If mood-boosting shopping sprees and racking up credit card rewards are a part of your lifestyle, you could be fueling a dangerous debt addiction. Results of Card Hub’s latest credit card debt study show that Americans accumulated $18.4 billion in credit card debt in the second quarter of 2011 alone. Credit card debt continues to be a major financial problem for the average American consumer, yet many are still living a lifestyle that supports a costly debt habit.
Here are seven bad habits that could be fueling your debt addiction:
1. Always a Borrower. Are you always borrowing clothes, household items, and even money from friends and family? If you always seem to be indebted to others in some way–and fail to repay your debts regularly–you could be addicted to debt. Find ways to make your own ends meet and stop relying on others to get by. The borrower mentality can leave you in a perpetual debt cycle and quickly turn into an addiction.
2. Making Impulsive Purchases. Whether you’re a Groupon junkie or just can’t resist a sale, impulsive shopping habits could be fueling a debt addiction. Few people work with a budget for last-minute purchases and if you don’t have funds available, you’re likely to use a credit card to get what you want. Curb those urges to shop deal sites and other last-minute offers so you don’t end up drowning in debt.
3. Spending to Boost Your Mood. If retail therapy is something you indulge in regularly, make sure you’re supporting the effort on a cash-only basis. When you rely on credit cards to get your shopping fix, it can be very difficult to cover the costs of an emotional shopping spree without going into debt. Climbing out of debt will be that much more difficult when you’ve been racking up huge balances just to get your fix. Avoid shopping when emotions are running high so you can make a more rational decision with that next purchase.
4. Depending on Cash-Back Credit Cards. The concept of earning money for spending can be very seductive. If you tend to pay with credit just because you know you are “earning” a portion of it back in the form of cash or rewards points, you could be fueling a dangerous addiction to credit card spending. Cash back credit cards typically pay you back a very small percentage of your charges–think $1 for every $100 you charge. Unless you’re very disciplined about paying off your entire balance by month’s end, the money you earn back will barely cover the interest charges you acquired on that spending spree.
5. Transferring Balances More than Once per Year. While it’s smart to transfer high-interest balances to a low-interest credit card when you can, it’s also too easy to get caught in a game of “round robin” with your credit cards. When you find yourself paying off one credit card with another card, you could be setting yourself up on for an endless debt loop. Pay off your balances with cold hard cash and stop using the cards to get off this dangerous cycle.
[See the Secret to Living Well on $40,000 a Year.]
6. Living on Interest-Free Financing Plans. Zero-percent interest for the next 18 months and interest-free financing plans are great marketing strategies to prompt a purchase you might otherwise not make with cash. Big-ticket items that can be financed with a no-interest offer seem like a great deal on the day of the purchase, but you could end up spending much more than you would have if you were paying with cash. The lure of having it now, paying for it later can be too hard to resist–and will more than likely leave you with a pile of debt. Remember that a delayed debt is still a debt. Save your money for larger purchases so you don’t end up carrying extra debt–interest -free or not – over the next couple of years.
7. Keeping Up with the Joneses. If you’re constantly comparing your life with others and trying to outdo the neighbors with material goods, you could be fueling a debt addiction. One-upping friends and family by purchasing luxuries on credit can turn into a competitive sport – and a costly one at that. Avoid some serious financial problems by living within your means and only buying things you can honestly afford. Trying to keep up with the Joneses can be the fast track to debt problems or even bankruptcy.