- Credit card debt is on the rise after falling steeply during the pandemic.
- Average balances can vary depending on your age and where you live.
- Delinquency rates were at a 30-year low in 2021 but are increasing again.
Credit cards make paying for things more convenient and secure, and many even offer rewards and other incentives to encourage you to spend. But if you're not careful, you can easily fall behind on payments and rack up a large balance.
As a whole, Americans have $840 billion in credit card debt, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for the first quarter of 2022. That's a 10.8% increase from the same period last year, but it's still lower than the $926 billion peak at the end of 2019.[1,2]
"It was a concern before the pandemic, and now it’s a concern afterward. Personal debt is on an unsustainable incline," says Howard Dvorkin, chairman of Debt.com. "It can’t keep going up forever. If it took a pandemic to lower personal debt, and that was only temporary, then nothing will seriously interrupt the path we’re on."
Here's what you need to know about the average credit card debt and what you can do to tackle yours.
Inside this article
What is the average credit card debt?
Based on data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Census Bureau, each American household carries an average of $6,865 in credit card debt.[1,3]
At the end of 2019, right before the coronavirus pandemic began, that average reached $7,568. Then it plunged to $6,293 in the first quarter of 2021. Here's a look at how the country’s average credit card debt has changed over the last 10 years based on first-quarter data.[4-12]
|Year||Total credit card debt|
Average credit card debt by generation, state
Averages can be tricky without context, and the average credit card debt is no exception. Your age and where you live can have a significant impact on how much debt you have and how much of your available credit you're using.
Debt by generation
According to a 2021 report by credit bureau Experian, Gen Xers carry the most credit card debt, followed by Baby Boomers and Millennials. Here's the breakdown:
|Generation||Average credit card debt|
Credit utilization rate by generation
While Gen X carries the most overall debt, the two youngest generations tend to carry the most debt relative to their cards' credit limits. This may be attributed to lower incomes and shorter credit histories, which can influence how card issuers set those limits.
On average, Americans have a credit utilization rate—the percentage of your available credit that you're using at a given time—of 25.2%. Here's how each generation is doing:
|Generation||Average credit utilization rate|
There's no hard-and-fast rule for what your credit utilization rate should be. Although some experts may recommend keeping it under 30%, technically the best utilization rate is 1%.
States with the most, least credit card debt
According to Experian's report, Alaskans have the most credit card debt while Wisconsinites have the least. Where you live doesn't necessarily guarantee a certain level of debt, but states with a higher cost of living can result in more spending and vice versa.
Here are the five states with the highest average credit card balances, followed by the five states with the lowest:
States with the highest average credit card debt
States with the lowest average credit card debt
How many Americans carry a balance?
When we talk about the average credit card debt, it's important to note that not all households are currently paying interest on their balances.
According to the American Bankers Association, only 40.1% of credit card holders actually carry a balance from month to month. Meanwhile, 36.3% of credit card holders pay their balances in full every month, and 23.8% of credit card accounts are dormant or not being used.
This Couple Paid Off $224K in Debt in Under 3 Years
This Couple Paid Off $224K in Debt in Under 3 Years
Faith and Leo Jean-Louis, founders of the site Freedom is a Choice MVT, figured out a system to pay off massive debt fast. Here’s how they did it, and what they learned from the process.Find out more
Credit card balances are reported once a month around your statement date. Credit card issuers aren't required to give you an interest-free grace period, but most do. If you can pay the balance in full by the due date—the minimum grace period is 21 days—you won't owe interest on your purchases.
However, if you don't pay off your balance, you'll lose your grace period until you pay in full.
How many Americans are delinquent on their credit card payments?
Credit cards offer enhanced security and protection over debit cards and cash, and many offer sign-up bonuses, everyday rewards and other benefits to incentivize consumers to use them more often.
If you can manage to use your card regularly and pay off the balance in full every month, that's not a bad arrangement.
But many Americans use credit cards to cover basic necessities and can't afford to pay their balance in full every month. In extreme cases, many cardholders can't afford even the minimum payments on their accounts.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, here's how the credit card delinquency rate, meaning the percentage of credit card accounts that are past due by 30 days or more, has fluctuated over the last few years:[17,18]
"My theory is that many responsible Americans used their stimulus checks to pay down debt, while others simply had less to spend on since they were sheltering at home," says Dvorkin. "That allowed them to use the money they couldn’t spend on paying down debt."
Meet the Expert
Dvorkin is a longtime consumer advocate and the chairman of Debt.com. He’s a former president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Dvorkin has also written two books about how consumers can improve their financial situations.
Missing a payment on your credit card by 30 days or more can damage your credit score significantly. The longer it remains unpaid, the more damage it can do, so it's crucial that you contact your credit card issuer for forbearance options and pursue other avenues to get caught up.
How to tackle your credit card debt
If you're struggling with credit card debt, here are some actionable strategies you can use to start paying down your balances:
Stop using your cards: Paying off your credit cards while you're still using them is essentially taking two steps forward and one step back with each passing month. Consider cutting up your credit cards if you're tempted to use them—you can always order new ones once you're ready to use them again. In the meantime, consider the cash-only, envelope method.
Use the debt avalanche or snowball method: With the debt avalanche method, you'll make the minimum payment on all of your cards, with an extra monthly payment toward the card with the highest interest rate. Once you've paid off that card, you'll take the total amount you were putting toward it and add that to the minimum payment on the card with the next-highest interest rate. You'll keep doing this until you've paid off all of your cards. The debt snowball method uses the same approach but focuses on the accounts with the lowest balances first.
Use a balance transfer credit card or consolidation loan: If you have good credit, you may be able to qualify for a 0% balance transfer offer or a consolidation loan with a low interest rate. Both of these debt consolidation options can help you pay down your balance with less interest or no interest at all. Just make sure you consider the affordability of your new repayment plan, plus potential fees.
Consider a debt management plan: If your credit card debt is unmanageable and your credit score isn't in great shape, consider consulting with a credit counselor. They may be able to get you on a debt management plan, which can result in lower monthly payments and interest rates. You'll make your monthly payment to the agency, which will distribute the money to your creditors. You will be required to cancel your accounts with this option, and there are modest upfront and monthly fees. But it can be a better alternative to trying to settle the debt or filing bankruptcy.
As you research different ways to pay off credit card debt, focus on the options that work best for your financial situation and goals.