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Forbes Advisor

How Much Do You Owe? How Credit Card Debt Changed In 2022

By Michelle BlackClint Proctor,

2023-03-14
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Americans faced many financial challenges in 2022. In June 2022, inflation climbed to 9.1%—a 40-year high and the largest annual increase the country had seen since 1981. Throughout the year, consumers across the U.S. (and around the globe) were paying higher prices for gas, groceries, and a wide variety of goods and services.

One of the key problems with rising costs is that they can erode the value of money. And when dollars don’t stretch as far as they did in the past, it’s no surprise that consumers may turn to financing, and credit cards in particular, to make ends meet.

Here’s a closer look at how credit card debt changed for the average American in 2022. You’ll also find some strategies you can use if you need help paying down credit card debt.

Average Credit Card Balance in 2022

The best way to manage a credit card is to pay off your full statement balance every month. This good habit can help you enjoy the benefits of credit cards without wasting money on expensive interest charges—all while avoiding high credit utilization rates that have the potential to damage your credit scores.

Nonetheless, many Americans still struggle to pay off their full credit card balances each month. In a departure from the two previous years when the average credit card balance declined, credit card debt levels in the U.S. began to trend upward again in 2022. According to Experian, the average credit card balance climbed to $5,589 in the first quarter of 2022.

Average Credit Card Debt by Generation

Consumers of different age groups often manage their credit card debt in different ways. According to an Experian analysis of spending habits across generations, younger Americans are racking up credit card debt at a much higher rate than compared to their older counterparts.

Gen Xers, those born between the years 1965 and 1981, are leading the pack in credit card debt. This age group has carried an average credit card balance of around $7,000 since the start of the pandemic. On the other end of the spectrum, Gen Z’s average credit card balance is $2,443, but their debt levels grew at a faster rate (25.5%) between April 2020 and January 2022 compared with any other generation.

Average Credit Card Debt by Generation

Generation Average Credit Card Balance (Q1 2022) Average Credit Card Balance (Q1 2021)

Generation X $7,336 $6,782

Baby Boomers $5,852 $5,694

Millennials $4,930 $4,185

Silent Generation $3,163 $3,103

Generation Z $2,443 $1,972

*Figures based on Experian data from Q1 2022.

Despite the fact that Gen Xers had the highest average credit card balances, they did not have the highest credit utilization rates. This suggests the possibility that Gen Xers might have higher average credit limits since credit utilization is calculated by dividing your total credit card balances by total credit limits (as they appear on your credit report).

Generation Z had the highest average credit utilization rate at 23% in Q1 2022. Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Xers were tied with an average utilization rate of 21%, Boomers had an average utilization rate of 15% and the Silent Generation had the lowest utilization rate at 10%.

The age groups with the highest average FICO® Scores mirrored those with the lowest average credit utilization rates. (Remember, credit utilization is one of the major factors that makes up your credit score.) The average FICO Score by generation in 2022 was as follows:

  • Silent Generation: 760
  • Baby Boomers: 742
  • Generation X: 706
  • Millennials: 687
  • Generation Z: 679

States With the Highest Credit Card Debt

As a whole, consumers throughout the country owed $824.8 billion in credit card debt in the first quarter of 2022. Yet that debt was not distributed evenly across the United States. Consumers in different parts of the country carry different levels of credit card debt.

In many cases, residents in areas that feature higher costs of living may carry higher amounts of credit card debt (though that’s not always the case). In Q1 of 2022, Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and the District of Columbia took the top five spots for the highest average credit balances.

Here’s a look at the top 10 states with the highest credit card debt in 2022.

Average Credit Card Debt—Top 10 States

State Average Balance 2022

Alaska $6,787

Connecticut $6,516

New Jersey $6,428

Maryland $6,276

Virginia $6,249

Texas $6,194

Florida $6,050

Georgia $5,994

Hawaii $5,972

Colorado $5,915

*Figures are based on Experian data from Q1 2022.

Cardholders Who Carry a Balance

A survey by digital personal loan marketplace LendingClub found that 29% of credit cardholders revolve balances on their credit cards most (or all) of the time. Among cardholders who live paycheck to paycheck, that figure jumped to nearly half (47%).

Unfortunately, it’s a worse time than ever for consumers to carry a balance on their credit cards. The Federal Reserve has increased the federal funds rate eight consecutive times throughout 2022 and early 2023, driving interest rates upward for credit cards and other financing products as a byproduct. As a result, credit card interest rates are at an all-time high. The average credit card interest rate climbed to 20.40% during Q4 of 2023 according to the Federal Reserve (on interest-assessing accounts).

Here’s why the information above should matter to you as a credit card user. Unless you’re taking advantage of a 0% APR credit card promotion, it’s likely more expensive to carry a balance on your credit card account than it was in the past. That makes it even more important to avoid overspending and carrying a balance.

Credit Card Debt Reduction Strategies for 2023

When interest rates rises, revolving an outstanding balance on your credit cards can become an even heavier financial burden. If you have more credit card debt than you can afford to pay off in a single billing cycle, it’s important to develop a plan.

Here are two strategies that could help you pay down credit card debt faster.

1. Update Your Budget for Inflation

A well-planned household budget can help you accomplish your financial goals. Yet even the most experienced budgeters have faced challenges in recent months due to inflation. A Moody’s Analytics report from October 2022 found the average household in the U.S. would have to spend an extra $445 per month to buy the same goods and services it purchased a year earlier.

Higher prices require many consumers to adjust their budgets during inflationary periods. At a minimum, your goal should be to search for ways to cut spending and perhaps even increase your income (if possible) to avoid overspending despite the higher costs of goods and services. If your campaign to cut expenses and increase income is successful, you can apply any extra funds you free up in your budget toward paying down debt.

Note that for some consumers, it might be necessary to consult with a credit counselor or even a bankruptcy attorney for advice. If you can’t afford to pay your bills or creditors are threatening to take action against you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help from a financial professional.

2. Create a Debt Elimination Plan

If you are able to free up some resources in your budget that you can apply toward credit card debt, the next step is to create a debt elimination plan. A debt elimination plan has the potential to help you get out of debt faster and might save you money along the way.

Here are two of the most popular credit card debt pay-off plans:

  • The Debt Snowball: Write out all of your credit card balances from highest to lowest. Make the minimum payment on every account each month. From there, apply all of the extra funds available toward paying down the lowest balance on the list. Once you pay off that balance in full, move on to the card with the next lowest balance. Repeat the process until you pay off all of your credit card balances to zero.
  • The Debt Avalanche: Write out your credit card balances according to the interest rate on each account—from highest to lowest. Again, make the minimum payment on every account each month. Then, focus all extra funds available toward paying down the balance on the account with the highest interest rate. After paying off that credit card, start working to pay off the account with the next highest interest rate. Repeat the process until all of your credit cards have a zero balance.

If you have a large amount of credit card debt to pay down, you could also consider using debt consolidation. When you manage the process in a responsible manner, debt consolidation (through a debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card) might enhance your debt reduction efforts.

Bottom Line

Credit cards can be useful financial tools. They can make your life more convenient, help you build credit, and could even help you earn valuable rewards or cash back on purchases you need to make anyway.

However, carrying credit card debt undermines many of the benefits that credit cards have to offer. If you’re currently struggling with credit card debt, one of the strategies explained above might help you improve your situation.

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