More credit cardholders are carrying card balances from month to month, a recent Bankrate credit card debt survey finds. In November 2023, 49 percent of cardholders fell into this credit card “debt revolver” category — up from 39 percent in 2021 and 47 percent in July 2023.

This finding comes amid the legacy of high inflation, which has increasingly caused consumers to turn to their credit cards to make ends meet. Total credit card balances hit a high of $1.08 trillion in the third quarter of 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — a figure that is up $48 billion over the quarter and $154 billion over the year. Interest on this debt is also increasing, with the Federal Reserve reporting the average APR for revolving credit at 22.77 percent as of the third quarter.

“Over the past two years, Americans’ credit card balances have skyrocketed 40 percent, according to the New York Fed,” says Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman. “And most cardholders’ rates have risen five-and-a-quarter percentage points during that span as a result of the Fed’s rate hikes meant to combat inflation. It’s no wonder, then, that we’re seeing more people carrying more debt for longer periods of time.”

On the positive side, credit card delinquencies remain at a relatively low 2.98 percent. According to the Fed, Americans’ debt-to-income ratios are also low, despite the challenges brought about by the higher prices and higher interest rates resulting from formerly-high inflation.

Key insights

Credit Card
According to Bankrate’s survey:
  • 49 percent of credit card holders are carrying a credit card balance from month to month — an increase from 39 percent in 2021.
  • Generation X leads the pack, with 55 percent saying they carry a credit card balance, followed by millennials at 51 percent, Gen Zers at 48 percent and baby boomers at 44 percent.
  • Emergency or unexpected expenses are the leading cause of credit card debt, with 43 percent of cardholders saying they’re carrying a balance due to an unexpected or emergency expense.

Who is most likely to carry credit card debt?

Generation X (ages 44 to 59) is most likely to carry credit card debt, with 55 percent saying they carry a balance from month to month, followed by millennials (ages 28 to 43) at 51 percent. Behind millennials are Gen Zers (ages 18-27) at 48 percent and baby boomers (ages 60-78) at 44 percent.

Additionally, Bankrate’s survey found that credit card use rises with age, with 83 percent of baby boomers saying they use credit cards, followed by 76 percent of Gen Xers, 73 percent of millennials and 69 percent of Gen Zers.

Women are also more likely to carry credit card debt, with 52 percent of female cardholders carrying debt from month to month compared with 45 percent of male cardholders.

Additional findings on who carries credit card debt:

  • Credit card holders who live in the South (52 percent) and the Midwest (50 percent) are more likely to carry credit card balances than those who live in the Northeast (47 percent) and West (43 percent).
  • 52 percent of urban cardholders carry credit card debt, compared with 51 percent each of those who live in rural areas and towns and 44 percent who live in the suburbs.
  • 56 percent of credit card holders who earn annual household incomes of below $50,000 carry credit card debt, compared with only 38 percent of those earning annual household incomes of $100,000 or higher.

Credit card debt helps tackle emergency expenses

While 58 percent of those carrying credit card debt have been in debt for a year or more, this figure is down from the 60 percent of people who said the same in July 2023. However, that number is still up from 50 percent in 2021, when card rates were lower due to the near-zero Fed’s target interest rate to which they’re tied.

As to why people are finding themselves carrying credit card debt, 43 percent of adults who carry a balance say it’s primarily because of an unexpected or emergency expense. These expenses include:

  • Unexpected medical bills (11 percent)
  • Necessary car repairs (10 percent)>
  • Home repairs (9 percent)
  • Other unexpected or emergency repairs (14 percent)

Another main reason people carry credit card debt is day-to-day expenses, with 26 percent of balance-carrying consumers saying that groceries, child care and utilities are the reason they carry credit card debt from month to month.

Card balances will linger for a while

While it’s easy to swipe your card for purchases, paying off accumulated credit card debt can be much more difficult.

About 22 percent of U.S. adults who carry a balance month-to-month say they’re overwhelmed by their card debt, while 10 percent say they don’t know how to make noticeable progress toward paying down the debt. Sixteen percent are concerned they won’t be able to make their minimum card payments in the next six months.

Further, a tenth of those carrying credit card debt don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and don’t expect to ever pay off their debt, while 26 percent expect it will be five years or longer before they do. On the positive side, 47 percent of balance-carrying consumers have a plan to pay down the debt.

How to tackle your credit card debt

The sooner you can pay off your credit card debt, the less you’ll pay in credit card interest. At the average interest rate of 22.7 percent, paying off a $5,000 balance with a monthly payment of $469 over 12 months will cost you $636 in interest. If you take 24 months to pay it off at a monthly payment of $261, your total interest payment doubles to $1,267.

Here are four smart ways to tackle your credit card debt and pay off what you owe more quickly:

“While Americans are managing their credit card debt pretty well, all things considered, we are seeing pockets of trouble at the household level,” says Rossman. “If you have credit card debt, this is probably your highest-cost debt by a wide margin. My top tip is to sign up for a 0% balance transfer card. These allow you to move your existing debt to a new card which won’t charge interest for up to 21 months.”


  • Generation X is more likely to carry a card balance than members of other generations. It could be due to this “sandwich generation” caring for elderly parents as well as their own children. While baby boomers are more likely than other generations to use credit cards, they are less likely to carry a balance.
  • Emergency expenses are the top reason consumers say they’ve ended up carrying credit card debt. Unanticipated medical bills, car repairs and home repairs are among the reasons balance-carrying cardholders turn to their credit cards as a financial lifeline.
  • More than a third (36 percent) of those with credit card debt expect that it will linger for at least five years, including 10 percent not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel at all.


Bankrate commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,350 U.S. adults, including 1,796 cardholders and 873 who carry a balance on their credit card(s). Fieldwork was undertaken between November 28–30, 2023. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.