“Credit cards are evil!”
Or, so some might say. And many others might not go as far as calling them “evil,” but they strive to live a life free of them.
You might think these types of people are what we call “paranoid” or “out of touch with technology,” but when you read the alarming facts about credit cards in America, I don’t think you can blame them for being against credit cards:
1. The average cardholder in America holds 7 credit cards.
2. According to figures from the Federal Reserve, total U.S. outstanding consumer debt was $3.34 trillion as of February 2015.
3. The total U.S. outstanding revolving debt, which is chiefly made up of credit card balances, was $884.8 billion as of January 2015.
4. The average credit card debt per U.S. adult, excluding zero-balance cards and store cards is $4,878.
5. Roughly 1 out of 20 Americans with credit files are at least 30 days late on a credit card or other nonmortgage account, according to a 2014 report by the Urban Institute.
No, I certainly don’t ridicule those who choose to shy away from credit cards. When you see how in-over-your-head a credit card can make you, it may be a very wise decision to choose to live credit card-free.
Because unfortunately, many people do get in-over-their-heads when it comes to credit cards. Many view credit cards as a way to buy it now, and then pay for it later when they have the money. Others may view it as a little extra spending money, not even bothering to think about the consequences of paying it off in the future. Some even get into debt and then apply for additional credit cards to help them pay off the debt they already owe!
Quickly enough, the bills pile up and you feel like you’re a slave to your creditor. Large amounts of debt hover over you. You might even feel great anxiety every day as you crunch numbers in your head, trying to figure out how you’re going to pay the bills that month.
It would almost seem like there are only two choices with credit cards: either run from them or become a slave to them. But I want to offer you another way to look at them: using credit cards so they work for you. (Yes, I know that’s not Dave-Ramsey-approved, but we’re all entitled to our own opinions, right?)
My husband and I have chosen to use credit cards. In fact, we use them for the majority of our purchases! Yet, we have no debt.
To us, credit cards are essentially like debit cards. We know how much income we have each month, and so that’s how much we can spend, period.
Because, let’s face it, having a credit card in your hand doesn’t change how much money you have in the bank.
For us, when it comes to making purchases with our cards, we ask, “Would I be able to purchase this right now with my debit card?” If the answer is no, we don’t buy it.
And when our credit card bill comes in the mail, we pay off the balance completely, every single month. That means we pay no fees and no interest.
So, you might ask, if you treat your credit card like a debit card, why don’t you just use a debit card?
While we see the potential dangers of having credit cards, we also see the benefits. Credit cards help you to establish credit. And when you spend responsibly, that means you can build good credit. That will come in handy if you ever want to lease an apartment, buy a home, or buy a car. Because let’s face it, most of us will have to get loans for major purchases like houses or cars, not everyone can pay cash for things like that!
Additionally, there are many credit cards nowadays that give you rewards. For example, you might get 5% cash back on the purchases you make.
So when you spend only what you already have and pay off your bill every single month, you are not only building a good credit report, but you are being rewarded for the purchases you were going to make anyway.
That’s what I call letting your credit card work for you!
It sounds pretty simple, but the truth is, it might not be that simple for you. For some people, having that little card might be too much of a temptation. You may not have the self-control that it takes to use a credit card responsibly. That’s not something I’m judging you about, it’s something you should be honest with yourself about. It would be good for you to cut out that temptation from your life.
They say that for most people, the action of swiping a card actually releases endorphins that make you feel good. Whereas, when you hand over cash, the action of the cashier taking the cash from you makes you feel sad as you are watching your money physically disappear.
For me, it’s actually the opposite. When I have cash on me, it seems very dispensible. I make more petty purchases because I think, “Oh it’s only a couple bucks and I have it right here on hand.” And then those little frivolous purchases add up and I have no idea where my money went (because I hate keeping receipts!).
But when I use my credit card, I can go back and see exactly what all I purchased. There is accountability. I can’t hide it from myself or my husband that I frivolously spent money on a Frappucino or a Sonic slush.
So the main thing is, you need to figure out what system works best for you. What helps you to spend your money in the most successful way possible? Do you feel giddy when you swipe your credit card? Do you see a credit card as a way to buy it now and pay later? Then maybe having credit cards isn’t the solution for you.
If you think you can have the self control to spend wisely, I would definitely encourage you to use credit cards so they work for you! Do some research into different credit cards. Find out if there are any fees, even if you pay off your whole balance every month. And look into cards that offer rewards like cash back or points. (But beware, research has shown that having a rewards card may actually cause you to spend more money than you would otherwise!)
And if you decide to get a credit card for the first time, don’t go into it alone. Ask a family member or close friend to keep you accountable for at least the first few months, while you get a hang for your spending personality. Be ready for them to ask you tough questions: “Are you spending more than you are making?” “Did you pay off your credit card completely this month?” Even though sometimes it might be annoying to have to answer to them, remember they want you to be successful. If you find that you are starting to spend more than you can pay off each month, then it’s time to get rid of the credit card. End of story.
When it comes to credit cards, there isn’t always an easy answer. And I know that everyone is entitled to have their own opinion…if you disagree with me, that’s okay! But I truly believe that with a little self discipline, we don’t have to completely run away from them, nor do we have to become slaves to them. Let your credit card work for you and enjoy the benefits of spending responsibly!
References from credit card facts: