Finance, General

These Insights About Credit Card Debt May Surprise You

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Nearly half of Americans age 18+ are carrying credit card debt, according to a recent CivicScience study of over 3,000 adults. Obviously, a 50/50 split is about as vanilla as a study can get. But drilling down on the numbers, plenty of surprises pop up.

First off, the number of Americans with credit card debt has increased year over year. 

Among those with credit card debt, most have under $10k, but a quarter have over $10k in revolving credit card debt.

Surprise number one: So far, Generation Z is staying within their means. The adults in this age cohort – those 18-24 – obviously are in the early stages of their spending careers, but nevertheless, the numbers are startling: Gen Z’ers are 38% less likely than Millennials to be carrying credit card debt, and 48% less likely than Generation X. In fact, Generation Z most closely resembles Americans age 55+ in their credit card habits. Is this a sticky trend? Clearly, too soon to tell, but it’s definitely something to keep a very close eye on.

Here’s another curiosity: The more someone makes, the more likely they are to be carrying credit card debt. Perhaps this can be called “Keeping up With the Joneses-itis.” For instance: Those making over $100,000 are more than twice as likely to be rolling over $10,000 or more in credit card debt each month than households making less than $50,000.

Biggest surprise yet? Americans are shockingly honest with themselves when it comes to how they feel they manage their finances compared to how much credit card debt they’re carrying.

Tax refund time is the financial highlight of the year for many Americans. And what people do with their refunds strongly correlates as to whether they carry credit card debt. People who spend at least a penny more of their tax refund than they put away are 73% more likely to carry credit card debt than people who saved most of their tax refund (or didn’t get one in the first place).

Credit cards with bonus points serve as great come-ons for the credit card companies. But here’s an interesting takeaway: American credit card users who utilize the points system are the least likely to be carrying credit card debt. 

What Americans do with their food also plays a major role in whether they are carrying credit card debt. For starters: People who go out to eat or order take-out at least once a week are 20% more likely to be rolling debt over each month.

An even starker takeaway is how often Americans purchase single-use to-go beverages such as coffee. People who never do are 30% more likely to not have credit card debt than people who are buying these beverages at least a few times a week.

So while nearly 50% of Americans carry at least some credit card debt, it’s clear the rhyme and reason of it – and some possible beliefs behind it – aren’t what they might seem. Younger people potentially deciding debt is a bad idea, wealthier people going all-in on credit card debt, heavy points users being diligent about paying off their bills – all these findings (and more) seem to go against prevailing wisdom. 

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