Credit card debt statistics
By Jamie Gonzalez and Tamara E. Holmes | Updated: January 31, 2017
Americans have created billions of dollars worth of debt over the past 45 years, and credit card debt has been an important part of that. Credit card debt dove -- along with consumer spending -- during the 2008 financial crisis and slow growth has kept total revolving debt at pre-crisis levels, though it is creeping up. According to figures from the Federal Reserve, total U.S. outstanding consumer debt was $3.62 trillion as of May 2016.1 That figure includes car loans, student loans and revolving debt, but not mortgages. Total U.S. outstanding revolving debt, which is chiefly made up of credit card balances, was $953.3 billion as of May 2016.1
Average credit card debt is not a single number. Instead, you will get many different answers, depending on how you measure it. The average debt is:
- $1,154 per card that doesn't carry a balance (the amount is charged, but paid off monthly)2
- $1,678 per account, U.S. adults with a credit report and Social Security number3
- $3,805 per person, U.S. resident adults4
- $5,323 per cardholder, excluding unused cards and store cards12
- $5,284 per U.S. adult with a credit card5
- $7,527 per card that usually carries a balance2
- $9,600 per household with credit card debt6
For more information, see "Measuring average credit card debt.") The amount of average credit card debt has been steadily increasing over the long term. As of 2013, a person born between 1980 and 1984 had on average $5,689 more in credit card debt than his or her parents (those born between 1950 and 1954) at the same stage of life and $8,156 more in credit card debt than his or her grandparents (those born between 1920 and 1924).7
The Great Recession reversed the growth of credit card debt -- at least for a few years. According to TransUnion, between the first quarters of 2008 and 2014, average credit card debt per borrower fell from a high of $6,276 in mid-2008 to $5,164 in Q1 of 2014 -- the lowest point in the six-year period.8 Balances have been creeping up since then at a national level, though some states have seen decreases.
|STATES WITH LARGEST ANNUAL INCREASES, DECREASES IN AVG CREDIT CARD DEBT PER CONSUMER
|Largest year-over-year increases||Q1 2015
|Largest year-over-year decreases||Q1 2015||Q1 2016||Pct. change|
Card issuers divide the world into two groups: "transactors" who use their cards for purchases and pay off the balances each month; and "revolvers" who carry balances on their cards, paying interest charges month to month. To pure transactors, the balances on their cards aren't really debts at all, since any purchases will be paid off before interest charges are applied.
In Q4 of 2015, the number of revolver accounts increased 0.4 percentage points from Q3 2015, accounting for 42.1 percent of all card accounts, while transactor accounts increased by 0.3 points to 29.7 percent. Dormant accounts fell 0.7 percent to account for 28.1 percent.10
In a March 2013 CreditCards.com poll, 85 percent of respondents said they were unlikely or somewhat unlikely to talk with a stranger about credit card debt -- a subject more taboo than religion, politics, salary and love life details.11
The Credit CARD Act put the brakes on credit card use by college students. Among other provisions, it bans credit card approvals for anyone under 21 years old unless they have an adult co-signer or can prove they have sufficient income to pay the bills.
