Tennessee Consumer Debt: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, Says Report

Tennesseans paid off credit card debt in the first quarter of this year, but only after accruing significant debt at the end of last year. Photo credit: phototogo2/morguefile.com

Tennesseans paid off credit card debt in the first quarter of this year, but only after accruing significant debt at the end of last year. Photo credit: phototogo2/morguefile.com

Tennesseans joined the rest of the country in paying off almost $35 billion in credit card debt in the first quarter of this year, according to a study released this week by the credit card comparison site CardHub. While the accomplishment may sound promising, Jill Gonzalez, the group’s spokeswoman, says it’s important to note that consumers accrued almost $46 billion in debt in the last quarter of 2014. “We’re getting farther from the recession, a lot of people say we’re not all the way out of it yet, but I think consumers are now willing and wanting to spend more,” she says. “Unfortunately they’re still spending money that they don’t necessarily have.” To reduce your credit card debt, Gonzalez recommends paying off cards with the highest interest rates first, or transferring debt on those cards to low interest cards. She says it’s also important not to fall behind on credit card payments because delinquency impacts your credit score significantly. Thirty-one percent of the population in Nashville has to use credit and the average credit score is 658 out of 800. Another method to manage spending is called the island approach, which involves using different credit cards for different categories of transactions. For example, you could transfer existing debt to a zero percent interest card, and use another card for ongoing spending that offers rewards points. Gonzalez emphasizes having a budget is key. “Making a budget, sticking to it,” she stresses. “That’s kind of the age old advice, but really just spending less than you have to begin with and then the money that you are spending, make sure you’re setting it aside to pay off your debt.” In addition to paying off debt, experts recommend building an emergency fund in case of job loss or an unexpected illness.