Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Credit card balances are at all-time highs, and absent any other relief, the recent rate cuts by the Federal Reserve will do little to slow down growth in total balances that borrowers carry month to month. And while it’s still too early to know for certain, the cash crunch many households are experiencing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic may mean even greater average monthly balance increases than in recent years.
We’ve updated our statistics on credit card debt in America to illustrate how much consumers are now taking on.
- Americans paid banks $121 billion in credit card interest in 2019. That’s up 7% from $113 billion in interest paid in 2018, and up 56% since 2014.
- In February 2020, the average APR on credit card accounts assessed interest was 16.61%. Although the Federal Reserve has cut the key Federal Funds rate by two percentage points since mid-2019, the more recent cuts aren’t yet reflected in lower interest assessed to balances carried from month to month.
- Total revolving credit balances are $1.05 trillion, as of February 2020. The vast amount of this balance is from spending on credit cards from banks and retailers, while $83 billion comes from revolving balances, such as overdraft lines of credit.
- Americans carry $687 billion in credit card debt that isn’t paid in full each month. This estimate includes people paying interest, as well as those carrying a balance on a card with a 0% intro rate.
- 43.2% of credit card accounts aren’t paid in full each month. Those who don’t pay in full tend to have higher balances, which is why the percentage of balances not paid in full (71%) is higher than the percentage of accounts not paid in full (43.2%).
- The average credit card balance in 2019 was $6,194 for individuals with a credit card. That’s an increase from $6,040 in 2018.
Credit card use
- Number of Americans who actively use credit cards: 184 million as of 2019, according to TransUnion.
- Number of Americans who carry credit card debt month to month: 77 million.
- We estimate 42% of active card users carry debt month to month, based on the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances.
Credit card debt
- Total credit card debt in the U.S. (not paid in full each month): $687 billion
- Average APR: 16.61% (also excludes those with a 0% promotional rate for a balance transfer or purchases). This estimate comes from the Federal Reserve’s monthly reporting of APRs on accounts assessed interest by banks.
The above estimates only include the credit card balances of those who carry credit card debt from month to month — they exclude balances of those who pay in full each month.
Credit card balances
- Total credit card balances: $1.05 trillion as of February 2020, an increase of 3.3% from February 2019. This includes credit and retail cards, and a small amount of overdraft line of credit balances.
- Average number of credit cards per consumer: 3.1, according to Experian. This doesn’t include an average of 2.5 retail credit cards.
- Average credit card balance: $6,194. The average consumer has $1,155 in balances on retail cards.
The above figures include the credit card statement balances of all credit card users, including those who pay their bill in full each month.
Who pays off their credit card bills?
In 2019, fewer accounts were paid in full than accounts with a balance carried from month to month. According to the American Bankers Association:
- Revolvers (carry debt month to month): 43.2% of credit card accounts
- Transactors (use card, but pay in full): 31.1% of credit card accounts
- Dormant (have a card, but don’t use it actively): 25.6% of credit card accounts
Delinquency rates peaked in 2009 at nearly 7%, but in 2019 delinquency rates were 2.6%, historically well below the long-term average.
Credit card debt becomes delinquent when a bank reports a missed payment to the major credit reporting bureaus. Banks typically don’t report a missed payment until a person is at least 30 days late in paying. When a consumer doesn’t pay for at least 90 days, the credit card balance becomes seriously delinquent. Banks are very likely to take a total loss on seriously delinquent balances.
Debt burden by income
Those with the highest credit card debts aren’t necessarily the most financially insecure. According to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances (the most recent data available), the top 10% of income earners who carried credit card debt had nearly twice as much debt than the average borrower.
However, people with lower incomes have more burdensome credit card debt loads. Consumers in the lowest earning quintile had an average credit card debt of $2,100. However, their debt-to-income ratio was 13.9%. On the high end, earners in the top decile had an average of $12,500 in credit card debt, though their debt-to-income ratio was just 4.8%.
A look at American incomes and credit card debt
|Income percentile||Median income||Average credit card debt||Credit card debt-to-income ratio|
Source: 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances data
Although high-income earners have more manageable credit card debt loads on average, they aren’t taking steps to pay off the debt faster than lower-income debt carriers. If an economic recession leads to job losses at all wage levels, we could see high levels of credit card debt in default.
Generational differences in credit card use
In Q2 2019, Generation X cardholders had the highest credit card balances. The average cardholder from this generation had a balance of $8,215, according to Experian. Baby boomers held an average balance of $6,949, comparatively.
At the other end of the spectrum, millennials — who are often characterized as frivolous spenders — held significantly lower credit card balances, at $4,889. They also carry fewer (3.2) of credit cards in their wallets. Generation X carry 4.3 credit cards and baby boomers have 4.8 credit cards, on average.
How does your state compare?
Using data from Experian, as well as data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax, you can compare average credit card balances by state.
Differences in credit card debt by generation
In 2019, Generation X had more credit card debt, on average, than baby boomers, as those in their mid-40s typically have the largest amount of expenses relative to both younger and older consumers.
In February 2020, MagnifyMoney collected and analyzed credit card data from government and industry sources, including the American Bankers Association, Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, to determine average credit card balances, interest rates, usage and delinquency rates.