Getting into debt is easy — and the numbers prove it. About 80% of Americans across generations are currently in debt, a 2019 Nitro survey found. And the total amount of household debt in America is nearly $13.95 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s most recent report on household debt and credit.
There are plenty of ways people fall into debt, way too easily. The hard part can be getting out of debt, especially if you don’t recognize — or resist admitting — how you racked up debt. Here are 16 reasons you might have fallen into debt and how to avoid being stuck with it forever.
Last updated: May 13, 2021
You Believe Debt Is Part of Life
One of the biggest reasons people get stuck in debt is because they believe that debt is just a part of life, said Debbi King, owner of the personal finance coaching firm The ABC’s of Personal Finance. In fact, a 2015 Pew study found that 7 out of 10 people said debt is a necessity in their lives. “However, debt is a result of wanting or needing something that you don’t have the cash to buy at the moment,” King said.
If you are determined to get rid of debt, you can rid yourself of these wants. “You have to not want debt so bad that you refuse to use it no matter what,” King said.
You also need to give yourself a wake-up call by keeping close tabs on your spending to see how much you’re relying on debt to maintain your lifestyle. “You may be using your credit card more than you realize,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of marketing for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
Once you figure out how much you owe, make a plan to pay off the debt. Having a goal of getting out of debt might give you the motivation you need to stop relying on it.
You Use Credit To Cover Emergencies
Many people assume they will never fall deeply into debt, said Matt Cosgriff, a certified financial planner and wealth management group leader at BerganKDV. “But it can happen so easily if you aren’t financially prepared,” he added.
For example, if you don’t have cash reserves to cover unexpected expenses, you might have to rely on credit cards. You will end up paying more than the original cost of the emergency if you do not pay off the balance quickly because of the interest on your card charges. Plus, you might not be able to build savings to cover future emergencies if your money is going toward paying off debt.
You can avoid this situation by creating an emergency fund, Cosgriff said. Ideally, you should save enough to cover up to six months of expenses. If necessary, start by setting aside a little each month, then increase the amount when you can. And make sure you have adequate insurance to cover catastrophic events, such as a medical emergency or car accident.
You Make Only Minimum Payments
It’s hard to eliminate debt if you’re only paying the minimum you owe. In fact, McClary said it can become unmanageable if your balance continues to grow while you’re paying the minimum amount required.
For example, if you have a $5,000 balance on a card with a 17% rate and make a minimum monthly payment of 3% of your balance, it will take you 189 months — or nearly 14 years — to pay off your debt. Meanwhile, you will pay more than $4,000 in interest, according to Navy Federal Credit Union’s minimum payment calculator.
Simply increasing the amount you pay can make a big difference. For example, you can cut the payoff time and interest in half by boosting your monthly payment to 5% of your balance.
You Allow Expenses To Rise With Income
Andy Brantner, a certified financial planner and partner at BKLM Financial Services Consulting, knows financial discipline does not come easy. “It’s hard not to buy a better car or a bigger house when you get a raise,” he said. “But failing to keep your expenses steady when your income goes up creates a vicious cycle.”
It can be especially dangerous if you are still carrying debt from the days when you were earning less, and now are taking on more loans to help pay for that bigger house or a better car. Your debt will balloon, leaving you unable to pay if off despite the bigger paycheck.
To avoid this, identify goals and review your spending to see if it’s in line with your priorities. If it’s not, you will need to create a spending plan that will align your expenditures with your values.
More Solutions To Paying Off Debt: 10 Best Personal Loans for People With Good Credit
You Use Payday Loans
If you get a payday loan to cover an emergency, it doesn’t mean you will be stuck in debt forever. After all, most of these short-term loans typically have to be paid back within 14 days.
But most people who get payday loans use them to cover everyday expenses, according to a report by Pew. And they often take advantage of rollover features that allow them to extend the amount of time they have to pay off the loans. Because the interest rates on these loans are so high — the average annual percentage rate is 391%, according to the Center for Responsible Lending — the debt can mount quickly.
If you roll over a typical payday loan of $325 eight times, you’ll owe $468 in interest and have to repay a total of $793, according to the center. Do that often enough and you will be stuck in debt forever.
Make a plan to quickly pay off any payday loans you might have, even if it means getting a second job. Then take steps to improve your credit so you can qualify for lower-rate conventional loans going forward.
