrying Credit Card Debtc

    1. Total Credit Card Balance = (Average Credit Card Debt Per Capita * Population)
    2. Balance of Population Not Carrying Debt = Average Credit Card Debt Per Capita * Population * % of Population Using a Credit Card
    3. Population * % of Population Using a Credit Card * (1 – .375)
  40. State Level Household Debt Statistics 1999-2016, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, May, 2017.
  41. Data from Consumer Credit Explorer.

The post Average Household Credit Card Debt in America: 2017 Statistics appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

32 Ways to Leave Your High-Interest Credit Card

credit card with high apr

Sure, there were the good times — back when you and your credit card first got together. Maybe your card was giving you a 0% introductory APR. Maybe you went everywhere together, bought everything together … but things changed. Today you feel like you’re giving a lot more than you’re getting, and now you’re wondering how you can leave your high-interest credit card behind.

While there aren’t as many options for leaving your credit card as there are ways to leave your lover (Paul Simon famously notes there must be 50 of those), it doesn’t mean you’re stuck. No, you’re probably not going to be able to slip out the back, Jack (that debt’s not going away even if you run!), but you most definitely can make a new plan, Stan. So don’t be coy, Roy, just listen to me …

1. Negotiate a Lower Rate

Most people don’t bother to ask their credit card issuer for a lower rate, but sometimes lowering your current APR can be as simple as that, so …

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Before you storm out on your credit card, try communicating. It could be worth your time to see if your card issuer will lower your interest rate, especially if your relationship is a long one. Keep in mind, they might pull your credit to see if you’re deserving of a lower APR. That’s why you’ll want to …

3. Check Your Credit Score …

You’ll want to get an idea of whether you’re likely to qualify for a lower APR, lest you incur a hard inquiry on your credit report only to get rejected. (You can view two of your free credit scores, along with some recommendations for credit cards it could help you qualify for, on Credit.com.)

4. … Fix it Up Before Inquiring

If your scores are less than stellar, you may want to try brushing them up before you call up your issuer. You can find 11 ways to improve your credit here.

5. Do Some Research

Are there other cards out there you qualify for that can offer you a better APR? If so, you can use this information to your advantage while negotiating with your current issuer.

6. Begin Negotiating With Your Oldest Card

Like we said before, your issuer might be willing to work with you, especially if you’ve been a cardholder for several years, so start negotiating with whichever card issuer you’ve been with longest to see if you can reduce your interest rate there.

7. Keep It Simple

It’s not a difficult process to ask for a decrease in your APR. In fact, it’s as simple as a call to the customer service line listed on the back of your card. Yes, they could say no, but that’s where your research will come in handy and you can …

8. Leverage Your Loyalty

If they say they can’t reduce your rate, remind them of how long you’ve been with the company, how you’ve never had a late payment or maxed out your card’s balance. Whatever positives you can cite can be helpful. If that doesn’t work, tell them what the other cards you’ve researched are offering. But most importantly …

9. Don’t Give Up Right Away

The old adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is especially important here. Your issuer may say no, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Call them multiple times, and ask to speak to a supervisor if their answer continues to be no. Of course, you’ll want to be polite throughout the process. If all of this doesn’t work, it’s time to …

10. Consider an Upgrade

A lot of card issuers have tiered credit card offerings, so you could potentially upgrade to a new card with the same issuer that offers a lower interest rate and transfer your current balance to that card.

11. Keep Watching Your Credit …

Just like when an issuer considers lowering your interest rate, which we mentioned above, they’ll likely check your credit as part of your application for a card upgrade. So, if you think there’s a better credit card available elsewhere, you might not want to ask them to upgrade you.

12. … & Limit Your Card Applications

In fact, every time you apply for new credit you’re going to have a hard inquiry and a ding to your credit scores. These can add up if you have too many in a short span of time and even impact your ability to qualify for a new card, so be very selective or you could end up hurting your credit. (You can read here about how often you can apply for new credit without hurting your credit scores too much.)

