Become Debt-Free

70% of Americans with credit card debt admit they can't pay it off this year

VIDEO1:0101:01
You may be paying off your credit card debt wrong—here’s the best way

Almost half of Americans carry a balance on their credit cards, a new survey finds, and paying it off is proving a challenge: Only about 30 percent of people with credit card debt say they'll be able to wipe it out this year.

A new survey of 1,000 credit card users by real estate data company Clever found that 47 percent of Americans carry a monthly balance on their credit cards. Of them, over 70 percent say that balance is more than $1,000 on average.

Over half of those surveyed, 56 percent, say they've had credit card debt for at least a year. And most will continue to carry it for years to come. Almost 20 percent estimate it will take them more than three years to pay off their debt, while roughly 8 percent say they don't know when they'll be able to pay it down.

"It's a big issue," Ted Rossman, credit industry expert for CreditCards.com, tells CNBC Make It. Especially now: The average credit card APR sits at a record-high 17.65 percent, so the interest accrued on monthly balances can quickly add up.

"This is why every extra dollar should go toward your credit card debt," Rossman says. Think of it like an investment with a guaranteed average return of over 17 percent. For many people, that return may be over 20 percent, since that's what they're paying in interest, Rossman says.

"Good luck getting that in the stock market," he says, especially when you consider the S&P 500 index ended 2018 down over 6 percent.

How Americans generate debt

Simply coping with daily expenses is driving some people into debt, especially lower-income families, defined here as those earning less than $50,000 a year. "Buying groceries" ranked as the top expense that added to people's balances, according to the survey.

About 28 percent of respondents say they depend on credit cards to pay for essentials such as rent and utilities.

Emergency expenses also contribute significantly to credit card debt, many respondents say. About 30 percent cite medical bills, and 40 percent say car repairs have added to their balance.

Digging out of debt

But there's some good news. A full 62 percent of millennials (defined here as those ages 18 to 34) say they pay off their balance every month. That's compared to just 48 percent of those aged 35 and up.

If you're not able to pay off your balance each month, Rossman says you should still pay more than the minimum whenever possible.

Let's say you have $5,700 in credit card debt, the national average among those who carry a balance. If your card charges the average APR of 17.65 percent and you only pay the minimum each month, you'd be in debt for almost 20 years and pay over $7,000 in interest, Rossman calculates.

"Those are huge numbers," he says.

Having an emergency savings fund can also be an important way to take control of your finances. Most experts recommend that you have three-to-six months of living expenses set aside in an account earmarked for crises. "That's going to be a buffer between you and high-cost credit card debt," Rossman says.

Since it's easier said than done, he suggests starting small, with $2,000 as your initial goal. Then work your way up to having the recommended six months of savings.

Don't miss: 60 percent of millennials don't have enough money to cover a $1,000 emergency

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

VIDEO1:3001:30
Suze Orman: This is why you should work to be debt-free
make it

Stay in the loop

Sign Up

About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

CNBC.COM