Published in: Research | Oct. 4, 2019
Credit Card Debt Statistics for 2019
Everyone wants to know the hard facts about credit cards.
What's the average credit card debt per person? What's the total credit card debt in the U.S.? How do debt figures break down by age? Are millennials borrowing as much as we think they are?
We looked at the best and most recent data from government and institutional sources -- including the Federal Reserve, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Experian -- to answer your most pressing questions on credit card debt. Below is a summary of our findings.
Summary of key findings
- Total U.S. credit card debt was $868 billion in Q2 2019, a 4.7% increase from the same time last year.
- The average credit card limit increased 11.5% from $20,265 in 2018 to $22,589 by the end of Q1 2019.
- Between Q1 2018 and Q1 2019, the average credit card debt per cardholder decreased 0.2% to $6,028.
- The number of new cards issued went down by 3.7% between June 2017 and June 2018, with an average of 5.54 million new credit cards originated per month in 2018.
- The percentage of Americans with a credit card rose once again in the first quarter of 2019 to 60.5%.
- In Q1 2019, Americans had an average of four credit cards per person.
- When determining whether to pay with cash, debit, or credit, the dollar amount of the purchase is the most important factor.
- The most popular type of card is a no-annual-fee card, followed by a secured card and a rewards credit card.
- Rewards are an effective motivation for using credit cards: 40% of individuals said they influence the decision to use a card.
- Only 5% of individuals use no debit or credit card.
- While credit card debt increased by 6.6% in 2018, credit card originations decreased by 1.1% to 66.4 million originations in 2018, indicating individuals are taking on more debt per card.
- The overall credit card debt of the United States increased for its sixth straight year. This is an all-time high, and is greater than the pre-financial-crisis peak.
Credit card debt by state
The average credit card debt by state varies.
Alaska leads the nation with the highest average credit card debt at $7,726 in Q1 2019, followed by New Jersey at $6,881, Connecticut at $6,876, District of Columbia at $6,782, and Virginia at $6,773. Iowa and Wisconsin were the least indebted states, with $4,622 and $4,810 average credit card debt respectively.
From Q1 2018 to Q1 2019, Hawaii saw the highest increase in average credit card debt at 3.4%, and Arkansas and Wisconsin were tied for the lowest average credit card debt increase at 0.3%, according to Experian's State of Credit Cards.
Credit card originations and delinquency by state
In addition to credit card balance debt, credit card originations and delinquency also contribute to a state's "credit health."
Data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that Minnesota (33%), Rhode Island (31%), and Wyoming (28%) saw the highest increases in credit card originations. The states that saw the biggest decreases in credit card originations were Utah (-33%), Tennessee (-32%), and Vermont (-27%).
Arizona had the highest delinquency rate at 2.32%, while Washington saw the lowest at 1.01%, according to one of Experian's 2018 State of Credit Cards reports (accessible via Wayback Machine). There appears to be no correlation between delinquency rates and changes in credit card originations -- higher delinquency rates don’t appear to be influencing credit card companies' lending standards.
Individual credit card characteristics
When it comes to individual purchasing behavior, consumers are increasingly using credit, with roughly 60% of the nation using a credit card. That's an increase of about 11% from 2015 and 3% from 2017, according to Experian.
The Cash Product Office of the Federal Reserve System’s most recent report on consumer payment also shows increasing use of credit cards for purchases, accounting for 21% of all purchases in 2017, compared to 18% in each of the previous two years.
Average credit card debt per cardholder in the first quarter of 2019 was $6,028, according to Experian. In the 2018 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey by the National Foundation of Credit Counseling, almost two-thirds of the households that reported carrying a balance carried less than $2,500, while less than one-fifth carried a balance of more than $10,000. It appears that cardholders who maintain high balances skew the average.
Credit card debt by age
Total credit card debt increases over time until the 50–59 age group and decreases steadily in the latter half of consumers' lives, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
As you might expect, younger Americans tend to have high levels of student loan debt, while their credit card balances tend to be rather modest when compared to older generations. Credit card and auto loan debt are both highest among 40- and 50-somethings, which certainly makes sense, considering that these are the peak spending years for most people.
