Credit Carbs

This article was originally published on – 2/28/2017

Credit has become the carb of the financial world.

We know it’s not good for us in excess, yet we stuff our faces at the slightest hint of temptation.

Using credit outside of our ability to pay a monthly balance in-full leaves us bloated, guilt-ridden, and overweight in debt.

So why do we do it? Let’s check out some science:

It turns out that just as fast-digesting carbs stimulate regions of the brain involved in cravings and addiction, use of credit cards can also have a physiological effect on users. In Credit Cards as Spending Facilitating Stimuli: A Conditioning Interpretation, Richard Feinberg found that hypothetical willingness to pay was significantly greater when credit card logos were visible than when they were not. According to Scott Rick, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, the results from Feinberg’s study suggest that consumers have been “conditioned to associate credit card logos with consumption.” Rick adds that “Exposure to credit card logos may therefore stimulate craving, much like smelling fresh cookies stimulates hunger.”

“Exposure to credit card logos may therefore stimulate craving, much like smelling fresh cookies stimulates hunger.”

There it is.

We’ve all tried eating a sugary treat to help get us out of a funk at one time or another. When it comes to consumer psychology, Ian Zimmerman, Ph.D. notes that impulse buying is also linked to anxiety and unhappiness. According to another survey commissioned by, almost half of Americans say emotions have caused them to spend more than they can reasonably afford.

Once we start eating that pasta, it seems like a forgone conclusion that we’re going for seconds. Overconsumption is easier when we use credit cards too. Multiple behavioral studies have shown that consumers tend to spend more when using credit cards vs. cash. A case-study at McDonald’s even found that the average ticket rose by 12-18% when a credit card was used at point of sale. Just like over-eating, overspending may be fun while we do it, but can have adverse long-lasting effects.

Does this mean that credit cards and pastries are evil? No – credit and cookies are just things, it’s what we do with them that matters. Just being aware of the tendency to over-consume can go a long way in planning and ultimate success. Let’s educate ourselves, and avoid pitfalls.

It seems that as humans, we crave the quick-fix. Whether it’s chowing on calorically-dense goodies that blow up our blood-sugar, or buying something we can’t afford now only to pay for it later with 15-18% interest heaped on top, we have become a nation of microwavers when we should be using crock-pots.


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