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Average isn’t always average, is it?  If we look at the overall credit card debt without regard to income, education, and age, the average credit card balance is $3,600.  But that’s only per person for resident U.S. adults.  That includes people who don’t have a credit card and who have a Social Security Number reports creditcards.com.

What we’ll look at here are the several different ways that “average” credit card balances get calculated.  Your conclusions from this are up to you, as Ezra Becker of TransUnion says, “It depends on your approach to what you’re measuring and what you’re trying to do with it.”

Let’s begin with the breakdown of different “VantageScore” ranges. VantageScore.com says it combines all three credit bureau scores into one A-F score but on its website doesn’t actually tell the calculation it uses to do that thus making comparison to better-known FICO scores trickier.  With that in mind, here are the figures they came up with.

Those with “A” scores carry an average balance of $1,749, with “B” scores $2,764, “C” scores “$5,922, “D” at $5,965, and “F” scores at $3,962.  Gerri Detwiler writing in her article for credit.com “What is the Average Credit Card Debt in America?” speculates that the lower dollar amount for “F” scores might be because those people find getting credit more difficult.

Those who sought credit counseling in 2013, though, had nearly six cards on average and had unsecured debt of $17,548 reports the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  Those people’s unsecured debt, credit card debt, payday loans, and other debts not secured by property, was 50 percent of their average annual income.

Those filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy had debt of $23,300, adjusted from filings in 2000.

An interesting factor is the average debt by education.  Those with a college degree had the highest debt load at $3,873.90, while those with no high school diploma had the lowest at $2,277.60.  Those with a high school diploma came in at $2,611.90 and with some college at $2,946.50.  Why that is falls either under the headings of speculation, or as Becker of TransUnion says, “what you’re trying to do with it.”

Different people use cards differently, the difference between “transactors” and “revolvers.”  Transactors don’t really have any credit card debt at all since they pay off their balances every month. They may use a credit card to get points toward airline miles or cash back. “Revolvers,” on the other hand, borrow on their cards, accumulating and paying the interest every month, and leave a balance on them.

The “transactors” will show “balance” or $1,098 per card.  “Revolvers,” on the other hand, have a balance of $7,743 per card that usually carries a balance reports creditcards.com.

That reminds me of the experience I had a couple of years ago when I was getting the oil changed in my truck and another customer was buying new tires.  His vehicle had perfectly good, almost new tires, but he had his mind set on some tires that would impress his friends and confound his enemies.  The set he was buying cost about $1,500.  When he went to pay for them, he told the clerk to put $700 on one card and $800 on another.  We can only assume that those were the balances left on each card, cards that were then maxed out.  Figure he was a “revolver.”

Here’s another wrinkle that will show up on a credit report.  Remember those offers of  0 percent interest on a credit card we get or used to get?  There are people who would charge maybe  $10,000 on one of those cards and carry a “free money” balance but would pay off the cards with an interest rate every month.

Age is another interesting factor.  The age of the head of household shows an interesting difference in the amount of credit card debt.

Under 35: $3,033.70

35-44:      $3,277.10

45-54:       $3,460.70

55-64:       $2,939.50

65-74:       $2,046.30

75+:          $1,020.90


What’s the reason for the disparity.  Who knows?  We can speculate all we want about correlations between age, education, credit-worthiness, and anything else.  But correlation doesn’t equal cause and effect.

Some cards are not included in the calculations.  The vast majority of cards are bank credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard.  But the “Survey of Consumer Finances” by the Federal Reserve found that other types of cards may not be included in the calculations.  For example, 56.7 percent of people have a card issued by a store, such as Macy’s or Home Depot.  Only 11.9 percent have a gas credit card.  Those cards may not show up on a credit report unless they go to collection.

What to do with all that information?  Ezra Becker of TransUnion said “You think these things are simple, but they’re more complex than you can imagine.”

By Robert L. Cain

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