How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (2024)

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If you have high balances on your credit cards, you might wonder how much credit card debt is too much. As a general rule, it's best not to accumulate any credit card debt, but sometimes you need to do it.

Credit card debt can be hard to pay off, so it's important to know when you have too much and when it's still manageable. By figuring this out, you can decide if you need to make some serious changes, or if you'll be fine simply paying your bills as usual.

Jump To

  • How much credit card debt is too much?
  • How credit card debt can affect you
  • Getting control of your credit card debt
  • Still have questions?
  • FAQs

How much credit card debt is too much?

The clearest sign that you have too much credit card debt is when you can't afford the minimum payments. At that point, card issuers will start charging you late fees. Once your payment is 30 days past due, it can go on your credit report and hurt your credit score.

LEARN MORE: How Does a Late Payment Affect My Credit Score?

If you can't pay a credit card bill, or you've already fallen behind on payments, then you need to make some changes.

Here are a few options that could help you improve your financial situation:

  • Cut back on unnecessary expenses
  • Refinance your debt with a personal loan or balance transfer card
  • Work with a credit counseling agency

Even if you're able to make your payments on time, your credit card debt might still be an issue. Here are a few warning signs that you could be reaching the danger zone with your credit card debt.

You've maxed out one or more credit cards

Maxing out a credit card is when you've spent your entire credit limit, which is the maximum amount you can spend on the card. Card issuers normally decline any transactions that would cause you to go over your credit limit.

If you've maxed out a credit card, it can have negative consequences. You won't be able to use the card until you've paid down the balance. A high credit card balance also raises your credit utilization ratio, which can lower your credit score.

LEARN MORE: What Is a Credit Utilization Ratio?

Your balances are increasing every month

One of the difficult things about credit card debt is how it can sneak up on you. It's sometimes caused by one big expense, but just as often, it's the result of balances gradually increasing every month. Eventually, what was previously a small, manageable amount has grown by thousands of dollars.

When your credit card balances are growing, that's a red flag to watch for. Whenever possible, it's good to be proactive about paying down those balances before they become a much more serious problem.

You're only making minimum payments

You have too much credit card debt when you can't pay the minimum, but it might also be an issue if you're only making the minimum payment. It can take years to pay off credit card debt when only paying the minimum due each month. If you're in this position, see if you can free up any more money so your monthly payment makes more of a dent in what you owe.

To see how much credit card debt can cost you and how paying more can make a huge difference, use the debt repayment calculator below.

Debt repayment calculator

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How credit card debt can affect you

Credit card debt has several potential consequences, including:

  • Interest charges
  • Impact on your credit score
  • Legal action
  • Not qualifying for new credit cards

Here's more information on the ways credit card debt can affect your life.

Interest charges

Your credit card issuer can charge you interest on any balance you don't pay in full by the due date. Because most credit cards have a high interest rate, this is one of the most dangerous parts of carrying a balance. Interest charges can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year to your balance.

LEARN MORE: How Does Credit Card Interest Work?

Your credit score

Your credit score is a measure of your creditworthiness. There are a couple ways credit card debt can damage your credit score:

  • High balances: A major factor in your credit score is your credit utilization ratio (your credit card balances divided by their credit limits). Once this number gets above about 30%, it's bad for your credit. So, if you have $5,000 in credit card debt and $10,000 in credit limits, that 50% utilization would hurt your credit.
  • Late payments: If your credit card payment is late by 30 days or more, the card issuer can report it to the credit bureaus. This has a huge impact on your payment history, which is the most important factor in your credit score.

On the bright side, as you pay down credit card debt, that can help raise your credit score.

LEARN MORE: If I Pay Off a Credit Card, Will My Credit Score Change?

Legal action

If you don't pay your credit card account for long enough, there could be legal action. The credit card issuer could sue you and try to recover the debt in court. Or, if the card issuer sells the debt to a debt collection agency, the debt collector would also have the option of suing you.

LEARN MORE: Can a Credit Card Company Sue You?

Not qualifying for new credit cards

When you have too much debt, credit card companies will be reluctant to approve you for new cards. If you see a card you really like that offers a lot of value, you may not qualify for it. This isn't nearly as bad as the other consequences of credit card debt, but it's still worth mentioning and could be helpful as motivation to pay off your cards.

CHECK OUT TOP CARD OFFERS: Best Credit Cards

Getting control of your credit card debt

When you're dealing with heavy credit card debt, a good starting point is to set up a budget and figure out how much you can pay per month. From there, you can build a debt payment plan and look at options that will help you pay off your debt faster and more affordably.