If you’ve tried all these steps with your current credit card issuer to no avail, it’s time to look at starting a new relationship with a new issuer.

13. Get a Balance Transfer Card

Let’s say you’ve tried everything to lower your current APR with your card issuer and they just won’t work with you. Perhaps you’ve had some late payments or you just haven’t been with them that long. Getting a balance transfer credit card could make sense for you.

14. Find an Introductory 0% APR

There are lots of options to choose from in the world of balance transfer credit cards with a low or even 0% introductory APR. Here’s how to find the right one for you …

15. Comparison Shop

You can start by checking out some of the best balance transfer credit cards and comparing what they offer.

16. Give Yourself Plenty of Time

There are balance transfer cards that offer as long as 21 months at 0% financing for balance transfers and even new purchases. If you have a lot of current credit card debt, that could be very beneficial to you, as you’ll eliminate your interest while paying down your principal.

17. Don’t Forget the Transfer Fees …

Of course, most balance transfer cards charge you a fee for transferring your balance – typically 3% to 5%, so be sure to compare those amounts as well.

18. … & the Annual Fees

Some cards also charge an annual fee, so you’ll want to consider that cost as well as you compare balance transfer offers.

19. Make Sure You Time it Right

If you’re looking at buying a new house, car or other major purchase anytime soon, you’ll want to time your credit card application with that in mind since your credit scores will be impacted by that aforementioned hard inquiry that takes place during your application process.

20. Include Your Balance Transfer Amount in Your Application

This can help ensure the transfer goes smoothly and quickly. The new issuer will reach out to your current card issuer once you’re approved and get the transfer process started right away, saving you the hassle of doing it later.

21. Pay Off Your Balance

Once you have your new balance transfer card, it’s important to focus your attention on getting that balance paid off before your introductory rate expires. Otherwise, your balance is going to revert to the standard variable rate.

22. Keep Your Old Card

No, keeping your old card isn’t exactly leaving it, but hear us out. You might be tempted to close your old card, particularly if your card issuer refused to reduce your APR when you transferred your balance, but keeping it open can be good for your credit score.

That’s because your credit scores improve the longer you have a credit account in good standing, so if you had a decent payment history, keeping that card open could really help. Moreover, your total credit line will be higher if you keep it open, also helping your scores. (You can find a full explainer on how closing a card can affect your credit here.)

Go ahead and cut it up, though, if it makes you feel better. That will also keep you from using it.

23. Keep Your New Interest Rate Low

Now that you have a card with a lower APR, even if it’s just an introductory rate, there are things you can do to keep your rate as low as possible. You’ll want to …

24. Make Your Payments On Time …

Late payments can send your APR soaring, so make all of your payments on time to avoid a penalty APR.

25. … & Keep Your Balance Low

If you can’t pay off your balance each month, at least try to make payments that keep your balance below 30% of your credit limit, though below 10% is even better if you want to do your credit scores a real favor.

26. Don’t Take Cash Advances

These usually come with a higher variable APR than purchases or balance transfers, so try to avoid them if you want to keep your rates down.

27. Try Some Other Alternatives …

If you’ve had a bad run financially and aren’t going to qualify for a credit card with a lower APR, you still have plenty of money-saving options, so don’t give up just yet. You have some alternatives …

28. Like a Personal Loan …

You may be able to pay off your credit card debt with a personal loan from your bank or credit union, but keep in mind that unless you have excellent credit, you’ll likely need some kind of collateral to secure it. Be sure to ask about the lender’s credit requirements before applying.

29. Or a Home Equity Line of Credit …

If you own a home and have some equity built up, this can be a great option for paying off debt at a lower interest rate. You can save a ton by moving your debt to a HELOC.

30. … But Don’t Spend Your Savings

Use the money you save by refinancing through a HELOC on creating an emergency fund (if you don’t already have one). Once that’s set up, you can use the money as prepayment against your home loan or to boost your retirement savings.

