INDIANAPOLIS – Call it an expensive sign of the times: total U.S. credit card debt has topped $1 trillion for the first time in history.
The latest quarterly report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows credit card balances increased by roughly $45 billion in the second quarter this year. The total amount owed by American borrowers now sits at $1.03 trillion–a 4% increase from the first quarter and the highest total ever.
In addition, Americans opened nearly 5.5 million new credit card accounts, which will undoubtedly push the trillion-dollar total even higher.
Aside from the overall total debt, there is particular concern right now for student loan borrowers, who haven’t had to make payments on their loans for the last three years and have run up credit card balances in the meantime. A report from the TransUnion credit bureau shows more than half of those who had their loan payments put on hold have opened new credit card accounts, and more than a third took out new car loans.
“Many of these consumers have taken on additional debt since the last time they had to pay their student loans,” said Liz Pagel, senior vice president and consumer lending business leader at TransUnion. “It’s important for both lenders and consumers to be prepared for this new payment shock.”
Of course, you don’t have to be a student loan borrower to be shocked by a credit card balance that has gotten out of control, and making only the minimum payment every month won’t get you out of the hole with interest rates hovering around 20%.
Experts say the best way to attack a credit card balance is to apply for a balance transfer credit card that offers 12-to-20 months 0% interest. Transfer your high-interest balance to that card, and for the next year or year and a half, everything you pay goes toward the balance, instead of interest.
If the interest-free period is ending and you still have more to pay down, you can pay the remaining balance with a personal loan because those interest rates are generally much lower than credit cards.