2023 rings out with $1.13 trillion in U.S. credit card debt: How did we get here?
New poll finds most Utahns escaped holiday spending without debt, while credit card balances soared across the country at the end of 2023
Ballooning credit card debt helped usher out 2023 with a bang as consumers added $50 billion to their collective outstanding balances over the last three months of the year, bolstered by robust holiday spending.
U.S. credit card debt breached the $1 trillion mark for the first time ever in the second quarter of 2023, but economists note the enormous sum is one driven by a variety of factors, including a growing number of credit card users across the country.
It now stands at $1.13 trillion, according to a Federal Reserve report published this week.
Delinquency rates on all types of consumer debt, with the exception of student loans, also rose in the final quarter of 2023, according to the Fed.
In a Wednesday press release, Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists wrote that “serious credit card delinquencies increased across all age groups, notably with younger borrowers surpassing pre-pandemic levels.” At the end of December, 3.1% of outstanding U.S. consumer debt was in some stage of delinquency. And approximately 8.5% of credit card balances and 7.7% of auto loans transitioned into delinquency, on an annualized basis, according to the Fed report.
“Credit card and auto loan transitions into delinquency are still rising above pre-pandemic levels,” said Wilbert van der Klaauw, economic research advisor at the New York Fed. “This signals increased financial stress, especially among younger and lower-income households.”
Data gathered in a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll offers a glimpse at how Utah consumers put their credit cards to work over the winter holiday shopping season and how long they expect it will take to wipe outstanding balances, for those that have them, off the home budget books.
Fewer than 1 in 5 respondents, 18%, said they went into credit card debt to pay for the holidays, while 82% said they escaped the busy end-of-year shopping season without adding debt.
For those that are carrying balances, 44% said they would pay off the debt in one to three months, 19% estimate it will take four to six months to clear the books and 14% believe that credit card payoff period will happen in seven to 12 months. And almost a quarter of poll participants that accumulated credit card debt over the holidays said it will take more than a year to zero out their balances.
Dan Jones & Associated conducted the survey of 801 registered Utah voters Jan. 16-21.
South Salt Lake resident Sarah West was among the minority who stayed current with their end-of-year credit card usage and said her strategy includes getting a jump on holiday shopping.
“Usually I like to be quite well organized and start Christmas shopping around late September or October,” she said. “In December, it becomes more panic buying and if I’m going to overspend, it happens then.”
West said she stuck to her usual holiday budget of $600 to $800 but did go a bit over the line and carried a balance of $150 in one payment cycle over the season, but paid it off the following month.
The poll found more younger than older people who say they went into debt over the holidays. Nearly a quarter of respondents age 18-24 turned to credit cards, compared to half of those older than 56. Women were more likely to use the plastic than men, 23% to 14%.
At 25%, people in the $25,000 to $49,999 range made up the highest percentage of Utahns who accrued holiday credit card debt. Those making $75,000 to $99,999 were the lowest at 15%.
Utahns appear to have outperformed the rest of the country in managing credit card spending over the 2023 winter holiday season, based on data analysis by LendingTree.
In December, LendingTree reported 51% of U.S. cardholders said they were confident in paying off their balances at the end of the month, while 34% of cardholders were not confident they could zero out their credit card balances. LendingTree says both figures are the bleakest findings since tracking began in 2018. The previous records were 53%, set in June 2022 and September 2019, and 31%, set multiple times, most recently in June 2023.
As a whole, Utah credit card holders ranked No. 25 in the nation with an average outstanding balance of $6,876, according to LendingTree data.