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Credit Card Confidence Index 12-Month Archive

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Want to talk to Matt about the latest Confidence Index numbers? Email him at [email protected]. You can also reach out via Twitter at @matthewschulz or Instagram at @matt.schulz.

Credit Card Confidence Index: A Look at Prior Months

July 2021: Consumer credit card confidence ticks higher in July

Overall credit card confidence rose slightly in July, the first increase since April.

However, a deeper look at the numbers shows that the intensity of that confidence has waned significantly in recent months, raising the possibility that consumer sentiment may begin falling again sooner rather than later.

Key findings 

  • Two-thirds of cardholders were confident in paying their bills in full in July, but the percentage saying they were “very confident” plunged to its lowest level since February 2020. 43% of cardholders said they were “very confident,” while 23% said they were “somewhat confident.”
  • Just 16% said they weren’t confident, matching the second-lowest percentage in the index’s nearly 3-year-history. That includes 12% who said they were “not at all” confident, also the second-lowest percentage ever.
  • Longer-term confidence remains stable, with 52% of cardholders saying they expect to pay their credit card’s monthly statement balance in full in at least five of the next six months. That’s the seventh straight month in which that percentage has been at or above 50%.

Confidence high but shaky?

Each month, we ask folks to rate their credit card bill-paying confidence from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. For much of the history of the index, which began in September 2018, respondents have tended toward the extreme. Up to and including this June, an average of 63% of respondents have either rated their confidence a 1 or a 5, with the rest falling somewhere in between.

Things changed in July, however: Just 55% rated their confidence either a 1 or a 5. That’s the lowest percentage on record, and just the eighth time in three years that that percentage fell below 60%.

While it is good news that fewer people are rating their confidence a 1, a drop in the percentage rating their confidence a 5 is not a positive development. Just 43% of cardholders rated their confidence a 5 in July, the lowest level since February 2020.

Meanwhile, 23% of cardholders rated their confidence a 4 out of 5, which equates to being somewhat confident. That matches the highest number ever, equaling December 2020 and July 2020.

The trillion-dollar question is: Will those cardholders continue to see their confidence wane as the economy continues to open up and spending begins to normalize? Or might this be a brief blip?

If history is a guide, it might be the latter. The last two times we saw similar dips in confidence numbers, they rebounded in the following month:

  • July 2020: 46% very confident, 23% somewhat confident
  • August 2020: 52% very confident, 14% somewhat confident
  • December 2020: 46% very confident, 23% somewhat confident
  • January 2021: 50% very confident, 17% somewhat confident

Longer-term confidence remains stable

When it comes to looking out over the next six months, consumers’ views have been far less volatile than their short-term perspective.

With the exception of a brief spike in April, the percentage of cardholders who say they expect to pay their credit card’s monthly statement balance in full in at least five of the next six months has moved very little since December. That’s likely a positive sign for consumer credit card confidence.

And those good feelings seem likely to continue for at least a few more months, spurred in part by the distribution of monthly child tax credit payments that began in July. This money will likely help people feel better about paying their bills through the end of the year.

The bottom line

Credit card debt will grow again sometime soon, and with it, credit cardholder confidence will almost certainly fall, at least a bit.

The question is when, exactly, will that happen? My guess is it’ll be sometime in 2022 — I tend to believe the data that this dip in confidence is a brief blip, like the ones mentioned previously.

For the rest of 2021, American cardholders will be bolstered by child tax credit payments, a recovering job market and a significant, though dwindling, cushion of cash left over from the shutdown days of the pandemic. That can be enough to keep cardholders feeling good about their financial situation, even as they begin to spend and travel again like it is 2019.

A lot could change that, however. The spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 could spur a return to wider lockdowns and closures. An end to the moratorium on federal student loan payments could send household budgets crashing back to reality. Post-vaccination spending could prove far larger and more widespread than expected, wiping out people’s savings in a big hurry and thrusting them back into the debt cycle sooner than expected. All those things could send all that confidence spiraling down quickly.

Still, Americans have been remarkably resilient during the past few years. While there are plenty of dangers lurking out there that could threaten their confidence, I’d bet that consumers will continue to feel good about paying off their credit card bills — at least for a while longer.

As always, your best move is to knock down credit card and other high-interest debt. The good news is that lending is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels — with offers for zero-interest balance transfer credit cards and low-interest personal loans are as accessible as they’ve been since the pandemic began — so you have options, especially if you have good credit.

July 2021 methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 713 credit cardholders from July 9-16, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

June 2021: Credit card confidence sinks to lowest level since February

Credit card confidence fell for the second straight month, dipping to its lowest levels since February.

This month’s Confidence Index showed a resurgence in the gender gap that has been present since the Index’s creation nearly three years ago but had waned significantly lately.

Perhaps most troubling of all, the percentage of those saying they were not at all confident — meaning they rated their confidence in paying their credit card’s monthly statement balance in full this month a 1 out of 5 — hit its highest level since last summer.

The news isn’t all bad, though. The survey still shows that nearly two-thirds of cardholders feel good about paying their monthly statement balance in full this month. While we wish that number were higher, the fact the percentage is that high coming out of one of the rockiest economic periods in American history is significant.

Key findings 

  • Confidence hits lowest level since February. Sixty-five percent of cardholders said they were confident in their ability to pay their credit card’s monthly statement balance in full this month, a 5-percentage point drop from May. Meanwhile, 23% said they were “not confident” – the highest number since August of 2020.
  • The gender gap makes a comeback. Women were 13 percentage points more likely than men to say they were not confident about paying their card balances in full this month, tying the highest percentage seen since October 2020.
  • Long-term confidence remains high. The percentage of cardholders who expect to pay their monthly credit card statements in full in at least five of the next six months dipped for the second straight month, but it remained above 50% for the sixth straight month — and the 8th time in the previous 10 months.

A return to pre-pandemic patterns?

Until recently, consecutive months of a decline in confidence have been relatively rare in the nearly three-year history of the Confidence Index. We saw declines in May and June not long after seeing them in January and February. Prior to that, it had only happened one other time – a five-month stretch of declines from May through September 2019.

