Turns out, Americans with a net worth of more than $100,000 are more likely to have credit card debt than people who have a negative net worth. Taking a deep dive into the numbers, 58 percent of people with this level of net worth owe at least $2,500, and 39 percent are carrying at least $5,000, Bankrate.com found.
Forty-six percent of those who earn more than $80,000 per year have credit card debt. The lowest income bracket, people earning $40,000 or less, had the least amount of debt. By the way, the data does not include “transactors,” or consumers who pay off their balances every month.
“If you truly are building wealth, my thought was that you would not have credit card debt,” said Ted Rossman, an analyst for Bankrate.com who closely watches credit card trends.
It’s important to point out that a substantial portion of people’s net worth is often tied up in their homes. So, on paper, they can be worth a lot, but this does not mean they have cash liquidity.
The survey showed that the most common reason for accumulating credit card debt was to pay for day-to-day expenses, such as groceries, utility payments and child-care costs (28 percent). This was followed by retail purchases such as clothes and electronics (16 percent), car repairs (11 percent), medical debt (11 percent) and vacations (9 percent).
Here are other reasons people gave for accumulating debt:
● “A granddaughter’s wedding.”
● “Birthday and holiday gifts.”
● “Tattoo removal.”
● “Fast-food consumption.”
● “I used credit cards to fix up the rental properties I own.”
● “Tax bill.”
● “Mother’s funeral expenses.”
● “Bad decisions when younger.”
People with high incomes who are carrying credit card debt may be the victims of “lifestyle creep,” Rossman said. This is when people’s standard of living improves as their income increases so that luxuries become viewed as necessities.
“Let’s say you get promoted and earn a 10 percent raise but you expand your standard of living by the same amount. You’re no better off,” he said.
To be clear, Rossman isn’t suggesting living a miserly life.
“Life and money are meant to be enjoyed,” he said. “But you also need to be smart and live within your means and save for your future. If you have adequate emergency savings and your debt is under control, then absolutely treat yourself with a portion of your raise and bank the rest. But if you were living paycheck-to-paycheck before and lacked savings and had lots of credit card debt and weren’t saving for retirement, then you need to dedicate much more of your raise to those priorities.”
Easier access to credit is another factor that may explain why people with higher incomes are accumulating debt, Rossman said. “Just because somebody gives you a credit card or a line of credit doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the best option for you,” he said.
Here’s why this survey matters.
The money you devote to paying off high-interest credit card debt could be better used building long-term wealth, said Corbin Blackwell, a financial planner with Betterment.
“Over the last 20 years, the U.S. stock market has returned about 8 percent per year on average, but eight of those years had returns well below 5 percent,” Blackwell said. “Ultimately, your dollars should go further by paying down high-interest debt. The only time where you could prioritize investing over paying off debt is if your debt has an interest rate below 5 percent.”
Even knowing how costly carrying credit card debt can be, it’s still, by far, the most common form of debt.
Forty-two percent of all U.S. adults have credit card debt, followed by car loans or auto leases (27 percent), mortgages (26 percent), student loans (16 percent) and personal loans (12 percent), according to Bankrate.com.
I’ve counseled many individuals and couples who cycle in and out of credit card debt for purchases that were not necessary.
I also know that life happens. You got by after a job loss or a medical crisis by using your credit card. But if you’re using your plastic to live above your means, that’s a money move that will only pull you under.