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How Much Credit Card Debt Do Americans Really Carry?

by Barbara Marquand
How Much Credit Card Debt Do Americans Really Carry?

Given all the concern and publicity over credit cards, particularly with the recent focus on new credit card regulation and the troubling spending patterns of Americans, you might imagine that most people are swimming in credit card debt.

But is that really the case? Not necessarily, according to the Federal Reserve 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, released last year. The survey is one of the most comprehensive studies of what Americans own and owe, and it shows something pretty surprising:

Most families–64 percent–carried no credit card debt at the time of the survey. And of the 73 percent of families with credit cards in 2007, 40 percent had zero balances.

Credit Card Debt: How Do You Compare?

Couples with children were the most likely group to carry credit card balances, with 55 percent reporting a balance. Forty-seven percent of childless couples carried a credit card balance, and 45 percent of single people with children carried a balance. Only 30 percent of people 55 and older with no children said they carried a balance, while 42 percent of singles under 55 with no children said they carried a balance.

Of those who carried balances, the median balance was $3,000, and the average balance was $7,300. Both rose since the previous survey in 2004. The median balance rose for most demographic groups, according to the Federal Reserve, especially for higher-income families, childless couples, and families headed by someone age 55 to 64 or who was self-employed. The median balance fell by about 30 percent for the oldest age group, younger childless single people, and families headed by a person who was neither working nor retired.

High Credit Card Balance: Who’s Most Likely to Be in Deeper Debt?

People between ages 35 and 64 had the highest median balances–$3,500 to $3,600. Card holders under 35 had a median balance of $1,800, while those between 65 and 74 had a median balance of $3,000. The oldest group, those 75 and older, had the lowest median balance–just $800.

Bank credit cards were the most commonly held type of credit card, with balances on those accounting for 87 percent of outstanding credit card balances in 2007.


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