Why Americans now have the highest credit-card debt in U.S. history

These numbers are scary.

Credit Cards and Cash
Flickr | Sean MacEntee

If you’re struggling with debt, you’re not alone. According to a report recently released by the Federal Reserve, Americans now have the highest level of revolving debt (often summarized as credit card debt) in U.S. history.

Collectively, Americans owe $1.021 trillion, to be exact. Yikes!

So how did we get here? One reason behind the spike is that lenders are giving consumers more credit cards. Consumers with below average)credit scores are once again getting access to credit cards for the first time since the Great Recession.

credit cards photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

If you’re one of the millions of people drowning in credit card debt, it may be time to make a plan to pay off your balance once and for all.

“America’s credit card balances have never been higher, but there’s no reason to think they won’t just keep climbing,” says Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst, told CNBC. “Combine that with steadily rising interest rates and you have a potentially volatile mix.”

Writing for Forbes, Nick Clements, creator of MagnifyMoney.com, says consumers are making the following mistakes that leave them trapped in debt:

1. Not understanding why you don’t have a balanced budget

If you set a budget but you always blow it, it’s time to figure out why. Clements recommends starting with your biggest expenses, like your rent and car payment, noting many people take on expenses that simply do not fit their budget. If you’re spending more than half your monthly income on rent, you have a problem, and it’s time to find a new place to live. Even if your overages are due to more frivolous reasons, like eating out too much, it’s important to know the source of your problem so you can get to work on fixing it.

2. Letting your emotions get in the way.

Never base a financial decision on anything other than finances. For example, if your payment is just too high, don’t convince yourself that you can make it work because you just love driving a fancy car. It’s in your financial best interest to realize that maybe a more affordable, used car is the more realistic option for you right now.

3. You don’t use automation.

Saving is a lot easier if you don’t have to think about it. That’s why Clements recommends having contributions to your 401(k), for example, taken automatically out of your paycheck. That way you won’t even realize it’s gone. The same goes for credit card payments. Set it and forget it.

4. You’re swayed by the rewards.

Sure, everyone likes the promise of a free flight or cash back, but those rewards aren’t really rewards when you’re still in debt. If you pay your balance in full and on time each month, go for it. Otherwise, if it’s not in your checking account, you can’t afford it.

automatic payment photo
Flickr | Aranami

5. You’re misusing a debt consolidation program.

While Clements acknowledges that consolidation loans and balance transfers can ultimately be useful, he warns that consumers should be careful not to use them in the wrong way. For example, when you do a balance transfer, your minimum monthly payment will reduce during the promotional period. If this causes you to just keep spending, you could end up in more debt than you were in the first place.

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