Credit Card Red Flags Raised, With Debt on Pace to Reach $1 Trillion

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Consumers are pushing credit card debt to alarming levels, according to WalletHub. The online financial adviser projects consumers will add $60 billion in credit card debt this year, lifting the overall debt level to almost $1 trillion. WalletHub said Thursday in a report that outstanding credit card debt is at the second-highest point since the end of 2008.

Consumers paid down $31.5 billion debt in the first quarter, the highest first-quarter paydown in two years. First-quarter debt reduction is customary because people receive annual salary bonuses early in the year, and consumers resolve to pay down debt in the new year.

But the pace of the first-quarter debt reduction pales in comparison to the increase in debt over the preceding quarters. In 2016, consumers added $89.4 billion in new credit card debt, representing a cause for concern, said WalletHub.

“The fact that we repaid $31.5 billion of our debt during the first quarter of 2017 actually provides little reason for comfort,” said WalletHub.

Consumers are coming off small paydown rates from 2016. Last year consumers began the year by repaying $27.6 billion in the first quarter, the smallest first-quarter debt reduction since 2008, during the throes of the last recession. WalletHub said consumers finished the year by setting post-2007 records for the most debt added in the second, third and fourth quarters, respectively.

Consumers ended 2016 with $89.4 billion in new credit card debt, the most for a year since 2007 and 145% above the post-recession average, according to WalletHub.

Average credit card debt per household in the first quarter rose 6% to $8,038 from $7,597. Total credit card debt increased 6% to $940.2 billion from $885.4 billion.

Among the tips WalletHub suggests to manage debt, consumers should:

  • Create a budget and stick with it.
  • Build an emergency fund.
  • Improve their credit score.
  • Repay the most expensive debt first.