SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Millions of Americans paid off billions of dollars in credit card debt in 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, surprising some financial experts.
A newly released study from WalletHub indicates that up to $80 billion was paid on credit card debt in 2020 and $56 billion more in the first quarter of this year.
“The first quarter of any year is when you see the biggest paydown, but this year, we surpassed what we typically see,” said Jill Gonzalez of WalletHub.
She said there may have been some “comfort buying” from consumers in the past 15 months.
“But there was much more comfort saving, and people were using that money to pay off debt rather than to incur new debt,” said Gonzalez.
But will it last?
“The economy has reopened, businesses have reopened, travel is now something that people are able to partake in, so I think we won’t be seeing these debt paydown numbers to this extent for much longer, if for any longer at all,” said Gonzalez.
Bill Hardekopf from Cardrates.com agreed that debt may creep back up but wishes people would keep the habit of paying it down instead.
“I think we have learned a good lesson; how long we keep that lesson intact is another story,” said Hardekopf. “We are creatures of habit, and we do tend to spend money that we don’t have.”
Hardekopf reminds consumers that credit card debt is expensive. “The average credit card has an interest rate of about 17 or 18 percent,” he said.
“When you start to pay down debt, it can have a snowball effect. So I hope that as a country and as individuals, we can keep up the habit we developed during the pandemic,” said Hardekopf.
Unfortunately, that might be wishful thinking. The WalletHub report indicates that Americans may add up to $60 billion to their total credit debt balance. It also says the average credit debt is still about $7,519.
Gonzalez said there are tried-and-true ways to reduce credit card debt, such as looking at each card you have and going after the card balance that charges the highest interest rate. She also cautions consumers that while banks were willing to work with them on payments during the pandemic, that may not be the case much longer.
Hardekopf suggests developing a strategy to pay down debt and, whether we want to hear this or not, the first thing to do is stop charging stuff.
“What you should do is just stop spending on your credit card if you have credit card debt,” said Hardekopf. “I mean that sounds so simple and basic, but don’t use your credit card if you have debt.”