Paramount And Skydance Agree To $28 Billion Merger Deal 

One of Hollywood’s biggest companies, Paramount Global, has recently agreed to and announced a merger with independent film studio Skydance, ending Paramount’s connection to the Redstone family. 

Shari Redstone is the chair of Paramount, with her father, Sumner, purchasing the company back in 1994. Shari approved the decision to sell Redstone’s controlling stake in the company after six months of negotiations that concluded it was worth about $28 billion. 

Paramount is known for classic films like Titanic and The Godfather, and for owning television networks such as CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon. 

As part of the deal, Skydance has agreed to invest $8 billion into the company, and they will pay another $2.4 billion to buy National Amusements, the Redstone-owned movie theater operator that holds around 80% of voting shares in Paramount, according to the Guardian

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Redstone said: “Given the changes in the industry, we want to fortify Paramount for the future while ensuring that content remains king.

“Our hope is that the Skydance transaction will enable Paramount’s continued success in this rapidly changing environment.”

“As a longtime production partner to Paramount, Skydance knows Paramount well and has a clear strategic vision and the resources to take it to its next stage of growth. We believe in Paramount and we always will.”

Skydance, the production group, is led by the producer David Ellison, who said: “I am incredibly grateful to Shari Redstone and her family who have agreed to entrust us with the opportunity to lead Paramount.

“We are committed to energizing the business and bolstering Paramount with contemporary technology, new leadership and a creative discipline that aims to enrich generations to come.”


American Airlines CEO Said He Wants To ‘Rebuild Trust’ After Incidents Of Alleged Racial Discrimination 

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom recently stated he is taking immediate action to “rebuild trust” in the company after several recent incidents involving alleged racial discrimination, according to reports from NPR

Isom wrote a letter to employees where he addressed an “unacceptable incident” where eight Black male passengers were removed, and later reboarded, on an American flight in January. 

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“I am incredibly disappointed by what happened on that flight and the breakdown of our procedures. We fell short of our commitments and failed our customers in this incident.”

NPR also reported last month that three Black men stepped forward and filed a federal lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging that they were “victims of blatant and egregious racial discrimination” after they were removed from the flight. 

The three plaintiffs — Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal — say that they “and five other Black male passengers were removed from the flight without any valid reason, based solely on their race.”

The eight men did not know each other and were not seated together on the flight. Isom’s letter outlined a series of steps that the company will take to “strengthen diversity and inclusion.”

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“Creating an advisory group that will focus on improving the travel experience for Black customers. Reviewing and enhancing the company’s internal reporting process for cases involving allegations of discrimination or bias. 

Reevaluating its policies, practices, protocols and organization culture to recognize and identify areas for growth and improvement, and educating its employees to recognize and address bias and discrimination.”

Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, spoke with Isom about the civil rights organizations concerns regarding the recent lawsuit. 

“While it is unfortunately common for Black consumers to experience racism and discrimination at the hands of corporations, it is not common to see such swift and decisive action,” Johnson said, adding that he hopes that “this approach will serve as a model for other corporations who may find themselves in similar situations.”


Toyota Halts Shipments Of Vehicles Amid Auto Safety Scandal In Japan 

Toyota Motor and Mazda have halted shipments of some of their vehicles amid a safety test scandal currently occurring in Japan. Japan’s transport ministry has found irregularities in safety applications to certify certain models, according to reports from CNN.

The ministry said that the irregularities in the applications were found from Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha Motor. When these automakers applied for safety certification for their vehicles, it was found that they had submitted “incorrect or manipulated safety test data.”

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Japan’s transport ministry initially wanted automakers to investigate certification applications in January. They made this decision because last year, Toyota’s Daihatsu compact car units experienced a safety test scandal. 

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis, advisory firms, are recommending that Toyota shareholders vote to not re-elect Akio Toyoda as the chairman during Toyota’s annual general meeting which will be taking place later this month. 

ISS emphasized a “spate of certification irregularities” at the Toyota Group. Toyoda is the grandson of the founder of Toyota. CNN reported that he recently spoke to journalists regarding these recent developments:

 “As the person in charge of the Toyota Group, I would like to sincerely apologize to our customers, to car fans, and all stakeholders for this.”

