Credit cards are like the mythical serpents that do anything to lure you close so they can bite. While consumers enjoy items they have charged, such as televisions and stereos that depreciate the moment they are bought, the cards keep calculating interest day and night at terms that often change in an instant.
Which makes a new survey by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News/KSL-TV encouraging. Half of Utahns said they have no revolving credit card debt, 16 percent said they carry balances of less than $1,000 and another 20 percent have balances of $5,000 or less. While it may be wise to be skeptical about surveys that rely solely on the honesty of people self-reporting their financial situation, these figures are roughly similar to those in national polls. Most surprising, however, were figures showing 54 percent of Utahns either held their card balances steady over the past year or reduced them.
Maybe they haven't heard that the economy is slumping or that gas, food and health insurance costs are rising. Nationally, recent surveys have shown increases in debt, causing experts to fear that people are using credit to cover basic living expenses.
Or maybe many Utahns have learned a simple truth that has escaped a generation of shoppers. The need to use credit has little to do with how much things cost. It has everything to do with following a budget and indulging wants only when they can be afforded. That can mean living in a home that is smaller than desired and having to miss a show now and then. But it also means building the financial stability needed to weather economic storms.
The new survey did not ask about car loans, home equity lines or other types of debt. Each is a form of bondage. A monthly payment commits you to spend money that otherwise could be saved or used for something else, and much of the money you spend will be for interest.
People who study rich Americans have found several traits common among them. They don't buy new cars on credit as soon as they've paid off the ones they're driving. They don't live in huge houses they can't afford. Often, they live in a modest home and drive old cars, but they know how to save.
They also may not be as worried as some about the possibility of a recession, even if rising prices cut into their budgets, too.
Apparently, a lot of Utahns already get it.