Many more college students in 2015 had debit cards (85 percent) than credit cards (56 percent), according to a survey by student loan provider Sallie Mae titled “Majoring in Money.” The top reasons students cite for not having a credit card are that they don’t feel like they need one (51 percent) and they want to avoid debt (47 percent).17
But there are signs that students who do have credit cards tend to pay them off responsibly. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) pay their card balance in full each month. Just 8 percent pay only the minimum amount due each month.17
The annual average credit card balance of all student cardholders in 2015 was $906; younger students (age 18-20) carried a significantly lower average balance ($611) than students aged 21-22 ($1,013) or 23-24 ($1,109).17
How much students pay on their credit cards affects their monthly balances. Transactors who pay their balances in full each month have a much lower average monthly balance, $825, than those who do not. The average monthly balance of students who pay more than the minimum, but not the full balance, is $935, while the average balance of students who pay only the minimum is $1,635.17
According to Sallie Mae’s 2016 report, “How America Pays for College,” 20 percent of college costs are paid by borrowing (either by the student or the parent). Most of that is comprised of student loans, but 5 percent of students use credit cards to help fund college costs, while 2 percent of students’ parents did the same.13
A 2016 DealNews survey suggests there is a correlation between credit card debt and student loan debt. Among respondents with student loan debt, 76 percent also carry a credit card balance. It’s possible that the desire to pay off those student loans quickly may be impacting card debt, which usually carries a higher interest rate. Some 76 percent of respondents who pay more than the required monthly payment on their student loans carry a credit card balance.9
Twenty-six percent of the “silent generation” (Americans born between 1928 and 1945) had credit card debt in 2015, while 41 percent of baby boomers, 44 percent of Gen Xers and 39 percent of millennials had card debt.18
Half of small businesses are transactors, according to a May 2012 survey by the National Small Business Association. Among its findings:
- 50 percent of small business owners said they paid off the balance on their business credit cards every month;
- 26 percent said they carried a balance of less than $10,000;
- 15 percent said they carried a balance of $10,000 to $25,000;
- 9 percent said they carried more than $50,000.14
According to an April 2016 study by Harvard University’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, low- to moderate-income consumers are far less likely to have a credit card than upper-middle-income Americans (59 percent versus 94 percent). Additionally, 39 percent of households making less than $40,000 annually have no credit card, compared to just 12 percent of households making more than $100,000.19
One impact of this lack of credit access is that lower income households tend to have lower credit card debt. According to a February 2016 Bankrate survey, households with incomes of less than $30,000 were four times more likely to have no credit card debt than households making $75,000 or more. 20
But those households were also saving less. Only 35 percent of households with income of less than $30,000 had more in emergency savings funds than they did in credit card debt, compared to 71 percent of households making $75,000 or more.20
In a March 2012 survey, Demos looked at the differences between low- and middle-income families who had credit card debt, and those who didn't. Among its findings:
- Households in which a member lacked health insurance in the three years before March 2012 were 20 percent more likely to carry credit card debt than households where no one had been uninsured;
- Those in which someone had been unemployed for two months or more in the three years before March 2012 were 14 percent more likely to carry credit card debt than households where no one was unemployed;
- Those with children under 18 years of age were 15 percent more likely to carry credit card debt than households with no children;
- Those without credit card debt reported having savings nearly three times greater than average households with credit card debt;
- Homeowners with negative equity were 24 percent more likely to carry credit card debt than those without negative equity in their homes.
- Respondents with a college degree were 22 percent less likely to carry credit card debt than high school graduates;
- Yet 71 percent of households in debt who paid college expenses for themselves or their spouse between February 2009 and February 2012 said those expenses contributed to credit card debt.15
- Federal Reserve's G.19 report on consumer credit for May 2016
- Experian interview
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Household Debt and Credit Report, third quarter 2016
- Federal Reserve's G.19 report on consumer credit for October 2016 and U.S. Census population estimate 2015
- Federal Reserve's G.19 report for October 2016, adjusted with the Fed's estimate of the fraction of U.S. adults without a credit card
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York's 2015 Do We Know What We Owe report
- "New Evidence on Credit Card Borrowing and Repayment Patterns," published in Economic Inquiry, January 2013
- TransUnion Industry Insights Report, Q1 2014
- DealNews survey: How Credit Cards and Student Loan Debt Are Linked
- American Bankers Association Credit Card Market Monitor May 2016
- CreditCards.com: "Poll: Card debt the No. 1 taboo subject," conducted March 2013
- TransUnion Industry Insights report
- Sallie Mae 2016 report, “How America Pays for College”
- National Small Business Association survey conducted May 2012
- Demos survey on credit card debt of low- and middle-income households conducted in February and March 2012
- TransUnion average credit card balance per consumer, Q1 2016
- Sallie Mae 2016 report, "Majoring In Money"
- The Pew Charitable Trusts 2015 report, “The Complex Story of American Debt”
- Harvard Kennedy School Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, “Out of Reach: Regressive Trends in Credit Card Access”
- Bankrate Financial Security Index February 2016
- Poll: Recurring charges are easy to start, hard to get out of – Thirty-five percent of consumers signed up for accounts that enrolled them in auto-pay without them realizing it ...
- New delinquencies rising for credit card users, New York Fed finds – Newly delinquent credit card accounts are accelerating, a "potentially concerning" trend, New York Fed economists said ...
- 2017 Credit Card Fee Survey: Consumers catch a break – Changes to credit card fees have decreased, foreign transaction fees are going away, and the rest can be avoided ...