You know that credit card debt is bad, for a number of financial reasons. The average United States household’s credit card debt is $16,061—and at an average APR of 15 percent, that means the average household is paying $2,400 annually in interest alone. The power of compound interest makes that figure exponentially worse for some families, and the resulting necessity of minimum monthly payments can get in the way of your plans to buy a house, take a vacation, or even make it to your next paycheck.
Unfortunately, credit card debt is even worse when you consider how much it affects your personal life—beyond the basic financial repercussions.
How Credit Card Debt Affects Your Personal Life
So how can credit card debt affect your personal life?
1. Your social life. Credit card debt can make it harder to socialize with your friends, to some extent. Your best friends won’t care about money—they’ll be happy to spend time with you at home, without paying for anything—but at the same time, it’s also fun to go out to have food or grab a drink, and struggling with debt can make it hard to keep up with even occasional indulgences.
2. Your happiness. It’s true that money can’t buy happiness—except that money is, to some extent, correlated with happiness. Wealthy people aren’t inherently happier than poor people, but having enough money to pay your bills naturally makes you more content in life. Carrying debt, on the other hand, can lead to depression, anxiety, and a host of other psychological conditions. The longer you carry your credit card debt, and the higher it is, the more susceptible you’ll be to this unhappiness.
3. Arguments with spouses (or partners). Money trouble is a leading predictor for divorce rates, and is also the leading cause of arguments among couples. Of couples currently experiencing stress, 35 percent claimed that money was the top concern—the next highest factor was “annoying habits,” at 25 percent. If you’re struggling with credit card debt, your relationships are going to be strained.
4. Job and apartment opportunities. The amount of debt you have can bear a negative impact on your credit score. Obviously, that could keep you from getting loans or applying for new credit, but just as importantly, your credit score could prevent you from certain job and apartment opportunities—and that’s when your debt starts affecting your entire lifestyle.
How to Get Out of Debt
None of these effects are pleasant, so what can you do to get out of debt?
1. Consolidate your credit card debt. If you have debt from multiple sources, your first job should be consolidating that debt to a single source. Not only will this make it easier for you to manage your ongoing payments, it could also help you score a lower interest rate, ultimately paying less to credit card companies as you work toward your debt-free future.
2. Refuse to take on new debt. Debt isn’t all bad, but until you pay off what you currently owe, you should commit to not taking on any more debt. Reserve your credit cards for genuine emergencies, and don’t take out any loans that aren’t essential.
3. Come up with a budget. Next, come up with a thorough budget for your monthly expenses, including how much you make and how much you spend on things like groceries, rent, utilities, and personal care. If you can, reduce your expenses in each of these areas, and be strict with how you spend money on unnecessary things, like entertainment.
4. Commit to a payment plan. Come up with a goal monthly payment for your debt, based on how much extra income you have leftover at the end of each month. From there, you’ll be able to set a target date for when your debts are fully paid off. Ideally, you’ll be able to afford more than the minimum monthly payments for your bills; the faster you pay off your debts, the less interest you’ll pay.
5. Increase your income. Finally, consider increasing your income to afford even higher monthly payments. You don’t necessarily have to find a new job, but you can make use of side gigs, like selling crafts online, freelance writing, or ridesharing, to make a few easy bucks in addition to your primary income stream.
The effects of credit card debt are harsher and further-reaching than most people realize, but they’re effects that can be controlled. Once you commit to getting control over your debt, you can prevent those old credit cards from getting in the way of how you live your life.