Find Out How Much Credit Card Debt You Can Afford

Even a Little Bit of Debt Is Costly

two women looking at finances at their kitchen counter

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Knowing your total debt is an important part of managing your finances. However, you could be carrying more credit card debt than you can actually afford even if your payments feel manageable. Figuring out how much credit card debt is too much involves some simple math and a close look at your own debt landscape.

Gather Your Income Info

Comparing your debt to your income gives you a better idea of whether you can afford your debt load. Start by gathering your income info. Most credit card companies and lenders consider your monthly gross, or before-tax, income when they’re qualifying you for a credit card or loan. Use your paystubs, or invoice receipts if you’re a contractor or self-employed, to figure out how much you bring in each month.

We’ve created a Google Sheets spreadsheet (The Balance’s Debt to Income Worksheet) to help you collect your debt and income details and to do the math for you.

Calculate Your Debt-to-Income Ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio allows you to quickly compare your monthly debt payments to your monthly income. You can calculate your own ratio by dividing your gross monthly income by your monthly debt payments, which could include:

  • Mortgage or rent
  • Auto loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit cards
  • Personal loans
The Balance DTI Worksheet

The Balance

Your debt-to-income ratio includes both good and bad debt.

“Good debt” is considered debt you can repay and has a low interest rate that you use to buy something that increases in value (a mortgage, for example, or student loans).

“Bad debt,” on the other hand, is high-interest debt you can’t repay that’s used for things that don’t necessarily increase in value (credit cards, for example). Having a high percentage of bad debt, which includes credit card debt, can indicate that you have more debt than you can afford.

How Much Debt Is Too Much?

Another way of looking at your debt-to-income ratio is to divide your total debt, and not just your monthly payments, by your total annual income. Economists use this method to gauge economic growth, but it can also give some insight into your total indebtedness. The average consumer has $90,460 in debt, including mortgages, and a personal income of $50,413, according to figures from Experian and the U.S. Census. Using those 2019 figures, the aggregate DTI ratio for the entire United States was 1.79. You can check out state-by-state (and even county-by-county) data on U.S. consumer debt via the Federal Reserve’s Household Debt Overview.

While your debt-to-income ratio isn’t part of your credit score, lenders use the number to qualify you for a loan. The ratio allows lenders to estimate whether you would have trouble making your monthly debt payments. Many mortgage lenders, for example, look for a debt-to-income ratio of 36%-43%.

Your monthly non-debt expenses can affect what you can truly afford and the calculations, while helpful, don’t always give you a concrete answer. You may have too much credit card debt if you can’t make progress on your existing debt or can’t save. Signs of these financial trouble spots include:

  • You can only afford the minimum payments on your debt
  • Your credit card balances are above 30% of the credit limit
  • You’re living paycheck to paycheck
  • You can’t afford to build an emergency fund

Next Steps and More Resources

When you’ve decided you’re ready to pay off your debt, the next step is figuring out a strategy that will work for you. There’s more than one way to approach debt payoff and some are better than others.

Before that, here are a few more resources on figuring out whether your current debt load is manageable:

Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "What Is a Debt-to-Income Ratio? Why Is the 43% Debt-to-Income Ratio Important?" Accessed Jan. 6, 2021.

  2. Federal Reserve. "Household Debt-to-Income Ratios in the Enhanced Financial Accounts." Accessed Jan. 6, 2021.