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Credit card balances rise after stimulus checks help reduce debt

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For many Americans, the pandemic-induced downturn has presented a rare opportunity to improve their financial situation.

Government stimulus checks and shrinking spending opportunities have driven the personal savings rate to a level not seen since World War II, with many consumers using the cash they had to pay off their debts – mainly their balances credit cards, which have the highest interest rates. , with an average of more than 16%.

In total, consumers have paid off a record $83 billion in debt on their credit cards during the pandemic, but the recent spike in the prices of gas, groceries and housing, among other necessities, forces most of them to rely on their credit cards again.

That of the Federal Reserve monthly credit report found that revolving credit, which primarily includes credit card balances, jumped nearly 20% in April from the previous month to $1.103 trillion, breaking the pre-pandemic record of $1.1 trillion. dollars.

Meanwhile, credit card balances are also growing year-over-year, reaching $841 billion in the first three months of 2022, and are expected to continue to rise, according to a separate Federal Reserve Bank report. from New York.

Rising credit card borrowing, along with car loans, student debt and mortgages, has now pushed total household debt to a record $15.84 trillion.

“A big drop and then a big rise”

“We got our new all-time high – it only took 11 months for revolving debt to bottom out and then 15 months from there to climb back to a new high,” said Ted Rossman, senior analyst. of the industry at CreditCards.com.

“After the financial crisis, it took almost 10 years from peak to peak,” Rossman said. “It’s definitely been a V-shaped curve – a big drop and then a big rise.”

“But it’s not all bad news,” he added. “Part of that reflects rising consumer spending, which is good for the economy.”

Yet credit cards are already one of the most expensive ways to borrow money.

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As the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to rein in inflation, which is at its fastest pace in more than 40 years, maintaining a balance will soon cost even more.

Since most credit cards have a variable rate, there is a direct link to the Fed’s benchmark index. As the federal funds rate rises, the prime rate also rises, and credit card rates follow. Cardholders typically see the impact within a billing cycle or two.

Annual percentage rates currently average 16.61%, but could be closer to 19% by the end of the year – which would be an all-time high, according to Rossman.

To date, the record is 17.87%set in April 2019.

If the APR on your credit card increases by two percentage points from its current level, it will cost you an additional $832 in interest charges over the term of the loan, assuming you have made minimum payments on a average balance of $5,525, he calculated.

Also, it would take more than 16 years to pay.

“The biggest problem isn’t the monthly payments, it’s the cumulative effect of paying a high rate over a long period of time,” Rossman said.

If you have a balance, try consolidating and paying off high interest credit cards with a lower interest rate home equity loan or a personal loan or switch to an interest-free balance transfer credit card, he advised.

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