The total credit card debt in the U.S. hit $800 billion in 2021. $800 billion… as in, $800,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros!
When you break everything down, the average U.S. consumer has about $90,460 in total household debt. (This includes all types of revolving debt and consumer credit, including credit cards, mortgage debt, student loan debt, auto loan debt, medical debt, and more).
U.S. credit card debt averages about $5,525 per person. But how does this number shift based on age, geographic location, income, and race? Let’s take a look at that…
Average credit card debt in America: key findings
Here are some quick credit card debt statistics:
- Average credit card debt in the U.S.: $5,525
- Average number of credit cards per person: 3
- Average credit score: 695
- Average credit card debt by generation: Gen Z: $2,312 (the lowest of any generation) Millennials: $4,569 Gen X: $7,236 (the highest of any generation) Baby boomers: $6,230 Silent generation: $3,821
- Average credit card debt for college students: over $1,000
- State with the highest credit card balance: Alaska ($7,089)
- State with the lowest credit card balance: Wisconsin ($4,587)
- Average delinquency rate for the U.S.: 57% (an all-time low)
Average credit card debt by state
U.S. consumers in Alaska have the highest average credit card balance ($7,089), according to Experian’s 2021 State of Credit Report. Following closely behind is Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Hawaii, and Virginia (most of which are areas with a high cost of living).
Here’s how the averages break down for the five states with the highest average credit card balance:
5 states with the highest average credit card balance
Source: Experian 2021 State of Credit Report
5 states with the lowest average credit card balance
Source: Experian 2021 State of Credit Report
Average credit card debt for Millennials by state
The average Millennial has $4,569 in credit card debt, makes about $60,089 a year, and has a credit score of 687 , according to an Experian study.
The numbers vary widely from state to state, though. Millennials in Mississippi have the lowest credit card balances (a good thing), but they also have the lowest income and the lowest FICO credit score (bad things).
On the contrary, Millennials in Washington, D.C. have the second-highest credit card balance of any other state (a bad thing), but they also have the highest income and the highest credit score (both good things).
The moral of the story? A high income doesn’t always equal less debt. Factors like cost of living also come into play.
This table breaks down the average credit card debt for Millennials by state. Where do you fall on the list?
Average credit card debt by income
The higher your income, the higher your credit card balance is likely to be. But that doesn’t mean your debt-to-income ratio is higher.
For U.S. households in the lowest income percentile, their credit card debt makes up 24% of their annual take-home pay — almost one-fourth! But for those in the top percentile range, their credit card debt makes up only 3% of their total income.
Source: Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances
Average credit card debt for college students
Nearly half of college students (48%) have a credit card, according to a recent AIG Retirement Services and EVERFI survey. This number is up from 40% a year ago.
Of those, 40% have more than $1,000 in credit card debt and 14% have more than $5,000. Almost two in five don’t expect to be able to pay their balance in full this month.
Behind on bills? Here’s how to catch up.
Average credit card debt by generation
Gen Zers have the lowest credit card balance of any other generation ($2,312), but they’re also just starting to enter early adulthood. Their credit scores are lower and their credit utilization rate is higher, but this is typical for most young adults who are just starting out.
The silent generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) have the best credit overall — their average score is around 730. But, hey! They’ve been in the credit game much longer than anyone else. They’ve also managed to keep their balance low ($3,821) although not quite as low as Gen Z.
Source: Experian’s State of Credit 2021
Average credit card debt by race
Individuals who identify as white or non-Hispanic/non-Latinx have the highest credit card balance, with their average debt being $6,940. Those who identify as Black or African American have the lowest debt balance at $3,940.
Individuals in the “Other” category consist of Asian Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and other people who identify as multi-racial.
Source: Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances
Credit card debt during the pandemic
42% of adults have increased their credit card balances since the coronavirus pandemic started in March 2020, according to a recent Bankrate poll. Of those who increased their balance, 47% said it was a direct result of the pandemic.
Millennials were the most likely to say they increased their balance due to COVID. They either lost jobs or had a reduction in income that forced them to rely on credit to make ends meet.
Average credit card delinquency rates
The average 30-day credit card delinquency rate is 1.57% in the U.S. — down from 2.02% this time last year, according to the latest Federal Reserve data.
What does this mean in simple terms? It’s good news: only 1.57% of credit card holders are at least 30 days late on their payment.
