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Let’s cut to the chase and talk about something that’s hitting our wallets hard – consumer credit. The numbers don’t lie: Consumer credit is not just bad; it’s getting worse by the day.
Credit card debt: It’s now at an unprecedented $1.03 trillion.
Other loans and retail credit cards: There’s been a $15 billion increase.
Auto loans: These have risen by $20 billion, totaling $179 trillion.
Interest rates: We’re seeing an average of 20.53%, the highest in 22 years.
Now, despite these sky-high figures, something curious is happening: Delinquency rates are staying low. This means many households are still juggling their debt effectively. But hey, if the economic winds shift, we could be looking at some real trouble.
Related: 9 Financial Mistakes to Avoid in 2024
The credit score connection
Your credit score and consumer debt are like peanut butter and jelly — they just go together. Your score is influenced by payment history, credit utilization and new credit inquiries. Let’s break it down:
Payment history: This is a biggie, making up 35% of your FICO score. Regular, timely payments are your best friend here, boosting your credit. But with debts rising, those monthly payments are also climbing. Missed payments? They’ll ding your credit score for up to seven years.
Credit utilization: Accounting for about 30% of your credit score, this is all about how much credit you’re using versus what you’ve got available. As your debts pile up, so does your credit utilization. Crossing that 30% threshold can start to hurt your score.
New credit inquiries: Applying for new credit cards or loans? That can temporarily lower your score. Be strategic about when and how often you apply for new credit.
Smart debt management
Here’s where we get proactive. You’ve got options like the Avalanche Method, where you tackle debts with the highest interest rates first. Or, try the Snowball Method, knocking out the smallest balances first for quick wins. Both have their merits, depending on your style.
Then there’s debt consolidation. Combine all those pesky debts into one, ideally with a lower interest rate. It’s about simplifying your life and potentially reducing interest costs over time.
And remember, if you pay off a credit card, think twice before closing the account. Why? It can actually hike up your credit utilization ratio and ding your score. Keep those accounts open with a zero balance to keep your credit in good shape.
Debt’s bigger picture
Consumer debt isn’t just about numbers on a screen. It’s about life. High debt payments can eat into your ability to save, impacting your financial future. And if we’re all spending less on the fun stuff, that can ripple out and hit the economy too. Before you know it, we’re staring down the barrel of a recession.
Now, let’s not forget the personal toll. Debt stress is real. It messes with your sleep, strains your relationships and can put major life decisions like buying a home or starting a family on pause. The moral of the story? It’s not just about dollars and cents; it’s about your well-being.
Related: Americans’ Debt Just Exceeded $17 Trillion for the First Time — Here’s the Smartest First Step to Fix Your Finances
Take charge of your debt
So, how do you steer clear of the debt trap? Let me lay out three key tools to help you conquer your debt:
1. Calculate Your CLR: Your Consumer Leverage Ratio (CLR) is the ratio of your monthly consumer debt to your disposable income. If it’s over 20%, you need to hit the brakes and focus on debt reduction.
- How to calculate: To calculate your CLR, divide the total balance of your credit card debt by your total credit limit. For instance, if you have a total credit card debt of $5,000 and a total credit limit of $25,000 across all cards, your CLR is $5,000 ÷ $25,000, which equals 0.20 or 20%.
2. Prioritize debt repayment: Start by targeting those high-interest debts. Use either the Avalanche or Snowball method to get ahead. Paying off these debts not only improves your financial health but also boosts your peace of mind.
- How to implement: List out all your debts in order of their interest rates, from highest to lowest. Continue making minimum payments on all your debts, but direct any extra money you can afford toward the debt with the highest interest rate. Once the highest-interest debt is fully paid, focus on the next highest, and so on.
3. Monitor your spending: Keep an eagle eye on where your cash is going. Use apps or good old-fashioned spreadsheets to track your expenses. Look for areas to cut back on luxuries, so you can channel more funds toward debt repayment and savings.
- How to monitor: You can use budgeting apps, spreadsheets or traditional accounting methods to track your spending. Categorize your expenses into necessities (like rent, utilities, groceries, etc.) and luxuries (like dining out, entertainment, etc.).
Credit utilization isn’t just some fancy financial term; it’s a wake-up call to all of us trying to navigate this tough financial landscape. Listen, the state of consumer credit is alarming, and it’s time we took the reins. By understanding and managing your credit utilization, you’re not just boosting your credit score; you’re building a fortress against the rising tide of debt. Remember, it’s not about the credit you have; it’s about how smartly you use it. Stay sharp, keep your utilization low, and make those smart financial moves!
Related: How to Manage Personal Credit Card Debt as an Entrepreneur