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One in five consumers don’t know if they have credit card debt

U.S. News survey also finds a lack of awareness about how much interest they’re paying

Photo (c) BernardaSv - Getty Images
After student loan debt, credit card debt is one of the main financial anchors holding consumers back, preventing them from getting ahead.

But a new survey conducted for U.S. News and World Report shows a lot of consumers are not only unaware of how much credit card debt they owe, they don’t even know if that debt exists.

A recent report from the Federal Reserve shows credit card debt in the U.S. surpassed the $1 trillion mark for the first time in 2018. Student loan debt is only slightly larger, at $1.4 trillion.

The disturbing results of the U.S. News survey show 21 percent of consumers don’t know if they are carrying a credit card balance and 30 percent said they don’t know how much interest they pay each month.

Nearly a quarter owe more than $10,000

The survey also found that of consumers who have credit card debt, 24 percent owe more than $10,001. While 37 percent have a balance on just one credit card; 12 percent are running tabs on five or more credit cards.

If you recognize yourself among those statistics, Beverly Harzog, best-selling author, credit card expert and consumer finance analyst at U.S. News, says it’s no cause for shame. Most of us have been there at one time or another.

"When I was young, I fell into a sea of credit card debt because I was uneducated about personal finance and unaware of the high interest rates associated with credit cards," she said.

Paying down a balance might not be as daunting as it might seem. Harzog recommends tricks like transferring high interest credit card balances to a card giving you a year or more without paying interest.

Get a balance transfer card

"If you qualify, a balance transfer credit card can save you money and help you get back on track financially," she said.

As ConsumerAffairs has previously reported, a balance transfer card with a 0 percent interest rate allows you to quickly pay off a balance because the entire payment goes to pay down what’s owed. With a high-interest credit card, very little of the payment actually goes toward the debt.

The U.S. News survey uncovered some good news as well as bad news. It found that a majority of consumers -- 60 percent -- do not have any credit card debt. They pay off their balance in full each month.

But of consumers who are carrying a credit card balance, 13 percent said they have to struggle to make ends meet. Fifteen percent said their credit card debt limits their spending on other things.

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