Are you crippled by your credit card? Younger Americans rack up more credit card debt than their elders and are slower at paying it off, according to a new study in Economic Inquiry.
Researchers combined 13 years of financial data to analyze the credit card habits of 32,542 Americans ages 18 to 85. After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that people born between 1980 and 1984 will have over $5,000 more debt by the time they’re 45 than people born from 1950 to 1954 had at that same age. What’s more: Compared to their parents, young spenders will pay off 24 percent less debt every month, according to the study.
Why are younger generations racking up a bigger bill when it comes to borrowing? Researchers hypothesize that since credit is more easily accessible than it’s ever been, there’s now less of a stigma attached to being in debt.
Let your buddies owe the big dough—you’ve got debt to defeat. Use these four mega-simple tips from Jean Chatzky, the Men’s Health Money Coach, to manage your credit card.
1. Don’t pick a card you can’t handle.
Not all cards are created equal, so you’ll want to shop around for one that best fits your situation, Chatzky says. Look for a credit card that has no annual fee, a low interest rate—Chatzky says 14 percent is the average right now—and a few additional benefits, like a cash back program. Pro tip: Compare the perks (and problems) of hundreds of cards across the board on LowCards.com.
2. Don’t carry your card to the bar.
Chatzky’s go-to rule is simple, but it still trips up young guys everywhere: Charge only as much as you can pay off every month. “It gets to be very expensive when you cannot pay off these balances,” she explains. But if you can’t abide by that black and white standard, you at least need to set limitations on what you’ll use the card for. For example, don’t charge frequent, small items like groceries, dinner bills, and bar tabs to the card. (You’ll hit your monthly limit in a week that way.) But that pricey plane ticket home? Fair game, as long as you have the means to pay it off in a reasonable time.
3. Don’t settle for the minimum payment.
In the Economic Inquiry study, researchers found that when the minimum monthly payment was raised just a little, people ended up paying back even more, which resulted in getting out of debt quicker. Plus, if you’re merely paying the minimum, you’re just hurting your bottom line. “Minimum payments are really only meant to keep people paying interest for more years than needed,” says Chatzky.
4. Don’t fall for scams.
Sometimes credit companies will send a check along with your monthly statements, lending you a hefty amount of money to use up front. “Just shred the check,” says Chatzky. It’s called a cash advantage, and it basically allows you to borrow a large chunk of money from the lender that has an extremely high interest rate tacked on to it, she explains.
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