What's a "normal" amount of credit card debt?

Debt is a part of life. In a lot of ways it’s a necessary evil (that’s only really evil when it gets out of hand). It’s probably pretty easy to tell when you have too much debt, but is there such a thing as a “normal” amount of debt?

Average vs. “normal”

The average adult consumer in the United States has over $5,500 in credit card debt. That’s according to research from credit reporting agency Experian. So does that make $5,500 a normal amount? Not really.

The truth is that that average represents an incredibly wide range of consumers. Some folks carry significantly more debt. Some carry no debt at all.

How much debt you can or should carry is dependent on your income and ability to repay. It recently came out, for example, that Netflix is currently carrying $20 billion in debt. They don’t seem overly concerned about that, though, because that’s part of their growth strategy and they have the projected revenue to make it work. If I were $20 billion is debt, however, that would not be good. That would be quite bad actually.

Normal = “healthy”

So the question isn’t really “What’s a normal amount of credit card debt to carry?” It’s “What’s a healthy amount to carry?” To know that, you first have to answer these two questions:

Are you meeting your obligations? As soon as your debt becomes too large to comfortably manage, it’s no longer healthy.

Is the debt in service to your goals? Businesses and entrepreneurs carry debt because “you have to spend money to make money”. Mortgage debt and student loan debt are often necessary if you want to own a house or get a college degree. Credit card debt – while far from ideal – can be healthy, as long as it’s a part of your plan.

If you can’t quite keep up because of your debt, or if the debt isn’t “helpful” in some way, then it’s not a healthy or normal debt and you should consider taking steps to repay that debt as quickly as possible. If you need help putting together a repayment plan or a revamped budget, consider speaking with one of our certified debt and budget counselors!

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI. All typos are a stylistic choice, honest.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.