The dangers of paying credit card minimums

It's not hard to find the minimum payment due on your credit card bill. It's generally in a very large, bold font, often within a box. That's no accident. Credit card companies are happy if their cardholders pay only the minimum due each month -- and those minimums have actually been decreasing in recent decades.

People who regularly pay the minimums every month are profitable customers. That's about 15 percent of cardholders, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They may also feel good about themselves because they're paying their bills on time. However, they're making little if any progress in paying down their credit card debt.

Minimums decreased from 5 percent in the 1970s to just 2 percent in the new century. That means it can take 30 years to pay off even a $10,000 credit card debt, and most of that money will be interest.

The Credit Card Act of 2009 requires issuers to tell consumers on their statements how long it will take to repay their full balance if they make only the minimum payments. However, how many people read all of the fine print on their statements?

Even if you can't afford to pay your entire outstanding balance every month, you can cut your credit card debt significantly by paying something above the minimum. Begin setting goals for getting your card(s) paid off.

In the meantime, start supplementing your income in whatever ways you can. Pay cash for more items so that you aren't constantly adding to your credit card debt. If you can find a card with no interest, transfer your balances. Just don't get into the same trap with the new card. Those zero percent deals last for a limited period.

If you've found that your credit card debt is unmanageable and causing you to have financial issues in other parts of your life, it may be wise to contact an attorney to find out what your best options are for getting out from under it.

Source: USA Today, "Credit card minimums: Perfectly calibrated to keep you in debt," Claire Tsosie, NerdWallet, Nov. 15, 2016

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