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Interest rates soar as Americans carry more credit card debt

Jan 10, 2023, 11:10 AM
credit card debt...
To pay off credit card debt, you have to create a plan and stick to it. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It’s a double-whammy. Interest rates are surging and almost half of all credit card holders carry debt from month to month, according to a new survey from Bankrate.com released Tuesday.

The average APR is now at a near-record high of 19.59%. The report showed that 43% of people with credit card debt didn’t know what their interest rate was.

“Some people are even paying higher rates,” said Ted Rossman, Senior Industry Analyst at Bankrate.com. “Some store cards are in the neighborhood of 30%. If you have lesser credit, you could easily be paying 25 or 30%. So we definitely want to come up with a good debt payoff plan.”

The survey says 46% of all users carry balances, up from 39% last year.

“People need to have a plan,” Rossman told KIRO Newsradio’s Heather Bosch. “I do worry that the holiday debt hangover could be especially severe this year just because of high inflation and higher rates. And I think there is a lot of sticker shock as the bills arrive in January.”

Interest rates need to be a priority when tackling debt 

“If you have credit card debt, you absolutely need to prioritize your interest rate. We found that about four in 10 cardholders with debt don’t even know what their interest rate is,” Rossman said. “So I think that needs to be the starting point. And then, if you can’t pay it all off, at least come up with a good strategy to reduce the interest rate.”

Rossman said another way to attack credit card debt is to possibly take out a 0% transfer card. He said those offers last as long as 21 months.

“Anytime you open a new card, there’s probably a slight, I’ll say 5 to 10 point drop in your credit score just because of the hard inquiry and the new account,” Rossman explained. “But that’s quickly outweighed by the benefits. The other thing is that there is usually a transfer fee of 3 to 5% upfront again, though I think it’s well worth it if you use one of these cards properly.”

Rossman says that the goal should be debt consolidation at a much lower rate. The study says that 43% of cardholders are unaware of balance transfer offers.

Millennial Money: 5 tactics to pay buy now, pay later debt

“It’s a deal typically reserved for new customers. It is a loss leader kind of thing they’re looking to bring in new business,” Rossman said. “Cynically, I’m sure they’re hoping a lot of these people carry balances longer term. But from a household standpoint, the best way to use it is to pay it off within the allotted time.”

Rossman offered some other advice for paying down debt.

“Maybe you could get a low-rate personal loan as a form of debt consolidation. Or you could take on a side hustle or sell some stuff you don’t need or cut your expenses,” Rossman said. “Cashback” is a favorite credit card feature of those surveyed. “But it doesn’t make sense to pay 20% and interest just to get 2% in cashback.”

Scenarios: My wife is $300,000 in debt and didn’t tell me

Rossman found that many people chase perks and that often gets them into trouble with credit card debt.

“That’s a big no, no for me. I really think if you have debt, the interest rate needs to come first, whether that’s a 0% balance transfer card, or maybe a low-rate personal loan, or maybe seeking nonprofit credit counseling, there are a lot of levers you can pull,” Rossman said. “But it’s really important to be debt free before you start going for rewards.”

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Interest rates soar as Americans carry more credit card debt