I saw a thing the other day that said Tennessee is 18th when it comes to residents having the most credit card debt.

Not top 10, but top 20, so not really anything to be proud of.

But then I looked at the numbers:

  • Median Credit Card Balance ($2,124)
  • Median Income ($42,449)
  • Cost of Interest Until Payoff ($177)
  • Expected Payoff Timeframe (12 months and four days)

None of that really looks that bad. A balance of just over $2,000 isn’t insurmountable, $177 isn’t a bad amount of interest to pay over more than a year, though $42,449 is probably an income your average Tennessean only dreams of.

Honestly, none of the state numbers looked that bad. Alaska (!) was number one with just under $3,000 in credit card debt, $294 in interest and just over 15 months to pay it off.

I could pay that off in my sleep. I know this because, in my much younger days, I paid off $22,000 in credit card debt over five years. It wasn’t easy and I had to use a credit counseling agency to do it, but we did it. Though to be honest, it was mainly me that ran the debt up. I wanted to live a $40,000 life on a $25,000 income.

But since then I’ve come to manage money better. I never let a credit card get more than $300 on it and if something doesn’t have a period with no interest charged, I usually walk on by. If you can’t pay off $300 interest free over six months, you probably shouldn’t be trusted with money, much less a credit card.

It took way too many years, but I’ve reached a point where I can afford most things without needing a credit card, but I still ponder whether I want to pay for something all at once or let it ride it for a month or three. The idea of $4 in interest over three months doesn’t really bother me.

But one of the things that will get you deep into credit card debt quick is charging something you’d have no hope of paying for outright or couldn’t even begin to pay off in three months.

I know this because it’s how I reached $22,000 in credit card debt by my early 30s. I got my first credit card at the tender young age of 27 and by the time I was 32 I had no idea how I’d ever get out from under what I now recognize as crippling debt.

The first credit card I ever got, from Union Planters Bank — it was green and I’m not sure that bank exists anywhere anymore — felt like magic in my hand. In the first month I put $210 on it. I didn’t think that was bad. The bill came in and they only wanted $10 to be happy. I thought I had found the secret to life.

Five months later it was $1,000 and they only wanted $17.50. I decided I was going to have everything I ever wanted. I thought getting a second card would make things even better.

I discovered not all banks use the same math. I don’t remember what the second card I got was, but during the first month I put $150 on it. They wanted $54 to be happy. That was the first time I started to worry a little.

But it didn’t stop me from getting more credit cards. It ended up being 11 in total, some were store cards, and soon I was working for no other reason than to send checks to credit card companies.

If the total of my debt back then had only been $2,000, I never would have had a stressful day. At least about that.

Financial worries can really drag a person down. It ends marriages, friendships and can close businesses down. And real debt doesn’t really come from credit cards anymore. I read a story that said income for credit card companies had actually gone down in past years. Excuse my while I get out my violin to play a sad tune.

From what I’ve been able to gather recently, the main form of life destroying debt comes from buying a house you can’t afford or medical bills that are ridiculously high and health insurance is pretty much useless.

Bottom line, if your credit card debt is only a little over $2,000, don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’ll get sick somewhere along the line and owing $2,000 will seem quaint.

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