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Credit card debt on the rise as Fed considers interest rate hike

Consumers may be letting their guard down a bit these days when it comes to credit card debt. The recession is well behind us, but financial experts warn that wage growth has been slow. Consumers are not that much better off that they can be increasing their debt load.

In truth, the risk of credit card debt is not so much the balance due as it is the balance carried over from the previous month. Researchers have found that consumers are loading up their credit cards, and fewer -- just 37.4 percent -- are paying them off every month. The Federal Reserve estimates that Americans owed $901 billion in May, a little more than 3 percent more than we owed in May 2014 and about 7 percent more than we owed in 2010. July data indicated that the average consumer with credit card debt is carrying an average balance of $15,863.

A different study shows that Chicago consumers take about 12 months to pay off credit card debt. The average balance on general purpose credit cards -- that is, cards that can be used in multiple establishments -- was $4,577. It costs more than $300 in interest to pay off the card.

That cost could increase if the Federal Reserve Bank goes through with an interest rate hike in September. Even a 1 percent rate hike could add $160 of interest to the balance. The Fed is contemplating a 0.25 percent increase, so the impact would be less dramatic, but it would be an impact nonetheless.

If there is good news in all of this, it is that fewer households are running up credit card debt now. In 2014, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 34 percent of households had credit card debt, compared with 44 percent in 2009.

Cardholders who are stressed about the debt have a few options. They can work with the card company to lower interest rates or to waive late fees and the like. They may decide to roll their balances onto new cards that charge no interest for balance transfers. Depending on the debt load, too, they could work with a debt management company and consider Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Source: CNBC.com, "Why credit card debt is getting riskier," Kelley Holland, Aug. 6, 2015

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