For more information on how to pay off credit card debt, here are a few useful guides:

  • A complete guide: How to Get Out of Credit Card Debt
  • Quick ways to pay off a card: How to Pay Off a Credit Card Fast
  • For large amounts of debt: How to Pay Off Over $25,000 in Credit Card Debt
  • For working with your creditors: How to Negotiate Credit Card Debt

Using a balance transfer card

One of the best ways to save money on credit card debt is with a balance transfer card. If you have good credit, you could qualify for a card with a 0% intro APR on balance transfers. That means you can pay down your debt interest-free during your balance transfer card's intro period.

Learn more about it in the following pages, or compare different balance transfer credit card offers with the handy tool below:

  • A Complete Guide to Balance Transfers
  • Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards

As of Nov. 27, 2023

How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (1)

How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (2)

How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (3)

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Credit Rating Requirement:Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Recommended Credit Score required for this offer is: Good/Excellent (670-850)

Poor

Fair

Good

Excellent

300-579

580-669

670-739

740-850

Good/Excellent (670-850)

Credit Rating Requirement:Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Recommended Credit Score required for this offer is: Good/Excellent (670-850)

Poor

Fair

Good

Excellent

300-579

580-669

670-739

740-850

Good/Excellent (670-850)

Credit Rating Requirement:Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Recommended Credit Score required for this offer is: Good/Excellent (670-850)

Poor

Fair

Good

Excellent

300-579

580-669

670-739

740-850

Good/Excellent (670-850)

Welcome Offer:

Welcome Offer:N/A

Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Welcome Offer:There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).

Lower intro balance transfer fee

Rewards Program:

N/A

Rewards Program:Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically.

1%-5% cash back

Rewards Program:

N/A

Intro APR:0% intro APR for 21 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers

Purchases: 0% intro APR, 21 months from account opening

Balance Transfers: 0% intro APR, 21 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers

Intro APR:

Purchases: 0%, 6 months

Balance Transfers: 0%, 18 months

Intro APR:

Purchases: 0%, 12 months

Balance Transfers: 0%, 21 months

Regular APR:

18.24%, 24.74%, or 29.99% Variable APR

Regular APR:

17.24% - 28.24% Variable APR

Regular APR:

19.24% - 29.99% (Variable)

Annual Fee:N/A

$0

Annual Fee:

$0

Annual Fee:

$0

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  • 0% Intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer and 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening. After that the variable APR will be 19.24% - 29.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
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Rates & Fees How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (81)

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Rates & Fees How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (82)

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Credit card debt can be stressful, but there are ways to pay it down, even if it takes a little time. If you're in this boat, you're not alone. And the good news is that paying down those bills may help improve your credit score over time -- and give you more peace of mind, too.

Still have questions?

Here are some other questions we've answered:

  • How Do Credit Cards Work?
  • Are Credit Cards Bad?
  • What First-Time Credit Card Users Need to Know

FAQs

  • $2,000 in credit card debt is manageable if you can pay more than the minimum each month. If it's hard to keep up with the payments, then you'll need to make some financial changes, such as tightening up your spending or refinancing your debt. Even if you have no trouble making your payments, it's still a good idea to pay off your credit cards as quickly as possible to avoid further interest charges.

  • Credit card debt is something you should try to avoid whenever possible, but it's not necessarily good or bad. There are negative consequences to credit card debt, most notably expensive interest charges. However, there are situations where credit card debt is the best available option. Some people need to go into credit card debt because they're out of work or because of expensive medical bills. In these situations, 0% intro APR credit cards are a good way to save money on interest.

  • Yes, paying off credit card debt can help your credit score. When you reduce your credit card balances, that lowers your credit utilization ratio, which is the ratio of your balances to your credit limit. A lower credit utilization is good for your credit score.

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How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (85)

By:Lyle Daly

Writer

Lyle Daly is a personal finance writer who specializes in credit cards, travel rewards programs, and banking. He writes for The Ascent and The Motley Fool, and his work has appeared in USA Today and Yahoo! Finance. He was born in California but currently lives as a digital nomad with a home base in Colombia.

How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (86)

How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (87)Fact CheckedEric McWhinnie

Eric McWhinnie has been writing and editing digital content since 2010. He specializes in personal finance and investing. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance.

How Much Credit Card Debt Is Too Much? | The Motley Fool (2024)
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