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2020 Consumer Debt Statistics

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Total consumer debt hit just below $4.2 trillion in November 2019 according to the Federal Reserve. Collectively, Americans owe 10 percent of their disposable income to non-mortgage debts like car loans, credit card accounts and student or personal loans. 

Americans have been amassing more and more debt since 2013—although disposable income has increased as well. Though income is increasing, American consumers are borrowing more money more often. 

What’s causing these changes in behavior? Recent studies have shown that Americans are losing their financial literacy at an alarming rate. These studies, which cover topics like basic finance and investment, show that Americans lack fundamental knowledge in these areas. Perhaps that explains the marked uptick in consumer borrowing. 

To dive further into consumer debt and learn how to properly manage it, let’s first understand exactly what it is and how it works in our financial systems.

What is consumer debt?

Consumer debt is personal debt owed by an individual to another entity, typically a bank or credit union. Consumer debt often involves household purchases and transactions independent of a business or government operation. It does not include debts owed by a business or corporation to another entity.

These purchases are typically consumable and include items that do not depreciate in value. Purchases like this allow consumers to better themselves through a purchase without the requirement of paying the full purchase price up front. For example, consumer debt may come in the form of auto or student loans.

Also referred to as credit debt, there are typically two types of consumer debt: revolving and non-revolving.

Revolving Consumer Debt

The most common example of this type of consumer debt is credit card debt. This kind of debt is referred to as revolving because it is meant to be paid off frequently, typically within a month. Federal Reserve fluctuates with consumer use and usually comes with a variable interest rate.

Non-revolving Consumer Debt

Conversely, non-revolving consumer debt is not on a particular payment schedule. Instead, payments may be seen as “fixed” and are usually active for the life of the underlying asset. This type of consumer debt may include long-term loans for cars and education. These debts typically include a fixed payment plan with few changes to the amount charged. It is possible for consumers to choose between fixed and variable interest rates for these debts in some cases.

Consumer Debt Statistics

consumer debt stats from 2018 to 2019

The following statistics come from the Federal Reserve’s Consumer Credit G.19 release:

  • Total consumer debt totaled $4.144 trillion in quarter three of 2019, a 4.7% increase from quarter three of 2018. 
  • Average consumer debt per capita is approximately $12,687 (total consumer debt as of November 2019/total US population as of January 9, 2020).
  • Total revolving consumer debt was $1.083 trillion in November 2019
  • Total revolving consumer debt rose 3.8% between quarter three of 2018 and quarter 3 of 2019.
  • Average revolving debt per capita is approximately $3,299 (total consumer debt as of November 2019/total US population as of January 9, 2020).
  • One in ten adults says they carry a credit card balance over $5,000. [Source: NBC]
  • Total non-revolving consumer debt was $3.089 trillion in November 2019. 
  • Student loans totaled $1.636 trillion in September 2019. 
  • Auto loans totaled $1.189 trillion in September 2019.
  • Average loans per student equal approximately $82,170 (total student loans in September 2019/total students enrolled in public or private universities in 2019)*  

*Total enrollment based on a 2019 projection of students in public or private universities

student loan stats

Barring two recessions, one small event in 2001 and the well-known housing market crash of 2008–2009, consumer debt has increased steadily over time. It is possible that total consumer debt may break four trillion dollars within the next decade.

If you’re unsure how to begin tackling your personal debt, there are many available resources to help you. Paying your monthly fees on time and maintaining your credit can also help you reduce your loan amounts over time.

You can also start up a conversation on our social media channels. Like and follow and interact with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.



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Do I need a rainy day fund?

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

When it comes to your finances, not every day can be rainbows and sunshine, and unexpected expenses can pop up more often than you’d like. While budgeting is an essential part of financial planning, sometimes setting aside money for unplanned expenses can go right over your head. To avoid going into debt over small inconveniences, setting aside money and putting it into a rainy day fund is crucial.                      

In this article, we’ll go over what a rainy day fund is, how it differs from an emergency fund and how much you should be saving. We will also give you tips on how you can save for those stormy days. 

What is a rainy day fund?

In 2019, 15 percent of adults said they would use a credit card a carry a balance to cover a $400 unexpected expense. Source: Federal Reserve.

The purpose of a rainy day fund is to have money set aside that is readily available for life’s unexpected financial situations that tend to occur outside of your normal living expenses. Whether you need to buy a new phone or have to pay for an unexpected car repair, a rainy day fund can help you cover the costs of these unplanned and inconvenient situations. 

If not accounted for, these costs can disrupt your monthly budget, which can in turn increase your chances of going into credit card debt. According to the Federal Reserve, 37 percent of adults said they could not or would not pay for a sudden $400 expense with cash or a cash equivalent, with 15 percent saying they would use a credit card and carry a balance to cover the costs (and 12 percent wouldn’t be able to pay by any means). 

