BOSTON (CBS) – Credit has been the number one concern at my conferences this past winter, not unemployment but debt!

The latest Federal Reserve numbers from February has revolving consumer debt at $794 billion dollars. That is down from $958 billion in 2008. Consumers are paying off more than just the minimum.

Credit is a privilege. Not a constitutional right despite what some people think. Credit allows you to use someone else’s money, the credit card company’s, to buy the goods and service you need or want.

You are borrowing money every time you use your credit card and you do need to eventually pay back the credit card company. And if you don’t pay off your balance every month, the credit card company will charge interest for using their money. And if you are late in paying your monthly bill or miss a payment, the credit card company has the right to charge you late fees. And they do. As much as $39.

On average about 5% of consumers are late in paying their bills each month and the credit card companies really don’t mind for the late fees are a very good source of revenue for them. Americans paid $15 billion in fees last year.

When you talk about credit you need to talk about debt. There is good debt and there is bad debt. Good debt is the kind of debt that increases your bottom line, increases your net worth. A mortgage normally would be considered good debt for it helps increase your net worth; it allows you to borrow money to buy real estate with a small down payment of your own money.

Education loans, yours or your kids would be considered good debt. An education increases your ability to earn a living and the more education you have the higher your wages. Studies have shown that a college education could mean an increase in wages of $1 million over a career.

Bad debt is stressful! It would be your credit cards that you don’t pay off each month. Here you are paying for things you consume. Groceries, sneakers for the kids, gas for the car, Advil for your headaches, dinners out. And you may be paying for those sneakers for a very long time. By the time you have them paid off the kiddo could be grown up.

For example you have a $3,000 balance with a 14% interest rate which is the average and you pay the minimum each month of 2%. Most credit card companies are using 2% of your balance as the minimum payment.

It will take 20 years to pay off the $3,000. That’s longer than many marriages last. Oh and by the way, you will pay over $3,500 in interest over the years.

Credit card companies just love it when you only pay the minimum.


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