Texas boasts three of the top five cities in the nation struggling the most with paying off credit cards, a recent report said. Those rankings have led some in Grayson County who focus on finances and the economy to shed a little light on the pros and cons of using credit to finance purchases.
The report, published last week by creditcards.com, lists San Antonio as the city with residents that struggles most with credit card bills followed by Houston at No. 3 and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex at No. 5. The rankings were assessed with 2017 credit report data collected by Experian and looked at cities’ average card balance in relation to income, gauged through the median earnings of local workers. The analysis measured both credit card debt in dollar form and the pressure it placed on consumers’ income, by totaling the length of time it would take to pay off the average balance.
“I don’t know anyone that hasn’t gotten themselves into a bad credit card situation,” Priority 1 Credit Solutions President and Texoma Council of Governments credit consultant Andrew Miller said. “A lot of times, you have to learn the hard way and then fix yourself up before you know not to do that again.”
Based on the report, workers in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth carried an average card balance ranging between $7,070 and $7,171 and it took them an average of 19 to 22 months to pay those balances off. Austin College Assistant Professor of Business Syed Kamal said a host of factors could be responsible for Texans’ higher balances and resulting burdens.
“If there’s job growth, if there are more employment opportunities, and people have more confidence overall in the growing economy, you should expect to see them flex their spending muscles a bit,” Kamal said. “That could be a contributing factor in Texas, where we have a robust economy and we have good prospects with a lot of employers coming here. And if a higher fraction of the population is part of a younger generation, where life is really starting to happen for them — getting out of college, buying a car, buying a home, getting married and paying for family expenses — that population tends to end up spending more.”
Fortunately for those in Grayson County, and particularly in Sherman, where he practices, Miller said the average credit card balance tends to be considerably lower. Still, Miller said many have spending habits that aren’t ideal.
“On average, I don’t see too many over $5,000,” Miller said of his client’s credit card balances. “Usually they’re in the $1,000 to $2,500 range. And it’s not uncommon to see them already at $800 when they’re only working with a $1,000 credit card (limit).”
Miller said he believed consumers generally struggle with healthy credit habits because they simply aren’t well educated about the all the benefits and risks associated with its use. Much in the same vein, Kamal said there is good and bad to be aware of when it comes to credit.
“The good part of credit is that it allows me to consume and it enhances my quality of living,” Kamal said. “But credit also allocates income over time. I may expect that my income will grow over time, so instead of living in hardship now and waiting to enjoy everything only in the future, I can balance it out with credit. The bad part is that if this isn’t managed well, it affects all aspects of your life. Especially if it affects our credit score, then anything that we borrow in the future or even when you apply for jobs and go through background checks, the credit score will play a (negative) role there.”
Kamal said consumers should generally consider reigning in their spending habits if their monthly balances approach 15 percent of their monthly income. He said that multiple credit cards, if managed well, can help boost one’s credit score.
Miller added that credit cards are essential to building one’s financial profile and can also result in big benefits, such as frequent flyer miles, cash back and rewards programs. But as a man who specializes in helping some of his clients rebuild their credit and financial well-being, he cautioned that interest on unpaid balances can grow quickly and credit scores can fall quickly too, if even one bill is left unpaid.
For those who struggle with their balances, Miller said there are still steps they can take to help themselves.
“Figure out your budget and figure out where you can cut back,” Miller said. “Start calling your cable company and negotiating. Look at your cell phone plan. There’s all kinds of deals out there. Then put that extra money toward the card that you owe the least on, while still making at least the minimum on the cards you owe. Then work on the next card.”
Miller said he understood the instant gratification that credit cards give to consumers, but hoped they would pause the next time they reach for that plastic in their purses and wallets.
“They need to be not thinking about what they want, but their ability to get it paid off quickly,” Miller said. “And that’s the hardest thing, because everybody wants something now. But is it better to get that thing now or is better to go ahead and save up enough money? Remember that whatever it is you’re wanting to buy, it’s still going to be there tomorrow.”