Americans leaning on credit to cope with inflation

Your Money

(NewsNation) — A growing number of Americans are being forced to rely on credit as a way to make ends meet during a time of record inflation.

It also comes at a time when 60% of the country is living pay-to-paycheck.

For many, gone are the days of swiping plastic primarily for one-time purchases. Some analysts say we’re living in the era of putting the essentials on layaway.

Matt Schulz is a chief credit analyst at Lendingtree. He told NewsNation on Wednesday that his company has noticed more people relying on credit cards and other “buy now, pay later” services to survive.

“Inflation is making people make some difficult decisions as it relates to how to pay for things,” Schulz said. He also said it’s happening particularly to those with lower incomes and people who are new to credit.

And that demographic is quickly learning the trend comes at a cost, one that is increasing with each passing federal interest rate hike.

The average interest rate for a credit card has hit 17.96, the highest since 1996, according to the latest Bankrate survey. The average rate has inched up nearly 1.5 points in three months. It was just 16% a year ago.

“One thing that we can say for fairly certain is that your credit card APRs are going to be higher in a few months than they are right now,” Schulz said.

For millions of Americans, that will mean owing more money.

U.S. household credit card debt increased by 13% on an annualized basis in the second quarter of this year — the biggest jump since 1999.

“That credit card debt that you have is the most expensive it’s been in at least decades, maybe ever,” Schulz said. “And the truth is that it’s only going to get more expensive because the [Federal Reserve] isn’t done raising rates.”

The next rate hike is expected to come in two weeks, when the Fed meets again. The country’s central banking system signed off on back-to-back, three-quarter percent increases in June and July.

But in some cases, Schulz said, there is a surprisingly simple solution: call your credit card company and ask for a lower rate.

According to Lendingtree, about 70% of its clients are able to lower their interest rate by doing just that.

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