We’re at it again. After improving our credit card spending and payment habits in six of the past seven quarters, U.S. consumers fell off the wagon during the fourth quarter of 2013 and finished the year with a $38.2 billion net increase in outstanding credit card debt.
That $38.2 billion annual debt load increase represents an 8% move in the wrong direction compared to 2012. As a result, CardHub now predicts a $41.2 billion increase for 2014.
“Context is extremely important when it comes to evaluating credit card debt trends,” CardHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou said of the report’s findings. “One could easily come to the conclusion that 2013 was a healthy year for consumer spending given the fact that outstanding credit card debt increased only $10.4 billion while defaults fell 16.7%. But that would fail to take into account the $27.7 billion that we defaulted on, yet still owe. As has been the case in recent years, the first quarter of 2013 was the only one in which we paid down debt.”
By the Numbers:
- Net Result in Debt Load: - $32,541,897,985
- Relative to Q1 2012: - 7%
- Relative to Q1 2011: 0%
- Relative to Q1 2010: - 17%
- Relative to Q1 2009: - 28%
- Outstanding Credit Card Debt: - $40,094,651,800
- Credit Card Charge-Offs: $7,552,753,815
- The $32.5 billion in existing credit card debt that U.S. consumers paid off during the first quarter of 2013 represents the smallest first quarter pay down in the past 4 years. We paid off 7% more of our credit card debt in Q1 2012, no more or less in Q1 2011, 17% more in Q1 2010, and 28% more in Q1 2009.
- Q1 2013 marked the first time in a year that consumers did not improve their credit management relative to the corresponding quarter the year before.
- The credit card default rate continues to drop and is now at its lowest point since the fourth quarter of 2006. Consumers unfortunately have not taken advantage of their improved ability to pay their bills on time to also pay down their debts.
- The average household currently has $6,591 in credit card debt.
By the Numbers:
- Net Result in Debt Load: + $17,015,594,709
- Relative to Q2 2012: - 3%
- Relative to Q2 2011: - 12%
- Relative to Q2 2010: + 75%
- Relative to Q2 2009: + 80%
- Outstanding Credit Card Debt: + $9,669,679,600
- Credit Card Charge-Offs: $7,345,915,109
- At roughly $17 billion, the Q2 2013 build-up was 3% smaller than that in Q2 2012 and 12% smaller than in Q2 2011. However, it still represents a significant increase relative to second quarters of 2009 and 2010. We are therefore still heading in the wrong direction, just at a slower pace.
- The average household now owes $6,658 to credit card lenders (up from $6,590 after Q1).
- U.S. consumers have charged-off on more than a quarter of a trillion dollars since the beginning of 2009.
- The charge-off rate, at 3.86%, is at the lowest point since 2006.
- After initially predicting a $47 billion increase in credit card debt for 2013, CardHub revised this number down to $41.2 billion in light of data from the second quarter of the year.
By the Numbers:
- Net Result in Debt Load: + $11,881,829,901
- Relative to Q3 2012: - 8%
- Relative to Q3 2011: - 27%
- Relative to Q3 2010: + 109%
- Relative to Q3 2009: - 1%
- Outstanding Credit Card Debt: + $5,470,389,400
- Credit Card Charge-Offs: $6,411,440,501
- In six out of the past seven quarters, consumer credit card debt figures have improved relative to the year before, though the total debt load has continued to increase.
- CardHub now projects a $33.4 billion net increase in credit card debt for 2013 – revised down from $41.2 billion following the release of new data from the Federal Reserve.
- The average household owes $6,690 to credit card companies – up from $6,658 a quarter ago.
- The credit card charge-off rate, at 3.19%, is at the lowest point since the first quarter of 2006. Other than that single quarter, there are now fewer charge-offs than at any point since the beginning of 1995.
- Since 2008, U.S. consumers have defaulted on more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in uncollectible credit card debt ($261.2 billion, to be exact). With the statute of limitations for such unpaid balances ranging from 3 to 15 years, depending on the state, consumers will remain on the hook for what they owe for years to come.