You Don’t Track Your Finances
“If you aren’t paying attention to where your money is going, it’s easy to overspend in certain areas and then not have enough for those unexpected expenses or your regular bills, which puts you in debt and keeps you there,” said Andrea Woroch, consumer and money-saving expert.
“Stay on top of your finances by checking your accounts daily,” Woroch said.
It’s easy to do this from your phone by using your bank and credit card apps, or you can use a tracking app like Mint, which links all your financial accounts in one place.
“When you see how much you’re spending in one area, it’s easier to cut back,” Woroch said. “Remember, you can’t change what you can’t see, so it’s important to actually look at your money regularly to make sure your spending aligns with your budget and goals.”
You Disregard Your Credit Score
“If you don’t have a healthy credit score, your interest rate on your credit cards and/or loans is likely really high,” Woroch said.
The higher the interest rate you have to pay on your debt, the harder it will be to pay it all off.
“Get on track by committing to improve your credit score, which you can do in a few ways,” Woroch said.
These ways include always paying all your bills on time, keeping your credit utilization rate below 30% and using a credit-building loan to boost your score.
“For example, Self is an app that helps you build credit while you save,” Woroch said. “It’s a credit-builder loan, which is an affordable and accessible loan you take out in your name — but you don’t receive the money upfront. Instead, you make payments to yourself over the course of one to two years, and Self reports the payments to all three credit bureaus. In the end, the money you’ve put aside every month unlocks in the form of savings minus fees. It’s a unique product that is an accessible option.”
You’re Not Maximizing Your Earning Potential
“There are only so many ways you can cut back on your day-to-day and monthly spending,” Woroch said. “Sometimes you have to make more money to really get ahead financially and get out of debt.”
That means that if your only source of income is your day job, you probably aren’t doing enough to get yourself out of debt.
“People often limit their ability to make more money because they don’t think outside the box,” Woroch said.
“If you can’t ask for raise or find a better paying job, then take on a side hustle,” Woroch said. “For instance, you can make up to $1,000 a month by simply petsitting in your own home via sites like Rover.com, which makes it super easy to set up a schedule that works best for you. This doesn’t require any special skills or really any time commitment because you can do this from home when you’re already home. Plus, you can double your side income by doing another side hustle at the same time as petsitting, like freelancing via Upwork.”
You Are Overwhelmed by Student Loans
Student loan debt has reached $1.5 trillion, and payments on more than 9% of this student loan debt are at least 90 days late, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “So many people right now are burdened with student loan debt,” McClary said.
If your student loan debt is unmanageable, McClary recommends talking to a certified student loan counselor to identify your options, such as income-based repayment or loan consolidation. You can visit studentloanhelp.org to find an NFCC member who will offer student loan counseling at little or no cost.
To avoid racking up student loan debt, McClary recommended that parents and students look for sources of free money for college, such as grants and scholarships. And families should weigh the costs of the schools their child wants to attend against the child’s earning potential after graduation. That will help the family determine whether the child will be able to pay off student loans.
You Allow FOMO To Dictate Your Spending
“One of the biggest things that causes people to overspend and brings them into debt is FOMO — the fear of missing out is a real thing,” said Ande Frazier, CEO of online financial community MyWorth. “It’s easy to get anxious when other people are having fun without you, especially when it’s happening in real-time on social media. This feeling might have you saying ‘yes’ to more dinners, drinks, activities and vacations than you want or can reasonably afford to attend.”
Frazier recommends using cash instead of credit so that you really think about your spending decisions, rather than mindlessly swiping to keep up with the Joneses.
“The tangible nature of cash gives more value to the decision to spend that money, rather than just swiping a credit card, because you can see it and feel it,” she said. “It’s a form of mental accounting.”
You Have Your Financial Priorities Mixed Up
If you’re not allocating your money wisely, it will take you longer to pay off debt than it should.
“The most common mistake when it comes to short-term debt (i.e., credit card debt) is the belief that one needs to save and invest simultaneously,” said Roi Tavor, CEO and co-founder at Nummo, a personal finance management platform.
Any money you are putting toward saving and investing accounts is money you aren’t putting toward paying down debt.
“Before putting money in a savings account that yields 1% or 2%, make sure to pay off credit cards that charge you 10% or more on outstanding amounts,” Tavor said.
You Set Unrealistic Goals for Yourself
If you’ve been in debt for a while, maybe you’re constantly telling yourself that this will be the month you pay off all your debt. But if you have thousands of dollars of debt, this goal likely isn’t realistic.
