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Credit card balances are common

Brandi isn’t the only one giving the finger to the credit card companies. Bankrate discovered that 49% of Americans carry a balance on their card from one month to the next as of November 2023. This is up 10% since 2021.

But most people aren’t carrying these balances due to overconsumption or a shopping addiction. Bankrate’s study says that 43% of cardholders’ balances are due to an unexpected or emergency expense.

Inflation has shot up 3.4% since last year, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Shelter, electricity and food have all seen price increases, making it harder for people to make ends meet.

This is especially true if they’re facing an unexpected expense. Only 63% of Americans have enough money saved to pay for a $400 emergency, according to the most recent Federal Reserve numbers.

"Inflation is making an existing trend worse," Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman told CBS MoneyWatch. "We've been seeing this for a while, with more people carrying more debt for longer periods of time. It's moving in the wrong direction."

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Does your credit score really matter?

Unfortunately, ignoring your credit card bill only makes matters worse. You may find, like Brandi, that before long you’ll receive a call from a collection agency. But even if it doesn’t escalate to that point, each month you leave a balance on your card is likely to impact your credit score.

And if you trash your credit score, that will only make it harder for you to buy a home or a car, or even get a new credit card in the future.

But it’s tough to care about a credit score when you’re struggling to get by. Brandi says she’s putting off her credit card payments because she needs to focus on buying essentials for herself and her kids: food, rent, car payments, medicine and clothes.

This is fair. Even personal finance celebrity Dave Ramsey — whose whole schtick is being anti-debt — has advised a radio show caller to put food on the table for his kids before paying off their credit card bills.

Though you may not be able to pay off all your credit card bills right now, you do have options. You can try to negotiate with your credit card company to lower your interest rate.

All you have to do is call up your credit card’s customer service department. It’s not guaranteed that they’ll do this, but it’s also not an uncommon request.

The credit card company is more likely to lower your rate if you have a history of paying on time or have a good credit score. But if you don’t have a squeaky clean credit background or the customer service representative is playing hardball, you can ask for a temporary interest rate cut to show that you’re committed to paying down your debt.

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About the Author

Sabina Wex

Sabina Wex

Reporter

Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, CBC and more.

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The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.