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Toyota stated that they have temporarily halted shipments of three car models that are made in Japan. 

Government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayahi said that the misconduct occurring within these automakers is “regrettable,” as the scandals are reflecting poorly on the Japanese government and their relationship with investors and corporate reforms. 

Toyota stated that their “wrongdoing had occurred during six different tests conducted in 2014, 2015, and 2020. The Corolla Fielder, Corolla Axio, and Yaris Cross were the models being affected.

Mazda has also suspended their shipments of the Roadster RF sports car and the Mazda2 hatchback after the automaker found out workers had modified engine control software test results. 

Atenza and Axela models from Mazda also had crash tests that have been tampered with. The airbags in the models had been tampered with so they would go off after a timer, instead of relying on on-board sensors which are meant to detect a crash. The two models are no longer in production.


Nestlé Adds Sugar To Infant Milk Sold In Poorer Nations, According To New Report

A new report has found that Nestlé, the largest consumer goods company in the world, adds sugar and honey to infant milk and cereal products that are sold in poorer nations. This directly contradicts international guidelines that are implemented to prevent childhood obesity and chronic diseases, according to The Guardian

The report itself came from Public Eye, a Swiss investigative organization. The organization sent samples of Nestlé’s baby-food products sold in Asia, Latin America, and Africa to a Belgian laboratory for testing. 

After testing the products and examining the packaging, the report revealed the presence of sugar in the form of sucrose, or honey in samples of Nido, one of Nestlé’s milk formula brands intended for infants aged one and up. They also found it in Cerelac, a cereal that is aimed for kids aged six months and two years. 

In the main European markets for Nestlé, there are no added sugars in formulas for young children. Some cereals that are advertised for older toddlers have added sugar, but none in any product targeted at babies between six-months-old to a year. 

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“Nestlé must put an end to these dangerous double standards and stop adding sugar in all products for children under three years old, in every part of the world,” said Laurent Gaberell, the agriculture and nutrition expert for Public Eye

Obesity in general is an ongoing and growing problem in lower and middle income countries. According to the World Health Organization, in Africa specifically the number of overweight children under five has increased by nearly 23% since 2000. 

The Guardian reported that worldwide, more than 1 billion people are living with obesity. 

In many countries it can be difficult for consumers to tell whether or not a certain product contains added sugar or how much is present due to how the nutritional information is printed. The labels also often have natural sugars found in milk and fruit under the same heading as any added sugars.

For European regions, the World Health Organization has guidelines that says no added sugars or sweetening agents should be permitted in any food for children under three. 

The UK recommends that children under four should also avoid food with added sugars, because of their risk of gaining weight and developing tooth decay. The US government has guidelines that simply recommend children under two avoid food and drinks with added sugars. 

The Public Eye report was written alongside the International Baby Food Action Network. Public Eye stated that data from Euromonitor International, a market-research company, showed that global retail sales for Cerelac exceeded $1 billion. The highest of those figures came from low and middle income nations; 40% of sales were within just Brazil and India. 

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Dr. Nigel Rollins, a medical officer at the World Health Organization, said this new report shows “a double standard that can’t be justified.”

Researchers found that biscuit-flavored cereals for babies six months and older contained 6 grams of added sugar for every serving sold in Senegal and South Africa. The same exact product sold in Switzerland has no added sugars. 

In India, tests performed on Cerelac products had, on average, more than 2.7 grams of added sugar for every serving. In Brazil, two out of eight products were found to have no added sugar, but the remaining six products had about 4 grams in each serving, according to The Guardian. In Nigeria, one product had up to 6.8 grams.  

Additionally, tests on Nido brand products showed a significant variation in sugar levels, much like with Cerelac. Worldwide retail sales for Nido products have grossed more than $1 billion. 

In the Philippines, no added sugars are in products aimed for toddler consumption, however, in Indonesia, Nido baby-food products all contain around 2 grams of added sugar per 100 gram of product in the form of honey. 

“We believe in the nutritional quality of our products for early childhood and prioritize using high-quality ingredients adapted to the growth and development of children,” a Nestlé spokesperson stated. 

