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What’s your biggest financial regret of the decade?

For nearly 25 percent of consumers, it’s their massive credit card balance

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With a decade drawing to a close, one in four consumers have one major financial regret -- running up a huge credit card balance.

A survey by Policygenius, an online insurance marketplace, shows that even more of us are determined to do something about that in the next decade. The survey showed nearly a third of consumers say “paying down debt” is their biggest financial goal in the year ahead.

If there is a silver lining to all of this, it’s that the last few years have helped some people get back on their feet financially. About 47 percent of the consumers in the survey said their finances have improved during the decade, which began as the nation was still struggling with the aftermath of the Great Recession.

"We're currently in a period of prolonged economic growth so it's not surprising many Americans are experiencing financial gains," said Patrick Hanzel, an advanced planning specialist at Policygenius. "But many people took on too much debt during the recovery, particularly young people who borrowed to pay for tuition."

Paying off last year’s holiday spending

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, millions of consumers are still paying off last year’s holiday spending. YouGov, an international polling and market research company, reported that 9 percent of consumers are still paying off last Christmas’ debt. Among millennials, the percentage is 14 percent.

Bruce McClary, a vice president at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), says it’s much easier to get into debt than to get out of it, especially at this time of year.

“It’s tough to climb out from under it, especially if you got into debt without a plan,” McClary told ConsumerAffairs.

That means making credit card payments -- and more than just the minimum payment -- a key part of a household budget. It may be necessary to cut back in other areas in order to have the extra money to increase debt payments.

Paying for emergencies

Big credit card balances aren’t always the result of uncontrolled spending around the holidays. We reported last month on statistics showing that a third of consumers with credit card debt are paying for medical bills they paid with plastic. 

Not surprisingly, 30 percent of the consumers who paid a medical bill with a credit card regret doing so. But 60 percent say they would not have been able to pay the bill without resorting to plastic.

Tools for reducing credit card debt include balance transfer cards, personal loans, non-profit credit counselors, and debt consolidation.

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