Updated September 10, 2017

Shocking Facts about Average Credit Card Debt

The average credit card debt in America is $5,331 per person, but there's more to this figure than meets the eye. We break it down in shocking detail.

We love our credit cards in America. But unfortunately, credit card debt is a major problem.

Facts and Figures at a Glance

Average credit card debt statistics you should not ignore:

  • The average credit card debt is $5,331.
  • 69% of people have some kind of debt (38.1% have credit card debt).
  • 77% of people have at least one credit card.
  • The average number of credit cards per person is 2.35.
  • The current outstanding revolving debt in the U.S. is $992.4 billion.
  • Baby Boomers and Generation X have the most debt.

Credit cards have simplified our lives and helped us reach personal goals, but their overuse has also contributed to an ever-growing debt problem.

Read on for the shocking facts you need to know.

Being able to open multiple credit cards easily and have credit at your fingertips means that many Americans can spend more, but it also means that not paying off bills in full each month means that debts start to build up.

About 69% of American households have debt. And the average credit card debt is $5,331.

Credit Card Debt in the United States

Credit card debt is revolving debt, which means that it's an open-ended line of credit. You can keep borrowing up to the amount of your credit limit as long as you keep paying your bill. This is different from non-revolving debt (also called installment debt), which includes home, car, and student loans. Non-revolving debt means that there is a fixed amount borrowed and a pre-set plan to pay off the loan every month.

Revolving debt can be very easily abused because you can carry a balance from month to month, and you just need to pay the minimum to keep going. This makes it easy for people to buy things they can't actually afford.

The latest Consumer Credit release from the Federal Reserve (November 2016) showed that the current outstanding revolving debt in the U.S. is $992.4 billion. This is a $151 billion increase from 2011, just 5 years ago.

YearOutstanding Revolving Debt (in billions)

U.S. Credit Card Usage

Credit card usage can be broken down into two main types:

  1. Transactors: They use cards for convenience and pay off their balance in full each month. They are not in any debt and owe no interest.
  2. Revolvers: They carry a credit card balance from month to month and thus accumulate interest and debt over time.

According to the Federal Reserve's 2015 report on the economic well-being of U.S. households, 42% pay off their balance in full in each month. Out of the cardholders who do carry a balance, about half make only the minimum payment some or all the time.

Always pay in full each month42%
Always pay more than the minimum23%
Made the minimum payment once6%
Made the minimum payment most of the time29%

Things are looking up, though. In recent years, the average credit card debt has dropped by 25%. The Federal Reserve Bureau's Report on Changes in Family Finances from 2010 - 2013 shows that the average credit card debt has dropped from $7,600 to $5,700. Our estimates show that the average debt is even lower by the end of 2016, at $5,331.

While the overall revolving debt has been steadily increasing, the average credit card debt has been decreasing. This suggests that there are more people using credit cards but that people in general are keeping their debt levels lower.

Best and Worst States for Credit Card Debt

Based on Experian's 2016 State of Credit, here are the top 5 and bottom 5 average credit card debt by state:

Top 5:

  • Alaska: $7,552
  • Connecticut: $6,454
  • Virginia: $6,397
  • New Jersey: $6,345
  • Maryland: $6,268

Bottom 5:

  • West Virginia: $4,718
  • Wisconsin: $4,693
  • Mississippi: $4,690
  • North Dakota: $4,599
  • Iowa: $4,410

Credit Card Debt by Generation

Data from a 2016 study shows that Baby Boomers and Generation X have the highest credit card debt at an average of over $6,880 per person.

It's not surprising when you consider that Baby Boomers are largely responsible for the growth of the U.S. economy and consumerist culture. They also average the highest number of credit cards at 2.93 cards per person.

However, the younger generations (X, Y, and Z) have the highest amount of revolving credit card usage. 36-37% keep a balance on their card, as opposed to 29% of the Baby Boomers and only 16% for the Silent Generation (the oldest generation).

Silent Generation (Traditionalists)age 70+$3,780
Baby Boomersage 52-70$6,889
Generation Xage 35-51$6,866
Generation Y (Millennials)age 22-34$3,542
Generation Z (iGeneration)age 21 & under$1,682

Credit Card Debt by Race

Per the U.S. Census Bureau's latest in-depth data on debt, those who identified themselves as white carried the highest amount of credit card debt at $7,942. Those who identified themselves as black carried the least amount at $6,172.

Here's how the races stack up from the highest debt to lowest:

White $7,942
Asian $7,660

Credit Card Debt by Income

The same study also showed that making more money doesn't mean less debt. The opposite is true, actually. Households with higher income also carry a higher credit card balance. This is most likely because high earners have more spending power and access to higher credit limits.

The Survey of Consumer Finances found that just 20% of households in the lowest quintile have credit card debt compared with almost 50% of households with income in the 60-90% percentile. And 32% of those in the highest income bracket (90-100% percentile) carry debt.

However, note that the percentage of debt as income increases is lower. For those with income in the lowest quintile, their debt is over 25% of their annual income. For the highest earners, their debt is only 10%.

Lowest quintileLess than $20,000$5,975
Second quintile$20,001 - $40,000$6,172
Third quintile$40,001 - $60,000$6,372
Fourth quintile$60,001 - $100,000$7,854
Highest quintileOver $100,001$10,322

Credit Card Debt by Household Net Worth

Unsurprisingly, households with negative or zero net worth also have the highest amount of debt ($10,308, on average). However, for the households with positive net worth, the more they have, the more debt they carry.

Net WorthDebt
Negative or Zero$10,308
$1 - $4,999$3,946
$5,000 - $9,999$4,912
$10,000 - $24,999$6,219
$25,000 - $49,999$6,822
$50,000 - $99,999$6,777
$100,000 - $249,999$7,325
$250,000 - $499,999$7,481
$500,000 and over$8,140

Credit Card Debt by Employment

Surprisingly, the same U.S. Census study found that the average credit card debt doesn't differ that much whether you have a job or not. For those who spent time looking for a job, their credit card debt actually dropped slightly.

Job StatusDebt
With job entire period$7,993
With job part of period$7,109
No job, spent time looking for work$6,874
No job activity$7,971

Credit Card Debt by Education

Interestingly, the same study showed a direct correlation between debt and education level. The higher the education level, the more likely the person is to have higher credit card debt. Again, this could be because those with a higher education earn more income and thus have greater spending power.

Those with graduate or professional degrees have an average of $9,000 in debt while those who did not graduate high school have an average of just $6,000.

DegreeDebt (in billions)
No high school diploma$5,958
High school graduate only$7,123
Some college, no degree$7,510
Associate Degree$7,699
Bachelor's Degree$8,051
Graduate or Professional Degree$9,094

So What Can You Do About Your Credit Card Debt?

Although consumer credit card debt has decreased in recent years, it's still a major problem for a lot of Americans. But don't feel too discouraged because, as you can see from this article, you're not alone.

The road to paying off credit card debt starts with facing reality. You need a solid plan and a lot of self-discipline. Staring at those numbers can be intimidating, but you're capable of getting out of debt as long as you're committed.

To break it down for you in clear, actionable steps, check out our beginner's guide to paying off debt fast. You'll find digestible steps that are easy to follow. It's never too late to get on the road to financial freedom.

Sources and Additional References

More from CreditDonkey:

Credit Card Debt Statistics

Credit Score Statistics

Credit Card Fraud Statistics

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