Credit card debt in the United States has reached more than $1 trillion, according to the most recent statistics—and studies are conflicted about how much of that credit card debt belongs to millennials.
Millennials seem to be wary of credit card debt, which would make sense, considering the fact that so many of them are strapped with so much student loan debt that they feel like they can’t take a chance on any more. But there are documented cases of millennials taking clear advantage of credit cards and all the perks they can come with. Most recently, when the Chase Sapphire Reserve card came out, according to Chase, most of the tens of thousands of applicants were millennials.
Credible recently surveyed 500 people and 33 percent of them said that credit card debt is one of the things that scares them most on a daily basis, over options like dying, climate change, not being able to retire, war or none of the above. With results like that, it’s clear that conversations need to be had around credit card debt.
We’ve heard some of these conversations. Don’t sign up for credit cards on campus in exchange for free pizza. Only charge what you can pay off in full every month. Never miss a payment. All of that is fine, but it’s not necessarily helpful in our modern era.
“I believe credit cards are mostly good,” says Clint Hodgdon, CFP®, CRPC®, BFA®, Director of Financial Products at brightpeak. “They can be good if you have a plan and stick to it.”
Unfortunately, studies have shown that many people are using credit cards, not for extravagant purchases and Treat Yo Self days but for emergencies that they don’t have savings to cover or even to bridge the gap between their salary and their cost of living as they try to stay afloat.
“There’s a common misconception that people who have credit card debt can’t control their spending,” Hodgdon says. “While this could certainly be true, sometimes that debt comes from medical expenses, home repairs, or other unplanned expenses.”
If that describes you—or even if you’re someone who has high credit card debt because of overspending—brightpeak has tools that can help you recover (including this credit card payoff plan for beginners).
Credit cards don’t have to be negative if you use them the right way. Used wisely, they are a great way to build up your credit and make it easier to do things like buy a home or a car if that day ever comes for you. Having good credit can be a huge relief on your mental and emotional health and help cut down on stressful conversations if you’re married or dating. So ignoring them altogether may not be a good idea.
Here are some things to be aware of in the arguments of credit cards:
- If you use them correctly, credit cards can take you on a discounted vacation/dinner/night out. Many credit cards now come with either reward points or will give you cash back. “Some rewards are limited or just not the same,” Hodgdon says. “Let’s take airline miles, for example. Depending on the date or time of the flight, you may have to use more or less miles. It may even be unavailable to book with points. That’s another reason I prefer cash back rewards.” If you opt for the rewards points route, you can use your points toward flights, hotels and even rental cars if you want to. The best way to do this is to be aware of the terms of your card. It’ll likely come with an opening bonus and that’s where the bulk of your points come from. But don’t be swayed by the promise of 50,000 points if you can’t manage the amount you have to spend to receive those points. Plan ahead and forecast your finances for the opening period because if you don’t reach the spending goal, you’ve wasted an opportunity. If you spend without tracking or without a plan to pay those charges back, you may get 50,000 points toward a free flight, but you’re also in unexpected debt with no plan to pay it back.
- Credit cards have a direct effect on your FICO credit score. If you keep your account in good standing, that shows up on your credit score and bears positively for your future. The longer you have a credit account the better because that directly affects your score as well. Try not to haphazardly open and close credit accounts because that doesn’t fare well for your report either.
- On the negative side, paying interest on your purchases is definitively never any fun—especially when you’re unsure of how it’s calculated and what you’ll be charged on. The obvious—frequently unhelpful answer—is to pay off the balance every single month, but sometimes that’s not possible. Practically, you can try reaching out to your credit card issuer to ask them to lower your interest rate. If that doesn’t work, you can also look for credit cards that are willing to give you a lower rate than the one you currently have. Depending on how much you’re charging to your card every month, it could save you a lot of money each year.
If you just need to pay off one card, figure out how intensely you’re wanting to get out of debt and put together a plan to achieve it, whether that means doing some freelance work on nights and weekends with whatever your talents are, picking up a part-time job working, drive for Lyft® or put the extra space you have up for rent on AirBnB® if you’re comfortable with that.
“Getting out of debt can be hard work,” Hodgdon says. “Remember that if you’re just maintaining your credit card balance, you’re paying interest each month. If you have a $2,000 balance and a 15 percent interest rate, for example, you’re likely paying about $25 a month in interest. Start with something simple, like giving up something for a month or just a week, and using what you save to make an extra payment. Something as simple as that could help you make progress, and find momentum.”
Credit cards don’t have to be a bad thing, and if you’re not making enough money to cover your monthly expenses, they may actually be a lifesaver. Just be sure you’re planning ahead, staying diligent and not picking up the tab every time the office goes out to happy hour.
Love & Money content is created in partnership with brightpeak Financial