American Household Credit Card Debt Statistics: 2014

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The average US household credit card debt stands at $15,191, the result of a small number of deeply indebted households forcing up the numbers. Based on an analysis of Federal Reserve statistics and other government data, the average household owes $7,087 on their cards; looking only at indebted households, the average outstanding balance rises to $15,191. Here are statistics, trends, studies and methodology behind the average U.S. household debt.

Current as of April 2014

U.S. household consumer debt profile:

  • Average credit card debt: $15,191
  • Average mortgage debt: $154,365
  • Average student loan debt: $33,607

In total, American consumers owe:

  • $11.68 trillion in debt
    • An increase of 3.7% from last year
  • $854.2 billion in credit card debt
  • $8.15 trillion in mortgages
  • $1,115.3 billion in student loans
    • An increase of 13.9% from last year

Deep dive: credit card debt

Credit card debt is the third largest source of household indebtedness. Only the mortgage and student loan debt markets are larger. Here are the latest credit card debt statistics from the Federal Reserve:

Total Credit Card Debt Average Household Credit Card Debt Average Indebted Household Debt
February 2014 $854.2 billion $7,087 $15,191
Change from January -0.28% -0.35% -0.35%
Change from February 2013 0.73% -0.09% -0.09%
Change from January, annualized -3.39% -4.20% -4.20%

Is lower credit card debt good for the economy?

Credit card debt is currently holding fairly steady – but whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate. On the one hand, higher consumer spending would put the economy on a positive track. Higher spending could also lead to more jobs and higher incomes, which can in turn lead to even higher spending, a sign of the good times. However, if wages and employment aren’t keeping pace, higher debt might well be an indication that families are borrowing to make ends meet rather than a reflection of a well-founded increase in consumer confidence.

Read on for statistics, data, methodology and conclusions on the state of U.S. credit card debt.

March 31, 2010 December 30, 2012
Total revolving debt $906.7 billion $849.8 billion
Number of U.S. households 116,716,292 119,397,330*
Average credit card debt per household $7,768 $7,117*
% of households with a credit card balance 43.2% 46.7%
Average credit card debt per indebted household $17,630 $15,257

*NerdWallet estimates; see methodology section for details.
In March 2010, the last date at which the data can be reliably estimated, we found that:

  • The median American household owed $3,300 of consumer debt;
  • The average American household owed $7,768 and
  • The average indebted American household owed $17,630.

Note that the average American household owed far more than the median, and also that the average indebted household owed far more than the average household overall. Such large discrepancies indicate that a relatively small number of households were deeply underwater.

Two things stand out: overall credit card debt is down, and the average indebted household is less underwater relative to the average overall than before.

Falling indebtedness is largely due to defaults rather than repayment

Average American Household Debt

Between 2006 and 2008, credit card debt rose steadily and reached its height in January 2009, six months into the financial crisis, as unemployment soared and defaults began in earnest. From there, average debt loads took a sharply downward trajectory and dipped below 2006 levels in mid-2010. 2011, however, saw the decline in average debt become a plateau, and debt levels have since then hovered above $15,000. There is a broad consensus on why indebtedness rose during the boom years: low interest rates and easy access to credit brought Americans to take on record levels of debt. However, the data still leaves two questions:

  • Why did indebtedness decline in 2009 and 2010?
  • Why has indebtedness plateaued since then?

Why did indebtedness fall in 2009 and 2010? Ideally, debt levels would have fallen because newly frugal Americans paid off their credit card balances. However, a number of not-so-pleasant factors contributed to the decline. In 2010, credit card companies wrote off seriously delinquent debts in earnest, lowering the total amount of revolving credit card debt. The charge-off rate – the percentage of dollars owed that issuers have written off as uncollectable – rose to 10.9% in the second quarter of 2010. This represented an increase of over 300% from the first quarter of 2006, when the charge-off rate was only 3.1%. Charge-offs account for a significant portion of the debt reduction.

The graph says it all: between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, average household debt fell by $2,722. The speed with which average debt fell indicates that loans were written off, rather than paid off. As a result of those losses, spooked credit card companies tightened their purse strings. Stricter lending standards also contributed to a fall in total credit card debt. Those two factors – fewer loans, made to more creditworthy consumers – are troubling, as they speak to a one-off correction rather than an improvement in underlying factors such as increased income or fiscal prudence.

Why did indebtedness plateau in 2011? As the economy limps forward, credit card companies increasingly loosen their lending standards. Confident that consumers will be able to pay off their debts, the issuers allow more people to borrow more money. NerdWallet expects household indebtedness to resume an upward trend in the coming years as creditors become more lenient.

Methodology

Household indebtedness estimates can only be considered reliable when three sets of data were released at approximately the same time:

  • The U.S. Census, taken by the federal government every 10 years, tells us how many American households there are;
  • The Aggregate Revolving Consumer Debt Survey, taken monthly by the Federal Reserve, tells us how much debt is outstanding, in total; and
  • The Survey of Consumer Finances, taken by the Federal Reserve every 3-5 years, tells us the percentage of families with credit card debt.

The last date at which this occurred was March 31st, 2010. To estimate consumer debt in June of 2012, we extrapolated from the following data sets:

We also use the Aggregate Revolving Consumer Debt survey, which is current. Mortgage, student loan and auto loan data come from the New York Federal Reserve’s Household Credit Report.

Notes about 2012 data:

NerdWallet used a straight-line extrapolation to estimate the number of household units each month, based on Census estimates from 2005 as well as official Census data from 2010.

The percentage of credit card approval rates is updated every few years by the Federal Reserve, and was last published in March 2011 covering a survey period from 2007 to 2009. NerdWallet’s monthly estimates of this figure are based on internal data of credit card approval rates.

Average U.S. household credit card debt by quarter, 2006-2013

 

Quarter Average debt/household Average debt/
indebted household
1Q2006 $7,826 $16,373
2Q2006 $7,926 $16,582
3Q2006 $8,008 $16,752
4Q2006 $8,123 $16,994
1Q2007 $8,237 $17,232
2Q2007 $8,367 $17,505
3Q2007 $8,543 $17,873
4Q2007 $8,740 $18,285
1Q2008 $8,329 $17,425
2Q2008 $8,416 $17,607
3Q2008 $8,440 $17,759
4Q2008 $8,341 $17,874
1Q2009 $8,186 $17,871
2Q2009 $7,963 $17,718
3Q2009 $7,750 $17,582
4Q2009 $7,516 $17,356
1Q2010 $7,281 $16,633
2Q2010 $7,101 $15,910
3Q2010 $6,939 $15,250
4Q2010 $6,816 $14,702
1Q2011 $6,746 $14,461
2Q2011 $6,730 $14,427
3Q2011 $6,708 $14,380
4Q2011 $6,753 $14,476
1Q2012 $6,754 $14,479
2Q2012 $7,224 $15,485
3Q2012 $7,160 $15,348
4Q2012 $7,168 $15,366
1Q2013 $7,096 $15,211
2Q2013 $7,122 $15,268
3Q2013 $7,068 $15,152
4Q2013 $7,122 $15,267

Average U.S. household credit card debt by year, 2006-2013

Year Average debt/household Average debt/
indebted household
2006 $7,971 $16,675
2007 $8,472 $17,724
2008 $8,382 $17,666
2009 $7,854 $17,632
2010 $7,034 $15,624
2011 $6,734 $14,436
2012 $7,172 $15,374
2013 $7,102 $15,224
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