Before we get to our record credit card debt, here are a few other things that got my attention recently.

Because of the new tax law, there has been a great deal of media coverage on how many people are getting differnt, often lower, tax refunds than they expected. It was often because they were not focusing on the fact that they were receiving part of that anticipated refund in larger paychecks, because of government adjusted withholdings. The real effect of the new law on various taxpayers will not be fully known until later this year, but what has been of interest to me this tax season is the intense coverage of even having a refund. BAD FINANCIAL IDEA!

Forever, financial and tax advisors, including in this column, have said that having a large tax refund makes no financial sense. It means that the government has been using that tax refund money interest-free, rather than you using the money throughout the year. This year, the media is all over this issue like never before in my memory, even breaking it down into the equivalent of a monthly raise. For example, if you are used to getting a $3,000 refund, that is $250 a month that you could have been getting in your paycheck, if your withholdings were properly adjusted. It's like getting a $250 raise, and couldn't you put it to better use for yourself and your family than the government does? This time the media deserves a pat on the back.

By the way, I have really never understood the forced savings argument that some taxpayers make. If you have a job and are paying taxes, you can learn to save. Just take that $250 and put it in a savings account and earn some interest. Then the money and the interest will be there for that thing you were looking to do with the refund. Also, it goes without saying, that if you have high interest debt, you could be paying it down with that $250 per month, and saving interest costs.

On a different subject, gasoline prices are increasing (for me where I purchase my gas, by 26 cents a gallon, compared to last month). However, it should be noted, that it is still cheaper than it was last year at this time.

On yet another subject, the recession discussions continue in the media. They indicate a likely recession within the next year or two, for the reasons that we have discussed in this column. They include: the benefits from the cutbacks on corporate regulations; the prior liberal government spending budgets; and the tax cuts, which have all flushed through the economy, but will not be repeated, because of the now divided Congress. We have talked about them in this column, but now there is also the fact that the growth of the Chinese economy has slowed down, which is being added into the mix. Whether and when there will be a recession remains up in the air, but I did hear a great quote recently, that I can’t believe I never heard before. It may be because, although I have investments, I am not so focused on them. It is essentially that the bear market and recession economy predictors are always right, they are just always early.

On one more different subject, there is a minor shakeup in the dollar store industry. In 2015 Dollar Tree bought out Family Dollar. It now plans to close up to 390 Family Dollar stores, and to convert about 200 others to Dollar Tree Stores. Since Dollar Tree is my personal favorite — because everything really is a dollar, and you can get great deals if you pay attention to unit prices — that didn’t concern me at first when I heard that, but then the bad news came: Dollar tree will start charging more than a dollar for items in some of their stores. OUCH! Interestingly, the chain’s margins appear to have been affected by the trade wars and tariffs.
I semi-panicked at the news, even though I don’t know if any of the Rochester area stores will be included in the new pricing policy. I went out to a Dollar Tree and purchased 100 disposable razors for $10. It should be a year’s supply. I also stocked up on a few other good unit priced items that I always buy there. Got the rolling eyes treatment when I got home, but that’s OK.

Turning to our final subject of credit card debt — congratulations to us! According to, credit card debt has now hit $870 billion, more than ever in history. There are now 480 million credit cards in circulation, up more than 100 million from a decade ago.

First, let’s look at the only good news that I could find. It appears that the average credit card debt for indebted households, those carrying a balance, is going down to about the $10,000 range.

On the other hand, 37 million credit card accounts were 90-plus days delinquent, up 2 million from the year prior, accounting for about $68 billion in delinquent debt, despite the “good” economy. Also, older Americans hold a significant portion of the overall credit card debt, with those over 60 accounting for 30 percent of the outstanding debt, or about $261 billion. Perhaps troubling to some, those over 70 hold 11.6 percent of all outstanding credit card debt, or about $100 million.

So much for not using credit cards to buy “stuff” that you can’t afford!

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at