By Paulina Cachero
Stubbornly high prices and robust consumer spending collided in the fourth quarter of 2022, pushing credit card balances to a record high of $986 billion.
The $61 billion increase from the prior quarter was the biggest seen in data going back to 1999, and propelled Americans’ total credit card debt past the previous high of $927 billion, which was set in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to the New York Fed’s Household Debt and Credit Report.
Credit card borrowers aren’t just swiping plastic more than ever — they’re missing payments too, with delinquency rates surpassing pre-pandemic norms. A little over 4% of credit card debt has transitioned to serious delinquency, which means failing to pay for 90 days or more.
The surge in credit card debt marks a dramatic shift from just a couple of years ago, when stimulus checks allowed housebound American consumers to save and pay down balances. In early 2021, credit card balances had dropped 17% from the pre-pandemic high, according to a report from Bankrate.com
Now, inflation is driving up the costs of everything from food to gas, and repeated rate hikes from the Federal Reserve have pushed credit card interest rates to nearly 20%.
Altogether, credit card balances ballooned by $130 billion from December 2021 to December 2022 — the largest annual growth on record. As the Fed continues to hike interest rates, credit card borrowing costs are expected to hit a 40-year high this year.
“It’s triple trouble for credit card borrowers. Balances are up, rates are up and more people are carrying credit card debt,” said Ted Rossman, a senior Bankrate analyst, adding that 46% of credit card holders are carrying debt, up from 39% a year ago.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.