U.S. consumers owe a total of $905 billion on their credit cards, according to recent analysis by personal finance website NerdWallet. This translates to $7,136 per household, a 2.8% increase over a year ago. However, not all households have credit card debt, so this doesn't tell the full story. On average, households that carry credit card debt owe more than twice this amount.

Here's a breakdown of the numbers, credit card debt trends in the United States, and what you can do to get your debt under control.

Laughing young couple looking at a laptop with a credit card in hand.

Image source: Getty Images.

The average American household's credit card debt

As I mentioned, the average U.S. household has $7,136 in credit card debt, according to NerdWallet's analysis of third-quarter 2017 Federal Reserve data. However, less than half of U.S. households carry any credit card debt at all, and this distorts the average.

If you only consider households that have credit card debt, the average jumps to a much more alarming $15,624.02.

Surprisingly, this is less than the average among debt-carrying households was a year ago, and it's actually the lowest the figure has been in the past five years.

Year

Average Credit Card Debt Per Household

% Change From Previous

Average CC Debt Among Balance-Carrying Households

% Change From Previous

2013

$6,225

---

$16,319

---

2014

$6,360

2.2%

$15,876

(2.7%)

2015

$6,588

3.6%

$15,692

(1.2%)

2016

$6,941

5.4%

$15,810

0.8%

2017

$7,136

2.8%

$15,654

(1%)

Data source: NerdWallet analysis using Federal Reserve Bank of New York data. Figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.

Here's a key takeaway: Notice that while the average among debt-carrying households fell, the overall average credit card debt increased by a substantial amount -- and has done so for the past four years. This indicates that a greater percentage of households are carrying debt. Using the information in the chart above, here's the percentage of U.S. households that carry a credit card balance each year.

Year

% of U.S. Households With Credit Card Debt

2013

38.1%

2014

40%

2015

42%

2016

43.9%

2017

45.6%

Data source: Author's own calculations using WalletHub data.

This trend is likely due to a combination of factors related to the much-improved U.S. economy. Unemployment is low, and consumer confidence is quite high; the combination here tends to make people more comfortable spending money and taking on debt. In addition, in the years since the financial crisis, credit has gotten easier to come by, and competition among credit card issuers is higher than ever. As a result, there are increasingly enticing 0% intro APR offers and attractive sign-up bonuses that are helping to persuade Americans to obtain and use credit cards.

Why this is a problem

Generally speaking, higher consumer confidence is a good thing. However, credit card debt is not. The problem is that people end up putting a significant amount of their hard-earned money toward interest instead of spending it in a more constructive manner.

In fact, WalletHub found that the average household with credit card debt pays $904 in annual interest on their credit cards. This is money that could otherwise be saved for a down payment on a home, for retirement, or for a number of other more constructive purposes.

How to get your credit card debt under control

The bottom line is that if you have any high-interest credit card debt -- especially if you have a five-figure tab like the average balance-carrying household -- it's a smart idea to make it a priority to pay it off as quickly as possible.

One strategy is to transfer your debt to another credit card with a 0% introductory APR offer. I mentioned earlier that competition has never been higher among credit card issuers, and this has produced some pretty impressive offers, such as 0% interest on balance transfers for as long as 21 months, and some that don't charge a balance transfer fee. You can check out our up-to-date list of the top balance transfer cards if you're interested in this option.

If you're not interested in opening any more credit cards, there are some simple but effective strategies you can use. For example, if you have more than one credit card, pay the cards with the highest interest rates first in order to ensure your payments are having the biggest possible impact.

The bottom line is that credit cards aren't an inherently bad thing -- in fact, when used properly, they can be a valuable financial tool. However, excessive credit card debt can be a major personal finance disaster, so it's important to keep yours under control.

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