New credit card study says we paid off debt during the pandemic. But will it last?

National

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Millions of Americans surprised some of the financial experts in 2020 and the first quarter of 2021. They paid off billions of dollars in credit card debt.

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 the question is, 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 pay down numbers to this extent for much longer if for any longer at all,” said Gonzalez.

Bill Hardekopf from Cardrates.com agrees 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 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 says there are still tried and true ways of trying to reduce credit card debt, such as looking at each card you have and going after the balance on the card 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 will probably not be the case much longer.

Hardekopf suggests developing a strategy on how to pay down debt and, whether any of us want to hear this or not, he says 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.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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