Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Credit Cards & Orthodoxy

One of the issues I talked about in my presentation on the Jewish Economics Survey (take it here, if you have not already) was one that is common to many: Credit card debt. Interestingly, credit card debt in the Orthodox community is slightly less of an issue than in the United States in general, but the rather high percentage of people who have personal loans or Gemach loans keeps the percentage of people who have debt approximately the same.

I was looking at some of the responses last night regarding credit card debt for Sephardi Lady (of Orthonomics), and there was one pattern in particular that really struck me as both interesting and sad, depending on how you read the numbers. The question asked is:
Credit Cards *
Do you have credit card debt?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Only monthly expenses but I pay them off in full each month.
When you break out the answers by number of children, you get the following percentages.
(0, 1, 2, 3, 4*, 5+ kids)
  • No: 38.1%, 32.7%, 25.0%, 18.0%, 20.0%, 17.3%
  • Monthly: 36.4%, 38.8%, 51.6%, 38.0%, 42.9%, 28.8%
  • Yes: 25.4%, 28.6%, 23.4%, 44.0%, 37.1%, 53.8%
What seems to happen is that as people get to the stage of life where they have two kids, they start to use credit cards more - but try to be careful to pay them off in full. As they have more kids, however, this becomes increasingly difficult, and they slowly slide into spiraling credit card debt.

As a quick example, people with 0 kids who had credit card debt listed an average of $8,725 in credit card debt. 1 kid, $11,136. 2 kids, $12,302 (we're below average - woo!). When you get to 4 kids, the average credit card debt of people who have it is approximately $31,640 per family.

It's difficult to pinpoint just what drives people into credit card debt in the first place, whether it is extravagant spending or the simply high costs of Jewish life. But certainly, while it is difficult, credit card debt is not unavoidable, and responsible financial control early on is a major key to staying away from debt. About half the people with 4 or more kids do not have revolving credit card debt. Be on (and grow) that side.

* 4 kids is the smallest sample