Altogether, total debt is near the amount Americans owed in December 2007, at the start of the Great Recession. However, in 2007, a much larger percentage of Americans' $12.37 trillion in total debt was from credit cards. Now it's more heavily weighted toward mortgages and student loans.
But while student loan debt has grown a whopping 186 percent in the past decade, that trajectory has slowed in recent years.
Meanwhile, credit card debt has been rising steadily as card issuers upped the ante with better rewards and sign-up bonuses to attract new customers, according to Ezra Becker, a vice president of research and consulting at the credit monitoring firm TransUnion. Originations are a key driver of growth for the industry.
"However, it is important to remember that more than one-third of all outstanding credit card debt at the end of each month will be paid in full before the buyer incurs any finance charges," Nilson publisher David Robertson said in a statement.
Of the $1 trillion in card debt, "only $650 billion was subject to finance charges, while the full $1.407 trillion in student loan debt was subject to finance charges," he said.
Credit card debt is also spread out over a wider pool of Americans than student debt. Nearly four times as many Americans have card debt than student loan debt, the Nilson report said.
There were 157 million Americans with outstanding debt on one or more credit cards at the end of 2016, but just 44 million with student loan debt.