Average Credit Card Balance Sinks During Pandemic

Off the Charts: The Visual Says It All

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Fired up to pay off debt over the past year, U.S. consumers haven’t had a smaller average credit card balance in at least 11 years, according to a new report from the credit bureau TransUnion.

Fueled by government stimulus checks and tax refunds, cardholders chipped away at credit card debt, shrinking the average card balance to $4,791 in the first quarter. As the chart below shows, that’s more than $800 less than a year ago, and well below the $6,107 seen in the third quarter of 2009, the highest recorded by TransUnion since it began tracking the statistic that year. 

Credit card debt dropped sharply in the first quarter across all demographics—a surprising, but positive, side effect of federal relief programs established during the pandemic, including stimulus payments and supplemental unemployment benefits, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s latest household debt and credit report.

Consumers with the spectrum of credit scores have tackled card debt, though those with the highest scores have shaved the least. The chart below shows the average card balance data broken out by VantageScore 3.0 risk ranges—VantageScore is a respected alternative version of the widely used FICO credit scoring model.

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