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American household credit card debt is on the rise

Learn why American households carry so much debt.
Credit: OcusFocus

America's total outstanding balance on revolving credit, primarily credit card debt, is over $1.03 trillion. How much of that $1.03 trillion balance is yours? According to recent data from ValuePenguin, you're more likely to have a greater share of that balance if you're in one of two groups – the poorest or the wealthiest Americans.

The average credit card debt for households with zero or negative net worth is $10,307 – not surprising since if you have a negative net worth, you need credit just to get by. On the other end of the economic spectrum, households with net worth above $500,000 carry the second-highest average credit card debt at $8,139.

Why would high-net-worth households carry so much credit card debt? Perhaps for one simple reason – because they can. Wealthier households are more likely to make more purchases and to pay off balances whenever they choose to do so.They may run purchases through their credit cards to get rewards or other perks even when they could afford to pay cash.

In all categories with positive net worth, households carrying balances appear to be keeping those balances within limits. Generally, the average credit card debt scales upward with net worth (given the exception of those with no positive net worth at all). Households with net worth between $1 and $4,999 carry an average $3,946 of credit card debt, and the averages tend to increase proportionately with household net worth.

The most recent Federal Reserve estimate of average household credit card debt (2016) is approximately $5,700. In the context of ValuePenguin's data, that puts the overall average between the $4,912 average of households with net worth of $5,000 to $9,999 and the $6,219 average of households with net worth of $10,000 to $24,999.

The $5,700 average includes households that don't carry balances – they either pay off their card balance every month, or they don't use credit cards at all – so the average burden of cardholders who carry balances must be higher. Using Federal Reserve data, ValuePenguin estimates that when only households carrying revolving debt balances are counted, the average credit card debt rises to $9,333.

There's one silver lining – average credit card debt appears to be dropping. The $9,333 average reported by ValuePenguin is the lowest of all the averages reported in the previous five years. Federal Reserve data backs this up, showing a 3 percent decrease in average balances between 2013 and 2016.

Why is overall credit card debt increasing if the average debt is lower? More people are holding balances. According to Federal Reserve data, 43.9 percent of Americans held credit card balances as of 2016 – up from 38.1 percent in 2013.

Credit card debt isn't a bad thing. Problems only arise when the debt becomes unmanageable, and credit card debt can become unmanageable regardless of your net worth. It depends on how much you spend relative to your income and assets.

By income, the lower 20 percent of households ($24,999 or less annual income) had an average credit card debt of $3,000, while the upper 10 percent ($160,000 or more) had an average of $11,200 in credit card debt – but the $3,000 average debt of the lower 20 percent of households is a far greater burden.

Is your credit card debt too high relative to your income and net worth? It's time to revisit the budget and bring your charges back in line with what you can afford. You're never too wealthy or too poor to use a budget and properly assess your spending practices.

This article was provided by our partners at moneytips.com.

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