During that five-month period, confidence fell from 67% to an Index-record low of 53%.

Confidence climbed throughout most of the pandemic as extended unemployment benefits and economic impact payments combined with lockdowns and reduced spending kept many Americans more flush with cash than normal. Confidence peaked in October at 74% and has been up and down inconsistently ever since.

The month’s drop leaves credit cardholder confidence just slightly above levels seen in March 2020, when the pandemic really took hold of the world economy.

The question is whether these back-to-back declines are a return to the summer doldrums that we saw in 2019. It bears watching in the coming months.

Gender gap re-emerges

In every month we’ve reported on the Confidence Index, men have been significantly more likely than women to say they were confident in paying their credit card bills, while women have always been much more likely to say they were not confident.

The good news is that the gap had gotten smaller in recent months.

In June, however, things took a step back.

Women were 13 percentage points more likely than men to say they were not confident, rating their level as a 1 or 2 out of a possible 5. That’s the widest margin since January. Men were 11 percentage points more likely than women to say they were confident, meaning they said their confidence level rated a 4 or 5 out of 5. That’s the biggest gap since February.

A closer look at the numbers shows that men and women are nearly equally as likely to rate their confidence level as a 5 out of a possible 5 (49% of women said so, compared with 47% of men). However, men were twice as likely as women to rate their confidence as a 4 out of 5 – still confident but not extremely so (24% of men said this versus just 11% of women.) That 11% is a 9-percentage-point decline from the previous month and the lowest percentage since October 2018.

It is only the second time in the Index’s history (the other was in July 2020) that more women than men rated their confidence as a 5 out of 5. However, that doesn’t tell the full story. Our report isn’t just about those who feel very confident. Those who feel somewhat confident matter, too, and if women’s numbers in that area keep dropping, the gender gap will likely widen.

The bottom line

It is likely that credit card confidence might continue to wane a bit, at least in the short term, as businesses continue to reopen, people start spending more, the effect of the most recent government stimulus check fades into memory and life returns to normal,

The summer can be an expensive time anyway, with kids out of school and the travel season well underway, so that will likely contribute to reduced confidence, too. That cash that so many Americans squirreled away during the pandemic will only last so long before people start falling back into old habits, including running up credit card debt.

One great unknown factor in all of this is the impact of the child tax credit monthly payments that will begin to be distributed in July. Those payments will be a big deal for many Americans, helping them extend their budget to the point where they may not need to lean on credit cards as much to help make ends meet. It could even allow many to continue paying the debts they had whittled down with previous government economic impact efforts. However, the payments may take some time to have a real impact on cardholders’ confidence.

The best move for those struggling with debt is still to take whatever steps necessary to keep reducing their balances. Apply for a 0% interest balance transfer card or a low-interest personal loan. Consider working with a credit counselor. Pick up the phone and ask your card issuer to lower your card’s interest rate or waive an annual fee.

Debt is awful, but it is important to understand you have options and that even taking a few small steps can add up to something big over time.

June 2021 Methodology

We commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 779 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded June 14-16, 2021.

May 2021: Credit card confidence dips slightly in May but remains high

Credit cardholders’ confidence dipped in May, falling for the first time since February.

Despite the decrease, cardholders’ confidence in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balances in full this month remains high. It marks just the fourth month in the nearly three-year history of the Index that 70% or more of cardholders said they were confident.

A big reason for the high confidence levels? Women’s confidence, though it dipped in May, rose in recent months, shrinking the gap between the genders to the lowest levels ever in the Index.

As we saw in March, increased confidence among women in their ability to pay their credit card bills in full this month pushed overall confidence levels higher.

Key findings 

  • Credit card confidence dipped for the first time since February but remains high, with 70% saying they are confident and 18% saying they are not
  • The gender gap remains, though it is shrinking. The percentage of men saying they were “not confident” reached its highest level since March 2020, while the number of women saying they’re “not confident” remained at its lowest level on record. However, there were still more non-confident women than men.
  • Confident about the next six months, too. 44% of cardholders said they expect to pay their card statement balances in full in each of the next six months. That’s unchanged from last month’s record high.

Credit card confidence remains high

After climbing in back-to-back months, confidence took a small step back in May, falling one percentage point to 70%. However, it is up significantly from a year ago, in May 2020, when 66% of cardholders were more optimistic.

The highest confidence levels were in September and October 2020 (73% and 74%, respectively). Those two months, along with last month, are the only ones with higher confidence levels than May 2021.

Cardholder confidence over the longer term is strong, too. For the second straight month, a record 44% of respondents said they expect to pay their cards’ monthly statement balances in full in the next six months.

Not all the news is rosy, though. The percentage of cardholders saying they’re not confident in paying their credit card balances in full this month rose 3 percentage points to 18%, the highest total since February. (As to paying in full this month, 13% of respondents said they were neither confident nor unconfident.)

Gender gap remains but is shrinking

In virtually every survey we do, there is a gap in the views of men and women, and the Confidence Index is no different.

Consider this…

  • In the 33-month history of the Index, men have never been fewer than 7 percentage points more confident than women about paying their card bills. That gap has been less than 10 percentage points only six times — including the past two months.
  • In an average month, 71% of men say they’re confident versus just 57% of women, a gap of 14 percentage points. Also, just 16% of men say they’re “not confident,” compared to 28% of women, a gap of 12 percentage points.
  • Only once (in April 2021) reported more than half of women (52%) said they were “very confident” in their ability to pay off their card bills. That has happened for men 20 times, including 9 of the last 10 months.

The differences are stark. However, the good news is that the gap is getting smaller.

  • In May, the percentage of women who were not confident was just 2 percentage points higher than the percentage of men (18% and 16%, respectively). That’s the smallest gap ever in the Index. The three smallest gaps in Index history have happened in the past three months.
  • The percentage of men who are confident was just 8 percentage points higher than women in May, 74% and 66%, respectively. That’s the second-smallest gap ever, trailing only last month’s 7-percentage-point difference.

Part of the reason behind the gap closing is that men’s confidence has fallen from record-high levels last fall (83% of men were confident in October 2020, compared to 74% today). However, that’s not the full story.

Women’s confidence has grown. Despite ticking down slightly from last month’s record high, May’s level of 66% is far higher than the average seen for women in the 33-month history, which is 57%. It is also higher than the 61% seen in May of 2020 and the 59% seen in May of 2019.

The bottom line

The trillion dollar question, of course, is can this gap continue to close?

I’d love to say yes, but the reality is that the answer is probably no.

The coming child care tax credits will help. Up to $300 a month per child under age 6 and up to $250 for each child age up to 17 will be an absolute game-changer for some households. Given that women are more likely to be heads of single parent households and bear more child care responsibility overall, these payments may have a bigger impact on women than men.

It can help them more easily make ends meet without having to lean on credit cards to do so. We’ve seen the impact of previous government stimulus checks on households, and there’s no reason to think that these new child care tax credits won’t be significant as well.

However, most of the financial headwinds women face — lower pay, the pink tax, greater child care responsibilities, higher unemployment rates and a laundry list of other challenges — aren’t going to go away anytime soon. The deck is simply stacked against women in a way that it isn’t against men, which means a smaller financial margin for error and, most likely, less confidence when it comes to paying your credit card bills.

Regardless of your gender, your best move is to continue knocking down that credit card debt, and one of the most effective ways to do that is lower your interest rate. You can do that by getting a 0% APR balance transfer credit card or a low-interest personal loan. You can also do it by simply asking for a lower rate from your card issuer.

A recent LendingTree survey showed that more than 80% of those who asked for a lower rate got one. Again, there was a gender gap, as women were less likely than men to both ask and to get their way. However, 74% of women got their request granted, meaning that it is absolutely worth your time to ask.

May 2020 Methodology

We commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 897 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded May 5-8, 2020.

Generations are defined as the following ages in 2020:

  • Gen Z are ages 18-23
  • Millennials are ages 24-39
  • Gen X are ages 40-54
  • Baby boomers are ages 55-74
  • Silent generation are ages 75 and older

April 2021: Credit Card Confidence Climbs Again In April

Americans’ credit card confidence climbed for the second straight month in April, hitting its highest levels since October.

As we saw in March, increased confidence among women in their ability to pay their credit card bills in full this month pushed overall confidence levels higher.

Key findings

  • 71% of cardholders were confident in April, the third-highest percentage ever in the Confidence Index. That’s a 5-percentage-point jump from March and a 7-percentage-point jump from April 2020.
  • Women’s credit card confidence hit a record high with 68% saying they were confident in paying this month’s statement balance in full. Meanwhile, the gap between men’s and women’s confidence levels was the lowest on record.
  • Looking further ahead, a record 44% of cardholders said they expect to pay their card’s monthly statement balance in full in each of the next six months.

Confidence keeps climbing

More than 7 in 10 cardholders (71%) said they felt positive about paying this month’s monthly statement balance in full. That’s the third highest percentage we’ve seen since the Index began in September 2018.

It’s the third-straight April without a decrease in confidence. In April 2020, confidence held steady at 64%, even as the pandemic began to take hold. In April 2019, confidence rose 3 percentage points to 67% — a level that wouldn’t be reached again until June 2020.

However, the good news this month wasn’t just that more people were optimistic. We also saw the percentage of cardholders who said they’re not confident fall to 15%, equaling December 2020 for the lowest percentage on record (14% of respondents were neither confident nor not confident).

That rosy outlook isn’t just about this month either. When we asked about confidence in paying their credit card statement balances in full for the next six months, 44% of cardholders said they expect to do so every single month. That’s up 3 percentage points from March and is the highest percentage since we started asking the question in March 2019.

Gender gap keeps shrinking

More than 2 in 3 women (68%) said they were confident in being able to pay their card’s monthly statement balance in full this month. This is not only a 7-percentage-point increase from March, but it is also 4 percentage points higher than the previous high confidence level for women — reached in July 2020.

Men’s confidence went up, too, jumping from 71% to 75%, which is the highest since December 2020.

That 7-percentage-point gap between men and women’s confidence levels is still significant. However, it is the smallest gap that we’ve seen between the sexes in the history of the Index. In the previous 31 Indexes, only five had shown a confidence gender gap of fewer than 10 points and never one lower than 8 percentage points, which happened most recently in July 2020.

The bottom line

There’s no reason to expect cardholder confidence to fall sharply anytime soon.

The effects of the most recent economic impact payments — also known as stimulus checks — will linger for many Americans for at least a while longer. Plus, as more Americans become fully vaccinated, more businesses reopen and more people will find jobs. As the economy generally improves, there’s likely to be a sense of relief for many people just to be able to spend again like they did before the pandemic took hold.

The good news is that many Americans have unusually high cash reserves with which to pay off their post-vaccination splurges more easily. That cash has allowed many Americans to pay down debt over the past few months — leveraging things like balance transfer credit cards and low-interest personal loans — and should allow many Americans to continue to keep their debt relatively low despite the extra spending, at least for a while.

That won’t last forever, though. We’d expect debt to begin to rise later this year, possibly sending cardholder confidence levels down from their current heights.

But for now, cardholders are clearly feeling good about themselves, and that feeling is likely to last for a while.

April 2021 Methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,013 credit cardholders from April 14-21, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

March 2021: Women Push Card Confidence Higher For 1st Time Since January

Women’s confidence in their ability to pay their credit card bills hit its highest level since October, pushing Americans’ overall credit card confidence to its first monthly increase since December.

Key findings

  • Overall credit card confidence rose for the first time since December, with 66% of cardholders saying they’re confident in their ability to pay their monthly statement balances in full this month. That’s a 3-percentage-point jump from February.
  • Women’s credit card confidence rose to its highest level since October, while men’s confidence stayed at its lowest level since March 2020.
  • 41% of cardholders overall said they expect to pay their credit card’s monthly statement balance in full in each of the next six months. That’s unchanged from February, and just 1 percentage point below the record high seen in January.

