Credit card debt is high and getting higher, as Americans are growing more lax about accumulating credit card debt.
According to data from CreditDonkey.com, the average individual credit card debt stands at $5,331 in 2019. Additionally, on a monthly basis, most Americans don't pay their credit card balance in full every month - 55% don't regularly pay in full.
What Is the Average Credit Card Debt in the U.S?
Here's a closer look at how credit card debt stacks up demographically (specifically in age and income) across the U.S. (data from Value Penguin's Average Credit Card Debt in America: February 2019).
Average Credit Card Debt by Age
First up is the average credit card debt by age. Notice how plastic-related debt starts out low and moves up, and tops out, and 45 to 54 years. Those are peak earning years for credit card consumers, and they can better afford the higher level of debt.
Credit card debt then slows down as Americans shift into retirement mode, with average debt declining from $9,096 at ages 45 to 54 to $5,638 at age 75 and over. At that point, retired Americans are living in fixed income mode, and spend significantly less using their credit cards.
Average Credit Card Debt by Income
As you'll notice, credit card debt has everything to do with income - the more money you have, the higher your credit card debt.
This is hardly a surprise, but what does raise an eyebrow is the ratio of credit card debt to income at the lower annual income levels. It's tougher to live within a household budget when you only earn $24,999 per year but hold $3,000 in credit card date at the same time.
Americans at higher income levels have much better credit card debt-to-income ratios, suggesting that while wealthier Americans pay more in credit card debt, they're doing a better job of keeping credit card spending in manageable form compared to Americans in the lower annual income categories.
What to Know About Credit Card Debt
Here are some more facts on the amount of credit card debt from U.S. cardholders, from the Credit Donkey report:
- 83% of U.S. adults own at least one piece of plastic.
- On average, U.S. consumers own three credit cards.
- Total revolving debt stands at $1.04 trillion - that's up from $857 billion in 2013.
- The average interest Americans pay on their cards stands at 16.46%.
- Demographically, it's Americans roughly from 35-to-65 who have amassed the most credit card debt. Generation X and baby boomers have accumulated $7,750 and $7,550 per person in credit card debt, according to data from Experian (EXPGY)
If Americans could pay their full credit card balance every month, that would alleviate the biggest risk with credit cards - spending more than one can afford on a monthly basis.
But that's not the case and it's not even close.
- 45% always pay their card balance in full each month.
- 27% carry a balance most of the time.
- 21% carry a balance some of the time.
- 6% carried a balance just once in the past year.
Clearly, the majority of Americans are playing with fire with credit card overspending. As the Federal Reserve report shows, cardholders have a lot of work to do to get their credit card spending in decent shape.
Revolving Debt and Credit Cards
Revolving debt is open-ended - cardholders spend different amounts of debt each month, and pay at least the minimum amount of debt owed, as calculated each month by the owner's credit card company. With credit cards, consumers can borrow as much as the credit card limit allows (which can and does change over time), and as long as they are diligent in paying their credit card bills every month.
Cardholders should know roughly what they owe each month on their credit card bill. After all, they're the ones who spent the money using the card and card balances are widely available on the cardholder's online and mobile account.
Yet the fact remains that with the revolving debt model, credit card consumers can quickly and easily get into trouble by overspending on credit card debt - as they technically can spend right up to their credit card limit. That differs with fixed-payment debt models like mortgages, student loans and auto loans, where the loan is fixed and every monthly payment is pre-set.
In short, there can be surprises with the monthly credit card bill, and it's up to the cardholder to be aware of them.
How to Lower Your Credit Card Debt
The good news is there are proven, tried-and-true ways for Americans struggling with excessive credit card debt to cut, or possibly eliminate, their plastic debt levels.
The key in deploying these strategies is having the discipline to use them, and that's not always easy, given how busy Americans are and how easy it is to be distracted by other financial needs and obligations.
