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Americans — especially women — are feeling less secure about their finances today than just a few months ago.
Overall, cardholders are paying their balances in full less often and feeling less confident about doing so in the future than at any time in the past year, according to a monthly credit card confidence survey by CompareCards.com. Women are struggling the most, the card comparison site found.
"There is certainly a significant gender gap when it comes to paying your bills," said Matt Schulz, CompareCards' chief industry analyst.
For the first time, women were more likely to say they never paid their card statements in full once in the previous six months than to say they did so every month, CompareCards found. Men were much more likely to say they always paid their bill in full.
Various studies show that women in general are more stressed about money than are men. Not only do women typically earn less, they are more likely to work part time and take time off over the course of their careers to care for children. They are also more likely to lead single-parent households, leaving them far less financially secure.
At the same time, credit card interest rates have never been higher, setting the stage for potential problems for those at-risk consumers.
"You never want to run up debt in good economic times because it probably means you aren't putting enough away for when times go bad," Schulz said.
The average card interest rate is currently over 17%, but can be as high as nearly 25% for those with bad credit, according to CompareCard's latest tally.
To get a handle on debt, Schulz recommends starting a budget if you haven't already, and calling your card issuer to ask for a reduced interest rate.
"Even if you just save 2 or 3 percentage points, it can make a significant difference," he said.
In fact, if you ask your card issuer to drop an annual fee, waive late charges or reduce your interest rate, your card company is highly likely to say yes, according to a separate survey from CreditCards.com.
Alternatively, cardholders carrying debt can shop around for a better rate or snag a zero-interest balance transfer offer, then, begin to aggressively pay down the balance.
CompareCards, a division of LendingTree, polled more than 730 credit cardholders in August.