Confidence rebounds

Nearly 3 in 4 cardholders (74%) were confident in paying their credit card bills back in October, the highest percentage since tracking began back in September 2018. Since then, the road has been rocky, with confidence falling in three of the previous four months, before finally ticking higher in March.

The promise of a new economic impact payment from the government surely helped confidence levels increase. However, we’ve also seen month-over-month increases in the previous two Marches as well.

Confidence looks strong for the longer term, too. When looking out over the next six months, 41% of Americans say they expect to pay their monthly statements in full in all six of those months. When you include those who expect to pay in at least five of the next six months, the picture is even brighter, with more than half (51%) of all cardholders saying so. That’s the highest percentage since September 2020.

Women lead the way

In virtually every survey we do, there’s a gender gap, and the Confidence Index is no exception. Women have been less confident than men in each of the 31 months in which we’ve done the survey.

The good news is that the gap has shrunk in a big way in recent months. In March, 71% of men were confident and 61% of women said the same, a gap of 10 percentage points. That’s certainly still significant — however, it is the smallest that gap has been since July 2020, when it was 8 percentage points. It’s also less than half of the 21-percentage-point gap we saw in October 2020.

The bottom line

With the government’s new economic impact payments hitting millions of Americans’ bank accounts this month, it’s unsurprising to see credit card confidence rise. The impact of those payments is likely to linger for a while, too, meaning that confidence will likely remain higher in the near future as well.

The big question is whether those good feelings will last. I’d wager that they will — and they might even get stronger.

While many Americans are financially struggling right now, many others are itching to spend. They want to travel, dine out, go to ballgames and concerts and generally get back to normal life. They’ve also reduced their debt, bumped up their savings and are flush with cash, thanks to government payments and reduced spending over the past few months.

That extra cushion means that when they start to spend again, they’ll have the money on hand to pay those bills off quickly — at least for a while. That bodes well for credit card confidence over the next few months.

March 2020 Methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 750 credit cardholders from March 17-22, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

February 2021: Consumer Credit Card Confidence Falls Again

Credit card confidence fell for the third time in the past four months, reaching its lowest level since February 2020.

Despite that downward trend, there were still clear signs of optimism to be seen, with record levels of cardholders paying their credit cards monthly statement balances in full in the past six months and similar numbers expecting to do so for the next six months.

Key findings

  • Overall credit card confidence dipped for the second straight month, with 63% of cardholders saying they’re confident in their ability to pay their monthly statement balances in full this month. It’s the lowest percentage since February 2020.
  • Half of cardholders said they expect to pay their monthly statement balance in full in at least 5 of the next 6 months. That’s unchanged from January and equals the second-highest percentage since May 2019.
  • 40% of cardholders said they paid their monthly statement balance in full in all 6 of the past 6 months. That’s the highest total since June 2019.

Another tough February

Credit card confidence fell 11 percentage points since its peak in October 2020, with the biggest drop — a 10 percentage-point plunge from 74% to 64% — in November. After rebounding in December, confidence has fallen twice since then, including this month.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. In the two-and-a-half-year history of the Confidence Index, February has consistently been a month where cardholders struggled. For example:

  • February 2021: 63% – Lowest confidence number in a year.
  • February 2020: 63% – Second-lowest confidence number of 2020.
  • February 2019: 58% – Fourth-lowest confidence number in history of the Index.

This month’s percentage could have been lower if not for the sample size skewing unusually heavily male. There were 622 male respondents and 505 female respondents in this month’s survey. Given that men have shown to be significantly more confident every month since the Index began, it is likely that this month’s sample resulted in a higher overall confidence number than we would have seen with a more even split.

There are myriad reasons why February might be a difficult month for cardholders, including tax bills and lingering holiday debt. Whatever the reason, it is clear that in February 2021, many Americans are less confident about paying their credit card bills than they were just a few months ago.

Reasons for optimism

Not all the data is troubling, however.

Just 19% of cardholders are “not confident” in their ability to pay their card statement balances in full this month. That percentage has been at 20% or lower since September 2020. Before that, it had only happened four times in the previous 24 months.

If more people were feeling like they couldn’t pay their card balances in full while fewer people were feeling more confident, that’d be a clear sign of trouble. Instead, what we’re seeing is growth in the middle. Nearly 1 in 5 respondents (18%) rated their confidence as a 3 out of 5, which we regard as neither confident nor unconfident. That 18% is the highest since August 2019 and the second highest since the Index began in September 2018.

The question for the future is which way those folks in the middle will move. Our survey data gives us reason to believe that they’ll move in a positive direction.

One potential clue: Looking forward, half of cardholders (50%) said they expect to pay their monthly statement balance in full in at least five of the next six months, including 41% who expect to pay in full in all six months. Both of those numbers are among the highest in the history of the Index.

Also 40% of credit cardholders said they paid their cards’ monthly statement balance in full every single time in the past six months. That’s the highest percentage since June 2019, and the second highest ever.

So what does all this mean?

The bottom line

I fully expect credit cardholder confidence to rise in the next few months.

Yes, people are feeling a bit wobbly about paying their card balances in full right now, but they’ve still been paying their card balances in the past few months and expect to continue doing so for the next few. That bodes well for the future.

Also, in the previous two years, March, April and May have been higher than February. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but there are reasons to believe that we’ll see similar growth in 2021.

The main reason for optimism is the continued COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Reducing cases and keeping people safe is the key to economic recovery, and while we’re a long way from being back to normal, these vaccinations are helping people see light at the end of the tunnel.

Another big reason is the possibility of more government stimulus. That money — in the form of continued extended unemployment benefits or a one-off check — is a big deal for struggling Americans, but it would even help those who are still financially stable by giving them more of a financial cushion in case disaster strikes.

That said, there are still numerous reasons for continued concern. While many Americans have been able to reduce debt, increase savings and firm up their financial footing, many more are in dire straits. Joblessness is still rampant. Bills still can’t be paid. Kids can’t go back to school. These struggling Americans are losing hope that their financial situation will ever recover from this pandemic and a stimulus check will do little to change that. The only thing that will make a real difference is a steady job.

