Personal Finance

1 in 3 consumers fear they will max out a credit card

Key Points
  • More than 1 in 3 Americans — or 91 million people — say they're afraid they'll max out their credit card when making a large purchase.
  • Still, most Americans continue to take on ever-increasing amounts of credit card debt.
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Despite the dangers of high-interest debt, more consumers are testing the limits of plastic.

To that point, more than 1 in 3 Americans — or 91 million people— said they're afraid they'll max out their credit card when making a large purchase, according to a new WalletHub credit cards survey. (Most of those polled considered a large purchase as anything over $100.)

"A healthy amount of fear is justified," said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of WalletHub. "Issues stemming from large purchases more often concern people making too many of them, for the wrong reasons."

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More than one-third, or 37%, also said they have already maxed out their credit card and 14% said they have maxed it out more than once. WalletHub polled more than 700 people in January.

Still, most Americans continue to take on ever-increasing amounts of debt. According to data from the Federal Reserve, the U.S. surpassed $1 trillion in credit card debt — the highest level since the Great Recession.

U.S. households with revolving credit card debt owe nearly $7,000, on average, costing them roughly $1,100 a year in interest payments, according to NerdWallet's 2019 household debt study.

At the same time, about 35% of cardholders are starting 2020 with more credit card debt than they had in the beginning of 2019, according to a separate CompareCards survey.

And fewer cardholders said they paid their monthly balance in full in each of the past six months than compared to one year ago, CompareCards found.

However, more cardholders said they felt "very confident" about their ability to pay their credit cards' monthly statement balance in full going forward.

We are still running up debt, so, at some point, something has to give.
Matt Schulz
chief industry analyst at CompareCards

"While that confidence is great, it's almost certainly not going to be the case," said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards.

"We are still running up debt, so, at some point, something has to give."

Credit card interest rates are also near record highs — at more than 17%, according to Schulz, "and there's no reason to think that is going to change anytime soon."

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