31. Consider a Debt Management Plan …

A debt management plan allows you to turn over all of your debt information to a credit counseling agency. You make one monthly payment to them, and they pay your credit cards and other debts for you. These plans usually last three to five years, and a lot of lenders lower your interest rates when you participate in such a plan. You’ll want to be sure to find a reputable credit counseling agency, so do your research.

32. … Or File for Bankruptcy

As a last-resort option, you can consider getting out from under your high-interest credit card debt by declaring bankruptcy. You’ll lower your debt and have many years to pay it off depending on the type of bankruptcy relief you file for. Just remember you’ll also have a major blemish on your credit reports for up to 10 years that could seriously affect your ability to get credit (in general and at n affordable rate) during that time. Still, if your debt is significant, this could be the right option for you. Talking to a credit counselor or bankruptcy attorney before deciding could help you make the right choice for your circumstances.

Have another question about credit card debt? Leave it in the comments section and one of our credit experts will try to get back to you.

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The post 32 Ways to Leave Your High-Interest Credit Card appeared first on Credit.com.

How a Balance Transfer Affects Your Credit Score

Paying no interest can save you a ton of money, but can applying for and getting a balance transfer credit card hurt your credit?

If you’re struggling with credit card debt that you just can’t seem to get out from under, one of the best ways to break free from that debt is to use a 0% balance transfer card. Doing so saves you money in the long run since you won’t be paying interest charges while you work on paying down that balance.

What You Need to Know

First, applying for a new credit card of any kind can end up dinging your credit just a little. That’s because credit card issuers do what’s known as a “hard inquiry” to determine if you qualify for their product. That check of your credit can have a small and temporary effect on your credit scores, but it’s typically more than offset when you’re approved for the new card because your credit utilization improves with the new line of credit. And as soon as you start whittling away at your outstanding debt with your new balance transfer card, your credit is likely to improve even more. (If you don’t know where your credit currently stands, you can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

The five big factors in determining your credit score include your credit utilization, payment history, types of credit, credit inquiries and the age of your accounts. Here’s an explanation of each and how they are potentially affected when you apply for and use a balance transfer credit card:

The 5 Components of Your Credit Score

1. Credit Utilization
What it Is: This is basically the amount your currently owe on your revolving credit accounts, and makes up 30% of your total score. If you keep your balances to less than a 30% of your limit, and preferably 10%, you’ll be doing your credit scores a huge favor.
How it’s Affected: Suppose you owe $10,000 on Card A, which has a limit of $12,000. You’re using 83% of your available credit. But now you open Card B and move all $10,000 onto it (it has a limit of $10,000). You are now using a total combined available credit of 45% (a combined $22,000 on both cards). The new lower credit utilization could help boost your credit score.

2. Payment History
What it Is: This is the most important part of your credit scores and counts for 35% of your total. That’s why it’s so important to make your payments on time and avoid having your accounts go into collections at all costs.
How it’s Affected: If you made regular, on-time payments on the old card, and continue to make regular, on-time payments on the new card, you shouldn’t see any change here.

3. Types of Credit
What it Is: This is worth 10% of your score and in this area, diversity is key, so having a good mix of credit cards, auto loans, mortgage loans and even personal loans will help give you a good score.
How it’s Affected: Since you probably already have a credit card if you’re looking to transfer a balance to a new card, you likely won’t see much, if any, difference here.

4. Credit Inquiries.
What it Is: This area makes up 10% of your credit scores. Too many credit inquires at the same time can drop your score.
How it’s Affected: Applying for a new card will put an inquiry on your credit. As long as you’re not applying for multiple cards, a single inquiry will have a very small effect.  Probably only dropping your score by less than 5 points.

