Nick Clements confirmed for me what I have long believed.
The financial services industry makes us overspend.
Granted, it's our choice whether to whip out that credit card or use cash. But the companies make it tempting with reward points, cash back and the like.
"Credit cards make it easy to shop without thinking," said Clements, founder of New York-based MagnifyMoney, a personal finance website. "If you don't have a budget, it is incredibly easy to spend just a bit more than you should. Countless studies show that spending with plastic means that we spend more. And we don't just spend more money in absolute terms. We will actually pay more for the same item.
"One of the more famous studies showed that, in some cases, people were willing to pay double for an item when they used a credit card. When we pull plastic out of our wallet, we are no longer savvy shoppers. Instead, we give in to the temptation of the moment and build up a debt over time as a result. Spending $50 that we can't afford every week can easily turn into $10,000 of debt within four years."
Clements should know about this. He spent almost 15 years in banking in Europe, Latin America and the U.S. He ran Barclaycard, the largest consumer credit card business in the United Kingdom.
He said there are three reasons credit cards get us to spend more than we should:
The credit limit is usually a multiple of our monthly income. "With that high credit limit, it is easy to spend too much."
Without the pile of cash in front of you getting smaller with every purchase, it is easy to spend more than you want. Seeing those bills disappear from your wallet hurts.
The minimum payment is usually only 2 percent of the balance. "That makes it very easy to make a small payment today to get through the month and worry about the debt tomorrow."
I found it refreshing to hear a former industry insider acknowledge this.
In a recently released survey, credit bureau Experian said most vacationers spend more money than expected when traveling, often relying on credit cards to make up the difference.
"People want to come home from vacation with happy memories, not with unanticipated and unmanageable credit card bills," said Guy Abramo, president of Experian Consumer Services. "Racking up excessive credit card debt without a plan to pay it off can put people, especially millennials, in a bind that could affect their financial health and credit status for years."
MagnifyMoney helps consumers get out of credit card debt by teaching them how to get a lower interest rate. It does not charge a subscription fee, its guides and tools are free, and it offers free 30-minute consultations.
Clements said consumers often don't know how to get a lower rate.
"After paying the minimum due every month and watching the balance stay at the same level — they don't know where to begin and feel trapped," he said.
Consumers also are afraid to shop around because of what it could do to their credit score, he said.
"Our success will be measured by the money we save for you," Clements said.
Pamela Yip is a personal finance columnist for the Dallas Morning News.