Having a financial cushion such as a rainy day fund can help individuals afford the costs of these expenses and avoid racking up unnecessary debt.

Rainy day fund vs. emergency fund

Though they may seem similar, emergency funds and rainy day funds are not the same. Emergency funds are meant for larger financial emergencies and act as a financial safety net when things like a job loss or a sudden medical expense occurs. 

Should an emergency like this happen, you would have money to cover everyday expenses, such as rent, groceries, car payments and other recurring bills. Many experts recommend having at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund, but this amount can differ depending on your circumstances. 

In simple terms, emergency funds are used for great financial hardships, while rainy day funds are used to cover smaller, unforeseen expenses. 

How much should you have in a rainy day fund? 

Saving for a rainy day fund can look different for everyone depending on their needs and lifestyle but having at least $500 to $1,000 saved is usually recommended. This amount should be able to cover smaller expenses that come up and help put your mind at ease whenever they occur. 

On average, you should aim to have $500 to $1,000 in your rainy day fund. Source: Lexington Law.

When forecasting your rainy day budget, consider any long-term expenses that could pop up. Do you have a pet that is nearing old age that may need to be taken to the vet any time soon? Maybe you have children and want to budget for those impromptu doctor’s office visits. Whatever your situation, a rainy day fund can be the umbrella that protects you from any unexpected financial storm. 

Where should I put my rainy day fund? 

Your rainy day fund should be liquid, meaning it is easily accessible to you and can be pulled out at any given moment, without any additional fees. Money market accounts, high-yield bank accounts and traditional savings accounts are all great options that can keep your money safe and accessible. Your rainy day fund should be kept separate from your other accounts, such as your emergency fund. Avoid tapping into your savings, as this money should only be used when small inconveniences arise. 

4 quick tips on saving for a rainy day fund

Saving for a rainy day fund can be fairly simple. Since these accounts are for smaller expenses and don’t require a hefty amount of cash, you can likely save up enough money within a year. Here are four quick saving tips to help get you started: 

1. Tighten up your budget 

As with any savings account, you want to take a hard look at your budget and see if you can afford to cut down some of your spending. For example, you can save money by eating out less and cooking at home more. You can also limit your coffee runs to only once a week as opposed to every day. This type of spending adds up, and by tightening up your budget a bit, you’ll be able to quickly put that money into your rainy day savings. 

2. Set up automatic transfers 

Automatic transfers are an easy way to put cash aside without even having to think about it. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account and determine a monthly amount that is feasible for your budget. Transferring $50 every month will put your savings account at $600 in one year.

Another option is a swipe-and-save feature, which most banks offer. Each time you swipe your debit card, your bank will automatically transfer $1—or any amount you choose—into your savings account. Though this may seem like a small amount, you’d be surprised how fast it can add up. 

3. Save your change

Saving your spare change and cash may seem old school, but it’s an extremely effective way to save for your rainy day fund. Extra cash from a birthday or holiday can go straight into a savings jar. Eventually, you can build up your cash savings and add it to your rainy day fund whenever the time is right.

4. Open a dedicated rainy day savings account

As mentioned, a high-yield savings account is a great option for storing your rainy day fund. Not only are these funds easily accessible, but you’re also able to earn interest on each deposit you make. Shop around for accounts that will make the most sense for you—keep interest, deposit requirements and fees in mind. If you don’t have to tap into your rainy day fund often, you can end up earning more money than you would in a traditional savings account. 

Though it’s impossible to prepare for all of life’s unexpected events, setting up a rainy day fund can help give you peace of mind should any financial storms come your way. Keep educating yourself on how to prepare for these life events to ensure that you keep your credit health in good standing. 


Reviewed by Anna Grozdanov, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Anna Grozdanov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria but moved to Arizona with her family. Ms. Grozdanov grew up in Arizona and went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in both Philosophy and Psychology. Ms. Grozdanov finished her first year of law school at Pepperdine University School of Law in California, but returned to Arizona where she graduated from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Since graduating from law school, Ms. Grozdanov has worked in Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Probate, and Personal Injury. She has extensive experience advising and working closely with clients and applies these skills at Lexington by helping clients achieve their credit repair goals. Ms. Grozdanov is licensed to practice law in Arizona. She is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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How minimum monthly credit card payments affect your credit

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Many people don’t hesitate to pay just the minimum payment on their credit card. This is especially true if the total balance is high or the cardholder is confused about the credit card lending terms and doesn’t understand the impact of paying the minimum balance. But, making just the minimum payment can have a greater impact on your credit score than most people realize.

Learn how lenders calculate the minimum payment, what it means for your debt and how making a minimum payment affects your credit.

What are credit card minimum payments?

