The pandemic has obviously been terrible for the economy, but not so bad for anyone wanting to pay off their credit card debt. Further confirming reports about shrinking credit card debt, a CivicScience study surveying more than 2,100 U.S. adults with credit cards / debt found that 44% of people say they’ve paid off all of their credit card debt over the past 3 months. That stands in contrast to just 7% who say they’ve taken on more credit card debt.
In fact, CivicScience tracking shows an upward trajectory of people getting out of credit debt since the start of 2020, falling 2 percentage points to 42% of U.S. adults who have credit card debt today.
While credit card debt ebbs and flows throughout a given year, this trend is unusual given that credit card debt fell below $1 trillion for the first time since 2011.
America is a debt-entrenched nation to begin with and past CivicScience studies have found that many people use any extra money — like tax refunds — to pay down debt. In fact, that ranked as the single-most most popular thing to do with a tax refund back in March.
It’s not surprising then that another study in March found that 32% of Americans said they would put COVID-19 stimulus money towards debt. It seems that perhaps this proactive crowd may be putting their money where their mouth is for the time being, at least when it comes to credit card debt.
Spending and Job Status
Of course, there are reasons other than receiving stimulus checks accounting for people getting ahead of their debt, including unemployment compensation, consumer spending and job status. At the time of this writing, close to half of survey respondents say they are spending less money now as the result of the pandemic (especially on travel).
Those who have been making higher monthly payments are the most likely to be still working as usual. The survey also shows that a significant portion of respondents who have managed to pay off all of their credit debt weren’t employed prior to the coronavirus outbreak — probably retirees and students. However, those who have taken on more credit card debt are the most likely to be out of work and not receiving any type of payment.
Age and Debt
Speaking of students and retirees, among credit card holders specifically, those ages 25-34 and 55+ seem to be faring the best overall in terms of paying off credit card debt, though the younger group has taken on slightly more debt than Boomers.
It’s 35- to 54-year-olds who have more debt burden than other age groups, taking on more credit card debt and significantly less likely to pay off all debt. Even so, they are the most likely to be making higher than usual payments on their credit cards.
What will people plan to do if they receive a second relief check? Interestingly, this time around, more people would plan to save the money and fewer would plan to purchase necessities with it.
But again, the most popular response among survey respondents was to pay down debt and bills, clocking in at 33% compared to 29% in March.
Debt is certainly at the forefront for many Americans. For the time being, the pandemic has led to a mild reprieve for consumers (and a curveball for the credit industry). The question is, for how long? Things that affect debt — spending, jobs and income, a second relief bill — all hang in the balance.