Question: My husband and I finally sent our youngest off to technical school. (She wants to be a cosmetologist, and I’m thankful we won’t have to take out student loans for her like we did her brother.) With both kids out of the house, we’re paying down almost $10,000 in credit card debt we’ve accrued.
Having read your advice, I want to get rid of our credit cards, even if just for a little while. My husband doesn’t want to give up the airline miles, though. He says we can use them to visit our children. I prefer to just use debit cards from the bank. Who’s right?
— Leigh in Florida
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
You’re both wrong, but not for the reasons you might think.
Your husband is correct that credit card points are valuable. They’re free money, after all. Debt.com even tells you the best reward cards and best airline cards for scoring as many points as possible.
However, these cards are only good deals if you pay off your balance each and every month. Carrying any balance even for a few months can wipe out years of point-collecting. Obviously, you and your husband have a hefty balance, so I side with you: Go credit-cardless, at least for a little while. I assume you’ve read my now-controversial quote from my second book Power Up…
Learning to live without a credit card is an integral part of financial empowerment. The lessons you discover will add to your building blocks that will eventually lead to your financial independence. Those who don’t use credit cards take money much more seriously than credit card users. The act of physically handing over the dollars to a cashier or waitress generates a feeling of loss. The money is gone.
But you’ll notice that last line, Leigh. It’s important that you part with your hard-earned cash. A debit card immediately deducts money from the account it’s tied to, but you’re missing the crucial component — the pain.
Debit card details
Coincidentally, I just read a new study about debit cards. It shows a phenomenal growth in debit cards from 2005 till now. For instance, in 2005, the average debit card user spent just over $7,800. Nowadays? It’s nearly $9,300, according to the 2015 Debit Card Issuer Study.
There’s a twist, however. While Americans are spending more per year on their debit cards, the average transaction has gotten cheaper —from $40 in 2005 to $37 now. What does that mean? Well, to me, it means more of us are using debit cards for ever-smaller purchases.
Of course, those purchases quickly add up. In nearly three decades as a financial counselor, I’ve seen people go deeply into debt over big issues, ranging from divorce to illness. Just as often, however, the path to financial problems is one of many tiny steps.
The best method
Your clearest way to paying off your credit card debt might not be obvious to you. If you call one of Debt.com’s certified credit counselors at 1-800-810-0989, they’ll give you a free debt analysis. That information might be not only get you out of debt quicker than deciding between credit or debit cards, it’ll avoid an argument with your husband!
Have a debt question?
Email your question to email@example.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.