April was a big month for consumer debt. And I mean that in a good way.
Per the Federal Reserve, Americans borrowed in April at the highest rate in over 12 years. Nationwide, outstanding credit increased by $26.8 billion dollars in that one month alone.
From an overall economic perspective, it’s a good sign. It means people are earning more and feel confident enough to borrow. It’s a further sign of a strengthening economy.
The biggest increase came in auto and student loan debt, which rose by $18 million, with credit card debt increasing by $8.8 billion. All of which pushed consumer borrowing to an all-time high of $3.18 trillion.
So in the grand picture, all of this new debt is a good thing, even though we tend to think of debt as generally being a bad thing. But the truth about debt and credit is a little more complicated and there are always going to be perfectly good reasons to buy things on credit. Here are the four best reasons to use credit.
Credit begets credit
Not to harp on an old point, but having good credit requires that you actually use credit. You have to build a history with credit. You have to show future lenders that you’re good with borrowed money – you pay it back, as promised. So even though you may not want to use credit; even though you may not need to use credit – use credit. Use it smartly, but use it all the same. Because you never know what might come up, and being armed with a solid credit score will make things substantially easier for you.
Investing in your life
It would be awesome if we could save up our pennies and pay cash on every transaction. Some people do, and if you can manage it, bully for you. But for most of us there are going to be major life goals wrapped in steep sticker prices and in order to get where we want to go, we have to borrow. That means student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and more.
When you’re investing in your wellbeing (financial, mental, and otherwise) it’s okay to spend money you don’t have yet. Just make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. Never borrow without a plan and an understanding of what you can reasonably afford.
Safety and security
Credit cards are more secure than cash. You probably already knew that, but if you’ve had problems with debt and are feeling slightly anti-credit, it’s important to remember. Stolen credit cards can be replaced. Stolen cash – probably not. Fraudulent credit purchases can be corrected. Fraudulent cash purchases – probably not. Credit tends to be a safer bet for certain purchases and when traveling. The key is simply paying off your bill in full each month.
Now or later
The trickiest credit scenario is always this: to buy something now on credit or wait and buy it with cash. If we were living in a world of black and white absolutes, it’d be easy to say, “Never buy anything on credit if you can wait and buy it with cash.” We do not, however, live in such a world. The truth is that personal economics is a balancing act, but its core function is to support your daily wellbeing.
Is your mattress old and raggedy? Is it causing back pains and sleepless nights? Does it make sense to wait the 7 months it would take you to save the necessary amount of money, or to buy a new mattress now, on credit? In the end, the credit purchase would cost you more, but in the meantime you’ve got seven extra months of better sleep and better health.
You’ll have to weigh the pluses and minuses on your own, but always remember that smart money management doesn’t mean suffering and self-sacrifice. It means knowing how to make the best financial choices for your happiness today and tomorrow.
Using borrowed money is a normal, healthy part of personal economics. Using it smartly and in the right situations is the key to proper money management.