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10 Surprising Credit Card Debt Facts

November 02, 2023 · 8 minute read

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10 Surprising Credit Card Debt Facts

If you’re like most Americans, you love your plastic and swiping or tapping through your day. In fact, about 84% of Americans have at least one credit card, with the average wallet holding three.

The national love affair with credit cards is built on their convenience, how they provide a line of credit to enable buying things we can’t quite afford to pay for with cash, and those enticing rewards that are often offered.

But the picture is not altogether rosy: As a nation, US citizens have more than $1 trillion in credit card debt. And with interest rates averaging over 20%, that debt can be hard to chip away at.

To help you better understand how credit cards work, how much credit card debt people typically have, and what are smart strategies for paying down credit card debt, keep reading. You’ll learn interesting facts as well as helpful hints.

10 Facts About Credit Card Debt

Ready to learn more about credit card debt, a form of revolving debt? These 10 credit card facts will help you better understand who has how much debt and where difficulties paying the balance typically crop up.

1. More Than Half of Americans Have Outstanding Credit Card Debt

A majority of active credit card accounts carry a balance, according to the American Bankers Association. The specific figure is 56%. This indicates that carrying a balance is a common situation for many Americans, even with the eye-wateringly high interest that’s charged.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

2. Households with Credit Card Debt Owe an Average of Almost $8,000

American families had an average credit card balance of $7,951, according to calculations using Federal Reserve Bank of New York and US Census Bureau data. In 2013, that figure was $5,508.

Just because this is the norm, it doesn’t mean that it’s ideal: The best-case scenario is to only charge as much as you can afford to pay off in full every month.

3. It Can Take More Than a Decade to Pay Off $7,951 in Debt

Racking up credit card debt takes much less time than getting rid of it. Let’s assume that like the average American, you have $7,951 in credit card debt, as noted above.

At the current average interest rate of 21.19% on existing accounts, with a $150 monthly payment, it would take you 158 months — or 13 years and two months — to pay that off. And you would pay $15,606.40 in interest, or almost twice the original amount you charged!

But the more you can pay each month, the faster you’ll extinguish the debt. In this example, if you increase your monthly payment to $500, you’d pay off the debt in just a year and seven months and only spend $1,465.06 in interest. These scenarios are, however, assuming that you are not accruing new debt and therefore paying off larger credit card bills.

4. Gen Xers Have the Most Credit Card Debt

Ready for more credit card facts? Here is how age and debt intersect. Gen Xers, the generation that includes people born between 1965 and 1980, have the highest average credit card balance: $9,589. Next in line are Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, who have somewhat less debt — $8,192 on average — than Gen Xers.

5. Alaskans Have the Highest Credit Card Debt

In a state by state analysis of credit card debt, Alaska residents led the pack with $7,324 per person. Those who live in Wisconsin were found to have the lowest at $4,987.

6. 42% of College Students Have Credit Card Debt

The habit of carrying credit card debt unfortunately starts early, with more than four out of 10 college students carrying a balance on their credit cards. Of these, 28% say their debt exceeds $2,000. They say they accumulated that amount due to nonessential purchases, such as impulse buys, Uber rides, or fancy coffees.


💡 Quick Tip: To avoid paying interest, pay off your credit card bill in full and on time each month. Only making the minimum payment each month can lead to paying a lot in interest over time.

7. One in Three Americans Owes More On Credit Cards Than They Have Saved

This may be a scary fact about debt, but one in three US adults owes more on their credit card than they have saved. In fact, 36% say this is the case, versus just 22% a year earlier. That shows a two-sided problem: too much spending and too little saving.

Recommended: Paying Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt

8. Richer People Have Credit Card Debt Longer

More interesting credit card debt facts: People who earn more than $100K a year are more than two times as likely as lower earners to have credit card debt for five years or longer. Among six-figure earners, 72% say they have had debt for at least a year vs. 53% of those who earn less than $50,000 per year. When considering those who’ve held credit card debt for five years or more, you’ll find that 27% of the high earners vs. 13% of the lower earners are in that situation.

Perhaps this statistic suggests that high-earners feel they have the means to handle debt and therefore don’t rush to repay it.

9. Men Have More Debt Than Women

Men have an average of $6,357 in credit card debt, while women have an average of $6,232. Perhaps not a huge difference, but so much for the myth of women shopaholics using credit cards to fill an overflowing closet with shoes.

There are many potential reasons for this difference, but some studies have found that women are less comfortable with debt.

10. There’s a Good Chance You’ll Die With Credit Card Debt

Here’s the last of these debt facts, and it can be a grim one: Nearly three-fourths of Americans are in debt when they die, according to one benchmark study.

And 68% die with credit credit card balances — more than the share who have mortgage debt (37%) or car loans (25%) when they pass away. That’s not exactly a desirable legacy. Although family members don’t generally become responsible for the debt, it may be taken out of the deceased person’s estate.

Why Is Credit Card Debt So Common?

There are many reasons that Americans have so much credit card debt, from rising healthcare and educational costs to lack of emergency savings to a cultural consumerism that encourages people to live beyond their means.

Regarding that last point, you may hear about the phenomenon referred to as Fear of Missing Out or FOMO spending, which is a modern version of “keeping up with the Joneses.” In other words, because your friends, coworkers, or influencers you follow on social media are buying something, you feel you should as well.

Or perhaps part of the problem can be explained by what is known as lifestyle creep. This situation occurs when you earn more money but your spending rises too, so your wealth doesn’t grow. For example, if you took a new, higher-paying job and decided to lease a luxury car or take a couple of lavish vacations, your wealth wouldn’t increase, though your credit card balance might.

Tips on Avoiding Credit Card Debt

Perhaps these facts about debt will motivate you to work on avoiding a credit card balance. If so, the following strategies could help.

•   Review different budgeting methods, and find one that works for you. Many people use the popular 50/30/20 budget rule, for example. Also, see if your bank offers tracking and budgeting tools to help you rein in spending.

•   Gamify savings. You might try sleeping on it rather than making impulse buys to see if the urge to spend passes; it often does. Or go on a spending freeze for a specific period of time or for a certain kind of purchase (say, no dining out in March; no clothing purchases in April).

•   Try buying with cash or your debit card vs. plastic. That will help prevent your debt from snowballing.

•   Consider trying a balance transfer card, which typically gives you a period of zero interest during which time you can pay down what you owe.

•   In terms of a debt payoff strategy, you might investigate getting a personal loan with a lower rate than what your card charges. That could allow you to pay off the plastic debt and then have more manageable monthly payments.

•   Seek help if you are really struggling to get your debt under control. Nonprofit organizations can help you accomplish this.

Opening a Credit Card With SoFi

Now that you know some facts about credit card debt and ways to pay it off, you may be looking for a new card that better suits your financial and personal goals. Shopping around to compare features, such as interest rates and rewards, can be a wise move.

FAQ

What are the main causes of credit card debt?

Credit card debt can crop up in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s because expenses get pricier, whether due to lifestyle creep or inflation. Other times, it’s not being mindful about daily spending and making impulse buys. Given how many Americans have more credit card debt than money saved, it’s a common but challenging issue.

How much does the average person have in credit card debt?

Credit card debt facts reveal different angles on this number. The average American household has $7,951 in credit card debt. Some studies put the individual figure at $5,573.

How serious is credit card debt?

Credit card debt can be very serious. It’s high-interest debt, and it can be difficult to pay off. It can make it hard for individuals to save for their future and can negatively impact their debt to income ratio, which can be an issue when applying for loans.


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