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Americans Had Jobs, Consumer Confidence—and More Credit Card Debt in 2018

credit card debt

Unemployment was historically low and consumer confidence was at an 18-year high in 2018, but, even with jobs and positive feelings about the economy, consumers didn’t give their credit card debt a rest, according to a new report from Experian, the consumer credit reporting company.

In fact, the consumer debt study found that credit spending and consumer debt in 2018 reached historic levels. Just consider these record-setting numbers, according to the study:

  • Credit card debt totaled $834 billion.
  • Mortgage debt went up to $9.4 trillion.
  • Personal loan debt, the fastest kind of consumer debt in 2018, was $291 billion.
  • Student loan debt shot up to $1.37 trillion.
  • Auto loan balances added up to $1.27 trillion—and the average monthly auto payment hit $523.

Debt isn’t all bad, of course. With it, we can get an education that otherwise would be out of reach, buy a home, get a car and cover expenses during emergencies.

But, when you’ve borrowed so much for that education that you fear you can never pay it off or signed loans for your home and car that make it impossible for you to cover more than the basic expenses, you’re in trouble. Debt that equals more than 40 percent of your annual income can be too much, according to NerdWallet.

If you’re among the American consumers who watched their debt spiral out of control in 2018, there’s still time to do better in 2019. Experian has four tips.

Never pay your bills late

According to Experian, this is the “simplest step” to better managing your credit and helping your credit score. “Establishing a positive payment history” counts for 35 percent of your FICO score, which is a number that lenders consider as they determine whether you’re fit to borrow money for a new house, for example.

Always pay off your credit cards

Paying in full and on time is one of our seven healthy habits for using credit. Why? Because you’ll avoid costly interest charges and late fees when you pay those bills off each month and on time. And while those charges may seem small each month, they can add up. NerdWallet found that households with regular credit card debt paid about $1,140 in interest in 2018.

Make some changes

Racking up credit card debt is a red flag that you’re living beyond your means, Experian says. And that debt will only continue to add up unless you make changes now to reverse your spending habits. A budget, which you strictly follow, is a great step toward getting back on track. As you map out your spending plans, be sure you’re socking away money for an emergency fund too.

Don’t fall for the next “great” credit card offer

Save 10 percent on all your purchases! Get a free airplane ticket! You’re probably getting credit card offers in the mail and at retail stores almost daily with some big perks. While they may be enticing, it’s important to remember that lenders can consider consumers with lots of credit cards risky, according to Experian. And that can make it difficult to borrow money when you really need it.

Consider a debt management plan

At CESI, we’ll add one more tip. If you’re worried you’ll never be able to dig your way out of debt, a debt management plan could be the answer. Through a nonprofit counseling agency like CESI, the plans help you pay off unsecured debts, take control of your finances and avoid bankruptcy or debt settlement.

It’s a lot easier to spend than save. But once you do the hard work to get your financial life in order, you’ll reap the benefits of less debt and less stress.


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