“[Within the] highly regulated category of baby food, Nestlé always complied with local regulations or international standards, including labeling requirements and thresholds on carbohydrate content that encompasses sugars and declared total sugars in its products, including those coming from honey,” The Guardian reported

“Variations in recipes depended on factors including regulation and availability of local ingredients,” the spokesperson said.

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Barnes & Noble Workers Organizing Union Drive For The Largest Bookstore Chain In The US 

Workers at Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the US, are preparing for a nationwide union drive after six outlet stores voted to organize throughout the past year, according to reports

According to the workers, who are demanding better pay and working conditions, “many more” stores will move to unionize.

Locations that already have unionized have made multiple claims that management has delayed attempting contract negotiations, and James Daunt, the CEO, allegedly went on a months-long campaign to encourage employees not to vote in favor of organizing. 

“He would come in and essentially try to talk us out of unionizing. The big argument against us unionizing was it would make his life harder, which he would repeat several times. It wasn’t very successful,” said Jessica Sepple, a worker at Barnes & Noble’s flagship New York City store in Union Square.

Daunt disputed the claims of negotiating delays, and stated he agreed with the workers on “the fundamentals” of their demands while warning of “potential upsides and downsides to a union.”

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The store voted 76-2 in favor of unionizing last summer. Barnes & Noble has around 600 stores across the US. The business itself has been on a decline in recent years, and Daunt, who became CEO in 2019, has said he’s worked hard to turn around the business. 

Sepple said that their “purpose for unionizing is to get some recognition for the dignity of workers, and having sat at the table and currently in negotiations with Barnes & Noble, it is disappointing that Barnes & Noble has not treated this as if that dignity is deserved.”

Sepple also discussed that workers at the Union Square location have experienced lagging wages, safety concerns with ladders and general book storage, aggressive customers, and being given duties that the job initially did not entail, according to The Guardian

“If you’re good at your job, you’re just going to get more work. It takes a lot of knowledge, research, and a love of reading and books to make it happen, and oftentimes I’ve found the company tends to coast on that.”

In Brooklyn’s Park Slope, workers won a union election in July 2023. Sydul Akhanji, a worker at the store for two years, said he wants to work for the bookstore chain for a long time, but the low pay has been a major downside. He stated “if the company wants to build itself around knowledgeable booksellers, its workers need to be able to afford rent and food.”

Akhanji also alleged that Daunt attempted to deter the workers at Park Slope from unionizing. He claimed that the CEO “just went on and on about how it’d be hard and make all his plans complicated, if we unionized, and how he has a vision for us, so please, just don’t unionize right now.”

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Workers have also claimed that all contract negotiations are slowed down because executives are sending them to their company lawyers, who are typically not present during the discussions and negotiations. In some of the New York stores, management has been negotiating separately from the workers as well. 

“We live in the most expensive city in the country, and our starting wage until very recently was minimum wage, and it’s just not sustainable,” Esther Rosenfield, a barista at the Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, said.

Barnes & Noble workers in Bloomington, Illinois heard about the union voting in New York and decided to hold their own. In November, they unanimously voted to unionize. 

“James Daunt did a conference call to the store himself saying a vote for the union is a vote against him. The issues we’re facing are companywide. We’re all facing the same issues. If one small store in the midwest can unionize, then anyone can,” said senior bookseller, Zane Crockett.

Daunt stated: 

“My argument to the booksellers has been very simple: we have no disagreement with the fundamentals of what is being asked for, and indeed have pivoted the company precisely to achieve them. Only a successful business, after all, can deliver the investments necessary to improve pay and the physical condition of our stores.”

“In this endeavor, I see both potential upsides and downsides to the addition of a union. The most obvious potential upside is to have a clearer articulation of bookseller aspirations. Equally, there are potential downsides, notably if it causes unnecessary confrontation between ‘management’ and ‘workers’ and the fact that low-paid booksellers will have to pay significant dues to the union, all other things being equal reducing their pay.”


