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Many Consumers Now Using Credit Cards for Basic Needs — Dollars and Sense

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Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Once upon a time, people used credit cards as back-up funds, tapping into them only when an unforeseen emergency arose.

But now, thanks to the current state of the economy, a staggering number of consumers are using their cards for routine bills like mortgages and groceries.

According to a survey conducted by nonprofit group Demos, almost half of families with incomes below $50,000 now rely on credit cards for what are deemed “basic needs” like housing costs, food, insurance or utilities. Seven years ago, only a third did so.

And while the nation’s overall credit card debt is down from 2008, those numbers can be misleading — once the recession hit and credit standards rose, lots of people no longer qualified for cards or lost access to their credit lines. What’s more, banks have now charged off almost $200 billion in bad debt, and that’s not factored in to the total amount consumers owe.

People using their cards these days aren’t spending money on luxury items — a sobering number are cash-strapped due to unemployment or medical bills. All told, 86 percent of Americans now have credit card debt. And with tens of thousands set to have their unemployment benefits expire in the coming months, it will likely only get worse.

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