One In Five Americans Can’t Get By Without Credit Cards - TheStreet

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A new survey sheds light on just how heavily some consumers rely on credit cards.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) says 20% of consumers were unable to make ends meet without the help of a credit card, while another 22% said they would have to alter their lifestyle if they only used cash.

“Credit should be used as a convenience, not to supplement income,” said Gail Cunningham, financial expert for the NFCC. “People may feel as though they have no alternative to using credit to supplement their income, but that is a dangerous habit that can lead to financial ruin.”

In any healthy financial situation, a credit card is used for the purposes of building credit. Credit can’t be built via debit card usage, since that activity isn’t reported to the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and Transunion.

Responsible use of credit cards includes paying off the entire balance each month, instead of merely the minimum payment, which is calculated in a way to keep you in debt.

“People sometimes over leverage themselves and credit has been a bit looser as consumers are qualifying for more credit these days,” says Kevin Yuann, director of credit cards at NerdWallet. “Think of your credit card as a charge card.”

The survey also found 27% would be able to keep up their current lifestyle if asked to use cash only, while 32% said they would make some changes but don’t see any major hurdles stemming from the switch.

This speaks to the notion that consumers aren’t prepared for worst case scenarios, which include job loss and unexpected medical bills. Per a June MainStreetreport, a quarter of Americans don’t have an emergency savings account. Experts say at least six months worth of expenses should be kept in an emergency account at all times.

If you find yourself paying the minimum payment each month, relying on balance transfer cards to buy yourself more time to pay off the debt in a more cost effective way or missing payments altogether, you’re on the road to financial despair.

Keep in mind, 30% of your credit score is your utilization ratio – that’s how much debt you owe on your cards vs. the total available credit you have. A ratio too high is caused from not paying off balances in full, and this will cause your score to drop.

“No one ever intentionally digs a deep financial hole, but breaking one of the basic rules of personal finance – spending more than you make – is not likely to have a positive outcome,” Cunningham adds.

- Written by Scott Gamm for MainStreet. Gamm is author of MORE MONEY, PLEASE.