5. Age of Credit
What it Is: The longer you have been responsibly using credit, the better your score in this area. It accounts for 15% of your total score.
How it’s Affected: Once you get your new card, hang on to your old one. Don’t cancel it. Here’s why: You want to keep your oldest cards open so that your active credit has as long a history as possible. Plus, if you close the old card, you won’t get the benefit of a score boost in your credit utilization, as explained above.

Your Credit & Balance Transfer Cards: The Bottom Line

Opening a new account and transferring the balance over should save you money in the long run, and have a positive impact on your credit score — so long as you don’t transfer your old balance and then turn right away and charge up a new one. Don’t expect a huge jump at the very beginning, but as you continue to pay down your balance by making timely payments, you should see some incremental improvement.

But is a balance transfer right for you? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. It depends on the size of your debt, the interest rate, your income, your current credit score, and how soon you think you can wipe out your debt.

Some of the credit cards with the longest 0% introductory APR offers on balance transfers include:

  • The Citi Diamond Preferred leads the pack with 21 months interest-free financing for balance transfers and purchases. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
  • The Discover it card, also offers 21 months interest-free financing on balance transfers and six months for purchases
  • The Citi Double Cash card offers 18 months interest-free financing on balance transfers
  • The Chase Slate card offers 15 months interest-free financing, plus no transfer fee if you transfer your balance within 60 days of approval

One consideration is whether you can pay off your debt during the 0% introductory APR period. If you feel your debt is too big to pay off in 15, 18 or even 21 months or you’re worried about running up a balance on both cards, you could consider taking out a personal loan to pay it off. You won’t get the 0% interest offer, but you will likely get a significantly lower overall interest rate than the credit card will offer after the introductory period ends and you’ll have a set date that your debt will be paid off by. (You can learn more about getting an unsecured personal loan here.)

Whatever decision you make, you can rest assured that applying for an using a balance transfer credit card won’t severely damage your credit so long as it used it as intended. And, if used properly, there’s a very good chance your credit score will improve.

At publishing time, the Citi Diamond Preferred, Discover it, Citi Double Cash and Chase Slate credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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5 Signs You’re Not Ready to Be a Stay-at-Home Parent

It's a big decision to stay home after having a baby — but doing so isn't an option that is right for every mother.

Sometimes new mothers have a hard time deciding if they want to return to work after their baby is born, especially after bonding with their child during maternity leave. Sometimes there is no choice — like if you’re a single parent or your family can’t afford to live solely on your partner’s salary — and there’s not much left to do but head back to the office.

Women who have the option to stay home with a baby may have trouble weighing the pros and cons. As hard as it is to decide, there might be some fairly obvious signs that you’re actually not ready to be a stay-at-home mom. Of course, these tip offs apply to all those prospective stay-at-home dads, too.

Here are a few signs you’re not ready to be a stay-at-home parent.

1. You Have a Budget But Don’t Follow It 

Having a budget is one thing, but following it is something entirely different. Just because it looks like you have your finances under control on paper, if your credit card statements tell a different story, you might need to reconsider staying home, at least until you can get your spending under control. (Curious how your credit card debt is affecting your credit? You can see a free snapshot of your credit report here.)

Having a baby is bound to bring in even more expenses (according to the Department of Agriculture, the current cost of raising a child through age 17 is a whopping $233,610), so if you already have trouble following a budget — or you haven’t updated your budget yet to include everything your baby will need — you may want to consider seeing what following an updated budget would be like for at least a month before deciding if you can afford to live on one salary.

2. You Haven’t Saved for Retirement Yet/You Have No Retirement Savings Plan if You Quit

It’s no secret that Americans are worried about retirement. In fact, one recent survey found that 56% of Americans lose sleep over saving for retirement, while another found that 38% of millennials find retirement to be a significant financial stressor. Even if you have started saving but it’s been a few years since you’ve checked in on your progress, it may be time for a bump in how much you put away … something that will be much more difficult to do if you decide to leave your job.