“Having a plan to pay down debt is a great starting point; however, if you make your goals too lofty, you’ll set yourself up for failure,” said Leslie Tayne, founder and head attorney at debt solutions law firm Tayne Law Group. “In doing so, you’ll likely get discouraged and may even give up, preventing you from reaching your goal of paying off your debt.”
“While you, of course, want to pay down your debt as quickly as possible, keeping your goals reasonable will help keep you motivated and on track to get that debt paid off,” Tayne said.
Start by making it your goal to pay off one credit card or loan at a time. Ideally, start with the card or loan with the highest interest rate, and move down the line in order from highest to lowest interest until they’re all paid off.
You Justify Credit Card Spending Because of the Points You Earn
Many credit cards offer rewards systems that can be beneficial if used correctly.
“Many people charge almost all of their everyday purchases to their credit cards to take advantage of these rewards,” Tayne said. “However, if you’re carrying debt, the interest you’re paying will be negating the value of your points. Keeping the mindset that you’re always working towards the point may also be keeping you in debt if you’re not paying off your balances in full every month.”
“Consider switching your everyday purchases to cash or debit, or ensure that you’re paying off each of your credit card purchases in full while you’re working to pay down your debt,” Tayne said.
You Don’t Differentiate Between ‘Wants’ and ‘Needs’
Sometimes there can be a fine line between “wants” and “needs.” Let’s say your TV breaks and you need a new one. You head to the store and see a brand new 65-inch TV and decide that’s the one that you “need.”
“Sure it’d be nice to have in your living room, but do you need a $2,000 item for entertainment? Especially if you are going into debt for it and it’s going to cost $3,000 with interest by the time it’s paid off?” said Brandon Neth, credit card and award travel expert at FinanceBuzz.
“When you’re at Best Buy, you may be able to tell the difference between a 55- and a 65-inch screen mounted right next to one another, but once you’re home, you realize you’ll likely be fine with a smaller TV,” he continued.
Set a budget for yourself before you walk into a store, and consider buying items that aren’t name-brand.
“As a former Magnolia/Best Buy employee here’s a friendly piece of advice: Many of the non-brand-name TVs use the same panels and technology as the big brand TVs,” Neth said. “Often they’re just calibrated differently out of the box. They can be adjusted to create almost the exact same picture in many cases. Save the money, invest it and build wealth — not debt.”
You Go Overboard During the Holidays
Nearly half of those surveyed in 2019 by Discover said they plan to rely on credit to pay for most of their holiday spending. That can lead to starting off the new year in debt. If you don’t pay it off quickly and turn to credit again every holiday season, your debt will mount.
“It’s really important at this time of year for people who might have a weakness to find support,” McClary said. Find a credit counselor through NFCC.org or look for a workshop to get support for building a habit of saving rather than spending, he said.
McClary also recommended avoiding spending time around others who have a tendency to overspend and “getting in situations where you’ll be melting the plastic at the register. Lock up the credit cards this time of year.”
Your Focus Is On the Short Term Rather Than the Long Term
“People don’t think long-term,” Neth said. “They are too focused on the now and looking for instant gratification.”
He gives the example of regularly charging coffee to your credit card — even if it only costs $5.
“If you’re doing that twice a week, that $10 adds up quickly,” Neth said. “Even worse, if you’re putting this on a credit card that you’re not paying off in full each month, paying interest on your two cups of coffee may raise the cost to over $20. Although it’s convenient and tastes good, remember how much further your money can go.”
A change in your spending mindset can help you break this debt-causing behavior.
“The one thing we don’t get more of in life is time, so look at your expenses as time,” Neth said. “How much are you actually making an hour once you deduct taxes, expenses and other related costs? A $15-an-hour job is probably closer to $9. Stop and think, is two cups of coffee worth an hour of my time?”
This is an especially important mental exercise for larger purchases.
“How many extra years must you work to pay off that car or TV? These numbers just get higher as you account for accruing interest,” Neth continued. “Don’t stall your financial future by making impulse decisions today. Set goals for the future and remind yourself of them daily. It takes hard work to get out of debt and stay out of it, but when you do, you take back control of your life.”
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Cameron Huddleston contributed to the reporting for this article.
Is There a Difference Between No Credit and Bad Credit?
The short answer is yes, and understanding the difference could be instrumental in getting better credit.
No credit and bad credit often get grouped together. It’s understandable why, as they both sound similar enough. And if you have either, the next step forward is to focus on improving your credit.
