3 signs your credit card debt could be out of control

By Rebecca Lake

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Jul 01, 2024

Read time: 2 min

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There's no denying that credit cards are a convenient way to pay for things, especially when money's tight. But if you're not paying attention, you could find yourself experiencing debt creep. 

Debt creep happens when your balances only seem to grow, instead of shrink, over time. So how does that happen? 

Let's look at some of the biggest red flags that could hint at a debt problem. 

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1. You’re avoiding your monthly payments

Paying the bills might not be high on your list of fun things to do, and it’s even less fun when credit card bills are in the mix. Avoidance can become your default way of dealing with credit card bills when your debt starts to feel overwhelming

For example, you might put off checking your statements for as long as possible. Or you may just schedule the minimum payment without looking at your balance or the interest charges. 

Those are roadblocks to getting ahead financially. The first step in doing something about your debt is knowing what you owe and how much it's costing you. 

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2. You pay your card down, then charge it back up

Paying off credit card debt is a good thing—as long as the balance keeps going down. 

When debt creep takes hold, it's easy to get caught in a cycle of paying cards down, then turning around and running up new balances. You never really move the needle because there's always new debt being created. 

It doesn't mean you're bad at managing money or you're trying to live beyond your means. Plenty of Americans are relying on credit cards right now to stay afloat, given how expensive everything is thanks to inflation

But it's demotivating to see your debt total stay the same month to month or even grow a little, thanks to interest. And even though you have options for dealing with your debt, you might be too overwhelmed to explore them. 

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3. Your credit is maxed out

Maxing out your credit cards is a major debt red flag that suggests you're overextended financially. If you have high credit utilization—that’s an indicator that your debt might be getting the better of you.

Different paths can lead you here. Maybe your AC conked out and you had to charge a $7,000 repair to your card because you don't have an emergency fund. Or maybe you lost your job and you've been using credit to pay the bills while you look for new employment. 

Whatever the reason, one or more maxed-out cards means that it's time to take your debt situation seriously. 

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Getting credit card debt under control isn't out of reach

If you look at your debt and think it's hopeless, think again. You have options for getting back on track financially—you just have to find the right one. 

For some people, that might mean a debt management plan or debt consolidation. For others, resolving debt is the best way to get overwhelming balances under control.

Talking to a debt expert could help you figure out what you need to do next to manage your debt. 

Rebecca Lake - Author

Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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