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Americans' total credit card balance is $986 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to consumer debt data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
More than one in three Ohioans are relying on credit cards for spending needs, and nearly a quarter say they've increased their credit-card use in response to cost-of-living increases, according to a new report.
Michael Welker, editor of Upgraded Points, a website tracking credit-card reward and travel programs, explained when the pandemic began, people spent less and got a financial boost from stimulus checks, leading to lower credit-card balances overall. Now, persistent high inflation is causing many to use credit to cover basic household expenses.
Welker said it poses a risk as interest rates rise.
"As you carry over balances month to month, and interest starts to accrue, potentially it's going to be even harder to pay down your debt," Welker advised. "That's going to be even more pressure, in terms of covering your household expenses."
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed new regulations which would, among other changes, cap late fees for credit-card payments at 25% of the minimum payment amount. The agency is taking public comments about its proposal until April 3.
According to the report, nationwide more than 95% of people with annual incomes below $75,000 said they are feeling stressed about inflation. Welker recommended using credit cards only when needed to meet basic expenses, and shifting habits instead to reduce dining out, entertainment and other leisure spending.
"Be more mindful of your spending," Welker suggested. "Figure out where you might be able to cut or trim back, find less expensive alternatives."
He added consumers may soon feel relief as the federal government works to combat inflation, but only those who rein in their credit-card use.
"The Fed is still raising interest rates trying to tame inflation," Welker pointed out. "Potentially, at some point later in the year, we finally start to see that come down to a more manageable level."
In another survey, by Clever Real Estate, 40% of Americans believe high prices are the "new normal," and 62% say they expect everyday prices will be even higher this year.