This is the lowest delinquency rate on record since the Federal Reserve started tracking it in 1991 (back when it was 5.26%!). In all, this means that despite the pandemic, consumers are doing a pretty good job making on-time payments.
How to get out of credit card debt
Carrying a large credit card balance month to month can be damaging to your credit score and to your overall financial health. And with average APRs hovering around 16%, it can be really difficult to dig yourself out once that interest rate snowball gets rollin’.
If you’re looking to get out of credit card debt on your own, here are some tips for how to do it:
1. Figure out how much debt you have
First things first, sit down and add up all your credit card balances. I know, sometimes it feels easier to ignore the issue than to face it head-on. But you can’t begin to make real progress on your card debt until you know exactly how much you’re working with.
So, if you haven’t already, open up a new spreadsheet on your computer or pull out a pen and paper, log into all your credit card accounts, and write down your current balance and APR for each. It can look as simple as this:
2. Create a debt payoff plan
Now it’s time to create a game plan for how you’ll tackle this debt. There are two main methods you can use: the debt snowball method and the debt avalanche method.
It doesn’t matter which one you choose, so go with the one that resonates with you most. They both lead to you paying off debt, so don’t get hung up on this part. Any progress is good progress!
The debt snowball method is all about small wins. You start by paying off your credit card with the lowest balance first, so you can knock it out as quickly as possible. Based on the chart above, you’d start with your Chase Freedom card, which has a $950 balance. Then you’d move onto American Express, then Discover It.
You may pay a little more in interest this way, but the motivational high you get from quickly paying off that first balance is supposed to give you the spark you need to stick with it.
The debt avalanche method is all about saving the most money in interest. You start with the card that has the highest APR and throw everything you’ve got at it until it’s gone.
In this case, you’d start by paying off the Discover It card first, then you’d move onto Chase Freedom and American Express.
3. Review your debt relief options
Debt relief options are designed to help you get out of credit card debt fast. Not all of them will work for your situation, but a few of them might:
Some credit card companies lure you in with attractive 0% balance transfers that let you pause interest for up to 21 months. (One popular option is the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card.) If you qualify for one, it could be a good way to avoid interest while aggressively tackling your balance.
Debt consolidation works similarly to a balance transfer (both are meant to help you save money on interest). The difference, however, is that with debt consolidation you take out a loan, then use that money to pay down all your other debts. This effectively rolls all your debts into the new loan. Then, you just focus on paying off that one balance.
Debt consolidation is typically done by taking out a personal loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). But there are risks involved. And if you have poor credit, you may not qualify for a balance transfer or debt consolidation.
A nonprofit credit counselor takes a holistic look at your financial situation and helps you create a game plan for paying off debt. They assist with all types of things, including:
- Consolidating debts
- Negotiating interest rates with credit card companies
- Choosing a debt payoff method
- Learning how to budget
- Seeing if you qualify for any debt settlement options
Just be wary of credit counselors who aren’t legitimate or affordable. The Federal Trade Commission warns that even those advertised as “nonprofits” can charge high fees or trick you into taking on more debt. Do you research beforehand if you’re considering credit counseling!
The brutal consequences of filing for bankruptcy can last for decades. Still, it can be a last-resort option if you’re in an extreme situation where you’re in foreclosure, and lowering your interest rate or cutting expenses simply isn’t enough.
4. Practice good credit card habits
Credit cards aren’t necessarily bad — they can be a great way to build your credit score and earn rewards and points for free travel. As you focus on getting out of debt, practice developing good credit card habits that will allow you to enjoy their benefits in the future.
Some of my best tips include:
- Always pay off your credit card balance in full each month (don’t just make the minimum payment)
- Use a budget to track your spending
- Set up automatic payments so you never get hit with late fees
- Make sure you keep your credit utilization below 30% (if it’s too high, it will lower your credit score)
5. Track your credit score
You can track your credit score for free using an app like Credit Karma. You can also request a free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
There’s no need to check your credit score every day, but taking time to do it once or twice a year can help you track your progress as you pay off debt and make sure no one has fraudulently taken out accounts in your name. (If they have, report it to your credit card company immediately.)
The average credit card debt in the U.S. has ticked back up in recent months — but it isn’t affecting all generations, races, and income levels equally. Some U.S. consumers — especially younger generations and those with a lower income — end up seeing their consumer debt eat up a larger chunk of their earnings.
I hope these findings help shed light on your own situation so you can see how your credit card debt compares to others. If you want to learn more about how to use credit cards responsibly, check out this guide.
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