The average credit card debt per household in the United States is $14,750. *
If this was your balance on a single credit card with a 14% APR, paying the minimum monthly payment (and assuming you didn't charge anything else) -- it would take you 188 months to pay off this card. You would also have paid over $9000 in interest. **
188 months, by the way? Is over 15 years.
These kinds of facts kept me up at night.
I got my first credit card -- like so many other people -- when I was a freshman in college. The sales reps were lined up on campus, hawking free things -- t shirts! Water bottles! Pens -- to incoming freshmen, touting the responsibility of establishing a line of credit for when you wanted to get off campus and rent that apartment or buy that car. (In my memory, I can no longer see the campus and the milling students at all when I think of this: I see vultures, sitting on branches, watching a struggling person wander through the desert, just waiting for her to drop so they can descend. But hey, that's just me.)
How many students bought into that? I don't know, but I know that enough must to make sitting there with their swag worthwhile for the credit card companies.
I know that I bought into it. "For emergencies," I told myself. "And, you know, to establish a line of credit."
For a while I was really good with the card -- for a long while, actually. If I charged anything, I paid it off immediately. Carrying a balance, I knew, was a bad idea.
But of course, life happens and there are real emergencies (Stuck in London! Need to go home!) and fake emergencies ("I ABSOLUTELY NEED those shoes! They're on sale! And if I don't buy them, I'll never have this chance again! Emergency!") and the stuff in between that you know is a bad idea but do anyway.
Then I got out of college and became a teacher; I was making a whopping $19K a year and needed to pay student loans and car loans and rent and buy food and gas and classroom supplies, so ... yeah. The credit card was my friend.
Except, of course, that it was the kind of friend who does you a favor -- here, borrow this dress! -- and then holds it over your head for the rest of your life.
My credit card debt was spread out over three credit cards and at one time grossly exceeded $14,750. GROSSLY. I felt like I would never get out from under it. It was like I was drowning and, though I could see the surface of the water, I had this immense weight holding me under. I would literally snap out of a sound sleep and think about it.
Through persistence and some crafty moves on my ex-husband's part, we were able to consolidate it and whittle it down. Above water once again.
I've said plenty about divorce, and I'll probably say more, but here? I will just say this: it doesn't do marvelous things for your finances. The debt started to pile up once again. While this time it was less than the aforementioned average, it was ... enough. I remembered where I'd been, and was somewhat terrified that I would find myself there again.
Until it hit me: the person doing this to me?
Enough with the "emergencies" and the purse shopping and the ridiculousness. ENOUGH.
Do you enjoy feeling like you're drowning? I asked myself, sternly.
Then STOP it.
So, I stopped.
Yesterday, I paid off the last credit card. I keep checking my balance to make sure it REALLY says $0.
It really does.
The view here above the water? Amazing.
*This is according to http://www.creditcards.com/ ; the number may be off slightly due to the way it was calculated.
** Also brought to you by the nice folks at http://www.creditcards.com/