Americans paid off a record $83 billion in credit card debt in 2020
- Because of the coronavirus crisis, consumers are paying down debt and saving more than they have in decades.
- But there will likely be a surge in spending once people are vaccinated and Covid-related restrictions are lifted.
In many ways, the coronavirus crisis has paved the way to better budgeting.
Consumers are paying down debt and saving more than they have in decades. Many are leveraging low interest rates to refinance and lower their monthly bills.
Federal relief, such as stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits and an extended pause in loan repayments, have even given some a chance to catch up on past-due payments.
Altogether, Americans repaid almost $83 billion in credit card debt during 2020 — a record, according to a Credit Card Debt Study by personal-finance site WalletHub.
That marks only "the second time in the past 35 years we've even ended the year owing less credit card debt than we started with," said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst at WalletHub. (The first time was in 2009, in the wake of the Great Recession.)
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By the end of last year, the average household credit card balance fell to $8,089, WalletHub found.
Credit cards are one of the most expensive ways to borrow money. Card rates now stand at 15.99%, on average, down slightly from a record high of 17.85%.
Many experts predict there could be a surge in consumer spending once more people are vaccinated and Covid-related restrictions are lifted, which could undo some of the recent progress made toward paying down debt.
According to the National Retail Federation, economic indicators point toward potentially record retail sales growth during 2021.
Consumers have "plenty of purchasing power" that will combine with pent-up demand to provide "accelerants for growth," the trade association said.
The $1.9 trillion economic relief and stimulus bill would provide an additional boost. The Democratic-led House plans to vote on the Senate legislation Tuesday so that President Joe Biden can sign it into law early in the week.
"A short-term burst of spending is inevitable," Gonzalez said.
"The question is which way the pendulum swings in 2022 and beyond," she added. "My hope is that consumers will internalize lessons learned during the pandemic and showcase a newfound frugality."
WalletHub is projecting that consumers will add around $50 billion in credit card debt in 2021 alone. The personal finance site used data from TransUnion as well as the Federal Reserve and Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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