I remember getting my first credit card as a teen. It was for a local department store, and I got it with the idea of “building credit”. To do so, I used it and paid it off over a few period of a few months (because I mistakenly thought you had to carry a balance for it to count) and then pretty much left it in my wallet.
After I got married the first time, my then-husband and I got a credit card to use. We swore that it would be “just for emergencies”. It didn’t even occur to us that we shouldn’t be counting on debt as a safety net. We really needed MONEY for that, but instead, we bought into the typical American way of thinking. Of course, “emergency” after emergency happened, and our balance piled up. Things just went downhill from there.
A typical story
My “how I got into debt” story is pretty typical. In fact, it’s not at all unusual, because it’s exactly how many people start down the slippery slope of debt. I’m not a stupid person, either. But there IS a huge difference in many cases between what we intend to do and what we actually do. All too often, it’s harder to stick with our intentions than we’d originally thought.
Some people, of course, can use credit cards and never carry a balance on them. And they can rack up the rewards points, because they never have any late fees. But if you’re in debt, or you’ve recently gotten out of debt, you are not one of those people. I wasn’t either, for a long, long, time after I got out of credit card debt.
Even now, I’m nervous every time I use my credit cards (and I use them for a ton of things) because I know exactly how dangerous that slippery slope is.
Keeping yourself from sliding down
The truth is, once you’ve started sliding down that slope, it’s HARD to stop. And it’s hard to keep yourself from going down it a second time. You have to be very, VERY careful — which is exactly why it’s easier to just stop using credit cards completely. I did so, for many years, and it was an excellent thing to have done. And if you’re wanting to use them for the rewards, keep in mind that many debit cards offer rewards too. May as well use those instead. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
The key is to know yourself very well. And by that I mean knowing the real you, not the you you’d like to be. Are you the kind of person who can have one bite of your favorite food and then stop because you know it’s bad for you? You probably have a lot of self-control. (And you probably don’t carry a balance on your credit cards anyway.) But if you’re like me, and one bite turns into a couple of servings, well, maybe it’s a whole lot easier just to avoid that slippery slope in the first place. That’s the reason I don’t keep chocolate chip ice cream in the house.
Good intentions fall by the wayside
The thing is, good intentions often fall by the wayside. The vast, VAST majority of people who use credit cards carry a balance. And that means we pay interest. We pay more for things than we could. We stress out. We miss opportunities we could easily take advantage of if only we had MONEY. You know, if our money didn’t all fly out of our bank account to pay “bills” as fast as it came in.
It’s easier to avoid completely than to just do something a little bit, or for very specific purposes. I suspect that’s the reason you’ll hear folks like Dave Ramsey advocate not using debt at all. There’s no good reason to, really, and it’s just a whole lot easier to avoid the dangers completely. So stay (or get!) off the slippery slope of credit card debt.