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Fed study puts average credit card balances at $7,300 in '07

Consumer survey gives detailed, if dated, look at card debt

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The average credit card balance for those carrying a balance rose 30 percent between 2004 and 2007 to $7,300, according to figures released today by the Federal Reserve.

Median, average card debt rising

Average and median credit card debt rising
According to a detailed triennial study by the Federal Reserve, average and median credit card balances both rose from 2004 to 2007.

Though the debt amount is rising, the percentage of people carrying it isn't. As in 2004, just under half of all American families carried credit card balances in 2007, according to the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, a triennial look at Americans' income, net worth and debt. According to the survey, 46.1 percent of all families had credit card debt as of 2007, nearly unchanged from the 46.2 percent found in the 2004 survey.

Revolving balances
The median credit card balance for those revolving debt was $3,000 in 2007. That's up 25 percent from 2004's median: $2,200. This differs from the mean or average balance of $7,300 and is an indication that higher debt levels were reported among the survey participants.

The median is the value for which half of the survey respondents are above it and half below it. The mean is the value derived when adding all respondents' reported credit card balances and dividing by the total number of respondents. This big a difference between median and average debt indicates that some are carrying very large amounts of debt, skewing the average higher.

Who put more on their credit cards? "Over the recent period, the median balance rose strongly for most demographic groups, particularly for higher-income families, childless couples, and families headed by a person who was aged 55 to 64 or who was self-employed," according to the survey. The median dropped by 30 percent, however, for Americans in the oldest age group and for younger families with no children.

The survey found 96 percent of families with credit cards held bank-issued cards, a slight increase from 2004. Just over half of families with credit cards (56.7 percent) reported having store credit cards, 11.9 percent carried gasoline credit cards (down 5.4 percent from 2004) and 7.4 percent carried travel and entertainment credit cards.

It also provided a detailed demographic look at who is more likely to carry credit card debt. It found:

  • The most likely age bracket to carry a balance is 35-44, where 59 percent have card debt. Those 75 and older are least likely (24 percent). 
  • Homeowners are more likely to carry credit card debt than renters, 49 percent to 40 percent.
  • At 59 percent, couples with children tend to carry more card debt than those in any other family structure.
  • If you live in a city, you're more likely to rack up credit card debt than if you live in a more rural area -- 47 percent to 43 percent.
  • Credit card debt is pretty evenly spread across the country. Northeast, South, Midwest, West -- didn't matter much. All regions were closely clustered around the 46 percent national average. Westerners were the most likely, at 47.5 percent. Midwesterners came in lowest at 44.7 percent. 

Bank-issued credit cards dominate the wallets

Type of credit card Families with credit cards

2007 (%)

Change, '04-'07 (%)

Bank

96.1

+0.7

Store

56.7

-1.7

Gasoline

11.9

-5.4

Travel, entertainment

7.4

-2.6

Miscellaneous

3.7

1.1

Source: Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, based on 2007 data, released February 2009

Limited snapshot
The consumer survey gives the most accurate snapshot of consumer borrowing behavior between 2004 and 2007.

The survey is based on data collected through 2007, which was analyzed and published nearly two years later.

Details about the current credit climate -- where many families are facing higher interest rates, slashed credit limits and difficulty borrowing -- won't be available until 2012.

The 2007 survey was based on 4,422 interviews. 

To comment on this article, write to: Editors@CreditCards.com.

 

Published: February 12, 2009



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