Your credit card minimum payment is the least amount of money your lender will accept toward your credit card balance each month. You need to pay the minimum payment by its due date to avoid late penalties and other fees and to keep a consistent payment history. The minimum payment amount is displayed on your credit card bill and often ranges from one to three percent of your total credit card bill. 

How is a minimum payment calculated?

Your lender calculates the minimum payment based on your total balance and any outstanding interest charges. 

Each credit card lender has a different method for calculating its minimum monthly payment. The two primary methods are formula and percentage.

Formula

Many of the major credit card lenders use a formula to calculate your minimum payment. The formula picks an amount and adds one to two percent of your monthly balance. For example, let’s say your lender picked $35 as the minimum payment amount, plus two percent interest, and you spent $500 in new charges for the month. In this scenario, your minimum payment would be $35 plus $10 ($500 x 2%) for a total of $45.

If your total balance is less than the minimum payment, then your whole balance is due. Following the previous example, if your lender charges $35 plus two percent interest but your credit card balance is $20, you will owe $20 for that month, plus any fees and interest from the previous month.

Percentage

Other lenders—typically credit unions and financial institutions—use a simpler, percentage formula to calculate the minimum monthly payment. This method is most common for high-risk borrowers with poor credit. The percentage can range from four to six percent.

For example, if you had a $1,000 credit card balance with a lender that charges six percent, you would owe a minimum payment of $60 plus any additional fees ($1,000 x 6%). 

Some lenders will include any past-due fees in the minimum payment. 

What happens if you make only the minimum payment on your credit card?

Making the minimum payment on your credit card is better than paying nothing at all. As long as you always make the minimum payment, you should not receive negative items on your credit report, as it relates to your payment history. 

However, making only the minimum payment means you may see greater charges for interest, resulting in you paying more over time.

Take a look at this example: Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt and your lender offers an 18 percent interest rate with a minimum payment of two percent of the balance. In this scenario, your minimum payment is $100 per month, which can look very tempting. But, it will take you almost eight years to pay off your balance and you will pay a total of $4,311 in interest—almost doubling what you originally owed. 

Your minimum payment is generally a small portion of your total debt, and most of that payment goes to interest. As a result, you are slowly progressing toward paying off your principal amount, and you could end up paying minimum payments for many years.

Additionally, your credit card utilization may be high if you make only minimum payments. Credit utilization is the amount of credit extended to you by the lender versus the amount you owe. If you maintain a high credit card balance while only paying the minimum payment, you are at risk of having high credit utilization month after month. 

Several factors determine your credit score, but credit utilization accounts for 30 percent of your overall score. So, maintaining a high utilization ratio can negatively impact your credit score. 

Finally, when you maintain a high credit card balance and a routine of only paying the minimum payment, you may fall behind on payments. When you make late payments or miss the payment entirely, having a negative payment history can also lower your overall credit score. 

What should you do if you can’t afford to pay in full?

If you can’t pay your credit card in full, don’t panic. Approximately 47 percent of Americans have credit card debt, so it’s quite common—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay off credit card debt. Follow the steps below to tackle your debt efficiently and in a way that works for you. 

Pay as much as you can

As mentioned before, it’s essential to always make at least the minimum payment on time. This will help you avoid negative items on your credit report for late or missed payments. However, whenever possible, try to make more than the minimum payment. This will help you pay down your principal debt faster and pay less interest over time. 

Come up with a repayment strategy

If you have multiple credit cards with debt or various types of debt, it’s crucial to have a repayment strategy. 

There are two popular debt repayment strategies: the avalanche and the snowball. The snowball method recommends you pay off your debt from smallest to largest (like a growing snowball). This method is meant to give people positive reinforcement because they feel motivated as they knock out several of their small debts quickly before moving on to the larger debts. 

The avalanche method is a more systematic approach—you list all your debts and their interest rates and pay the one with the highest interest rate first. This method aims to save you money in the long run by getting of higher-interest debt first. 

Decide which approach fits your style. Both of these methods are highly effective in their own way. 

Budget

A budget is the first step to taking control of your financial health. Without a budget, you may not know where your money is going or where you can save. Often, a budget can highlight unnecessary spending. There are plenty of free apps, such as Mint, that allow you to have an automated look at all your spending and build a budget. 

Talk to your credit card issuer

You can reach out to your credit card issuer if you’re going through financial hardship to see what they can do for you. Some credit lenders will offer to lower your interest rates, which will help you tackle your principal debt much faster. Some financial hardships can include the loss of a job, an injury or a medical incident. Ultimately it will be your lender that decides if your situation merits help. 

Consider a balance transfer

There are a lot of credit card options out there. If your credit card has a high-interest rate, you may consider a balance transfer. Some credit card lenders offer a low-interest promotional rate when you transfer a credit balance to them. During this time, you can make a significant dent in your debt. However, you should know that some balance transfers come with a one-time fee, so make sure to consider this as well. 

