Down Debt

Tips from Onalaska, the experts at La Crosse to achieve financial peace

Consumer debt continues to climb, but people can take steps to eliminate debt

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — Americans continue to rack up more and more debt. More than half say they can’t afford a surprise expense.

Life costs more. The gas burns holes in our pockets and our grocery receipt makes us cringe. However, most of the financial wounds that many Americans face are self-inflicted, said Bruce Zmolek, president of the Firefighters Credit Union in Onalaska.

“Too many people are unprepared,” Zmolek said.

The problem often surrounds credit.

“Spending money you don’t have,” Zmolek said.

Credit cards are useful, but only if you pay them off every month. However, data on consumer debt indicates that people are not doing this. A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows credit card balances are $71 billion higher than in the first quarter of 2021.

“When they tell me they have $15, 20, $30,000 in credit card debt, I’m like, ‘What do you have to show for that?’ One hundred percent of the time they look me in the eye and say, “Nothing,” Zmolek said.

Most people fail to budget, he said.

“Every dollar should have a job,” he said.

Data shows that many young Americans are not living financially independently.

A Savings.com report reveals that half of parents have given some form of financial assistance to their adult children. The survey revealed that 62% of these young adults do not contribute to household expenses at all.

More than half of Americans don’t have the savings to cover a surprise $1,000 expense, according to a new Bankrate survey. Student debt is another problem. Average student debt, currently $37,693 according to educationdata.org.

Terry Micks, loan programs coordinator at UW-La Crosse, has some advice: “Borrow only what you need.”

The money is just waiting for people to ask for it, Micks said.

“There are so many scholarships out there,” Micks said.

UW-La Crosse offers a program called “It Make $Cents!” teach financial literacy to students.

“You’re going to be dealing with money your whole life,” Micks said.

Other easy-to-cultivate financial habits include paying more than minimum debt payments, setting a budget, spending only what you earn, saving, creating an emergency fund for up to six months of income/expenses, and use cash if possible.

“It’s nice to have the things you want if you have the money to pay for them,” Zmolek said.

Zmolek recommends sitting down with someone like a friend or relative — someone who isn’t trying to sell something — who can offer sound advice on staying on top of finances.

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