Do you want to be average? Maybe yes. Maybe no.
When it comes to credit card debt, being average gives you an idea of how much other people owe. That amount could be comfortable for you, or it could be more or less than you feel you can manage with your income and financial situation.
Regardless of whether average is right for you, it gives you a benchmark from which to measure yourself against. Is your credit card debt similar to everyone else’s? Or do you owe a lot more or less than other people who are like you in terms of age, state, income, or FICO credit score?
Read on to find out.
Average Overall Credit Card Debt
U.S. consumers have an average credit card balance of $6,194, according to a 2019 report by Experian, one of the three major U.S. credit bureaus. The report found that 45% of card balances were less than $5,000; and 6% had balances of between $5,000 and $7,500.
The 2019 average was up from $6,040 in 2018 and $5,856 in 2009, a decade earlier. During the same period, average card limits climbed to $31,015 in 2019 from $30,181 in 2018, and $27,657 in 2009.
The average number of credit cards per person in 2019 was four. If a hypothetical consumer had the average number of four cards, each with an average balance of $6,194, his or her total card debt would be $24,776.
In the second quarter of 2019, U.S. consumers had a total of $830 billion. Card debt typically peaks in the fourth quarter each year due to the holiday shopping season, so the 2019 year-end total was likely higher than $830 billion.
The second-quarter total had gone up steadily since 2012. Credit card debt overall has been climbing since 2015, along with a rise in the total number of card accounts, which hit 486 million in 2019.
The 6% increase in card debt from the second quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of 2019 made card debt the second-fastest growing category of debt for that three-month period. The fastest-growing category was personal loans.
Average Credit Card Debt by Age
On average, consumers’ credit card debt tends to look like the top half of a balloon, rising steadily during their early 20s to their early 50s and then falling steadily from their early 50s until the end of their lives, according to an Experian report. The report examined card debt by age group in the second quarter of 2019.
Twenty-year-olds had slightly more card debt — with an average credit card debt of $2,310 — than 21-year-olds or 22-year-olds, who had averages of $1,881 and $1,939, respectively.
After age 22, average card debt rose with each 20-something birthday from $2,180 at age 23 to $3,927 at age 29.
Thirty-year-olds had an average card debt of $4,216. For 40-year-olds, the average was $7,076. For 50-year-olds, it was $8,635. The average peaked at $8,658 at age 51.
On the downward slope, average card debt had dropped to $7,642 by age 60. At age 70, the average was down to $5,934. At age 80, the average card debt had declined to $4,032. At age 90, it had fallen to $1,899.
For 99-year-olds, average card debt was just $1,198, lower than the average for 20-, 21- or 22-year-olds.
Average Credit Card Debt by State
With an average credit card debt of $8,026, Alaska residents led the U.S. in the second quarter of 2019, Experian reported.
New Jersey and Connecticut came second and a very close third with an average credit card debt of $7,084 and $7,082, respectively.
Anchorage had the highest average card debt among 50 metro areas Experian tracked. The area’s average of $8,171 was slightly higher than the state average as a whole.
One metro area — Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk, Connecticut — posted a higher average of $8,379. That area’s average was also higher than the average for the state as a whole.
Iowa ranked dead last with average card debt of just $4,744 in the second quarter of 2019. Second to last and third to last were Wisconsin and Mississippi with averages of $4,908 and $5,134, respectively. The average for the Dubuque, Iowa, metro area — $4,080 — was lower than the average for the state as a whole.
Comparing the 2019 second quarter with the same period the prior year saw card debt jump in every state. The largest increase was in Maine with card debt growth of 5.8%. Arkansas and Wyoming posted the smallest year-over-year average increase with a hike of just 0.5%.
Average Credit Card Debt by Income
On average, people who earn more income tend to have more card debt, according to 2018 data from Value Penguin.
In 2018, consumers who earned less than $25,000 had average card debt of $3,000.
Consumers in the $25,000-to-$45,000 income bracket had an additional $900 of card debt, on average, bringing their average card debt overall up to $3,900.
Consumers in the next income bracket, $45,000 to $70,000, had an average card debt of $4,900.
Consumers whose annual income was $70,000 to $115,000 had average card debt of $5,800. The numbers — for income and debt — only went up from there.
The average credit card debt for consumers annual incomes of $115,000 to $160,000 jumped to $8,300. Consumers with an annual income of more than $160,000 had an average of $11,200 of credit card debt.
These averages may be higher today as overall credit card debt has gone up since this data was collected.
Average Credit Card Debt by FICO Score
Another way to look at average credit card debt is to consider consumers’ FICO credit scores. In the last five years, average card balances ranked by FICO scores have shown a steady growth trend, according to Experian’s report.
The average card balance for consumers with “very poor” FICO scores (defined in the report as 300 to 579) went down about $1,000 after the 2008 recession from $3,696 in 2009 to $2,692 in 2011. The average remained near that level until 2015 when it began a four-year climb to $3,446 in 2019.
For consumers with fair credit (defined as FICO scores of 580 to 669), the average card balance dropped sharply after the 2008 recession from $6,359 in 2009 to $4,874 in 2011. The average then rose slowly to $5,522 in 2016, and then more sharply to $6,489 in 2019.
Consumers with good FICO scores (defined as 670 to 739) have had higher average card balances than all of the other FICO-score groups for the last 10 years. This group had an average card balance of $9,939 in 2009.
The average dropped to $8,543 in 2011, and then, following a similar pattern to other groups, rose slowly to $8,881 in 2016, and then sharply to $9,712 in 2019.
Consumers with very good FICO scores (defined as 740 to 799) have experienced a much flatter curve in their average card balances. For this group, the average dropped from $5,434 in 2009 to $5,112 in 2011, and then rose to $5,774 in 2016 and $6,051 in 2019.
Average card balances have changed very little over the years for consumers with exceptional FICO scores (defined as 800 to 850). The average for this group didn’t decline after the 2008 recession. Instead, it climbed steadily from $2,875 in 2009, the lowest number on the chart, to $3,616 in 2019.
How to Lower Your Credit Card Debt
Some people are comfortable with the amount of debt they have, but others want to lower their debt. If you’re in that group, you can use two main strategies to get started.
The snowball strategy starts with paying off your smallest-balance debt first, then your next-smallest balance, and so on until you pay off your last and largest-balance debt. This strategy may cost you more as your interest expense may be higher, but it can help you stay motivated.
The avalanche strategy starts with paying off your highest interest debt first and then your next-highest rate, and so on until you pay off your last and lowest-rate debt. This strategy may take more self-motivation but can help you save more as your interest expense may be lower.
You can also alternate between the two strategies or combine them in any way that works well for you.
Consolidating or refinancing your card debt with a lower rate may make it easier for you to pay down the amount you own. A balance transfer card with an introductory 0% rate for transfers may be one way for you to refinance some of your credit card debt with a lower or 0% rate.
Paying down your debt may make you below average — in a good way.