The two situations aren’t the same, though. It’s important to know the difference, because the right way to build your credit often depends on whether you have no credit history or bad credit.
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The difference between no credit and bad credit
Having no credit means that there’s not enough information on your credit file to calculate a credit score for you. It’s also known as being credit invisible. Sadly, this is an issue that affects millions of Americans.
There aren’t any problems on your credit file; the credit bureaus just don’t have enough data on you. That means when a lender or any other third party checks your credit, there’s nothing to go on.
Meanwhile, “bad credit” is a common term used to describe a low credit score. That low score is because of negative items on your credit file, such as not paying your credit card bill.
When you have no credit, the solution is to build your credit. When you have a low credit score, the solution is to rebuild your credit. Now, let’s look at how you can do each one.
How to build credit for the first time
Here’s the simplest way to build credit:
- Open a credit card.
- Use the credit card for at least one purchase per month.
- Always pay your credit card bill on time and in full.
It’s that easy; that’s all you need to do to get a good credit score. When you use a credit card and pay the bill on time, you establish a positive payment history. That’s the biggest credit scoring criteria.
The tricky part when you have no credit is finding a credit card you can qualify for. Secured credit cards are one of the most common options for consumers in this situation. You pay a security deposit for this type of card, so it’s possible to open a secured card even if you have no credit.
If you’re in college, credit cards for students are available. These are often an option for applicants without any credit history.
How to rebuild a low credit score
It’s a little more complicated to rebuild your credit. First, you need to find out what negative items are affecting your credit score. Here’s how to start:
- Use an online credit score tool to check your score and learn about any items damaging your credit. If you have a credit card, there may be a credit score tool in your online account. If not, there are plenty of free ways to get your credit score.
- Request your credit report from the three consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can pull a free annual credit report from each bureau, and through April 2022, you can get free weekly credit reports. Your credit report will show you exactly what’s affecting your credit.
Once you know what’s affecting your credit, you can work on correcting it. Below are a few of the most common issues and how to fix them.
Problems with your payment history
This includes anything related to not paying a bill on time, from late payments to having accounts go to collections.
The first step is catching up on your payments. If you can’t pay in full, contact your creditors and see if you can set up a payment plan with them. They may be willing to work with you if that means you’ll be making regular payments.
Next is rebuilding your payment history. The easiest option is to use a credit card at least once per month and pay in full by the due date. Why do you need to use a credit card? Credit card companies report on-time payments to the credit bureaus, which helps your credit score. With other types of bills, your on-time payments typically don’t get reported to the credit bureaus. That means you may not be able to improve your payment history with rent, utilities, or other monthly bills.
If you already have credit cards, you can continue using them to rebuild your payment history. If you don’t, look for secured credit cards and apply for one you like.
Using too much of your credit
A big factor in your credit score is your credit utilization ratio — your credit card balances divided by your credit limits. If this number gets too high, it can lower your credit score. The standard recommendation is a credit utilization ratio of under 30%.
Let’s say you have one credit card with a $4,000 balance and a $5,000 credit limit. That would put your credit utilization at 80% ($4,000 divided by $5,000 is 80%), a very high number that would decrease your credit score.
Fortunately, only your current credit utilization matters. Once you pay down your credit card balance, your credit score will bounce back.
Errors on your credit history
A low credit score may be due to an error and not any action on your part. This is why it’s so important to pull your credit reports from each credit bureau. By reviewing those, you can see if there are any mistakes.
If there are errors on your credit report, you can go to the credit bureau’s website to dispute them online and get them removed.
A low credit score and a nonexistent credit score are both things you can change. After you determine exactly what the issue is, you’ll be able to choose the best solution to fix it.
‘There is no new normal’: Worcester small business owner pivoted during COVID-19 and expects only more change after pandemic
It took about eight minutes for the bank to reject Natalie Rodriguez’s application for a loan through the Small Business Administration.
Rodriguez opened Nuestra, a Puerto Rican inspired restaurant in Worcester, in January of 2020. When COVID-19 arrived months later she discovered Nuestra wasn’t eligible for the federal or state funding that thousands of other establishments received.
To qualify, restaurants were required to show payroll and salary for years before 2020. Those figures didn’t exist for a restaurant that weren’t open in 2019.
“[I was] determined and knew that ‘no’ is not an OK answer,” Rodriguez said. “A door may close but you may need to kick down another door.”
