Too Afraid to Face the Numbers
More than 1 in 4 Americans currently carrying credit card debt (28%) tend to avoid looking at anything related to their financials, such as bills, bank accounts and other statements.
December 30, 2021
Money anxiety can be crippling. 41% of Americans reported sometimes feeling hopeless when they think about their financial future. This was especially true among Gen Z ages 18 to 24 (53%) and Millennials ages 25 to 40 (52%).
More than 1 in 3 Americans with credit card debt (35%) feel they will need to rely on credit cards for the rest of their lives.
More than half of Americans seem to view credit cards as a financial safety net with 57% using credit cards to get by financially when in a tough spot. In fact, 53% of Gen Zers and 49% of Millennials currently use credit cards to pay for necessities.
56% of Americans carry credit card debt. Of which, more than half (54%) accumulated new credit card debt during the pandemic.
Financial debt — especially high-interest credit card debt — can become so overwhelming that it feels crippling. Tally has heard many similar anecdotal stories from our members: as their debt ballooned and got out of control, they hit a point where they stopped opening their bills. Facing their money problems was just too stressful.
This phenomenon is called financial avoidance. A new Tally survey of 2,026 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, conducted online by The Harris Poll, found that more than 1 in 4 Americans currently carrying credit card debt (28%) tend to avoid looking at anything related to their finances. This includes things like bank account balances, transaction history or credit card statements.
Why is this? When asked to give a reason why they avoid looking at their finances, more than half of Americans with credit card debt (54%) say that it feels too overwhelming. Another 47% say it’s because they are afraid of what the balances would be, while 22% said it was too confusing. However, another 21% say it’s because they are not worried about money.
Credit cards: America’s financial safety net
Many Americans were eager to reclaim what they lost in 2020 through revenge spending — from treating themselves to exotic trips to buying new clothes for all the social events that had been postponed. Others decided to join the “Great Resignation” by quitting their jobs without another one lined up.
How are people funding these splurges and luxuries? Some people may have been able to build up their savings last year when they were forced to cut their spending. But others may have relied on credit cards, which may have led to money problems. Fifty six percent of Americans say they are currently carrying credit card debt. Of which, 54% say they accumulated new credit card debt during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, credit card debt is the most common type of financial debt that Americans carry: Gen Zers (47%), Millennials (57%), Gen X ages 41 to 56 (61%) and Baby Boomers ages 57 to 75 (58%).
Many Americans appear to be using credit cards as a financial safety net. The survey found that 57% of Americans have used a credit card when they are in a tough spot financially (e.g., lost their job). In fact, 44% of Americans who currently carry credit card debt say they currently need to use them to pay for necessities, such as groceries, housing and utilities.
What’s even more telling: nearly 1 in 3 Americans (30%) feel they will need to rely on credit cards for the rest of their lives, meaning they couldn’t get by financially without them. This sentiment is especially high among younger generations. Gen Zers (41%) and Millennials (39%) are more likely to feel like they will have to rely on credit cards for the rest of their lives than Gen Xers (30%) and Baby Boomers (18%).
Nobody plans to stay in credit card debt
Despite their reliance on credit cards, most Americans see this debt as temporary. Among Americans who currently carry credit card debt, 54% say they are confident that they will be credit card debt free within the next 12 months. A smaller share plan to pay off their credit card debt within five years (26%) and an even smaller share say it will take them more than 5 years (8%). Another 8% hope to be credit card debt free eventually but are not sure how long it will take. Only 3% of Americans who currently have credit card debt believe they will die with credit card debt, meaning they will never be able to fully pay it off.
This sentiment was high across generations. Many Millennials (55%), Gen Xers (49%) and Baby Boomers (59%) with credit card debt feel confident they will be credit card debt free within the next 12 months. However, Millennials (42%) are more likely to say they tend to avoid looking at anything related to their finances than Gen Xers (28%) and Baby Boomers (11%). There appears to be a disconnect – especially among younger adults – between what they want to do and what they are actually doing.
The unfortunate reality that people don’t seem to want to accept, is that paying off credit card debt often takes years. When credit card users pay less than their full balance each month, it is easy to accrue interest over time at a rate of 16%, on average. This is usually compounded by the fact that many people continue to use their credit card for daily purchases, thereby adding to their existing debt and money anxiety.
So, despite people’s strong intention to pay off their credit card fast, the odds are they will fail. Creating a financial plan to pay off credit card debt requires being acutely aware of what you still owe, how you’re spending, and how much money you’re bringing in. The first step is to face the numbers.
3 Steps to turning financial resolutions into reality
Tally’s personal finance expert, Bobbi Rebell CFP® offers the following advice on how to finally take control of your money in the new year.
Face the numbers
Opening your bills can be as stressful as waiting for medical test results. If you experience this kind of money anxiety, the first and most important step is to face the numbers.
Start by listing all of your debts (credit cards, student loans, car notes). Next to each debt, write what is owed, the interest rate and your monthly payment. Next, list out all your other monthly expenses, such as your rent, utilities, groceries, etc. Put it on paper, into a budgeting app or in a simple digital file like a google doc, so you know exactly where you stand. Facing the numbers is scary, but ignoring them leads to more debt. Seeing them leads to solutions and action.
If it feels too overwhelming to face alone, you may want to recruit a financial stakeholder — like your spouse, a parent or even your roommate. This requires vulnerability. But like weight loss, accountability is key for change. Share your budget and financial goals in a Google spreadsheet. Schedule monthly check-ins for progress updates.
Set dollar-oriented goals and automate them.
Set realistic short and long-term financial goals and assign dollar amounts to them. Do you want to pay off your credit cards in 12 to 18 months? Do you want to buy a house in five years? From there you can develop a plan.
Research and write down how much your dreams cost. Then put a plan in place and set your goals on autopilot. Automation sets you up to win with money. There are a few key areas to automate when it comes to your finances:
Saving money: Pay yourself first. Set up auto-drafts on pay days.
Paying off debt: It’s hard to get ahead when you’re paying for the past. Automate all of your payments toward debt. If you have credit card debt, you’re not alone — 56% of Americans have credit card debt. Assess your interest rates so you’re able to make progress and pay on the principal. Consider apps like Tally, where you can potentially lower your interest rates and automate payments.
Boost your income. Whether asking for a raise or getting a higher paying job, starting a side-hustle, or just selling stuff you don’t want, bringing in more cash will help you reach your goals faster.
Investing: Don’t overpay on debt so much that you lose what you would gain overtime by investing into retirement. Set the amount to something manageable for now. Increase as you pay down debt.
Create money capsule habits
Minimize your daily money decisions by creating money rules for your life. Part of this is done by automating those key areas of your finances, so don’t skip that. But creating money habits for your daily life will keep you in check.
Your capsule money habits might include things like:
You only eat out twice a month and cap entrée prices.
You only shop for non-essentials every other month.
You sell items in your closet that haven’t been worn in a year.
You won’t spend more than a certain amount online without waiting 24 hours after putting in your cart.
These can shift as you hit milestones, but these financial guardrails will jumpstart progress.
Survey Method: This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Tally from November 9 to 11, 2021 among 2,036 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 1,060 currently have credit card debt. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact email@example.com.