Wendy’s Says It Won’t Use Surge Pricing After Internet Backlash

The fast food chain Wendy’s clarified that it has no plans to use “surge pricing” during its busiest hours. The announcement, made on Tuesday, followed reports in multiple media outlets suggesting the business is considering experimenting with dynamic pricing that changes throughout the day in response to customer demand.

In a statement, the company asserted that the dynamic pricing model was being misinterpreted. The chain says it intends to reduce prices during slower periods rather than increasing them during busy ones.

“We said these menu boards would give us more flexibility to change the display of featured items. This was misconstrued in some media reports as an intent to raise prices when demand is highest at our restaurants. We have no plans to do that and would not raise prices when our customers are visiting us most. Any features we may test in the future would be designed to benefit our customers and restaurant crew members. Digital menu boards could allow us to change the menu offerings at different times of day and offer discounts and value offers to our customers more easily, particularly in the slower times of day.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren weighed in on the issue on her X account, suggesting the new strategy is exploitative.

“Wendy’s is planning to try out ‘surge pricing’— that means you could pay more for your lunch, even if the cost to Wendy’s stays exactly the same. It’s price gouging, plain and simple, and American families have had enough.

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The company is already the most expensive fast-food restaurant among competitors like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Chick-fil-A.

In an earnings call earlier this month, Wendy’s CEO Kirk Tanner highlighted that upselling and dynamic pricing were key strategies for driving sales growth. “We will begin testing more enhanced features like dynamic pricing and day-part offerings along with AI-enabled menu changes and suggestive selling,” he said.

“As we continue to show the benefit of this technology in our company-operated restaurants, franchisee interest in digital menu boards should increase further supporting sales and profit growth across the system.”

Many businesses, including rideshares like Uber and Lyft and ticket distributors like Ticketmaster, employ dynamic pricing models to charge higher rates in response to user demand.

In an email to CNN, the company reiterated that it will not employ a similar system.

“Wendy’s will not implement surge pricing, which is the practice of raising prices when demand is highest. This was not a change in plans. It was never our plan to raise prices when customers are visiting us the most.”

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Juan Castillo, assistant professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN that “surge pricing” was a poor choice of words to describe the pricing strategy.

“Whoever called it surge pricing made the worst marketing mistake you can think of. Surge pricing sent the message to everybody that this is mostly about increasing prices. That created a very negative reaction from the public.”

According to Jonathan Maze, editor-in-chief of the trade publication Restaurant Business, the introduction of dynamic pricing to Wendy’s may lead to other fast food restaurants adopting the technology.

“If Wendy’s idea works, it could get others to do something similar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another chain or two test the idea themselves, given what Wendy’s is doing.”

In response to Wendy’s announcement, Burger King is giving out free burgers from Feb. 28 to March 1 on purchases of $3 or more.

“We don’t believe in charging guests more when they’re hungry,” Burger King wrote in a press release announcing the limited-time deal. “Surge pricing? Well, that’s new,” the company added. “Good thing the only thing surging at BK is our flame!”

In order to implement digital menu boards at all of its restaurants in the United States by the end of 2025, Wendy’s intends to spend approximately $20 million. Over the next two years, another $10 million will be set aside to bolster digital menu upgrades internationally.


Macy’s To Downsize And Close 150 Stores 

Macy’s is making some major changes to keep their 150+ year brand relevant and alive during a time where retail shopping is constantly changing. For starters, the company will be downsizing and getting a new, smaller, more luxurious look, according to reports

Macy’s will be closing 150 underperforming stores. They’re planning on closing 50 by the end of 2024, and the remaining 100 over the course of the next few years. The ultimate goal is to have just 350 Macy’s stores by 2026. 

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The company will also be focusing more on its brands Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, as both have remained successful and have outperformed the Macy’s brands. They’re planning on opening more, smaller versions of those stores within the next several years. 

The general plan shows that Macy’s is accommodating wealthier shoppers through their more luxurious brands. Consumer trends show that shoppers are choosing smaller stores outside of shopping malls, so Macy’s will also be building 30 smaller stores within the next two years that won’t be inside of malls. 

Macy’s stock price has dropped 75% since its peak of $73 a share back in 2015. Since that point they’ve closed around 300 stores, which is almost a third of its locations. They still operate around 700 stores across all of their brands. 

