Personal Finance

Why credit card debt can be bad for your health

Key Points
  • Eighty-six percent of Americans who have or had credit card debt say they regret it, according to a report by NerdWallet.
  • To avoid rising debt, good credit card management comes down to paying your monthly bill in full and on time.
American households racking up more debt

With a growing economy comes increased spending and rising credit card debt.

In many cases, that causes sleepless nights as well.

While household income has grown during the past decade, it has failed to keep up with the increased cost-of-living over the same period. To bridge the gap, Americans increasingly rely on credit cards, one of the most expensive ways to borrow.

Outstanding card debt has now hit its highest point ever, surpassing $1 trillion in 2017, according to the Federal Reserve.

Yet 86 percent of Americans who have or had credit card debt said they regret it, according to a recent report by NerdWallet. The main regrets are because it took a long time to pay off, resulting in hefty interest expenses and causing unnecessary stress.

Nearly 2 in 5 consumers who have had credit card debt said it affected their general happiness, NerdWallet found. One-third said it negatively affected their standard of living, and 1 in 5 said it negatively impacted their health.

Still, the average American has about three credit cards and a total balance of $6,375, up nearly 3 percent from last year, according to Experian's annual study on the state of credit and debt in America.

Currently, 43 percent of card holders carry a balance each month, the American Bankers Association said. That's where credit cards can bite you, said Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet's credit cards and banking expert.

"There's nothing inherently wrong with using a credit card; the problem is when you don't pay off the balance," Palmer said. "Because the interest is so high, it can snowball so quickly."

The average credit card interest rate is 14.87 percent, and the average household pays a total of $904 in credit card interest each year, according to NerdWallet.

Good credit card management comes down to paying your balance in full each month or at least make the minimum payment to avoid fees, Palmer said. (See more strategies in the infographic below.)

NerdWallet polled over 2,000 U.S. adults in January.