People often report feeling stunned when their finances unravel, but in many cases, there were hints of trouble well before their first missed bill.
If you can spot the warning signs of impending financial trouble, you may be able to reverse course before it’s too late. Here are six “red flags” that could mean financial trouble is on its way — unless you can quickly turn things around.
Your minimum monthly credit card payment has soared to triple digits
If you’re paying more than $100 a month just to cover your card’s minimum monthly payment, you almost certainly have too much credit card debt.
To make progress on your balance and keep it from growing bigger, you should always pay well above the minimum amount you owe. But if you’re already being charged a $100 or more a month at minimum, you could have a hard time rounding up more cash. As a result, your card balance could spiral quickly out of your control. For example, if you owe $5,000 on a card with a 17 percent interest rate, you’ll likely owe at least $100 a month at minimum, depending on your card. If you can’t afford to pay more than the minimum amount due, it could take you more than 30 years to pay off your total balance. Meanwhile, the total amount you pay could triple.
You’re charging gas and groceries — and not paying it off each month
People are increasingly using credit cards rather than cash or debit cards to pay for everyday expenses — often so they can take advantage of juicier card rewards. But if you aren’t paying those purchases off in full each month, it could be a sign your living expenses are exceeding your income and you don’t have enough financial cushion to pay for your regular expenses.
You should only be using credit cards to pay for everyday expenses if you can afford to repay those purchases in full.
You keep dipping into your savings
If you repeatedly dip into your long-term savings to make ends meet or pay for unexpected expenses, you may not have enough liquidity to truly weather a financial emergency.
You should have saved at least three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund, to cover you in the event of a job loss or unexpected expense (like a medical emergency). But if you keep tapping into your emergency fund for every unbudgeted expense, or if you find yourself reaching into other savings accounts, it could be a sign that your finances are in trouble. For example, your income may not be high enough to meet your expenses, or you may be spending too much money on housing.
You regularly pay bank fees
If you find yourself frequently paying for unnecessary bank fees, such as out-of-network ATM fees, overdraft charges, or late fees on your credit cards, your finances could be so disorganized they are threatening your financial health. For example, if you’re forgetting to pay bills on time or are using credit card cash advances or out-of-network ATMs because you failed to keep enough cash on hand, it could mean you are so out of touch with the state of your finances you wouldn’t even notice if they were ailing.
Your retirement account is hardly growing
If you invest intelligently and contribute regularly to your account, your retirement account should grow significantly every year.
But if the numbers on your financial statements are hardly budging, that’s a surefire sign that your investment strategy needs to be rehabilitated — or that you’re failing to contribute adequately to your accounts.
Your income isn’t growing
Not only should your savings be growing every year, the total amount you take in should also be expanding. If your income is holding relatively still, it could be a sign you aren’t performing as well in your career or are taking too few risks. For example, if you stay at the same company for years, you might get modest yearly raises; but you could potentially make more money if you jump to another company or work for yourself. And remember: If your salary doesn’t at least keep pace with inflation, then your effective salary is actually shrinking.