The coronavirus pandemic had a major impact on the way Americans live and spend – including on outstanding credit card debt. Here’s where consumers stand with their credit card balances, credit scores and other measures of financial health.
The coronavirus pandemic had a major impact on the way Americans live and spend – including on outstanding credit card debt. The virus has upended the economy and changed how we work, travel and dine.
Revolving debt declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, partly due to these changes in spending. Here’s an overview of credit card debt among U.S. consumers:
- $1,621 per account, U.S. adults with a credit report and Social Security number.8
- $1,888 average balance on store credit cards.11
- $3,824 per person, U.S. resident adults9
- $5,111 per cardholder, excluding unused cards and store cards1
- $5,525 average balance on credit cards in 2021, according to Experian. That is down 6%, from $5,897, in 2020.11
Total outstanding credit card debt
As more Americans get vaccinated and more states open, credit card debt is ticking back up a bit. Americans’ outstanding revolving debt, most of which is credit card debt, reached $998.4 billion2 in July 2021, according to data from the Federal Reserve.
That’s an increase from a low of $974.6 billion2 in the fourth quarter of 2020 after the amount of revolving debt owed by U.S. consumers fell throughout the year.
Average credit card debt by location and generation
After growing for eight years in a row, the average credit card balance dropped by 14% and $8793 from 2019 to 2020, according to data from Experian.
- Credit card balances fell across the U.S. and states where consumers had the heaviest debt loads saw the biggest decreases. The average balance in the District of Columbia fell by 20% to $5,6713 in 2020.
- In California, it dropped by 18% to $5,1203 and in New York, it declined by 17% to $5,4143. At the other end of the spectrum, the average credit card balance in North Dakota fell by only 8% to $4,8653.
- Americans of all ages reduced the amount of card debt owed during 2020, with older Americans decreasing theirs the most. Members of the Silent Generation (75 and older) paid down outstanding credit card balances by 16% to an average of $3,1773. Baby boomers (ages 56 to 74) lowered card debt by 12% to an average of $6,0433 while Gen Xers (ages 40 to 55) reduced theirs by the same percentage to an average of $7,1553. Millennials (ages 24 to 39) decreased outstanding credit card debt by 11% to an average of $4,3223 while the members of Gen Z old enough to have card debt (ages 18 to 23) lowered theirs by 6% to an average of $1,9633.
How Americans’ revolving debt has changed over the years
The amount Americans owe their credit card issuers fluctuated with national events and the economic climate.
- Outstanding credit card debt as a percentage of disposable income hit an all-time low in the second quarter of 2020, then ticked up slightly to 4.54%4 in the third quarter, according to data from the American Bankers Association (ABA).
- Credit card debt as a share of disposable income hit a high of nearly 8%4 during the Great Recession in 2008, then steadily dropped over the years, reaching 6%4 in 2010, according to historical data from the ABA.
- The ABA notes that disposable income is higher than normal now due to a decrease in spending combined with federal economic assistance to consumers4.
Do most people pay credit card bills in full or carry a balance?
Consumers who pay their credit card bill in full every month and avoid interest are known as “transactors,” while consumers who carry a balance and pay interest are referred to as “revolvers.” The number of revolvers is steadily falling while the number of transactors is on the rise.
- The percentage of Americans who pay their credit card bill in full rose 1.5 percentage points to a record high of 33.7%4, according to data from the ABA. The number of transactors hit an all-time high for the second quarter in a row.
- The percentage of revolvers fell during that same time period, to a record low of 40.7%4 of all accounts. The number of dormant accounts during that period rose a slight 0.1% to 25.6%4.
COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on credit card debt
The coronavirus pandemic affected how Americans spend6 and pay their credit card bills.
Revolving debt decreased in 2020 for a variety of reasons: Americans spent less on dining out, traveling and in other consumer categories6 due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns. At the same time, the federal government stepped in with financial help in the form of direct relief payments and extension of unemployment benefits for millions of workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic7.
Despite these job losses, credit card delinquencies fell during the pandemic.
- Between 2019 and the end of 2020, the average percentage of accounts 90–180 days past due fell by 53%5, according to the Experian 2020 Consumer Credit Review.
- The percentage of accounts 60–89 days past due decreased by 36%5, and those 30–59 days past due fell by 37%5.
The average U.S. credit score also rose seven points to a record high of 710 in the third quarter of 20203, according to Experian data.
Tips and tools for getting out of credit card debt
Many Americans paid down their credit card balances during the pandemic, but plenty still struggle with debt. If you’re one of them, consider taking advantage of tools that can help you get out of debt faster and pay less interest overall. Here are some options for getting out of debt:
Apply for a balance transfer credit card
A balance transfer credit card is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to pay down credit card debt. A balance transfer card typically offers a 0% introductory APR for between 12 and 18 months, depending on the card.
Keep in mind that the card may charge a balance transfer fee of 3-5%. You’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if a balance transfer fee is worth it for you.
A balance transfer card may be the right choice for you if you have good credit and know you can pay off your debt in a year to a year and a half if you’re not paying interest.
Consolidate debt with a personal loan
A debt consolidation loan may be a solid option if you have good-to-excellent credit and you’re juggling debt on multiple credit cards, possibly with some other types of debt mixed in.
In addition to possibly lowering your APR, a personal loan will have fixed monthly payments that may make it easier to plan and budget. If you get a personal loan, you’ll have to make sure you don’t compound the problem by racking up debt on your credit cards again.
Get a side hustle or sell your stuff
If you have bad credit and can’t get a balance transfer card or a personal loan, bringing in extra cash may be the way to go. One option is to get a side gig that fits your schedule. You could get a part-time job, become a freelance writer or offer a service like walking dogs or mowing lawns.
Another possibility: sell electronics, furniture, unused exercise equipment or other valuable items that are collecting dust around your home.
Finally, you may be able to borrow money from a friend or family member. Raising extra money is one of the best ways to get out of debt because you can chip away at your principal and reduce the amount of interest you pay overall.
Sign up for credit counseling
Feel overwhelmed by your debt and not sure if any of the above solutions will work for you? A reputable nonprofit credit counseling agency may be able to help. Most credit counseling agencies offer debt management plans (DMPs). The agency may negotiate with the credit card companies on your behalf to lower both your interest rates and your monthly payments. You make one monthly payment to the agency, which distributes the funds to your creditors.
One caveat: if you sign up for a DMP, you’ll have to close the credit card accounts that are part of the plan. The downside: this reduces the amount of credit available to you, changing your credit utilization ratio and likely lowering your credit score. But getting out of debt will make your credit stronger in the future.
The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for everyone and has had a devastating financial impact on some Americans, but there is a silver lining: many now have lower credit card debt, are less likely to be late paying their bills and have better credit scores.
- TransUnion Consumer Credit Origination, Balance & Delinquency Trends: Q4 2020 Report
- Federal Reserve’s G.19 report on consumer credit
- Credit Card Debt in 2020: Balances Drop for the First Time in Eight Years – Experian
- Credit Card Market Monitor February 2021 – American Bankers Association
- Experian 2020 Consumer Credit Review
- Consumer sentiment in the U.S. during the coronavirus crisis – McKinsey
- Assistance for American Families and Workers – U.S. Department of Treasury
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Household Debt and Credit Report, final quarter 2020
- Federal Reserve’s G.19 report on consumer credit for December 2020 (CreditCards.com story on report) and S. Census population estimate 2019
- Federal Reserve Report on Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households, May 2020
- Experian State of Credit 2021