Americans suffering from growing credit card debt: how to deal in 2024
Courier-Times, The (Roxboro, NC)
The country's current national credit card balance is $1.08 trillion, a record-high figure. And according to LendingTree's Credit Card Confidence Index, only about 50% of America's credit card users were confident about paying their entire balance for December 2023. The average interest rate crested 21%, another record - the highest logged by the Federal Reserve in almost three decades.
The rate charged by some retail cards is now well above 30%. Credit cards can be quietly destructive for the users' financial future. In recent years, average Americans have found it more and more challenging to afford utilities, rent, and other expenses. Left without options, people's dependence on credit card debt has significantly increased.
According to a Bankrate survey from mid-2023, 47% of American credit card consumers carried their credit card debt from month to month. Wells Fargo Economics published a November 2023 report mentioning that credit card debt is America's fastest-rising household debt category.
According to the LendingTree index, American women are more worried about their credit card debt than their male counterparts. Compared to 64% of men, only 40% of women expressed confidence about paying off their card balance for Dec. 2023.
Credit Card Interest Rates for 2024
Bankrate reports the average credit card rate on Jan. 17, 2024 was 20.74%. Since the start of 2022, this figure has increased by 4.44 percentage points, the highest ever recorded over a two-year span since 1985 .
Many financial analysts believe credit card users may enjoy some relief in 2024, as the Federal Reserve will likely implement two quarter-point rate cuts. Greg McBride, Bankrate's chief financial analyst, expects the average credit card rate will decline slightly more than the two quarter-point rate cuts.
In response to the highest inflation in four decades, The Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee raised the federal funds rate by 5.25 percentage points since March 2022.
The Fed strongly believes that the higher interest rates will help slow down economic growth, and it will be possible to bring inflation down to the 2% target. While this strategy is probably working fine, there have been significant fluctuations in average credit card interest rates as a result.
Impact of Fed Changes
Most cardholders feel the impact of interest moves made by the Fed within a month or two. For most credit cards, there is a close correlation between their variable rates and the prime rate. The typical rate formula for credit cards in America is the Prime Rate plus approximately 12%.
As a result of these factors, cardholders carrying debt balances need to pay 5.25 percentage points higher than what they spent in early 2022 because the Prime Rate has also increased by 5.25 percentage points. Credit card users should not expect the Fed to come to their rescue in 2024. Variable interest rates will likely continue to remain high for the foreseeable future, and users must have a structured plan to deal with this.
Getting Out of Credit Card Debt
Paying off credit card debt successfully demands a hands-on approach that may involve determining the best payment strategy, contacting credit providers for rate negotiation, and much more.
The first and foremost strategy is always to pay more than the monthly minimum payment amount. The credit card issuers earn money from the interest charged during the billing period. Therefore, they make more money when credit card users take more time to pay their bills. As a result of increasing revolving credit card debt and Federal Reserve rate hikes, the average interest paid for credit cards increases.
Users can try methods such as debt avalanche or debt snowball, depending on the amount of credit card debt. Credit card users feeling overwhelmed by their credit card payments can also consider consolidating all their debts under one account.
Applying for a new credit card may sound counterintuitive while finding ways to eliminate credit card debt. However, signing up for 0% balance transfer credit cards for 15 to 18 months is a good idea. It is possible to transfer outstanding credit card debt entirely or partly to that one account. This will mean one simple monthly payment and, most importantly, no interest payment.
Another good alternative is to consolidate your debt with a personal loan. One may even qualify for loan amounts covering their entire credit card balance depending on credit score. Though there will be interest to pay, the rates for personal loans is considerably lower than credit cards.
Another good option is to contact the card issuer and negotiate payment terms. If the card user is a longtime customer with a decent track record of payments, the creditors may offer a hardship program. These programs can relieve individuals suffering from situations beyond their control, such as illness, unemployment, and inflation. Depending on the issuer, a hardship program can provide waived fees or more affordable interest rates.
While trying out these options to pay off their credit card debts, looking for ways to reduce living expenses is essential. Living stingy is one of the best ways to free up more money and use the same to lessen and even eliminate their credit card debt. Some simple ways to reduce living expenses include setting financial boundaries, prioritizing low-cost or free lifestyle experiences, and looking for better deals online for monthly expenses like auto insurance.
In the worst-case scenario, people with extremely high credit card debts may have to consider more serious steps. Some of these measures include creating debt management plans with the help of a nonprofit credit counseling agency, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or debt settlement.