The best move is to focus on knocking down debt and building up emergency savings, if possible. A few options include using 0% balance transfer credit cards or low-rate personal loans to reduce the interest you’re paying and revisiting your budget to carve out a little extra cash to put toward reducing debt and/or growing savings.

February 2021 methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,141 credit cardholders, conducted Feb. 11-16, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

January 2021: Confidence Index Dips to Start 2021

Americans’ confidence in their ability to pay their credit card balances dipped in January, the second drop in the past three months and the third in six months. A deeper dive into the numbers shows that the still-contentious 2020 presidential election is hurting the confidence of many consumers, though the longer-term view Americans have is far rosier.

Key findings

  • 67% of credit cardholders said they were confident in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balances in full this month, down two percentage points from December.
  • Republican cardholder confidence has fallen 23 percentage points since October. 60% of Republican cardholders said they were confident, down from 83% in October. Meanwhile, Democratic cardholder confidence had its fifth straight month without a decrease.
  • 42% of cardholders say they expect to pay their monthly statement balances in full in all of the next six months. That’s the highest percentage since we began asking the question in March 2019.

Credit card confidence drops again

Despite the pandemic, consumers’ confidence in their ability to pay their credit card bills grew continuously through the first half of 2020. In November 2019, just 58% of cardholders said they were confident. By July 2020, 69% said the same. During that entire period, confidence never dipped, and it only remained unchanged twice.

Since then, confidence has been on a roller coaster ride — down in August, up in September and October, down in November, back up in December and finally back down in January.

The 67% confidence total for January 2021 is higher than the 62% seen in January 2020 and equal to the January 2019 number. It is also higher than the average monthly confidence level seen through the history of the index, which is 64%.

It was also unrealistic to think that the boom in cardholder confidence seen in early to mid-2020 would continue forever. However, the ups and downs seen in recent months are eye-opening. While some of it may simply be reversion to the mean after a strong year, other factors are surely at play, too, including the election.

Republican confidence has plunged

Back in October, 83% of credit cardholders who identified themselves as Republicans said they were confident in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balances in full that month. In September, 80% said the same.

Those were the highest percentages seen among Republicans since at leastthis information was first tracked in November 2019, and it was unlikely to expect that number to keep climbing — it was even less likely once it became clear that President Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election.

However, the plunge we’ve seen in Republican cardholder confidence has been stunning, nonetheless.

Republican cardholder confidence has fallen 23 percentage points in the past three months, including six percentage points in January. January’s 60% is the lowest since November 2019’s 58%.

Interestingly, the Republican plunge has not been met with a Democratic spike of a similar size. Democratic cardholder confidence has risen for three straight months, but it has only climbed four percentage points – from 67% to 71%.

Six-month outlook is more positive

Looking further ahead, consumers’ outlooks brighten. More than 4 in 10 cardholders (42%) say they expect to pay their cards’ monthly statement balances in full in all six of the next six months. That’s the highest percentage we’ve seen since we started asking that question nearly two years ago, and an eight-percentage point jump from December.

Some of the reasons for that confidence include new economic impact payments from the government and the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The bottom line

The recent ups and downs we’ve seen in consumer credit card confidence are probably going to continue, at least for a while.

While 2020 was topsy-turvy and awful, 2021 has the potential to be incredibly volatile, too. Hope is on the horizon, thanks to the vaccine, but there are already hiccups and difficulties with its rollout. Presidential transitions are often messy, even in far less contentious times than this current one. Millions of Americans are unemployed and countless businesses are still in big trouble, so the economy is still a wreck. Add it all up and, despite the government’s new payments, there’s plenty of reason to be concerned about people’s finances.

However, in the long term, there are also many reasons for optimism. The biggest, of course, is the vaccine and the potential it brings for returning life to some semblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy. Once the vaccine is widely implemented, cases should drop significantly, unemployment should begin to fall and confidence is likely to skyrocket.

January 2021 methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,006 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Jan. 8-11, 2021.

December 2020: Consumer Credit Card Confidence Rebounds In December

After plunging last month in the wake of the election, consumer credit card confidence rebounded in December.

The jump means consumer confidence ends 2020 on a high note. That seems a fitting way to end a year in which consumers’ faith in their ability to pay their monthly credit card statement balance in full this month rarely wavered, despite the economic wreckage caused by the COVID-19 crisis. And there’s reason to believe that faith may only strengthen in 2021.

Key findings: 

  • 69% of cardholders said they were confident in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full this month, up 5 percentage points from November.
  • Republican cardholder confidence fell for the second straight month, dipping to its lowest levels since March, while Democratic confidence had its fourth straight month without a decrease.
  • Just 18% of cardholders said they expect to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full in one or fewer of the next six months, the second-lowest percentage since March 2019.

Closing 2020 on a confident note

After November brought just the second month-to-month drop in confidence in all of 2020, the belief in their ability to pay their cards’ monthly statement balance bounced back in December.

The percentage of confident cardholders was the third-highest in the two-plus-year history of the Index, topped only by September and October 2020’s levels, and the percentage of nonconfident cardholders was the lowest ever. Just 15% of cardholders said they were not sure about being able to pay their bills in full this month. (Compare that to the 16% of cardholders who rated their confidence as a 3 out of 5, which we deem as neither confident nor not confident.)

Men continue to be more optimistic than women about this month’s bills. However, the number of men who say they are “very confident” – rating their confidence a 5 out of a possible 5 – fell for the third-straight month. Just 47% said they were very confident. That’s the lowest percentage since July and is 17 percentage points lower than the record high seen in September.

Still, when cardholders look ahead to the next six months of payments, they clearly remain positive.

  • 49% of cardholders said they expect to pay their monthly statement balances in full in at least five of the next six months. That includes 34% who expect to pay in full in all six months.
  • Just 18% expect to pay in full only one time or fewer in the next six months.

