Friday, February 13, 2004

Debt's a bitch

According to Consumer Credit Services of San Francisco, the average American now has $8500 in unpaid credit card bills. That number shocks me...$8500. Everyone in my family only puts on their credit cards what they can pay off that month. That's the way I was raised, and that's the way I live. I only know of one person who has that kind of credit card debt (in fact, that person has quite a lot more than that). I don't know how people can live with that kind of debt. The weight of it must cause an awful lot of anxiety.

My debt story is a relatively short one. When I graduated, I ended up taking on a fair amount of credit card debt that I could not pay off right away. I knew that I would be able to relatively soon, so I wasn't too worried about it. My parents loaned me a grand for a down payment on my car. I paid them back over my first two paychecks. That didn't leave very much left for living expenses. The answer was--you guessed it--credit cards. It was suggested to me that I find some "0% for six months" card and pay it off. I did, and it was a good move.

Paying off credit cards is hard. If I could have just stopped living my life and diverted my entire pay to credit cards, I would have been out of debt in no time. But it's impossible to do that. You end up living and buying more. The effective amount you debt pay off is limited by how much more you take on. The cycle is hard to get out of, and I can see how it would be possible to get into mountains of debt.

I am proud to say that my credit card debt is under control. Before graduating, I had never carried a balance. Getting started on my own, buying a car and buying things for my unfurnished apartment led me to take on more debt than I wanted. My total credit card debt never came anywhere near the "average" amount. And yet, it caused me quite a bit of anxiety. Whenever I would balance my books, I would cringe. My plans to get out of debt kept slipping. I kept living my life and putting purchases on my cards, pushing back the timeline that would set me free.

Today is a landmark day. I got my tax refund and I got paid. I was able to pay off my final carryover balance. I'll be able to pay off the balances that will be due before I get paid next month. I'm actually going to have money left over from this paycheck. I'll finally be able to save money. The weight has been lifted. I'll be able to purchase things outright. It feels good. I'm on my way to having a positive net worth...I just have to pay off those pesky student loans. So where do I go from here? Africa, of course.

No comments: