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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

57 Educational Student Credit Card Debt Statistics (2024)

Student Credit Card Debt Statistics
Mike Senecal

Written by: Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal
Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal draws on more than 20 years of editorial experience to update CardRates.com readers on industry trends, business news, and best practices in budgeting and credit use. Mike has worked for decades in academic and trade publishing, including roles as managing editor and technical editor at the University of Florida and as contributor to finance industry publications, including Surety Bond Quarterly and Independent Agent, among others. Mike holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina, and he enjoys bringing his years of academic and industry expertise online to help consumers of diverse financial backgrounds.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Reviewed by: Jon McDonald

Jon McDonald
Jon McDonald

Jon leverages 15-plus years of journalism expertise to inform financial consumers about emerging trends and companies making an impact in the industry. He is most knowledgeable in the areas of budgeting, credit card rewards, and responsible credit use. Jon has a passion for writing and editing, and his articles have appeared in publications produced by The New York Times.

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Ideally, higher education is a formative learning and developmental experience. But it’s also an investment that can yield a lucrative return, depending on the student’s approach and commitment.

Students may consider college a chance to build their identity and explore new ways of thinking. But they may sour on the experience if they don’t consider the bottom line.

Unlike many developed nations, the U.S. asks students to pay tuition. College costs tend to rise at rates higher than inflation, and many students feel pressure to rack up credit card debt.

This list of student credit card debt statistics puts the financial implications of college in perspective.

Student Credit Card Debt By the Numbers

1. In a 2023 survey of U.S. undergraduate students, 42.1% reported having credit card debt, down from 46.1% the previous year.1

2. A 2021 survey found that college students averaged more than $3,280 in credit card debt.2

Money management skills

3. Among current college students surveyed in 2019, only 20% reported having excellent money management skills. Two-fifths (40%) considered their skills average, not very good, or poor.3

4. Data from 2024 indicated the average APR for a student credit card was 23.70%. The minimum APR was 19.56%, and the maximum was 27.85%.4

5. The COVID-19 pandemic caused an increase in college students’ credit card use. More than half of students surveyed in 2021 (52%) reported using two or more cards from Oct. 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, up from 41% in the previous survey period.5

6. An article from 2024 reported that 24% of college students with credit cards said they used them due to a lack of other financial resources.6

7. College-age individuals (aged 18-22) with a credit card have an average credit score of 672. Individuals without a credit card have an average credit score of 589.7

Credit card debt increases

8. On average, credit card debt increases 80% over four years of college.8 

9. Credit card ownership increases over time among college students. Only 39% of first-year students have a credit card, compared with 77% of fourth-year students.9

10. According to a 2020 study, someone other than the user pays the credit card bill for 14% of college undergraduates.10

11. In a 2021 study, 69% of respondents aged 18-29 reported feeling anxious about their finances.11

12. In order of importance, common online purchases among college students surveyed in 2020 were clothes and accessories, tech and mobile, health and beauty, study supplies and stationery, and books and magazines.12

13. In a 2022 study, 50% of college students reported maintaining a personal budget.13

14. According to an article from 2024, about 33% of college students own a card to help them build credit.6

Credit score misconceptions

15. Only 19.3% of respondents in a 2023 survey of U.S. undergraduate students knew that credit scores measured the risk of default. Slightly more than 12% thought the term referred to knowledge about borrowing money.1

16. Nearly all college students surveyed in 2021 (96.3%) reported having some form of debt. Credit card debt was the highest reported category (64.8%), above student loan debt (58%).2

17. Among “college non-completers,” former students aged 21-29 who left college to pursue other goals without earning a degree, only 8% surveyed in 2019 reported having excellent money management skills. Nearly three-fifths (58%) reported having average, not very good, or poor skills.3

18. A 2020 study revealed that only 13.1% of 2019 college students felt completely prepared to handle their finances while in school.9

19. College student data from 2019 indicated increased credit card spending in all categories from 2016 to 2019. Categories included in-store purchases, online purchases, groceries, dining out, and in-home and out-of-home entertainment services.3

20. In a 2021 survey of college students, 10.5% reported using credit cards to purchase alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine products.2

Credit card debt levels

21. Among the 42.1% of 1,200 students surveyed in 2023 who reported having credit card debt, slightly more than half (50.9%) reported owing $1,000 or less on credit cards.1

22. The COVID-19 pandemic put extra pressure on some college students using credit cards. Among students surveyed, 11% reported making only the minimum payments on their cards from Oct. 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021.5

23. College students responding to a 2019 survey owned 5.2 credit cards on average.3

24. An article from 2024 stated that 33% of college students pay their credit card balances in full each month.6

25. While 27% of respondents in a 2023 survey of U.S. undergraduate students said they knew that carrying a revolving balance meant paying less than the total amount due, just under 23% thought the term referred to spending the same amount each month. About 16% thought it meant transferring a balance to a different credit card.1

26. A 2020 study revealed that 65% of college students felt optimistic about their financial futures.10

FICO Score knowledge

27. More than 2 in 5 (24%) of college students responding to a 2021 survey reported not knowing their FICO score. Another 19% reported that they didn’t have a FICO score.3

28. A 2023 survey of U.S. undergraduate students revealed that 52.7% had a credit card in their name, a nearly 22% decrease from the previous year’s survey.1

29. A 2019 study found that 64% of students use an independent card in their name, 28% use a secured card, 25% are authorized users of parent-owned cards, and 17% use a card with a cosigner.3

30. College students surveyed in 2019 reported easy approval as the most popular reason for obtaining their first card (34%). About the same number (32%) reported cash back.3

31. College students surveyed in 2021 owned 2.1 credit cards on average, with an average card limit of $3,568.2

32. The top three spending categories among college students who responded to a 2021 survey were online shopping (70.1%), dining (50%), and gas (44.4%).2

33. According to a 2024 article, more than half (52%) of college students are motivated to use credit cards to earn reward points.6

Sources of credit card debt

34. In a 2023 survey, 49.1% of respondents with credit card debt reported accruing debt to pay for college essentials, including books and fees. Almost one-half (48.5%) of respondents said they had accrued debt to pay for living expenses, including housing. Other categories of spending that got students into debt were transportation expenses (21.2%), nonessential items such as dining and shopping (24.2%), impulsive purchases (21.8%), and other (3.2%).1

35. One quarter (25%) of college students surveyed in 2019 estimated they would qualify for a credit card limit of between $1,000 and $2,500. About the same number (24%) assumed they would qualify for more.3

36. Most college students surveyed in 2021 (64.8%) reported having credit card debt and student loan debt (58%). Other debt categories reported in the study included cellphone bills (38.2%), medical debt (36.3%), and personal loan debt (33.1%).2

37. Respondents in a 2023 survey of U.S. undergraduate students reported making several mistakes with credit cards, including carrying a balance from month to month (almost 24%), forgetting to pay their credit card bill (nearly 19%), and failing to realize they needed to make monthly payments (just over 18%).1

Credit card management

38. According to a 2024 article, almost half (46%) of college students surveyed don’t feel prepared to manage their credit cards.6

39. Among various forms of debt, college students surveyed in 2021 reported being most worried about credit card debt (52.7%). More than two-fifths (43.6%) reported feeling concerned about student loan debt. More than one-fifth (21.4%) were worried about medical debt, 18.5% about personal loan debt, and 12.1% about their cellphone bills.2

40. Only 26.6% of respondents in a 2023 survey of U.S. undergraduate students understood that a credit utilization ratio described the relationship between a credit limit and available credit. Nearly 18% thought the term referred to the frequency of credit card use.1

41. Among college students who took a four-question financial literacy quiz in 2019, only 11% got all the answers right. Almost as many (8%) missed every question.3

42. Almost two-thirds (59%) of college students surveyed in 2019 reported that having a long credit history affected credit scores positively.3

Credit card preferences

43. In a 2021 survey of college students with credit cards, 56.7% reported they preferred using their credit cards over other forms of payment.2

44. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of college students surveyed said they received no financial education in high school, according to data reported in a 2024 article.6

45. The typical monthly credit card bill payment is less than the amount due for 2% of students surveyed in 2020.10

46. Only 11% of students responding to a 2019 survey reported using their cards for emergencies only.3

47. Less than half (49.1%) of students who said they had credit card debt in a 2023 survey reported owing $1,000 or more. Slightly more than one-fifth (20.8%) reported having debt between $1,000 and $1,999. Only 6.5% reported having debt of $5,000 or more.1

48. Most students (70% )responding to a 2019 survey said rewards were a benefit of using credit cards. Only 51% of non-card users felt the same.3

49. In a 2021 study, more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents aged 18-28 said they used a mobile device to transfer money to another person. That figure was 72% for respondents 30-44 years old, 50% for respondents aged 45-59, and 22% for respondents at least 60.11

Credit card late fees

50. According to a 2024 article, more than half (52%) of surveyed college students are unaware of the late fees on their credit cards.6

51. Among college students without credit cards, 55.7% said they preferred using their debit cards over cash and other forms of payment, according to a 2021 survey.2

52. Most college students (68%) responding to a 2019 survey reported family and friends as their primary source of money management education.3

53. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a decrease in the average credit card balance among college students. According to a 2024 article, the average balance was $1,041 in 2021, down from $1,183 in 2019.6

54. Among “college completers” (individuals aged 21-29 who earned a degree) surveyed in 2019, more than four-fifths (83%) reported carrying credit cards. Only 61% of non-completers reported carrying cards.3

55. In a 2021 survey, 55.1% of college students reported that missing a credit card payment had little effect on their financial standing.2

Timely credit card payments

56. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of college students surveyed in 2021 reported planning to pay their credit card bills on time.5

57. Almost half (44%) of college students surveyed in 2019 indicated they used credit cards regularly for everyday purchases.3

In Conclusion

College is highly associated with personal and career advancement. But attendance is not mandatory. Many students today seek alternatives in trade-based careers.

Those who pursue higher education vary widely in financial status. Many take out student loans, which can create a debilitating burden. Others treat college as an entrepreneurial adventure and fund it with credit cards.

For some, credit cards can lead to more financial challenges than they would experience with student loans, as these student credit card debt statistics attest.

Data Sources:

1 https://money.usnews.com/credit-cards/articles/survey-over-42-of-college-students-have-credit-card-debt

2 https://collegefinance.com/research/college-student-debt-and-credit-card-usage

3 https://www.salliemae.com/content/dam/slm/Media/images/Research/Majoring-In-Money-Report-2019.pdf

4 https://www.lendingtree.com/credit-cards/credit-card-debt-statistics/

5 https://everfi.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/2021aig-collegestudent-researchstudy-executive-summary.pdf

6 https://gitnux.org/college-students-credit-card-debt-statistics/

7 https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/12/how-college-students-can-raise-their-credit-scores-.html

8 https://www.kidsmoney.org/college/credit/average-credit-score/

9 https://www.creditrepair.com/blog/education/college-student-credit-card-debt/

10 https://cssl.osu.edu/posts/632320bc-704d-4eef-8bcb-87c83019f2e9/documents/2020-scfw-key-findings-report-combined-accessible.pdf

11 https://cdn.finra.org/nfcs/2021/outlook.html

12 https://www.solosuit.com/posts/average-student-credit-card-debt

13 https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2022/04/25/study-more-students-use-their-own-money-pay-college