How many of you would purposely spill ten dollars worth of quarters down the grate of a sidewalk? Would you leave your five-dollar bill on a windy open windowsill?

Wallet Woes: The Rule of 72 in reverse.

Which would you prefer, paying a parking or speeding ticket or having strangers (*cough* the banks *cough*) help themselves to money from your wallet? Here’s one of our more popular posts originally released in 2006.

It’s too bad that your credit cards don’t come with the warning “please use common sense when using.” (Not that anybody would stop, but at least you’d have a friendly reminder you were the cause of your own financial demise.) What follows now is the cure to a post holiday or any financial hangover.

It is an often-noted fact that although people faithfully pay down their credit card balances every month it doesn’t diminish as expected.

What the credit card companies don’t want people to remember is that as long as a cardholder carries a balance interest is accruing as you breath. What they calculate will happen is that they will be able to pile on the interest penalties faster than a person can pay down their balance. Guess what! In too many instances people do exactly what they calculate! So you paid $20 on your $300 balance. Now the total you owe is $290 since you have to pay off the interest before the principal. It’s not new math.

Let’s do some bean counting for illustrative purposes. Take two similar debts with the same starting balances of $5000, the same monthly payments of $200. They also have the same interest rate of 8%. One is a car loan, the other a credit card balance

The car will be paid for in 40 months with total interest paid of $488. You will be free of the credit card balance after 8 years with an interest hit of$949 double the interest owed on the car loan!

The car loan is a fixed debt, because the borrower will pay a specified amount of interest and no more. The credit card balance is a revolving debt. Once someone gets spending fast enough it is like an unstoppable revolving door. The cardholder could pay an unlimited amount of interest.

Canadians always ask: What is the interest rate? What will be my monthly payment? Instead they should be asking: What is the total cost to borrow and when is my debt free date? Interest rates are red herrings as shown by this example. Let’s compare a personal loan at 7.75% and a credit card rate of 5.9%. Each has a balance of $7000 and the monthly payments are $200. The borrower will incur interest costs of $961 and $1378 respectively. OK so a few hundred dollars interest is no big deal right? However the debt free date shows why revolving debt is financial bondage. The debt free date for the personal loan is 3.5 years. The borrower will not pay off the lower interest credit card balance for 12 years.

It is a very expensive privilege to carry a balance on a revolving debt. The companies who market credit under many names would rather people forget that fact. Here is more motivation: Which account holders do the companies prefer the most? Answer: The people who always pay only the minimum every month. That is why companies regularly send a steady stream of applications to those households, children and pets included, and never offer to raise the credit limit on accounts that are paid in full each month.

There is a reason it is called the credit trap or destructive debt. If people want to achieve financial independence they must stop allowing lenders to help themselves to money from their wallets. In a future issue I will discuss constructive debt.