With the downsizing, Macy’s also announced that it was laying off around 2,350 employees; about 3.5% of its total workforce.  

“We believe paring down the Macy’s store base to a more manageable (and profitable) size is prudent given the general structural shift towards online spending” and the shift away from department stores,” Dana Telsey, a retail analyst, said. 

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New Macy’s CEO Tony Spring, who was previously the CEO of Bloomingdale’s, said in a statement that this will be a “bold new chapter” for the brand, and was developed through extensive market research to “reinvigorate” the Macy’s brand.  

“We are making the necessary moves to reinvigorate relationships with our customers through improved shopping experiences, relevant assortments and compelling value,” Spring said in a statement, explaining that Macy’s will also be improving their digital marketplace.

They’ll also be downsizing the products sold in store as a means of focusing on brands and items that customers actually want. 

“That should lead to sustained profit growth over time,” Spring stated.

Over the next three years, Macy’s said it will open 15 new Bloomingdale’s stores and 30 new Bluemercury stores, with other plans to remodel 30 existing Bluemercury stores. 

“The Bloomingdale’s expansion can work as there are several strong luxury markets where the chain is not represented,” Neil Saunders, an analyst at GlobalData Retail, said.


Former Disney Star Bridget Mendler Is Launching A Satellite Data Startup 

Former Disney star Bridget Mendler, known for appearing in programs like “Good Luck Charlie,” “The Clique,” “Lemonade Mouth,” and more, is not embarking on a new venture that will change how satellite data moves from space back down to Earth. 

Mendler has spent the past several years gaining various degrees and studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Harvard Law School. Mendler spoke to CNBC about her new career in the space industry as CEO of Northwood Space, a startup based in El Segundo, California. She began this journey after “falling in love with Space law” throughout her educational journey. 

“The vision is a data highway between Earth and space. Space is getting easier along so many different dimensions but still the actual exercise of sending data to and from space is difficult. You have difficulty finding an access point for contacting your satellite.”

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According to Mendler, Northwood will mass produce ground stations, which are normally large with circular antennas that connect to satellites in space. 

Northwood is also already attracting high-profile venture investors with around $6 million in initial funding. Some of these investors include the Founders Fund. Andreessen Horowitz, and Also Capital. 

Besides Mendler, Northwood has two other co-founders, the startups Chief Technology Officer, and her husband Griffin Cleverly, as well as head of software Shaurya Luthra. 

Mendler told CNBC that the name “Northwood” comes from a lake in New Hampshire, where she was with her family during the Covid-19 pandemic when the idea for the company came to her. 

“While everybody else was making their sourdough starters, we were building antennas out of random crap we could find at Home Depot … and receiving data from [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] satellites.”

“For me, why the ground-side matters is because it actually is about bringing the impacts of space home to people,” Mendler said.

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Cleverly told the news outlet that the general growth of the space industry proves that there is a “colossal” amount of data currently trying to travel back to Earth from various satellites. 

“We need an approach so that those companies can get the data down reliably in the quantities that they need,” Cleverly said. 

Northwood is working to start their initial operations quickly. They want to build ground stations with fast production and deployment flexibility as the priority, according to Luthra, who also said that they want to deliver these ground stations “within days, not months.” Luthra explained that this will make it easier for current satellite operators to avoid reconfiguring their networks. 

“If you want a detected antenna, you have to wait 18 months to get the antenna delivered, installed, and built out for you,” said Luthra. 

Northwood will also be reaching out to services who don’t want to spend the money to build their own ground station networks. 

“Traditionally, when I wanted an antenna or site to use, I would first have to ask, ‘Do you have availability, or is it already rented out to everyone else in the world?’ A lot of times very key sites were already rented out,” Luthra said.

Northwood is aiming to conduct their first connection test with a spacecraft currently in orbit later this year.


40% Of Jobs Worldwide Could Be Affected By Artificial Intelligence, IMF Says 

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), around 40% of jobs globally could be affected by the rise in the use of artificial intelligence (AI). The IMF warned that these recent trends in AI could deepen the inequality that’s already present in the tech industry, and other industries where AI is being used. 

IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva published an official blog post on Sunday in which she called on government powers to establish effective “social safety nets and offer retraining programs” to counter the negative impacts of AI, according to CNN.

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“In most scenarios, AI will likely worsen overall inequality, a troubling trend that policymakers must proactively address to prevent the technology from further stoking social tensions,” she wrote.

Georgieva published the post ahead of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland, where the topic of AI is set to be a big topic of conversation. 

Sam Altman, the chief executive of ChatGPT-maker OpenAI, and Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, will also speak at the Forum later this week and be involved in a debate being called “Generative AI: Steam engine of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?”

“As AI continues to be adapted by more workers and businesses, it’s expected to both help and hurt the human workforce,” Georgieva said in her blog, according to CNN.

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Georgieva also stated that the negative impacts of AI are expected to hit nations with advanced economies. 

She explained that in more developed economies, up to 60% of jobs could potentially be impacted by AI, but half of those jobs could benefit from the productivity benefits of AI. 

“For the other half, AI applications may execute key tasks currently performed by humans, which could lower labor demand, leading to lower wages and reduced hiring. In the most extreme cases, some of these jobs may disappear,” wrote Georgieva.

CNN reported that within emerging markets, places with sustained economic growth, 40% of jobs are expected to be impacted by AI. In lower income nations, places with developing economies, 26% of jobs are expected to be impacted by AI. 

“Many of these countries don’t have the infrastructure or skilled workforces to harness the benefits of AI, raising the risk that over time the technology could worsen inequality,” stated Georgieva.

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Only Half Of US Credit Card Customers Believe They Can Pay Off Their Holiday Bills

According to the LendingTree Credit Card Confidence Index, a monthly survey published since 2018, only half of America’s credit card customers believe they’ll be able to pay off their December balance in full as we come out of the holiday season. 

The nationally representative survey received data from 1,514 cardholders, with only 51% stating they could pay off their December card balance this month; a 7% drop from the previous month. 

The current national credit card balance stands at $1.08 trillion which is a record high, and the average interest rate has reached 21%. This is the highest point recorded by the Federal Reserve in about 30 years of tracking, according to reports from USA Today

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“It was hard to imagine that growing debt, rising inflation and sky-high interest rates weren’t eventually going to take a toll,” said Matt Schulz, LendingTree’s chief credit analyst. 

In another periodic survey by Bankrate, it was shown that 47% of cardholders carried debt from month-to-month in mid-2023, which is up from 39% at the end of 2021. According to a TransUnion report for the third quarter of 2023, the average credit card holder has about $6,088 in debt. 

USA Today also reported that Wells Fargo Economics found that credit card debt is rising faster than any other household debt. 

“I think all this adds up to more people carrying more debt for longer periods of time, and unfortunately, I don’t see any of that reversing any time soon,” said Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at Bankrate.

The LendingTree index also showed that only 40% of women expressed confidence in their ability to pay off their card balance, compared to 64% of men. Across the five years of this specific survey, women have always voiced less confidence. 

Schulz theorized that “women may take a little bit more conservative approach to their finances. Men may be a little more confident than they should be, while women may be a little bit less confident than they could be.”

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Catherine Valega is a certified financial planner located in Boston who specializes in the finances of women. She offered the opinion to USA Today that female consumers may feel extra stretched out financially during the holidays due to the traditional roles that women filled in the household throughout history. That pressure is still very much present today, and has been passed down from generation to generation. 

“Women tend to want to give gifts, and they also tend to manage the stuff in their households. Who doesn’t spend more at year end,” Valega stated

Bankrate’s Rossman suggested that individuals with debt on a high-interest card should consider transferring some or all of their balance to a zero-APR card. Those cards typically give holders 15 months or longer of zero interest rates on their payments.

“If you use one of these properly, you can save a ton of money on interest,” Rossman said.

Valega stated: “Cardholders can also benefit from a few simple rules in using their cards. One is to charge only as much as you can afford to repay that month. Another is to set up automatic payments on the card. Better still if you can select the option to auto-pay the entire balance at month’s end.”