Credit Crutch: 1 in 5 Americans Depend on Plastic

Credit Crutch: 1 in 5 Americans Depend on Plastic

Think about how many times a week you pull out your credit card to make a purchase. Then ask yourself: How many of those purchases would you have been able to make if you didn't have plastic?

According to a new poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the answer for one in five people is apparently, "Not many." 20% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet without credit. Meanwhile, another 22% said they would have to make substantial changes to their lifestyle if asked to live without a credit card.

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The NFCC reminds consumers that, even if they’re not currently in financial trouble, being dependent on credit could signal problems down the road.

"Credit should be used as a convenience, not to supplement income," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC, in a statement. “It is a warning sign if a person is not able to manage his or her daily lifestyle without the use of credit cards, as this is a dangerous habit that could lead to serious financial distress.”

The good news is that many Americans who believe they'd be just fine without a credit card is still higher than those who say they can't live without one: 27% say they’d be able to maintain the exact same lifestyle without credit—in fact, that number has increased by four percentage points since the last NFCC poll in 2012—while 32% say they may have to make a few adjustments, but would basically be fine.

Other studies also highlight some good news on America's credit front: The average credit card debt in the U.S. is decreasing, and the average American's FICO score has reached an all-time high.

All that to say that it is possible to use credit cards wisely and build a stellar credit history in the process. But if you feel like you’re starting to develop an unhealthy reliance on plastic, there are ways to nip it in the bud: Take a tip from this woman who went to the extreme by literally putting her cards on ice.

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