It's no secret that countless Americans are burdened by credit card debt. The typical household, in fact, owes $5,700 in outstanding charges, with Americans in their 30s, 40s, and 50s owing between $8,000 and $9,000, on average. But while you'd think that many of those with hefty balances would have credit scores that reflect their tendency to overspend, that's not necessarily true.
In fact, a surprising number of consumers with good credit are overwhelmed by debt nonetheless. In fact, 38% of Americans with credit scores of 660 and over are struggling with credit card balances, according to a recent survey by Marcus by Goldman Sachs. It just goes to show that when it comes to credit scores, a single number doesn't tell the whole story.
Creditworthy but besieged by debt
You may be wondering how it's possible for someone to carry a lot of debt but still come away with decent credit. To understand this sort of scenario, you'll need to know how credit scores are calculated in the first place. There are several factors that go into a credit score, the most important of which are payment history and credit utilization. The former speaks to your ability to pay your bills on time, while the latter represents the percentage of available credit you're using at a given time.
If you owe a bunch of money on a credit card, but have a relatively high credit limit, your score won't get dinged as long as your total credit utilization ratio stays at or below 30%. This means that if you're carrying a $6,000 balance, but your total line of credit is $19,000, you'll still be in the safe zone as far as your credit score is concerned. Similarly, if you make your minimum credit card payments on time each month, you can still end up boosting your payment history, even if you're not paying those bills in full. And that's why so many Americans manage to have decent credit, yet find themselves plagued with mounting levels of debt.
The problem has gotten so bad, in fact, that 52% of creditworthy consumers feel like their finances are spinning out of control, while 40% are actually embarrassed by their debt. But what these folks need to know is that they do have options for breaking the vicious cycle they're currently trapped in.
Shaking debt efficiently
If you're carrying a large amount of credit card debt, you have several choices for making it go away sooner. The first is a balance transfer. If you consolidate your existing debts onto a single credit card with a more favorable rate and a low or non-existent fee on transfers, you'll have an easier time keeping track of your debt, and you'll incur less interest as you work on paying it off. This option is particularly feasible if you're coming in with strong credit despite your debt, as many of the top balance transfer cards out there require a certain score before you're approved.
Another option is to take out a personal loan whose interest rate is much lower than what your existing cards are charging, use it to pay off your debt, and then pay back that single loan over time. As would be the case with a balance transfer, you'll be exchanging a higher interest rate for a lower one, which will help make your debt easier to pay off more quickly.
Preventing debt in the first place
One reason why so many people get into debt is that they live paycheck-to-paycheck and lack emergency savings. But all working Americans, regardless of income level, need a minimum of three months' worth of living costs on hand at all times. An emergency fund can help you avoid having to charge an unplanned expense on a credit card, thus kick-starting an evil cycle of debt that's only likely to get worse over time. In fact, in the aforementioned survey, 64% of consumers blamed unplanned medical expenses for putting them in debt in the first place.
While amassing three months of income isn't something most of us can do overnight, if you start cutting back on expenses and being more judicious in your spending, you'll manage to build some cash reserves over time. Another option? Consider a side hustle. A good 44 million Americans currently work a second job, and holding one for even a short period can give your savings a jump-start.
No matter how you go about building some savings, the key is to make it a priority so you can avoid costly credit card debt and the stress that tends to come with it. Otherwise, you risk getting yourself into an undesirable situation, and once you do, your creditworthiness alone won't be enough to bail you out.
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