The Burden Of Debt

Credit Card Debt: A Worrisome Picture

Americans came into 2019 carrying more than $1 trillion in credit card debt

New study from Wallethub.com reveals changing trends in consumer attitudes toward debt. Visit here.

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.

Although we started 2019 owing more than $1 trillion in credit card debt, Americans repaid $38.2 billion in credit card debt during Q1 2019 – the fourth-largest quarterly payoff ever. Rather than a turning point in consumers’ addiction to overspending, however, the Q1 2019 paydown could actually be a sign that even more debt than expected is now in the forecast for the rest of the year. In fact, WalletHub projects a $70 billion net increase in consumer credit card debt for 2019 overall.

The personal-finance website WalletHub today released its latest Credit Card Debt Study, which found that consumers paid off $38 billion of their roughly $1 trillion in credit card debt during the first quarter of 2019. Given that this year’s first-quarter paydown was smaller than last year’s, WalletHub now projects a $70 billion net increase in credit card debt during 2019.

A Worrisome Picture

The debt picture is worrisome nationwide, but some areas have bigger payment problems than others. WalletHub compared more than 2,500 cities based on how much residents owe to credit card companies – specifically, how those balances changed in Q1.

Cities with the Biggest Debt Paydown Cities with the Smallest Debt Paydown
Ewa Beach, HIAtlantic City, NJ
Darien, CTBenton Harbor, MI
Dix Hills, NYBastrop, LA
Lake Forest, ILDunnellon, FL
Southlake, TXCamden, NJ
Westport, CTGreenville, OH
Collegeville, PAForest Park, GA
Calabasas, CASun City Center, FL
Beverly Hills, CALaguna Woods, CA
Scarsdale, NYDarlington, SC

Q&A with WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou

Why is a first-quarter paydown a bad sign for credit card debt?
“Paying off credit card debt always is preferable to the alternative, but history tells us the size of the paydown matters. It’s normal for credit card debt to decrease during the first quarter of the year as consumers receive annual salary bonuses and tax refunds as well as commit to financial New Year’s resolutions. But a relatively big or small first-quarter paydown can be an important indicator for consumer performance throughout the rest of the year.”

“In 2018, we began the year by paying off almost $41 billion in credit card debt during the first quarter, and we ended the year owing $67 billion more than we did to start. The fact that we didn’t pay down as much debt during Q1 this year may be a sign that consumers aren’t quite as healthy as some other metrics may indicate.”

How long can consumers keep racking up credit card debt?
“If the average household’s credit card balance tops $10,000, that would be a breaking point. At that point, defaults would rise sharply from the historical lows they’ve hovered near for years now. Access to credit would tighten as a result, and consumer spending would slow, causing further economic damage. Unfortunately, we’re not far from the $10,000 level right now. The average household currently owes roughly $8,390.”

a relatively big or small first-quarter paydown can be an important indicator for consumer performance throughout the rest of the year...

What’s the best way to pay off credit card debt?
The best way to pay off credit card debt is as quickly as possible, starting with the balance that has the highest APR. Credit card interest rates are extremely high compared to most other loans because they are unsecured. Even the average credit card APR is north of 19%, according to WalletHub’s latest Credit Card Landscape Report. Carrying a large balance from month to month with interest accruing at a rate that high would be quite costly. As a result, it’s best to make a budget that devotes as much as possible to monthly debt payments and removes luxuries you can live without. People with good credit or better may also be able to qualify for a 0% APR balance transfer credit card or a debt consolidation loan with a low APR. When used responsibly, such offers can save you a lot of money and time.”