Rodriguez then applied for conventional loans only to be led to more closed doors. Less than 10 minutes after applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, she received notice that her poor credit score resulted in her application being denied.
Rodriguez used the dead end with the SBA to create a new path for herself and Nuestra.
She not only learned how to improve her credit but wanted to ensure others didn’t have to follow her journey as an entrepreneur.
Rodriguez extended the “Nuestra” brand to include financial advising. She started Nuestra Financial in April of 2020.
“Now I’m helping others. I’ve been able to restore my credit,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been able to help others restore their credit and be able to help them make a business themselves if they so choose. I’ve been able to survive.”
Without grants and other funding, Rodriguez managed to keep her restaurant open through funds generated from Nuestra Financial.
“I was very quiet about it in the beginning. I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh look at this girl, she just opened a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic,’ and talk smack,” Rodriguez said. “About a month or two later, a light bulb hit and I was like, nobody pays my bills but me. I needed to mind my own business and not worry about what other people thought.”
In creating Nuestra Financial, Rodriguez said she’s helped Worcester residents restore their credit and purchase new vehicles and homes.
Rodriguez said financial literacy is rarely taught to children in school and wasn’t something she learned. When a situation arises like a rejection notice for an economic disaster loan, many don’t know how to respond or where to find answers.
Rodriguez said she’s helped young and old people, along with those who have bad credit or no credit.
“We lack the confidence, including myself, because we weren’t taught,” Rodriguez said. “So if you don’t know something, you weren’t taught, you’re not going to be confident about it.”
Coming out of the pandemic, Rodriguez remains confident about both her businesses. Nuestra, the restaurant, while closed for daily service continues to provide catering services. Rodriguez is still preparing what the future holds for the restaurant but plans to announce an update soon.
As masks start to become less a part of daily routines, Rodriguez, as a small business owner, doesn’t envision many differences from this year to last.
So many aspects of life remain uncertain from rising food costs to a potential third booster for vaccines and whether the country will ever reach herd immunity for COVID-19.
The pandemic arrived with Rodriguez immediately pivoting. As it approaches its potential end, Rodriguez will continue to do what helped her to navigate it.
“I feel like there is no new normal just yet,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’re all just trying to adjust and pivot at the same time and getting creative. I think it’s where we all are.”
Columbus Mattress Wholesale moves to newer, larger Gahanna store
More than four years back, Cathryn Clark’s boyfriend, Christopher Robbins, was on the hunt for a new mattress. He just couldn’t find one at an affordable price.
Clark, 29, and Robbins, 34, who are now engaged, were living in Franklinton, where they still live today.
They had no experience owning or operating a small business; Robbins worked as a retail assistant for SAS Retail Services while Clark worked as the communications director for two Methodist churches.
But in 2017, Robbins, with Clark at his side, took the leap and opened Columbus Mattress Wholesale on the West Side, with the goal of helping low-income consumers secure mattresses and other bedtime products.
“We really wanted to bring a store to people that, you know, they weren’t paying an arm and leg, but they still could get a good night’s sleep,” Clark said.
Customers at Columbus Mattress Wholesale can pay cash or credit, for example, but the business also works with financing companies that serve people without credit scores, with bad credit or who are lower income.
Last month, the business made a big move. It expanded from its original location on Harrisburg Pike to a store double the size at 435 Agler Road in Gahanna.
Clark said she and Robbins saw a need in the broader area, with many of their customers coming from outside the Hilltop, such as Linden.
Nestled between Dollar Tree and the Ohio BMV in Gahanna, the new storefront opened Memorial Day weekend and sells mattresses, bed bases, bed frames and pillows. Mattress prices range from under $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the size and brand, which includes some well-known names such as Serta, Beautyrest and Casper.
Clark said while she and Robbins originally sold solely Ohio-based brands, they’ve branched out to national brands as business has grown.
Columbus Mattress Wholesale also offers free same-day delivery on most orders from customers living in Columbus.
Clark does a little bit of everything for the business, from running communications, to working on the sales floor, to managing the sales team, to ordering what they sell.
She said a big mission for herself and Robbins, beyond doing business, is aiding the community.
“We’ve seen a lot of people struggle,” Clark said.
Clark said she and Robbins work to mentor other people who are hoping to open or currently own a small business. She added that the store starts employees at $17 per hour.
She and Robbins haven’t decided yet what they will do with the original location — which is currently closed — but said they might shift it into an accessory store.
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