Post-pandemic inflation and high interest rates have likely pushed consumers to rely on credit cards more. Here’s where consumers stood with their credit card balances at the end of 2022 and what strategies you can utilize to reduce your credit card debt.
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Americans have been taking on more credit card debt in the current inflationary environment, with average outstanding balances hitting $5,910 in Q3 2022. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that total outstanding balances rose to a new high of $986 billion at the end of 2022. This exceeds its pre-pandemic high of $927 billion.
Consumers spent more on services such as travel and eating out (two large credit card categories) in 2022, making up for what they missed during the pandemic. They also paid more for essentials, such as gas and food, so card spending has ballooned. Moreover, with the Fed raising interest rates to combat inflation, the average credit card interest rate has gone up to over 20 percent, adding to credit card debt burdens for those who carry a balance.
We examine how credit card debt changed in 2022 in comparison to 2021 and how different age groups, states and types of credit users all displayed increased debt. For those struggling with their own card debt, we also recommend a few tips and tricks to manage it.
Here’s the landscape of credit card debt among U.S. consumers:
- $1,729: The average debt per account in 2022. This number considers the overall credit card debt was $909.9 billion, and there were 526.2 million credit card accounts in the U.S. in Q3 2022, says Experian.
- $3,806: The average credit card debt per person in 2022. The average card debt per person is based on the Q4 2022 total credit card debt of $986 billion and the mid-2022 U.S. adult population estimate of 259 million people, as provided by the New York Fed and the U.S. Census Bureau, respectively.
- $5,910: The average credit card balance in 2022. A 2022 Experian report says that this a 13.2 percent increase from the 2021 average of $5,221.
Total outstanding credit card debt
After many took a hit during the pandemic, house-bound consumers cut down on spending on services and turned to online shopping to source other goods. However, since 2021 inflation has risen and so has total credit card debt as well.
For Q4 2022, total outstanding credit card debt was at $986 billion, says the New York Fed, rising from the prior year’s $856 billion. The Q4 2022 total credit card balance also set a new high that surpassed the pre-pandemic record of $927 billion.
Average credit card debt by location and generation
In 2021, the average credit card balance fell to $5,221, declining 1.8 percent from 2020’s average of $5,315, according to data from Experian. However, due to recent inflation and increased spending on credit cards, the average credit card debt surged to $5,910 in 2022. Despite the double-digit percent growth from 2021 levels, the 2022 average remained lower than 2019’s balance high of $6,480, says an Experian study that tracked credit card debt from 2017 to 2021.
When breaking down average credit card balances by state in 2022, Experian research found that:
- All states saw a rise in average credit card balances in 2022, and almost all of them saw double-digit percentage jumps.
- In California, the average balance rose by 17 percent to $6,030, and in New York it rose by 14.5 percent to $6,269. The only states with single-digit increases were Oklahoma (up 9.7 percent to $5,654) and West Virginia (up 9.4 percent to $5,005).
When considering the breakdown of credit card debt by age, debt rose across all generations in 2022. The younger generations, Generation Z and millennials, had the highest percentage increase. Generation X’s and baby boomers’ debt, however, rose at lower percentages.
- Gen Z added the most, racking up 25.1 percent more in average credit card debt at $2,854.
- Millennials were next, tapping their cards for 23.5 percent more, than the previous year, in credit card debt at $5,649.
- Gen X saw their average balance climb 15 percent to $8,134.
- Baby boomer and Silent Generation cohorts added to their average balances at a slower pace, taking their respective balances up 7.6 percent and 4.4 percent to $6,245 and $3,316.
How Americans’ revolving debt has changed over the years
The amount Americans owe their credit card issuers has fluctuated with national events and the economic climate.
- Credit card debt as a share of disposable income hit a high of nearly 8 percent during the Great Recession in 2008, then steadily dropped over the years, reaching 6 percent in 2010, the 2021 Credit Card Market Monitor by the American Bankers Association recorded.
- Outstanding credit card debt as a percentage of disposable income hit an all-time low of 4 percent in 2021, but it steadily ticked back up to 4.98 percent in Q3 2022, according to the 2023 Credit Card Market Monitor.
- The ABA also notes that credit card debt’s share of disposable income has been slowly climbing back to pre-pandemic levels.
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 share of revolvers outnumbered that of transactors in Q3 2022, the ABA reports.
- The number of transactors fell 0.57 percentage points to 33.6 percent of all credit card accounts from Q2 to Q3 2022. In the same time period, the number of revolvers rose 1.17 percentage points to 43.4 percent.
- The number of dormant accounts during that period edged down 0.6 percentage points to 23 percent. From Q1 2021 to Q3 2022, the share of dormant accounts has dropped 2.5 percentage points, suggesting that more consumers are turning to their credit cards, likely as a result of inflationary pressures.
Delinquencies on credit card debt
Credit card delinquencies rose in 2022 but remained well below the levels prevailing before the pandemic, says an Experian consumer credit review.
- From Q3 2021 to Q3 2022, the percent of accounts 90 to 180 days past due rose 0.29 percentage points. In 2022, the amount of accounts with late payments of 90 days or more was 0.63 percent.
- The percentage of accounts that were 60 to 89 days delinquent rose 0.43 percentage points from Q3 2021 to Q3 2022. Such accounts made up 1.01 percent of all credit card accounts in 2022.
- As for accounts 30 to 59 days late, the number rose 0.63 percentage points. These accounts were 1.67% of all credit card accounts in Q3 2022.
Tips and tools for getting out of credit card debt
Many Americans are challenged by credit card debt as their card rates have gone up to around 20 percent. 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 strategies to help get 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 percent introductory APR for 12 to 18 months (or even 21 months), depending on the card. Paying off your balance on a card with a 0 percent intro APR would allow your payments to go toward your principal rather than your interest charges.
Keep in mind that the card may charge a balance transfer fee of 3 to 5 percent. You’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if the balance transfer fee is worth it for you, depending on how much you’ll save from interest charges with the intro APR.
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 with a zero-interest offer.
Consolidate debt with a personal loan
A debt consolidation loan may be another 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 do get a personal loan, be sure you don’t compound your problem by racking up debt on your credit cards again.
Get a side hustle or sell your stuff
If you have bad credit and suspect you won’t qualify for a balance transfer card or 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 or become a rideshare driver or a freelance writer. Consider also offering a service, such as walking dogs or mowing lawns.
Another possibility is selling electronics, furniture, unused exercise equipment or other valuable items that are collecting dust around your home.
Finally, you may be able to borrow funds 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
For anyone who feels overwhelmed by their debt and uncertain of the available options, consider making an appointment with a reputable nonprofit credit counseling agency. 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. In this case, you would make one monthly payment to the agency, which distributes the funds to your creditors.
You should know, however, that if you sign up for a DMP, you’ll have to close the credit card accounts that carry the debts you plan to pay off. 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.
Consumers have turned more to their cards to stay afloat and have been more inclined to carry a balance as prices of essentials, such as food, shelter and gas, have risen. As a result, the average credit card balance in 2022 increased since 2021 to $5,910. Nevertheless, there are methods to curb carrying credit card debt from month to month so that you avoid incurring more interest charges in this high-inflation economy.
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