Quick, how many credit cards do you have in your wallet?
You say you can’t remember exactly how many.
That’s a sure sign that you might be addicted to credit cards and to debt.
The fact is that America, as a whole has become credit card addicted. According to the most recent statistics, average credit card debt in America is $15,252 per household. Given the fact that this is an average, it’s not hard to guess that many people are carrying credit card debts of $10,000 and more. And this doesn’t count personal loans, auto loans, student loans or mortgages. In fact, when you add it all up, American consumers owe $11.52 trillion in debts.
If you’re wondering if you might be a credit card addict, here are 10 things to look for.
1. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt
Denial is one of the biggest signs that you are addicted to credit cards. If you have no idea as to what your outstanding balances add up to and are just sending in your minimum payments every month, the odds are that you’re in denial.
2. You can’t imagine life without that magic plastic
When you think about your credit cards being lost or stolen, do you find yourself panicking because this would mean your only real source of discretionary income is now gone?
3. You’re constantly applying for new cards
Do you fill out and mail in an application every time you see a juicy credit card offer? Maybe you just can’t resist the perks that come with that card or it’s because your finances are going down, down, down and you think that a credit card will save you.
4. You use any possible way to pay your bills
Are you taking out high-interest cash advances from a credit card in order to pay a bill? In other words, are you robbing Peter to pay Paul? If you’re using any possible method to pay your bills you definitely need help with your credit card addiction.
5. You never worry about increases in APR’s or fees
When you read that fine print about an increase in your APR or some of your fees, do you just blithely ignore it. You’re just not concerned about any of these increases even if it means that you’re paying totally exorbitant interest rates or late payment fees.
6. You keep your debt a secret
What do you do when the subject of credit cards comes up? Do you try to change the conversation? Or worse yet, maybe you’re keeping your credit card debts secret from your significant other. For example, when your credit card bills roll in do you try to hide them? And do you do the same thing with any correspondence you receive from your credit card providers? You may have read how true alcoholics hide their booze to cover their addiction. Well, if you’re hiding your credit card statements and correspondence you’re trying to hide your addiction.
7. Are you a “good deal” shopper?
If you run into a good deal do you have to buy the item even though it means putting it on that magic piece of plastic? Or worse yet, do you have a bunch of items just sitting around your house you never use but bought because they were such “good deals?”
8. You have limited cash reserves
You can’t seem to save any money because you feel that saving is just something out of the past and that it’s useless. Why would you save when all you need is that little piece of plastic to cover any emergency?
9. Your credit card balances are multiplying at a rate that can only be termed astonishing
You’re in the minimum payment trap but it doesn’t matter because you are still not thinking twice before swiping a card. Plus, your balances are so high that if you thought about them you could spend your nights lying in bed thinking about nothing else.
10. You’re totally tapped out
Have you totally maxed out all of your credit cards? Unless this has been the result of some kind of emergency you definitely have a problem. This is a clear indication that your spending is out of control because it definitely exceeds your earnings.
What you need to do
If you answered, “yes” to many of these questions, you might be a credit card addict. If you don’t break the addiction you’re headed for serious financial trouble, which could end up with you having to file for bankruptcy. So, what can you do? First, toss all those credit cards. This might be the most painful thing you do this year but you need to shred all those cards. This is because there’s just no way to get out of debt while you’re still carrying those addictive pieces of plastic.
Get your debt under control
Once you’ve rid yourself of those addictive credit cards, you need to go to work to get your debt under control. To do this, you will need to sit down and develop a debt management program. If the task seems overwhelming you might go to one of those nonprofit consumer credit counseling agencies for help. These agencies have experienced counselors who will go over your spending and income and help you devise a plan for becoming debt-free. In some cases they will even work with your creditors to get your interest rates reduced so that you can become debt free somewhat faster. Do understand that if you haven’t already gotten rid of those credit cards, the consumer credit counseling agency will insist that you do so. If you follow the advice you’re given by your debt counselor you should be debt-free in about five years or less.
If you haven’t already created a household budget it’s important that you do so. There are numerous budgeting tools and apps available many of which are free. The one that we like the best is Mint.com. This is a free financial management tool that will track your spending to help you develop a budget and then even send you email alerts if you overspend in any of your categories. Mint is very easy to use, too. All that’s required is that you type in the numbers of your savings and checking accounts, credit card accounts, investments, auto loans and so forth. Mint will then display all of your financial information together in one easy-to-read graphic.
Create an emergency fund
Since you will no longer have that magic plastic to fall back on in the event of an emergency, you’ll need to create an emergency fund. Most financial experts say that your fund should be the equivalent of at least three months’ of living expenses but six months is better. Naturally, you won’t be able to create this fund overnight. Your goal should be to save at least 10% of your income each month. Do this and you should be able to build an emergency fund in less than nine months. If you find you have trouble saving money, open a savings account and then arrange to have money automatically taken out of your checking account and deposited into it each payday. You might also want to open a second savings account to cover a one-time expense such as that automobile maintenance bill you know is coming up in a few months. All you’ll have to do is set aside a small portion of your paycheck every month and when that expense surfaces, you will be prepared to pay for it without wrecking your budget.