Of course parents who decide to stay at home do have options when it comes to retirement (spousal IRAs, self-employed retirement funds and rollover accounts, to name a few). But if you don’t qualify for them, don’t care to look into them or can’t afford to put anything else away if you leave your job, it’s probably best to reconsider leaving until you can. You can read this guide to learn more about IRAs.

3. Your Partner’s Health Insurance Options for You & Your Baby Are Subpar at Best

While the future of healthcare is a little shaky right now, there’s one thing you can safely assume no matter what happens — you and your baby will need some. Newborns spend the first six months of their lives visiting a pediatrician at least once a month (often much more frequently in their first few weeks), and new moms, in particular, will have plenty of check-ups with their OB as well. These aren’t things you’ll want to do without health insurance, so if your partner’s options for you and your child don’t stack up, staying on yours until something better comes along is a good idea.

4. Your Emergency Savings Account Is Minimal

You might think having three months worth of bills covered in an emergency account is great — and it is — but it might not be enough if you’re considering leaving your job. Experts recommend having at least three to six months’ worth of bills covered in an emergency savings account, and that doesn’t really take into account all the extras that come along with having a baby. If you’ll be moving into a house from an apartment for more space, assume that you’ll have random projects pop up that will start draining that emergency fund quickly. If your partner can afford to keep funding the account to cover for any withdrawals you take or to provide you with more of a cushion that’s one thing, but if the account has been stagnant for a while and your family can’t afford to put anything else away right now, maybe a better idea is to stay at your job and slowly build up the emergency account a bit more so that when/if the time comes that you leave your job, you’ll feel more secure knowing your emergency funds are all there.

(And, if you don’t have a savings account at all, you’ll want to start socking away dollars ASAP. No need to panic, though: This piece will help you create an emergency fund in 30 days or less.)

5. You Struggle Spending All Day Alone with the Baby During Work Leave

Let’s be honest — babies are tough to take care of. So if you find it difficult to stay positive while on maternity or paternity leave, that might be a sign that you’re not quite ready stay home full time with a baby. Working is about a lot more than just a paycheck — it’s about having some time to yourself (funny how commutes suddenly become a wonderful thing) and with other adults, and it’s about having a job to do that both stimulates and fulfills you. If you don’t think staying at home with a baby will do all of those things for you, it’s probably best for you, and your family, if you head back to work.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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5 Things to Think Twice About Putting on Your Credit Card

Want to keep your credit card debt in check? Avoid charging these five things.

Credit cards are useful financial tools. They can fund large purchases, build credit and help consumers establish financial independence. But they can also get cardholders into major financial trouble when used improperly. Not all credit card purchases are created equal, and some should be completely sidestepped to avoid unmanageable credit card debt.

Not only can that debt stress you out, it can hurt your credit scores, which can limit your ability to get future credit for things like a mortgage or an auto loan. You can see how your current debt is impacting your credit using our free credit report summary. It provides you with two of your credit scores, completely free and updated every 14 days, plus a summary of how you’re managing your credit in five key areas.

Here are five ways you probably don’t want to use your credit card if you want to be better equipped to manage your credit card balance.

1. Pay Monthly Utilities

Paying monthly utility bills may be especially appealing to cardholders with rewards credit cards — after all, those bills are another way to maximize rewards. In that scenario, it could make sense to pay your bills using a credit card.

But many companies charge convenience fees to pay with a credit card, so you’ll end up paying more than necessary. If you can’t pay off the bill balance in full each month, you could end up paying a lot in interest charges. As interest accrues and your bills continue to stack up, it could become very easy to fall far behind.

If you’re having trouble paying your bills, you might be better off reducing your spending or working with your service providers to come up with an alternative payment plan.

2. Pay College Tuition

There are many ways to pay for college. Student loans, scholarships and part-time jobs can all fund your education. These options are either free or far cheaper than using a credit card. If you wince at the idea of taking out a student loan, remember that a loan will come with much lower interest than a credit card payment. What’s more, most student loans are deferred until after graduation, while you will making monthly payments on your credit card debt almost immediately.

