Credit cards can be useful financial tools, but they’re easy to abuse and put millions of Americans in debt. In fact, the average American carries more than two credit cards and a balance of about $4,400 on each card, according to data taken in June 2015 from credit bureau Experian. But those figures don’t provide a full picture of how credit is used.
For starters, Experian’s data is based on credit card balances reported by issuers at various times. A borrower may have a $500 balance he intends to pay off in full once his payment is due, but if the issuer reports the data before the bill’s due date, the balance will appear on his credit report. (You can get your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com to see what balances are being reported to the credit bureaus for your accounts.)
Experian’s data also doesn’t distinguish between those who pay their balance in full each month (transactors) and those who carry a balance from month to month (revolvers). Credit card issuers don’t always report this information, so paying a bill in full won’t directly impact one’s credit score.
Though the average credit card balance is $4,404, borrowers may not carry those balances month to month and accrue interest. In terms of unpaid balances, the average credit card user has $3,573 of debt, according to a 2014 Gallup poll, which is a lot. If you paid $100 a month toward that balance on a card with a 15% APR, it would take four years to pay off, assuming you made no more charges on that card. See how making bigger payments could help you curb interest and get you out of debt faster with this credit card payoff calculator.
The good news is credit card debt and balances are much lower than they were several years ago. In 2007, the average card balance was $4,572, while in 2010 it was $4,538 and $4,410 in 2014, per Experian. According to Gallup, the average credit card debt was $3,848 in 2008, though it was $3,426 in 2006 — lower than 2014. A larger share of adults reported not having any credit cards or balances they didn’t pay in full that year, so perhaps Americans have become less reliant on credit.
It’s hard to characterize the average amount of credit card debt because everyone uses credit so differently. For your part, try to focus on how credit cards might work for you, and if you’re struggling to pay your bills, try to get out from under them. As you can see, it’s not worth it to carry around debt. You can see how your credit card spending affects your credit scores for free on Credit.com.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report