Lingering effects of the election

It’s not news that the 2020 election was, and continues to be, one of the most contentious elections in American history. It may also be taking a toll of many Americans’ certainty in their ability to pay their credit card bills.

Two-thirds (66%) of Republican cardholders said they were confident in their ability to pay their monthly statement balances in full this month. While that is still a strong number, it is a massive drop from the 83% who said so in October and the 80% who said the same in September.

Most of the change has come at the extremes.

  • 49% of Republicans said they were very confident. That’s down 20 percentage points from October.
  • 14% of Republicans said they were not at all confident. That’s double the percentage who said the same in October.

The bottom line

When the pandemic began, few would’ve expected cardholder confidence to remain as high as it has. Now that 2020 is nearly over, the election is behind us and the coronavirus vaccines are beginning to be distributed, there’s plenty of reason to believe that confidence will continue to grow.

It is certainly possible that things might get worse before they get better, though. Cases of the virus are still spreading throughout the country, unemployment is still historically high and a crisis relief bill is not yet completed. That could make for an extremely difficult start to 2021 for millions of Americans.

Also, there’s only so much room for growth left. There will always be a substantial group of Americans who aren’t able to pay their credit card bills in full. That’s true in the best of economic times, and it is certainly true during the worst. While our current confidence level is likely not the ceiling, it is unrealistic to expect numbers to go too much higher.

Still, at least a little more growth is likely, as the dust settles from the election and optimism continues to grow as the end of the pandemic gets closer.

December 2020 Methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 711 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Dec. 9-11, 2020.

November 2020: Consumer Credit Card Confidence Sinks In Wake Of Election

Consumer credit card confidence plunged in November, falling to its lowest level since April, and the election is likely at least partially to blame.

In November, 64 percent of cardholders said they were confident in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balances in full this month. That’s a 10-percentage-point drop from October, a month in which confidence had spiked to the highest levels in the two-plus-year history of the Confidence Index.

It is the largest single-month drop ever seen in the Index, and that drop appears to have been driven in a significant way by the results of the U.S. presidential election. Conducted Nov. 6 to Nov. 10, the survey showed a massive drop in confidence among Republican respondents, which offset a small increase in confidence among Democrats.

However, when looking at responses by date, there seems to be reason to believe that confidence will rebound in December.

Key findings:

  • Consumer credit card confidence fell to 64% in November from a record high of 74% in October. That’s the lowest level since April, though it’s still higher than the 58% number seen last November.
  • Republican confidence fell 12 percentage points in November after spiking to its highest levels of 2020 in September and October; Democrat confidence rose just 1 percentage point.
  • Just 46% of cardholders said they expect to pay their monthly credit card statement balances in full in five or more of the next six months, the lowest percentage since July.

A major confidence hit

Consumer credit card confidence had been hotter than Vegas in August for much of the past six months, but as anyone who has been to Vegas knows, hot streaks can’t last forever. It was inevitable that confidence would eventually fall.

To fall as much as it did in November, however, was eye-opening.

Overall confidence fell by 10 percentage points. It had never fallen by more than 6 percentage points previously, having done that twice — most recently in September 2019.

In addition, the percentage of cardholders saying they were “not at all confident” rose 3 percentage points to 20%, the second-highest mark in the past six months (23% in August, while April was the year’s highest at 25%).

And it isn’t just November that cardholders are concerned about — it’s also the next six months.

Fewer than half of cardholders (46%) expect to pay their cards’ monthly statement balances in full in at least five of the next six months. That’s a 4-percentage-point drop from the previous month, and the lowest total since July.

Meanwhile, 16% of cardholders said they won’t pay in full a single time in the next six months — a 4-percentage-point jump from last month and the highest number since August.

Influenced by the election?  

Seemingly everything in America has a political bent to it today, and this month’s Confidence Index seems to indicate that people’s feelings about their credit cards are no exception.

Just a month after spiking to its highest levels of the year, Republican credit card confidence crashed down in November. In September, 80% of Republicans were confident that they could pay their card statement balances in full that month. In October, that number jumped to 83% — the highest percentage of 2020. This month, however, that percentage fell to 71%, the lowest total since August.

Among Democrats, confidence ticked up just 1 percentage point, from 67% in October to 68% in November.

Republican confidence numbers had been more volatile throughout 2020, so perhaps the major swings shouldn’t be surprising.

  • Highest and lowest Republican confidence: 83% in October and 65% in March
  • Highest and lowest Democrat confidence: 69% in July and 62% multiple times, most recently in April

The bottom line

It is easy to see how consumers could’ve been rattled by an election as contentious as the one we’ve just endured. It is also understandable that, in an election that millions of Americans saw as the most important of their lifetime, supporters of the losing candidate would be crestfallen and that despair would leak into their view of their own financial situation.

Still, there’s reason to believe that the election hangover won’t last long. In fact, if you take out responses from the first day of our polling — Nov. 6, on which the eventual winner of several key battleground states was still very much in doubt — this month’s Confidence Index number would’ve been several percentage points higher than it is with that day’s respondents included.

It still would’ve been down, month over month, but not as significantly.

That fact can be read as a sign that once the election is fully in the rearview mirror, people’s confidence in paying off their credit cards will return.

Of course, while the election hangover may not last, there are plenty of other concerns out there that seem likely to dampen consumer credit card confidence in the long term — primarily, the lack of a new government stimulus for those hardest hit in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

If a new stimulus package does come, credit card confidence would likely spike again quickly. Without one, it’s almost certain that more Americans will struggle to make credit card payments in the very near future. Delinquencies are likely to jump, debt will surely increase and what has been a surprisingly good stretch of financial fortune for many Americans — in the wake of one of the worst economic disasters in our nation’s history — will likely take a major turn for the worst, sinking even more Americans’ finances along the way.

Your best move? Pay down that card debt today. Consider applying for an introductory 0% APR balance transfer credit card to help reduce your interest and shorten your payoff time. If you’re leery about another card or don’t think you’ll qualify for one, consider a personal loan. Your APR certainly won’t be zero, but if you shop around, you might find one that is a few points lower than the APR on your current credit card.