3. Settle Tax Debt

If you find yourself with an unexpected debt to the IRS, it could be tempting simply to charge it. This is usually a bad call.

Paying the IRS with a credit card may result in a convenience fee, and unless you can pay off the balance immediately, you’ll wind up paying interest on that debt quickly. The IRS offers a number of solutions for taxpayers with substantial tax debt, including repayment programs and settlements for less than the original amount owed.

4. Take Out Cash Advances

Cash advances let you take out cash against your credit card balance, but can be far more expensive than the ATM fee you’d pay using your debit card. The cost varies, but some credit cards will charge you a one-time cash advance fee and even an ATM fee if applicable. What’s more, most cards charge a higher APR for cash advances, and you start accruing interest immediately.

The only time a cash advance may make sense is in the case of an emergency where your only alternatives are over drafting at your bank or taking out a payday loan. Even then, it’s a good idea to try to avoid all these scenarios.

5. Charge Your Business Startup Expenses

If you’re starting a new business, you may have a lot of upfront expenses. But the problem with using credit cards to fund your startup is that it could take years for your business to succeed and turn a profit. During that time, you could end up paying thousands of dollars in interest. And if your business fails you’ll still be stuck with credit card debt.

You may be better off finding alternate sources of funding, which could include small business loans or investors.

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The post 5 Things to Think Twice About Putting on Your Credit Card appeared first on Credit.com.

This Trick Will Help You Finally Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt

Here's the best way to leverage those flashy 0% APR offers from credit card issuers.

In 2017, one-in-four Americans say they’re thinking about money more than just about anything else. Does that sound like you? One of the best ways to clear some of your head space may be to pay down credit card debt. Less debt means fewer minimum payments, which means an easier time managing your day-to-day cash flow.

That’s not the only benefit of paying off credit card debt early either. With annual percentage rates (APRs) in excess of 15%, credit cards can cost you a big chunk of change in interest. Plus, high credit card balances can do big damage to your credit. (You can see the effect of your current balances by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

A Big Trick for Paying Off Credit Card Debt

Paying off credit cards takes planning and discipline. But you can also use a few tricks to make the process easier.

One big trick to make paying off credit card debt both easier and faster is using 0% APR balance transfer offers. It’s a simple strategy that can save you hundreds, or even thousands, in interest, not to mention allows you to potentially pay off your debt sooner.

You’ve got to leverage the offer correctly, however. Here are the basic steps to using this strategy.

  1. Apply for a card with a 0% introductory APR offer on balance transfers.
  2. Move some or all of your balance from an interest-bearing card to the card with the 0% APR. (Wondering what card to use? You can view our picks for the best balance transfer cards here.)
  3. Pay down that card as quickly as you can.
  4. If the card still has a balance when the introductory offer is up, consider applying for another 0% introductory APR card, and transfer the balance again. (More on this in a minute.)

That’s the gist of the strategy. It’s a great option for those with credit high enough to qualify for 0% introductory APR offers. Before you dive in, though, read through these additional tips and tricks.

1. Watch the Balance Transfer Fees

First off, it’s essential that you look at and understand balance transfer fees. Most balance transfer deals come with an upfront fee that gets tacked onto your balance once you make the transfer. This is how credit card companies come out on top with balance transfer deals.

Many times, transferring the balance to the 0% interest card will still save you money. But that may not be the case if you’re transferring a relatively small balance or if you’ll pay off the debt quickly either way.

To know whether or not a balance transfer will save you money, you’ll need to calculate your break-even point. First, estimate how many months it will take you to pay off the transferrable balance. Then, figure out how much interest you’d pay in that period of time if you did not transfer the balance. Finally, calculate the total fee you’d pay on the balance transfer.

If the balance transfer fee is more than the interest you’d pay in your current situation, it’s not worth your while.

