Credit Card Debt Study: Trends & Insights
Credit card debt statistics speak to the financial health of American households. They can also foreshadow over-borrowing bubbles, changes to lending standards, and other trends with the potential to impact our wallets.
Americans began 2019 owing more than $1 trillion in credit card debt. Although the forecast initially appeared brighter, thanks to consumers repaying $38.2 billion in credit card debt during Q1 2019, poor second-quarter results nearly erased that effort. U.S. consumers added $35.5 billion in new credit card debt during the second quarter of 2019 – the largest second-quarter build-up ever. And in the third quarter, total debt went up by another $21.5 billion. As a result, WalletHub now projects a $80 billion net increase in consumer credit card debt for 2019 overall.
Below, you can learn more about the current credit card debt landscape, including which cities owe the most and how that has changed, according to the latest data available from TransUnion and the Federal Reserve.
Outstanding credit card debt is at the second highest point since the end of 2008, after reaching an all-time high in Q4 2018.
We ended 2018 with $66.5 billion in new credit card debt, and WalletHub projects a $80 billion increase in 2019.
The $21.5 billion in credit card debt added during Q3 2019 is 22% lower than the Q3 2018 increase.
Since the end of the Great Recession, consumer performance has regressed on a year-over-year basis in 6 of every 10 quarters.
At 3.49% for Q3 2019, the charge-off rate is rising year over year.
Average Credit Card Debt per Household
|Stat||Q3 2019||Q3 2018||Change|
|Average Credit Card Debt per Household||$8,701||$8,365||4%|
|Total Credit Card Debt||$1,023B||$984B||4%|
|Quarter Net Increase||$21.5B||$27.6B||-22%|
The average household’s credit card balance, at $8,701, is $1,590 below WalletHub’s projected breaking point.
Cities with the Least Sustainable Credit Card Debt
Nationwide, consumers added $21.5 billion in credit card debt during Q3 2019, pushing total balances to record levels for this time of year. Clearly, this is a ticking time bomb for the country’s economy overall. It’s also a sign of severe financial distress at the local level, multiplied across cities and towns coast to coast.
We’re not equally burdened by this credit card debt crisis. Below, you can see which cities have the most and least work ahead of them.
|Cities with the Least-Sustainable Credit Card Debt||Cities with the Most-Sustainable Credit Card Debt|
|Jacksonville, NC||Cupertino, CA|
|Magnolia, TX||Sunnyvale, CA|
|Park City, UT||Mountain View, CA|
|Lake Placid, FL||Scarsdale, NY|
|Buford, GA||Foster City, CA|
|Cumming, GA||Los Altos, CA|
|Ewa Beach, HI||Saratoga, CA|
|Canton, GA||Fremont, CA|
|Ooltewah, TN||Santa Clara, CA|
|Dahlonega, GA||Palo Alto, CA|
|Green Cove Springs, FL||Iselin, NJ|
|Freehold, NJ||Milpitas, CA|
|Palmer, AK||Dublin, CA|
|Crosby, TX||Bronxville, NY|
|Livingston, TX||Lexington, MA|
|Richmond, TX||Redmond, WA|
|Lemoore, CA||Princeton, NJ|
|Wasilla, AK||Quincy, MA|
|Willis, TX||Burlington, MA|
|Hilton Head Island, SC||Falls Church, VA|
For the full list, please see our credit card debt payoff report.
- Make a Budget & Stick to It: It’s difficult to spend within reason or plan savings if you don’t know how your monthly spending compares to your take-home pay, or where that money is going. That is why you should rank-order your expenses – including debt payments, emergency fund contributions and other savings – and trim the fat, if necessary.Most importantly, once you develop your budget, make sure to stick to it or else you’ll have simply wasted your time.
- Build an Emergency Fund: With a safety net of cash to fall back on, you won’t be as likely to fall behind on your bills in the event of emergency expenses or unplanned joblessness. Your goal should be to gradually save about a year’s worth of after-tax income. In other words, set aside a little bit every month until you’ve got a nice cushion.
- Improve Your Credit: This might sound a bit counterintuitive, seeing as more credit could mean more debt. But improving your credit standing will have a dramatic impact on the cost of your debt. And reducing the cost of your debt will allow you to pay it off faster. Better credit can also make it easier to find a job or a place to live, both of which impact your bottom line.You can check your latest credit score for free and get personalized credit-improvement tips on WalletHub.
- Try the Island Approach: The Island Approach is a strategy that involves using a collection of credit cards, with each serving a specific purpose. For example, you could transfer your existing debt to a 0% balance transfer credit card to save on finance charges and get out of debt sooner. And you could use a rewards card or two – perhaps one with travel rewards and one with cash back, or maybe a store credit card – for purchases that you’ll be able to pay off by the end of the month.This will enable you to get the best possible collection of terms. It will also tell you when you’re overspending. Finance charges on your everyday spending cards will signal a need to cut back.
- Repay Your Most Expensive Debt First: Most people with serious credit card debt have multiple balances. If that’s the case for you, try the “avalanche method.” That means putting the majority of your monthly debt payment toward the balance with the highest interest rate and making the minimum payment required on the rest. Once your most expensive debt is paid off, repeat the process until you’re debt-free.
- Evaluate Your Job Situation: In some cases, all the budgeting and planning in the world won’t be enough to solve your debt problems. You may need to explore whether higher-paying opportunities exist for people with your background or consider acquiring some new skills to make yourself more marketable.This may require a bit of an investment in yourself, but as long as you get a worthwhile return, it’s money well spent.
WalletHub’s quarterly credit card debt studies are based on analysis of the latest data on consumers’ finances available from TransUnion as well as the Federal Reserve. Quarterly changes in credit card debt levels include both the total amount outstanding and charged-off debt that is no longer on credit card companies’ books but consumers continue to owe.
WalletHub has been tracking credit card debt levels on a quarterly basis since 2010.
Net Result of Consumer Credit Card Debt Q1 2008 – Q3 2019
|Net Result in Debt Load||Relative to Same Period
|Relative to Same Period Two Years Ago|
Net Result in Debt Load – Green indicates that consumers decreased their debt relative to the previous quarter. Red indicates they increased their debt relative to the previous quarter.
Relative to Same Period – Green indicates that consumers either paid down more debt or accumulated less debt than they did in the previous two years. Red indicates that they either paid down less debt or accumulated more debt than they did in the same quarter in the previous two years.
Consumer Credit Card Debt and Charge-off Data (in Billions) Q1 1986 – Q3 2019:
*Numbers may differ from year to year due to the fact that the Federal Reserve regularly retroactively updating figures. Questions or requests for information can be directed to our media department.
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