By the Numbers:
- Net Result in Debt Load: + $42,051,162,525
- Relative to Q3 2012: + 5%
- Relative to Q3 2011: - 4%
- Relative to Q3 2010: + 62%
- Relative to Q3 2009: + 87%
- Outstanding Credit Card Debt: + $35,441,376,600
- Credit Card Charge-Offs: $6,609,785,925
- The average household now owes $6,971 to credit card companies.
- Consumers have defaulted on $267 billion in credit card debt over the last five years – a boon for collection agencies, to say the least.
- The credit card default rate declined 16.7% in 2013 and is now approaching historical lows. A reversal in this trend could lead to a significant credit crunch.
Please note that figures listed in the Main Findings section of a particular quarter won’t always match those in the Data & Graphs section of this report, as the Federal Reserve regularly updates historical data with new research. Figures included in each Main Findings section reflect the information that was available at the time of that quarterly study being conducted, while the Data & Graphs section reflects the most recent data available.
Net Result of Consumer Credit Card Debt Q1 2009 – Q4 2013
|Net Result in Debt Load||Relative to Same Period
|Relative to Same Period Two Years Ago|
Net Result in Debt Load – Green indicates that consumers decreased their debt relative to the previous quarter. Red indicates they increased their debt relative to the previous quarter.
Relative to Same Period – Green indicates that consumers either paid down more debt or accumulated less debt than they did in the previous two years. Red indicates that they either paid down less debt or accumulated more debt than they did in the same quarter in the previous two years.
Annual Net Result of Consumer Credit Card Debt Q1 2009 – Q4 2013:
Consumer Credit Card Debt and Charge-off Data (in Billions):
|Outstanding Credit Card Debt||Quarterly Credit Card Charge-Off Rate||Quarterly Credit Card Charge-Off in Dollars|
Quarterly Credit Card Charge-Off in Dollars
- Make a Budget (and Stick to It): It’s difficult to spend within reason or plan savings without knowing how your monthly spending compares to your take-home as well as what it is allotted to. That is why you should rank order your expenses – including debt payments, emergency fund contributions, and other savings – and trim the fat if necessary. And most importantly, once you develop your budget, make sure to stick to it or else you’ll have simply wasted your time.
- Build an Emergency Fund: With a robust financial safety net, you’ll be less at the mercy of the economy and able to withstand a prolonged period of joblessness, should the need arise. Your goal should be to gradually save about a year’s worth of after-tax income through monthly contributions to an emergency account.
- Try the Island Approach: The Island Approach is a credit card strategy that involves using different cards for different types of transactions, as if they are a chain of distinct yet interrelated islands. For example, you could transfer your existing debt to a 0% credit card in order to reduce your monthly payments as well as get out of debt sooner and subsidize your ongoing spending with a rewards card or two that offer high earning rates in your biggest expense categories. This will enable you to get the best possible collection of terms as well as gain a better perspective on your spending and payment habits since finance charges on your everyday spending cards will signal a need to cut back.
- Use the Snowball Method to Strategically Pay Off Amounts Owed: In order to become debt free at the least possible cost, you should attribute the majority of your monthly debt payment to the balance with the highest interest rate while making the minimum payment required on the rest. Once your most expensive debt is paid off, repeat the process as necessary with the remaining balances.
- Evaluate Your Job Situation: In some cases, all the budgeting and planning in the world won’t be enough to solve your debt problems. You may therefore need to evaluate whether there are higher-paying opportunities out there for people with your background or if you’ll need to acquire some new skills in order to make yourself more marketable. This might require making a bit of an investment in yourself, but as long as you get a worthwhile return it’s money well spent.
Please find previous studies here*:
- 2012 Credit Card Debt Study
- 2011 Credit Card Debt Study
- 2010 Credit Card Debt Study
- 2009 Credit Card Debt Study
* Some of the numbers may differ from study to study as a result of the Federal Reserve updating certain numbers for several months after first publishing them. For questions or more information regarding this study, please contact our media department.