The average credit card balance hits a peak of $7,100 for households aged 45–54 and declines steadily after that, according to the Federal Reserve Board's 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances. The fact that seniors' credit card debt accounts for a relatively large portion of their total debt is explained by a reduction in other kinds of debt, such as mortgages and auto loans.
Credit card statistics by education and occupational status
Looking at credit card debt by household education level, we find that the percentage of families holding credit card debt generally increases with education, though it drops off among Americans who have a college degree.
When looking at the average amount of credit card debt per household by education level, the trend changes a bit. Federal Reserve Board data shows that households where the head has no high school diploma carry $3,800 in debt on average, and those with a college degree carry more than twice as much at $8,200.
When examining debt by occupational status, we find that those "working for someone else" were most likely to carry credit card debt at 50.4%, compared to 46.1% of those who were self-employed and 32.7% for retirees.
However, self-employed people had the highest average credit card balance at $8,000, compared to $5,700 for those working for someone else and $4,600 for retirees. The high credit card balance for self-employed individuals could be due to an overlap of business and personal expenses on the same credit card.
Credit card statistics by race
When it comes to credit card usage by race, non-Hispanic whites are at the bottom of the range, with 42.1% of families carrying a balance, shows Federal Reserve Board data. Hispanic and Latino families are at the top of the range at 49.6%. In the middle are African American families at 47.8% and "other" or "multiple-race" Americans at 44.1%.
Despite having the lowest credit card usage rate, white, non-Hispanic families had the highest average credit card debt at $6,500, followed by other/multiple-race families at $5,700 and African American and Hispanic/Latino families at $3,800.
Attitudes on credit
Cost is the most significant factor affecting how and when to use a credit card: The amount of a purchase is the no. 1 factor in determining whether to use cash, debit, or credit, according to the 2018 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey.
This focus on cost extends to choosing which credit cards to apply for. The most viewed type of credit card on Experian's CreditMatch service is the "no annual fee" type. Despite their popularity on blogs, travel credit cards constituted only 1.9% of cards viewed.
When it came to credit scores, 51% of respondents to the 2018 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey said they were "somewhat knowledgeable" about how scores are determined, 26% said they were "very knowledgeable," and only 7% reported being "not at all knowledgeable."
The negative side of credit cards -- interest and repayment -- doesn't concern too many Americans. The 2019 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey found that only 4% of people said not being able to pay credit card debt was their largest financial concern. A mere 23% said credit card interest rates factored into their decision on how they wanted to pay in 2018.
This may be to the advantage of card companies, as 38% of Americans didn't do anything in the last year to try to lower their interest rate and 14% said they didn't know how to lower their interest rates even if they wanted to.
A window into America’s debt habits
Looking at credit card statistics like these gives us unique insight into some of the behaviors, trends, and preferences of Americans’ personal financial lives. For example, rising credit card debt can be an indicator of higher consumer confidence, but can also give a warning sign that consumers may be taking on too much debt.
Compiling these statistics in one place gives a thorough snapshot of the present state of credit card debt in America and where it could be heading in the future.
We've used as up-to-date information as we could find for all of our statistics. Some reports—such as Experian's State of Credit Cards—change often, so you may have difficulty finding the exact figure that we've quoted.
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York (June 2019). Quarterly Report On Household Debt And Credit.
- Experian (May 2019) State of Credit Cards. (Some statistics from previous version of report, available via Wayback Machine.)
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (March 2019). Consumer Credit Panel.
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York (May 2019). State Level Household Debt Statistics 2003-2018.
- Cash Product Office, Federal Reserve System (Nov. 2018). 2018 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice.
- Federal Reserve Board (October 2017). 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances.
- The Harris Poll, National Federation for Credit Counseling (March 2018). 2018 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey.
- The Harris Poll, National Federation for Credit Counseling (March 2019). 2019 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey.
*Kamran Rosen also contributed to this research article.