2. Keep Track of Timing

Because balance transfer deals typically last between six and 18 months, you’ll need to keep careful track of when each introductory offer ends. If you’re running multiple balance transfer offers to pay off a lot of debt, keep a spreadsheet of offer end dates, current APRs, and future APRs once the offer is up.

Have a look at your spreadsheet each month. When a card’s offer period is about to end, decide whether to roll the remaining balance to a new balance transfer deal, or to leave it where it’s at.

Remember, it’s in your best interest to pay your transferred debt off in full by the time the 0% introductory offers expires. While you could potentially move the debt to another balance-transfer credit card, you’ll likely have to pay another fee. Plus, you’ll incur another hard inquiry on your credit report, which could ding your credit score. That’s why the next step is particularly important.

3. Know Your Credit Situation

This debt payoff strategy won’t work for everyone. You’ll likely only qualify for good balance transfer deals if you have good credit in the first place. And it’s difficult to say for sure how this scheme will affect your score.

On one hand, the hard inquiries generated by additional credit card applications will ding your score. But having a higher overall credit limit will improve it. These two may balance one another out over time.

The key is to keep track of your credit score throughout this process. If your score isn’t currently high enough to qualify for a 0% introductory APR deal, you may want to take time to polish up your credit before you apply.

4. Don’t Add New Debt

The number one key to making this strategy work for you is to not add any new debt. If you can’t avoid temptation to spend because you now have more available credit, you’ll just add to your mountain of credit card debt. One option is to shred your cards, even if you don’t close your accounts. This makes it harder to impulse spend on those cards that now have no balance once you’ve completed the transfer.

As long as you keep from adding new debt and follow the steps outlined here, 2017 could be a great year for getting free from debt.

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The post This Trick Will Help You Finally Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

How to Handle Debt & Maintain Your Mental Health

It’s no secret that most people feel lousy when they’re in financial trouble, and one of the biggest financial stressors seems to be debt.

It’s no secret that most people feel lousy when they’re in financial trouble, and one of the biggest financial stressors seems to be debt. When you’re in debt, simple tasks like going to your mailbox, where you anticipate finding an avalanche of bills or overdue notices, can bring on stress. If you relate to this feeling, you aren’t alone. According to a Time article, there are a plethora of Americans in an excessive amount of debt. In fact, the Federal Reserve reported at the end of 2015 that, on average, an American between the ages of 18 and 64 has $4,717 in credit card debt.

So aside from being a burden on our wallets, what does this debt do to us?

“Financial issues are a common source of stress,” Dr. Jay Winner, director of the Stress Reduction Program for Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, California, said. “Additionally, when someone has extensive debt, there is a tendency to work excessive hours. This deviation from a healthy work-life balance leaves people less resilient to other stressors in their lives.”

How Debt Stress Impacts You

Chronic stress is linked to a wide variety of mental health ailments. Dr. Robert Williams, a psychiatrist in Phoenix, explained that long-term stress physically affects the brain through the well-known “fight or flight” mechanism, which occurs during times of perceived danger, such as those experienced when a threat to financial well-being occurs. Williams explained that when the deep limbic system, or primitive brain, is less active, there is generally a positive, more hopeful state of mind. When it is heated up, or overactive from too much stimulation in the form of perceived threats, negativity can take over.

In addition to an overactive limbic system, Williams said some people are born with a thin cerebral cortex. Emotional stability is a manifestation of the cerebral cortex, and studies suggest a relationship between depression and a thinning cerebral cortex. Dr. Williams said the combination of an overactive limbic system and a thinning cerebral cortex could lead to severe depression. Long-term stress from things like too much debt can cause anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, feelings of being overwhelmed, irritability or anger, sadness or depression, even thoughts of suicide.

Coping With Debt Stress

If you are stressed because of a financial situation, here are some suggestions from Dr. Winner that may help you cope.