That matters because, depending on how much you owe, even an APR decrease of just a few percentage points can save you a significant amount of money. And when you’re struggling with debt, every little bit helps.

November 2020 Methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 952 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Nov. 6-10, 2020.

October 2020: Another Record High In October

Another month, another record high for the Credit Card Confidence Index.

In October, nearly 3 in 4 (74%) credit cardholders said they were confident in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full this month. That’s the second-straight month with record-high confidence levels.

Once again, there’s a huge gap in the way men and women view their financial situation. Still, there’s no denying that even though the COVID-19 pandemic still has a tight grip on the American economy, most cardholders feel far better about their ability to pay their credit card bills today than they did when the pandemic began.Another month, another record high for the Credit Card Confidence Index.

In October, nearly 3 in 4 (74%) credit cardholders said they were confident in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full this month. That’s the second-straight month with record-high confidence levels.

Once again, there’s a huge gap in the way men and women view their financial situation. Still, there’s no denying that even though the COVID-19 pandemic still has a tight grip on the American economy, most cardholders feel far better about their ability to pay their credit card bills today than they did when the pandemic began.

Key findings:

  • Credit cardholder confidence hit a record high for the second-straight month, with 74% of cardholders saying they were confident in their ability to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balances in full this month.
  • Just 17% of cardholders said they were not confident, up a percentage point from last month’s record low.
  • Women were three times more likely than men (27% versus 9%) to say they were not confident. That gender gap is the second biggest on record.

Another record

The jump was only a single percentage point from September, but it was enough to push the Credit Card Confidence Index to a second-consecutive record high. It is also just the second month in the 26-month history of the Index in which 70% or more of cardholders said they were confident. And it continues a remarkable 2020 trend in which only one month (August) saw a decline in confidence.

Upon deeper examination, there were some small signs of slippage, though, including:

  • 54% of cardholders said they were “very confident” this month, rating their confidence a 5 out of 5. That’s down from 57% in September.
  • A slightly higher percentage of cardholders (17%, up from 16%) said they were not confident, rating their confidence as either a 1 or 2 out of 5.
  • Half of cardholders said they expect to pay their card’s monthly statement balance in full in at least five of the next six months, a four-percentage-point drop.

Still, even with those negative changes, the percentage of “very confident” cardholders was the second highest on record and the percentage planning to pay in full in five of the next six months was the third highest on record. Meanwhile, the percentage saying they were not confident equaled the second-lowest on record.

In short, cardholders still feel really good about their credit card bills, and there’s little reason to expect that to change in a big way anytime soon.

Gender gap widens slightly

A gender gap isn’t news for the Confidence Index: Men have been far more likely to be confident and women have been far more likely to not be confident in each of the Index’s 26 months of existence. A widening of that gap is significant, though, and that’s what we’re seeing.

October marks the third-straight month that the gap between the percentage of confident men and confident women has grown. This month, that gap is 21 percentage points, the third highest in the Index’s history.

The gap is widening on the other end of the spectrum as well. Women are now three times as likely as men (27% versus 9%) to say they are not confident in paying their card bills in full this month. That 18 percentage point gap is the second biggest on record.

The bottom line

These numbers support that credit cardholder confidence is soaring, even as the pandemic rages on, politicians continue to wrestle over future relief or stimulus packages and a tumultuous election season comes to a conclusion. Given all that, there’s little reason to believe that a reversal is coming anytime soon.

Still, the best thing that concerned cardholders can do to improve their confidence is to knock down any remaining credit card debt. One of the best ways to do that is by applying for a new balance transfer credit card. While it may seem counterintuitive to fight card debt with a new credit card, the best balance transfer cards can give you a year or more without having to pay interest on that transferred balance. That can save you a bundle along with shortening your payoff time.

You may also consider applying for a new cashback credit card. The best cashback credit cards come with no annual fee and will often give you $100 or more back after you spend a minimum required amount.

That $100 may not change your life, but it can extend your holiday shopping budget a bit. It can also be the difference between paying a card’s monthly statement balance off in full this month or carrying a small balance. That’s a big deal.

Whatever you choose, it is crucial to take some sort of action. Action breeds confidence, and while most Americans have loads of it right now when it comes to their credit card bills, millions of cardholders still don’t, so it is important to take whatever steps you can to change that.

October 2020 Methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 764 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Oct. 2-6, 2020.

September 2020: Credit Card Confidence Spikes To Record High In September

Americans’ confidence in their ability to pay their credit card bills jumped to a 25-month high in September, according to the Credit Card Confidence Index. 

Nearly three-quarters of cardholders said they were confident they could pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balances in full this month. That’s a significant increase from August, which was the first month in 2020 in which confidence had decreased.  

Whether that confidence continues to grow could depend on the results of November’s presidential election, which most Americans said will make them feel more confident in their ability to pay their credit card bills depending on who wins.

Key findings: 

    • 73% of cardholders said they were confident in paying their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full this month. That’s a 7-percentage-point jump from August, and the highest total in the 25-month history of the index.
    • Both men and women showed improved confidence in September, though men were still far more likely to say so.
    • Just 16% of cardholders said they were not confident. That’s the lowest value in the index’s history.
    • Just about  2 in 3 credit cardholders said they expect the results of the 2020 presidential campaign, depending on who wins, will make them feel more confident in their ability to pay their credit card bills.

Confidence keeps climbing

Despite all the economic adversity the nation has faced in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, growth in consumer confidence in handling their credit card debt has largely been unstoppable in 2020. We’ve seen confidence fall just once – in August – since November 2019. 

During that time, it’s grown from 58% of Americans saying they were confident they could pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full in November 2019 to 73% saying so in September 2020. 

Men and women have both reported increased confidence, though men remain far more assured than women overall. For example, 81% of men said they were confident in September, compared with 63% of women. In November 2019, those numbers were 67% and 50%, respectively.

That optimism isn’t just about this month, though. More than half of cardholders (54%) said they expect to pay their card statement balance in full in at least five of the next six months, the highest percentage we’ve seen. Just 17% said they expect to pay in full just one time or fewer in the next six months, the lowest total in the index’s history.

