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American households have the highest credit card debt since recession

On average, American households are $7,177 in debt, according to a CardHub study. That's a lot of debt, but not necessarily an unconquerable amount. Now's a good time to start digging your way out of it.
On average, American households are $7,177 in debt, according to a CardHub study. That's a lot of debt, but not necessarily an unconquerable amount. Now's a good time to start digging your way out of it.
Oliver Hoffmann / Shutterstock.com

American consumers are accumulating credit card debt at the same rate as before the recession, despite paying down a huge chunk of that borrowing during the first quarter of this year, according to CardHub’s 2015 Credit Card Debt Study released this week.

During the first three months of 2015, consumers paid down $34.7 billion in debt owed to credit card companies. That’s about 7 percent above the average of the past two years.

But American consumers still ended 2014 with $57 billion in debt, a historic high.

“Simply put, it seems that we have a societal addiction to debt. The only cure will be to redefine what we consider luxuries and necessities as well as to improve our overall financial literacy,” an earlier CardHub report declared.

The Federal Reserve’s April consumer credit report confirmed CardHub’s findings, showing an escalation of the country’s overall borrowing levels. Revolving credit, which includes all types of credit, including credit card balances, increased $8.6 billion in April, nearly double March’s increase.

The average household has $7,177 in debt, according to the CardHub report. That amount is the largest it has been in six years, and is indicative of a national spending problem, according to expert observers.

This cycle of debt payment and spending is common. At the start of each year, CardHub has found that Americans consistently pay down what they owe, perhaps fulfilling a New Year’s resolution to reduce debt or capitalizing on an annual bonus. But by year’s end, as holiday season overwhelms the country, the same recovering spenders relapse.

Because there is never a right time to begin considering your financial situation, save emergencies, now, in light of CardHub’s grim reminder of America’s debt problem, is not a bad time to start the conversation.

Forbes offers its own list, too, suggesting money-management solutions that won't sabotage physical or mental well being.

First, assess your finances by asking some difficult questions: Are you spending too much on food? Clothes? Socializing? Think about the things you actually need and the things you don’t. Make small cuts, like choosing to eat out fewer nights each week or take public transportation.

CardHub recommends a systemic approach: “Rank order your expenses — including debt payments, emergency fund contributions and other savings — and trim the fat if necessary.”

Then, plan for more drastic measures, the ones that will keep you from contributing to CardHub’s statistics, such as getting rid of credit cards altogether.

This is difficult for those accustomed to the lifestyle a credit card fools them into believing they can sustain, but it is the most essential step to rebounding from debt, according to Forbes.

Finally, begin restructuring your finances. Create a reasonable budget, taking into consideration the lessons learned from the lifestyle changes. Vow not to re-enter the cycle of debt spending and remain steadfast in the face of the holiday season.

CardHub doesn't appear optimistic that many consumers will take those steps this year.

“While our first-quarter debt pay down returned to 2012 levels, the fact that we had so much debt to begin with and trends from previous quarters suggest that this is something of a false positive," the report stated. "Rather than incurring less than $40 billion in new debt, as was the case in 2012, we are more likely to replicate last year’s performance with a $55-plus billion buildup.”

Email: oetman@deseretnews.com; Twitter: @OAEtman