Market Overview

Most Balance Carriers Have Had Year-Long Debt, And They Don't See It Going Away Soon


Do you carry a balance on your credit card? Does the balance haunt you each month, running up interest charges, despite your best efforts to pay it off?

You're not alone. According to a recent survey by Clever, a real estate data company, almost half (47%) of credit card users report carrying balances, and 56% of those cardholders have had debt for at least a year. Almost three-quarters of balance-carrying consumers had more than $1,000 in outstanding credit card debt.

Most balance holders aren't optimistic about paying off their debt anytime soon. Clever found that only 30% of Americans with credit card debt expect to completely pay it off this year. One-in-five Americans think it will take more than three years to pay off their credit card debt, 7% say it will take over five years to be free of credit card debt and 8% have no idea when they'll pay off their debt — if ever.

Carrying a balance can be costly. The average annual percentage rate (APR) on credit cards is near 17.7%, a 0.5 percentage point increase over the last six months. Consumers with bad credit are paying an average APR over 25%.

To pay off a $1,000 balance in a year at 17.7%, you'll pay almost $100 in total interest — and that's if you don't charge anything else for the entire year. How likely is that?

Is there a silver lining? According to a 2018 report from, 22% of people think carrying a balance builds your credit score. Sadly, they're wrong. Greg McBride, Senior VP and Chief Financial Analyst at, explains, "You do not need to carry a balance — particularly at a high interest rate — in order to build your credit rating."

You do need to have running credit accounts to maintain a decent credit score. If you don't use credit at all, lenders have no way to assess the risk of loaning you money. However, the best way to rack up a higher credit score is to pay all your charges on time, every month, and in full.

Why do consumers carry balances? In some cases, it's because they have to. In other cases, consumers are simply spending more than they can afford to pay off each month. Just over half of respondents cited buying groceries as part of the reason for their credit card debt. Online and retail shopping were close behind at 48% and 43% respectively, while 44% called eating out one of their debt contributors.

"I think the worst misconception people have, particularly as it pertains to credit, is this idea that you have to owe money in order to build your credit rating. And that's not true. You can build your credit score very effectively by opening up credit cards and then paying the balance in full at the end of the month," says McBride.

More catastrophic expenses like car repairs and medical bills were significant debt contributors, but most reported debt came from controllable everyday expenses.

The Clever survey suggests that consumers could benefit from creating a new and more realistic budget, and then sticking to it. You can't pay down debt unless you have a monthly cash surplus to apply to the task. Rebalance your budget until you spend less than you make — iincludes putting cash to the side for emergencies like car repairs. If you don't spend that safety net, great! You can put the extra cash toward retirement.

Once you pay off the debt, keep your budget where it is. Put your surplus toward an emergency fund to reduce future debt. You can use credit responsibly and build your credit score the right way — no balance carrying required.

Credit cards can be an effective way to manage money, improve credit, earn points, and travel with perks if used the right way. Benzinga's personal finance staff provides tips on using credit cards effectively.

Related Links:

With Credit Scores Inflating, Are You Prepared For An Economic Slowdown?

How To Pay Off Your Credit Cards With The Debt Spiral Method

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

Posted-In: contributor contributors credit cardsPersonal Finance


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