ensnare record number of Americans
C. Green (7/25/04)
As a first-year
college student, Carley Fillinger of Waterloo, Iowa,
did what everyone else seemed to be doing. She signed
up for credit cards whose companies offered bags of
candy or a free T-shirt for a completed application.
I got the cards,” she says, “I didn’t
relate to the fact that I had to pay all my purchases
off, and that making the monthly minimum payment is
not enough because you still have interest, and if you
get behind, late fees. My credit card debt kept building
and building, and then I gave up.”
gave up trying to keep up with her mounting credit card
debt, she also gave up her education. She dropped out
of college to get a full-time job to pay off those cards.
work. At age 27, Carley Fillinger declared bankruptcy.
is not uncommon. Credit cards have been making their
way into the hands of younger and younger consumers
in recent years, with college students being a target
kids are one of the most susceptible groups to racking
up credit card debt,” says William Hunt, legal
counsel for A/G Financial in Springfield, Mo. “Credit
card debt, unless properly controlled, can really dig
young people into a hole.”
aren’t the only ones buried under debt. Bankruptcies
have nearly doubled in the past decade in the United
States, with more than 1.6 million people filing in
fiscal 2003 alone. Consumer debt hit an all-time high
of $1.98 trillion in October 2003, for an average of
about $18,700 of debt per U.S. household. Credit card
debt reached $735 billion in January, for an average
of $10,000 per card-carrying household.
you don’t have the money in your checking account,
don’t buy anything using a credit card,”
Hunt advises. “Pay the card off immediately every
month, and don’t get to the point where you need
to pay finance charges.”
president of Treasure Coast Financial Services in Stuart,
Fla., names five behaviors that keep a person in debt:
lifestyles of loved ones.
overcome by peer pressure.
no idea where the money goes.
easy access to credit.
to yearnings regardless of earnings.
already in debt, Consumer Credit Counseling Service
of Atlanta suggests sending payments on time, always
paying more than the minimum due, tackling high-interest
cards first, transferring balances to lower interest
cards and negotiating with your creditors.
is approaching 30, and still battling debt. Months after
filing bankruptcy in 2001, she became entangled in a
new wave of credit card debt.
to following the debt reduction advice from CCCS, Fillinger
made lifestyle changes. She moved to a duplex with lower
rent. She shops at discount stores and garage sales
rather than malls. Dining out is rare.
is paying off her last two credit cards, narrowly escaping
a lawsuit with one creditor. She graduated in May with
a degree from Upper Iowa University. It has taken more
than a decade for Fillinger to get out from underneath
the debt, and she vows never to carry another card again.
cards aren’t sinful,” says Howard Dayton,
co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries in Gainesville,
Ga. “They are dangerous.”