Care for your credit

Your credit is your door to many financial opportunities. A healthy credit score can help your chances for approval for auto leases, mortgages, personal loans and more. It can also help you get a much lower interest rate and better borrowing terms when you receive financial products.

Improving your credit takes work. While focusing on your credit card’s impact on your credit score, make sure your overall credit profile is accurate. Errors and inaccuracies can greatly hurt your credit score and put a dent in your debt-relief goals. Professional credit repair companies can help you navigate the challenges of credit reporting inaccuracies.

The first step toward establishing a healthy credit history is making sure all items are listed fairly and accurately—professional credit repair is an easy, effective way to get your credit score back on track.


Reviewed by Shana Dawson Fish, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Shana Dawson Fish is an Arizona native whose family migrated from Guyana. Shana graduated from Arizona State University in 2008 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology, and in 2012 she graduated from Arizona Summit Law School earning her Juris Doctor. During law school, Shana was a Judicial Intern at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona and the Maricopa County Superior Court. In 2016, Shana was awarded a legal defense contract and represented clients as a Trial Attorney in juvenile proceedings. Shana has experience in litigating numerous trials and diligently pursuing the rights of her clients. As a Trial Attorney, Shana identified the needs of her clients and also represented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings. Shana is licensed to practice in Arizona and is an Associate Attorney in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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What is an escalated information request?

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

When you discover an error on one of your credit reports, such as an inaccurate address or a record of a late payment that you know you paid on time, you can begin the credit dispute process to hopefully correct the error. This is one of your rights as a consumer, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

But what happens if your credit dispute or challenge fails? If you are like many consumers, the process may not initially yield favorable results. This is where an escalated information request comes in. Read on to learn what your options are following a dispute rejection.

What are the steps involved in the credit dispute process?

There are four main steps in the credit dispute process.

First, you send your dispute letter to whichever of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—shows the error on your credit report. In your letter, identify the information that you want to dispute, explain why you’re disputing it and provide any relevant evidence that supports your case. Ask that they remove or correct the information in question. (You can use this sample letter from the FTC if you’re not sure where to start.)

Second, you may reach out to the data furnisher that provided the inaccurate information to the credit bureaus, such as a creditor or another financial institution.  Data furnishers should conduct a reasonable investigation to verify the accuracy of the information they’re reporting to the bureaus if someone submits a dispute, and this could help you as well.

Third, wait for the credit bureaus and data furnishers to respond to your dispute. They typically have 30 to 60 days to investigate your claim. However, there is the possibility that they might deem it “frivolous,” which might happen if your dispute is inaccurate or if you repeat the same claims without adding new evidence.

Once you get a response, review the results of the investigation. If your dispute is accepted and the information is confirmed to be inaccurate, your report should be updated accordingly. If your dispute is rejected because it’s considered frivolous or the information on your report is seemingly verified, you have a couple of options—you can either let the issue drop, or attempt to escalate your dispute.

What do I do if my dispute is rejected?

Denial isn’t the end of the line. When a credit dispute is rejected, it is up to you to continue your efforts to ensure you have a fair and accurate report. Before resigning yourself to defeat, you may follow the steps below to escalate your information request.

1. Send additional letters

Draft another set of letters to the credit bureaus and a new one for the creditor in question. Outline the following:

  • Your disappointment with the initial credit dispute decision
  • Information about the account and the nature of your dispute
  • Detailed information about the dispute (include supporting documents)
  • And, for the bureaus, a list of the incorrect items on your credit report and how they should be corrected

At the end of your letters, you may document your intention to escalate your claim to the appropriate authorities if needed. Then you may mail your letters and supporting documents to the credit bureaus and relevant creditors with a return receipt requested.

2. Wait for responses

It may take up to 60 days to receive responses. Keep copies of your letters, emails and any phone calls between yourself and the credit bureaus and creditors. Be sure to write down dates, times, names of representatives and a summary of your discussions. In the case that you need this documentation, you will be very glad you kept a record of the events.

3. Review the final decision

If, upon reviewing the final decision you are still not satisfied with the outcome, you may send copies of your escalated information requests and supporting documents to the appropriate authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission and your state’s Attorney General.

However, you should strongly consider speaking with an attorney to discuss your situation to determine what are your best options. In each of these endeavors, make sure you have enough evidence to prove your case and discredit your claim’s denial.

Protect your rights

Facilitating escalated information requests can be a long and arduous process, especially following an initial credit dispute. However, you have a right to fair and accurate credit reports, and the long-term benefits of accurate credit can make the dispute process worth your time and effort.

Make sure to regularly review your credit reports for errors, and if you find any, take action as soon as you can. You can initiate the credit dispute process yourself, but if you don’t have the time to dedicate to it or if you would rather work with a professional, there are credit repair companies who can help. Contact Lexington Law today to learn more about how we can help you as consumer advocates.

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