Why Credit Card Debt Grows

Would it surprise you to learn that credit card companies don’t want you to pay your entire bill every month, that they make money—lots of it—when you don’t pay, or that credit card debt is one of the major reasons people file for bankruptcy?

Getting into credit card debt is much too easy. All you need to do is take a vacation, go on a shopping spree, dine out at expensive restaurants, any or all of those things that are so easy to do when you only need to pull out a piece of plastic to pay, even easier when you have lots of pieces of plastic to use.

And, since credit card companies don’t insist that you make more than a “minimum” payment, those costs can drag on for months, even years, mounting insistently as interest kicks in. And a late payment or two not only adds a late payment fee but can boost the interest rate on that card and, possibly, on your other credit cards as well. Without using a card one more time, your debt can keep growing.

How? Interest and fees mount up. Over time, those interest, late fee and over-limit penalties can surpass the original debt. That’s one way banks and credit companies make money. But they profit in other ways. You might compare, for instance, the interest these banks charge on your credit card debt with what they pay in interest on checking and savings accounts. The balance is in the banks’ favor, typically something like a whopping 14 percent for them, and 2 percent or less for you.

How do you avoid the credit trap and its costs? The easy answer is to pay your entire bill, or as much as you can, on time. On time, in this case, means early, since there are enough documented cases where payments were not recorded until “late” and late fees and extra interest were added, escalating the total amount owed. Some advisors suggest either electronic transfers to pay a bill or, if using the mail, a return receipt to document when the payment was received.

There is a way to beat the system and still use credit cards. That is to get rid of your credit card debt, then figure out how much you can spend each month and don’t go above that figure. Don’t fall for the gimmicks and special offers that flood the mail, the zero percent, discounts, rebates and all the rest, and, above all, read all the fine print carefully. With careful planning, credit cards don’t need to cost anything, even an annual fee.