  • Be mindful. Focus on doing one thing at a time with your full attention.
  • Learn a relaxation exercise. Learning to relax for a specified period of time will help you learn to relax through the day and reduce stress.
  • Do not resist the stress. There are not much in the way of health risks from short-term stress; so if you’re too stressed now, don’t stress about being stressed. Just learn some strategies so the stress does not become excessive in the long term.
  • Learn patience. This is important because the emotion most strongly associated with heart disease is anger and hostility.
  • Decrease the frustration of failure. Instead of thinking you are worthless when things go wrong, realize progress comes from learning from our mistakes. Ask, “What can I learn from this?”
  • Keep things in perspective. One way to keep things in perspective is to think of your health, family, friends etc.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat nutritiously and mindfully, enjoying the taste and aroma of your food. Get regular exercise.
  • Have some technology-free time. If you can spend some of that time out in nature, that’s all the better.
  • Talk with someone. If you’re overwhelmed by stress and basic techniques are not helping, discuss this with a physician or mental health professional.

Paying Off Your Debts

Getting out of debt is one sure-fire way to help reduce your stress levels. Of course this is easier said than done, so consider taking small steps toward this larger goal. To start, gather all the information about your debts, including who you owe what amounts to and any interest rates or fees that are applicable to each of the debts. From there, consider what options you have. Can you consolidate your debts? Move the debt to a balance transfer credit card and eliminate interest charges for a while? You may even decide to seek the advice of a professional debt counselor to help you find the right path.

Whatever you do, take a deep breath and keep moving forward. Not only will paying off these debts help your stress, but it will help improve your credit scores. (You can see how paying down your debts are affecting your credit by checking out two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

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The post How to Handle Debt & Maintain Your Mental Health appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Financial New Year Resolutions You Might Want to Try

Here are five financial new year's resolutions to put on your to-do list.

Every new year comes with more New Year’s resolutions. Here are five you might want to put on your list.

1. Have a Plan

Set aside some time in 2017 to go over your finances and see how you’ve been doing. Are you following a budget? Do you need to? There might be some lifestyle changes you need to make to stay on top of your bills. You might have to put together a budget for an upcoming event or start saving for your children’s education. Set aside time to figure out where you stand and how you plan to afford your expenses for the year. Consider reevaluating that plan every three months to make sure you are on the same page or make any adjustments.

2. Set Up an Emergency Fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund already, now is the time to create one. Make 2017 the year you are always prepared, even for unexpected expenses. You never know when your heat will break or you need a car repair. An emergency fund can be an easy fix for an unexpected expense and keep you out of debt at the same time. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

3. Pay Off Your Credit Card

If your credit card has a balance, now is the time to pay it off. The new year is a fresh start to your life, so why not make it a fresh start for your credit card as well? If you have multiple credit cards with a balance, then you might want to focus on paying one balance down at a time. Continue to make the monthly payments on all cards, although you might want to make biweekly payments to the credit card with the highest interest to see a decrease in your overall balance.

If you have a large amount of credit card debt and aren’t sure how to repay it, you might want to consult with a debt attorney or bankruptcy attorney to weigh your options. It can’t hurt to ask. Consider making a list of your questions before seeking help.

4. Check Your Statements Regularly

Do you check your statements every month? Are you aware of how much money is in your bank account at all times? Make it a New Year’s resolution to always check your finances. You might want to consider signing up for online banking or downloading your bank’s app to help you stay organized. If you are always in the know, then you will always have an idea of how much debt you have, how much you can spend and if there have been any irregularities in your account.

5. Save for an Event

Have anything big planned for 2017? You might want to make a list of financial goals and pick one to start with. Maybe you and your partner have always wanted to go on a tropical vacation together but never had the money. Now is the time. Put a little money aside each month and give yourself an end date. You might want to give yourself a year to save, depending on how much you’ll need. Be sure to check your budget before you save for your goal. You don’t want to fall into debt because you were putting too much money into your savings and didn’t leave enough over to live on.

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