- Those who use credit cards as a tool: they pay off balances every month and collect rewards, or use low APR offers to make money, and they like the organizing features of credit cards that can simplify finances.
- Those who use credit cards as a crutch: they carry a balance and pay interest because, for one reason or another, they were unable to have access to personal cash when they needed/wanted it.
The absolute foundation of personal finance is to spend less than you earn. If you spend more than you earn, then you're in debt. If you spend as much as you earn, then you're fine until something unpredictable happens, and then you're in debt. If you spend less than you earn, you will probably be ok unless you get hit by a serious emergency.
So, what's behind these huge credit card balances? Here's what I've been able to figure out:
I can understand the following expenses, although I do think almost all of them can be prevented.
- Healthcare costs: If a big chunk of your credit card debt is on hospital bills etc., then you were either going without insurance or were under-insured. My cousin recently had a crisis situation with her toddler needing neurosurgery after a fall while they were in the middle of a move, two weeks before their new plan kicked in. Yikes! They set up a payment plan with the hospital and the miscellaneous health care professionals. No credit card needed.
- Living expenses when you've lost your job: This is why an emergency fund is so important. If my emergency fund was still small and I lost my job, I would be out there picking up hours even at minimum wage to make ends meet while I hunted for a better job.
- An unexpected home or auto repair: Yep, two words: "emergency fund"
Now, I don't understand why one would carry a balance for the following:
- Wants: electronics, gifts, books, dining out, travel
- Standard living expenses: groceries, utilities, phone, car insurance, clothing
So I want to know, when the media talks about the huge credit card debt statistics, what category are they referring to? The people who are using credit cards as a tool? Those who are using it as a crutch to get through tough emergency situations? Or those who simply don't know how to manage their money enough to not spend more than they earn?
(In case you were wondering, my credit card debt is all at 0% and will be paid off before I have to pay interest. I used it for doing some home improvements when I purchased my house. I have always had the money to pay it all off if I chose to do so.)