Why consumers are trending positive (and some others aren’t)

When we asked cardholders who expect to pay in full in at least five of the next six months why they felt that way, the most common reason was a simple one: They rarely carry a balance. Fifty percent of confident respondents said that. 

Beyond not carrying a balance, three other reasons stood out:

  • They have plenty of emergency savings: 28%
  • They only charge when they have enough money to cover expenses: 26%
  • They have no major expenses coming: 25%

On the flip side, most cardholders who expect to pay in full three or fewer times in the next six months (53%) said simply, their card balance was just too large to pay off. 

The second-most common response could be seen as reason for optimism, though. Nearly 1 in 4 respondents (23%) said they weren’t confident in paying their bills in full because they were trying to build savings while paying down debt. 

A less hopeful sign: Thirteen percent said they weren’t confident because they’d lost their job and the end of the extra $600 per week unemployment benefits really hurt.

Elections matter

With the election just weeks away, we also asked cardholders to gauge whether they felt the election would affect their confidence in paying their credit card bills. The answer was yes, but it depends on who wins. 

Overall, about 2 in 3 cardholders said the election will make them feel more confident about their credit card bills. However, 32.7% said that would happen if President Trump won and 32.5% said it would happen if former Vice President Joe Biden won. 

Breaking down the data further:

    • 1 in 6 Republicans backed Biden: While 63% of Republicans said a Trump win would make them feel more confident, a surprising 17% of Republicans said the same about Biden. Meanwhile, just 6% of Democrats said a Trump win would make them feel more confident.
    • Gender gap, as always: Men and women were about equally likely to say a Biden win would make them feel more confident. But men were about twice as likely to say a Trump win would make them feel more confident.
    • Independents narrowly lean toward Biden: Twenty-seven percent of Independents said they’d be more confident if Biden won versus 21% who said the same about Trump. However, the sample size of Independents was fairly small, making that 6-percentage gap roughly equal to the expected margin for error.

Note: Out of 1,466 respondents who answered the question about political affiliation, 646 were Republican, 538 were Democrats, 247 were Independents and 35 were other.

The bottom line

The Confidence Index has regularly defied expectations all year, so betting against continued growth in cardholder confidence may be a fool’s errand. However, the truth is that it seems unrealistic to expect that consumer good feelings can go much higher than they already have.

I believe cardholder confidence is likely as high – or very close to that – as it will go in the near future. Yes, a percentage point or two of growth may still happen, but I think a leveling-off or a decrease is likely to come. Combine uncertainty about future government stimulus, ongoing high unemployment, the coming of the holiday shopping season and the climax of a contentious presidential election – and you have the recipe for more economic volatility. 

But more than that, having nearly three-quarters of all cardholders feeling confident about their ability to pay their card bills in full this month is extraordinary. It is something to celebrate. However, it is not something that we should expect to continue for much longer.

August 2020: Credit Card Confidence Dips For The First Time Since November

Americans’ confidence in their ability to pay their credit card bills this month fell for the first time since November 2019, according to the monthly Credit Card Confidence Index.

We survey credit cardholders in the U.S. each month to find out how confident they are that they can pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full this month and why. (We ask cardholders to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not at all confident and 5 being very confident.) They are also asked how often they’ve paid their statement balances in full in the previous six months and how often they expect to do so in the upcoming six months.

Despite the pandemic and all the economic woes that have come along with it, credit card confidence has continued to grow throughout 2020 — until now.

Key findings 

  • 66% of cardholders said they were confident in paying their card statement balances in full this month, down 3 percentage points from July for the first drop since November 2019
  • 23% said they were not confident, up 6 percentage points from July. It’s the highest percentage since April.
  • Men were far more likely than women to say they’re “very confident” in paying their statement balance this month (58% of men vs. 46% of women). Women, on the other hand, were twice as likely to say they were “not at all confident.”

Cardholder confidence finally slips

After eight straight months of either growing or staying unchanged, cardholder confidence dipped in August. Still, two out of every three credit cardholders said they feel confident that they can pay their credit cards’ entire monthly statement balance in full this month. That’s especially noteworthy, given the current economic turmoil.

So why the dip now? The end of the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits that have kept consumers afloat for the past several months almost certainly played a role. The president signed an executive order authorizing $300 per week in extra federal benefits going forward, but there’s no clear timeline for when most jobless Americans will begin receiving that extra money.

There could also be a seasonal component to this. Even though many kids across the country will attend school remotely rather than in person, August is still back-to-school-shopping season. This year they might be buying desk chairs rather than backpacks, but the expenses are still significant.

Last August, for example, confidence fell to 59%, which was the third lowest total of 2019. (September 2019 saw the lowest numbers in the two-year history of the Index at 53%.)

Signs of future trouble?

The decline in card confidence wasn’t just about this month.

More than 1 in 4 cardholders (27%) said they expect to pay their statement balances in full one time or less in the next six months. That’s up 4 percentage points from July, and it’s the highest percentage since November 2019.

As we’ve seen in previous months, women were about twice as likely as men (26% to 12%) to say they would pay their statement balances in full zero times in the next six months.

The future outlook isn’t all bad, however.

The percentage of cardholders saying they’d pay their monthly statement balances in full in at least five of the next six months is 47%, the highest seen since January.

The bottom line

The uncertainty surrounding unemployment benefits mean that all bets are off when it comes to predicting cardholder confidence in the next few months. I think it is likely to dip a bit in the coming months. However, I think the fact that Americans have been able to stash away some savings in the past few months and are still not able to freely do so many of the things that have led them to run up their card balances (travel, frequent dining out, concert and ballgame tickets) means that the average cardholder’s financial margin for error might be a little bigger right now than it normally is.

That bodes well for confidence going forward in the short term. However, even during these strange, isolated times, life is still expensive. It almost certainly won’t take long for the reduction of unemployment benefits to take a big toll.

August 2020 Methodology

We commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 845 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Aug. 13-17, 2020.