Whether it's paying for student loans or dealing with a family illness, among other issues, catching up on credit card debt may not be a priority for Americans, but it should be.
The upside is that most Americans realize the damage high credit card debt can cause their household budget and how it can take a wrecking ball to a credit score. According to a new study by Value Penguin, 85% of American adults are actively trying to decrease their debt, although 74% are carrying a balance on their credit cards.
Use these strategies to cut credit card debt, and see what a difference a clean credit card balance sheet means to your financial life.
1. Start Making More Than the Minimum Monthly Payment
Let's face it, if you can't maintain a clean credit card account each month then you're staring at big trouble. At 16% interest for the average card, card companies come out way behind when consumers pay the bare minimum on their monthly card account.
At a 16% interest rate, those new shoes you purchased for $75 three months ago can wind up costing $350 months later, if you don't pay your credit card bill in full. But if you double your regular payment every month, you'll gain some serious ground on your credit card debt, and pay it off much faster.
2. Pay Close Attention to Your Card Contract's Fine Print
Conduct some much-needed due diligence and read your credit card contract closely - focus especially on the annual percentage rate (APR) and how it is calculated by your provider.
Your card's interest rate makes a huge difference in how much you pay each month, and if your contract shows you're getting a raw deal, start shopping for a better card and stop using the card you have immediately.
If you feel you're not up to diving into a card contract, have a financial adviser or credit specialist do it for you. They probably won't charge you much, if at all, but a modest fee is worth it when you can save hundreds - or even thousands - by saving money on credit card rates.
3. Check for Hidden Card Fees
Be aware of any fees associated with your card (particularly what triggers them) as many fees are hidden in the fine print, but can really add up on your credit card bill.
Look closely at certain, high-volume fees and do everything in your power to avoid them. For instance, late payment fees can climb as high as $35 (plus, card providers can immediately boost your card interest rate) when you're tardy paying your bill.) Annual fees, cash balance fees, foreign transaction fees, and cash advance fees also deserve closer scrutiny.
4. Pay Your Credit Card Bill Promptly
Paying your credit card bill takes care of two big personal financial issues - it keeps your card provider from charging you a late fee and keeps them from automatically triggering an interest rate boost based on late payments.
Also, late credit card payment fees create a significant decline in your credit score. That's because FICO - the agency that formulates your credit score - bases 35% of its total credit score calculation on on-time bill payments.
5. Don't Max Out Your Credit Card
If you max out your card (meaning you have exceeded or hit the ceiling on your credit card account limit), your provider will charge you over-limit fees and you'll also be hurting your credit score. Credit score companies plainly state that consumers should only use up 30% of their maximum credit allowed. Using any more than that amount will lead to a major hit on your credit score.
Additionally, when you max out on your card, it means you're spending too much money with your card, which leads to more debt and more interest payments. Think of credit card usage this way - use your card sparingly and pay cash or debit as often as possible. That will keep your total credit card experience in good financial balance.
6. Leverage a Good Balance Transfer Credit Card
A balance transfer card, used wisely, can help you curb credit card debt. Here's how this works - cardholders take their card with the highest rate and fees, and transfer that card balance to a credit card provider that doesn't charge a transfer fee and that offers a much lower interest.
Then, focus on paying off the old credit card debt that's now on the new card, but at a lower rate. You can use the savings from the lower interest rate and pay the same amount you would on the old credit card, and pay your card debt down that much faster.
You'll likely find that once you're up and running on your new credit card repayment campaign, you'll notice good progress in cutting down your card debt.
Use that good news to motivate you and accelerate your pay down program going forward. The more you pay, the faster you'll pay down your card debt - and that's an experience you can feed off of to keep you going - even when times get tough.
It's never too late - or too early - to plan and invest for the retirement you deserve. Get more information and a free trial subscription toTheStreet's Retirement Dailyto learn more about saving for and living in retirement. Got questions about money, retirement and/or investments? We've got answers.