Remember life before credit cards?

Best Money Moves Founder/CEO Ilyce Glink remembers her grandfather carrying around a wad of fresh $20 bills, peeling them off one by one to pay for dinner.

Credit cards changed the way we pay for everything. Credit card companies made them easy to use – too easy. That’s why so many of us are carrying around so much credit card debt.

To responsibly use a credit card you have to understand its terms. Unfortunately, many credit cards don’t make their terms and conditions easy for customers to read.

According to a recent study by, the average credit card agreement is written at an 11th grade reading level and would take 20 minutes to decipher. That might seem okay (after all, most people have graduated from the 11th grade), but 50 percent of Americans read at a 9th grade level or lower, making it difficult for most people to fully understand their rights as a cardholder.

This helps explain why employees repeatedly rank paying off debt as a top source of financial stress: if they can’t understand their credit cards, they can’t use them responsibly. This results in issues with debt, late payments and confusion about how they can pay off their debt quickly.

Missed information

If you don’t read your credit card agreement, you might wind up in trouble: You won’t know  the terms and details unique to this card and your usage will be driven by your general credit card knowledge, rather than the habits that work best for this specific card and financial situation.

We learn by observation: If you grow up with parents who regularly carried balances on their cards, you might think this is a perfectly normal way to manage your financial life. It’s not until you read the fine print and see how fast the interest rate charges will rack up and how long it will take you to pay off that debt that you might change how you manage your credit card relationships. This isn’t just about missing out on reward points because of a misunderstanding about how they’re earned, it’s about consumers never learning their rights and responsibilities when it comes to credit card usage, and exposing themselves to unnecessary financial risks.

According to the study, only 26 percent of those surveyed said they regularly read their credit card agreements. If you or your employees or colleagues only read one quarter of the contracts used in your office, your company would pretty quickly find itself in a load of trouble.

Financial stress at work

The study also claims that the less familiar card users are with their credit card’s terms and rules, the more they’ll end up paying to use that card over time in interest charges and fees. The more debt employees carry, the more financial stress they’re going to feel. This stress doesn’t stay confined to their finances – it also spills over into their work and their day-to-day lives. If you want to help, you have to provide your employees with assistance they can use. You can’t change how credit card companies write their contracts, but you can help boost the knowledge your workers have.

Here’s your Best Money Move: The more you know about financial stress and your options when dealing with money, credit cards and debt, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with these issues when they arise.