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Ashton Kutcher’s wise words on credit card use

by Peter Andrew
Ashton Kutcher’s wise words on credit card use

Ashton Kutcher, star of “Two and a Half Men” and a number of movies, sang at yesterday’s Teen Choice Awards ceremony, where he picked up a mantelpiece ornament for his performance in “No Strings Attached.” And, somewhat unexpectedly, he also offered some sage advice to his young audience.

“Here’s the best piece of advice I got when I was a teenager,” Kutcher said. “Don’t ever charge anything on a credit card if you don’t already have the money in the bank to pay for it.”

Gather.com, a news blog, reports that Kutcher followed up his remark in a tweet: “Thank you all for the award and the love! And I’m serious about thy [sic] credit card thing. #tca.”

Credit card debt and the young

Kutcher is married to Demi Moore, and it seems likely that between the two of them they have money in the bank to pay for pretty much anything that they feel like charging to their credit cards. And he must be aware that a multimillionaire preaching to the less fortunate about financial responsibility could be taken as “let them eat cake.” But that just makes his statement more brave. Because his was a message that needed saying.

Some weeks ago, IndexCreditCards.com explored (see “I owe, therefore I am” say many young adults) the shocking results of a serious academic study that found “a significant number of young adults–and especially those who came from poorer backgrounds–reported that the higher the amount they owed in education and credit card debt, the better they felt about themselves.”

Credit card regulation and rates

However, it’s not just Kutcher’s teenage audience who could benefit from following his advice. On Friday morning, this blog warned of the new dangers faced by everyone who has serious credit card debt (When the sky is falling, pay down credit card debt).

At the time, the biggest threat appeared to be from falling markets, which might have triggered–and still might trigger–the second phase of a double-dip recession.

Later that day, Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s credit rating, a move that not only could make that threat greater, but that also could bring about a rapid rise in credit card rates. Yesterday’s Washington Post put it this way:

The interest rate the United States pays on its short-term loans is determined by the market for Treasury bills. The downgrade could increase the yields on those bonds, forcing the government to spend more to borrow the same amount of money. Many consumer loans, such as credit cards and mortgages, are linked to the yield on Treasuries and therefore would also rise.

The good news is that credit card regulation, in the form of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, prevents card issuers from increasing rates on existing balances except in rare circumstances, and new rates should generally apply only to new purchases.

Keep credit card use in check

However, you’d be brave–borderline foolish–to see this as an opportunity to make purchases now in an attempt to lock in low credit card rates. Yesterday’s New York Times warned:

If the economy falls back into recession, as many economists are now warning, the bloodletting could be a lot more painful than the last time around. Given the tumult of the Great Recession, this may be hard to believe. But the economy is much weaker than it was at the outset of the last recession… with most major measures of economic health… worse today than they were back then.

And that means that you might find yourself either struggling to keep up payments on your plastic, or in desperate need of as long a line of credit as you can get. Either way, you could regret ignoring Kutcher’s advice.

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