American credit card balances increased by $16.1 billion last year
The Federal Reserve unveiled its provisional consumer credit data (excluding mortgages) for December 2013 on Feb. 7, and the figures revealed that credit card debt jumped by $5 billion that month. That brought the rise in card balances over the whole of 2013 to $16.1 billion. On Dec. 31, Americans owed $861.9 billion on their plastic.
Credit card debt manageable
Those big numbers may sound troubling, but, as IndexCreditCards.com has previously observed, they aren't really -- at least for now. Of course, it's pretty much inevitable that some individuals are currently struggling to stay on top of their plastic, but, for American consumers as a whole, this level of card debt is likely to be sustainable. The Fed's archive shows that credit card debt reached an all-time high back in December 2008, when it stood at $1,005,235.04 million -- or just over one trillion.
Three things are more worrying:
- The trend. Card debt rose every quarter in 2013. If that continues, plastic could become more problematic.
- Overall consumer debt. Add in non-card debt (things like student, auto and other installment loans), and the total amount owed by consumers, excluding mortgages, jumped by $181.7 billion last year to stand on Dec. 31 at $3.1 trillion. That's a record high.
- A return of the credit card habit. The First Data SpendTrend analysis for January 2014 suggests that consumers are continuing to increase the frequency with which they choose to pay using credit cards. Compared with the same month last year, the use of this particular type of plastic increased by 4.1 percent in January, more than any other payment method. This is probably a good thing, though only if people manage their accounts responsibly.