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Credit Card Confidence Index

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How are Americans feeling about their ability to pay off their credit card bills?

That’s what we track every month with LendingTree’s Credit Card Confidence Index — our exclusive monthly look at the mindset and payment habits of American credit cardholders.

How the Credit Card Confidence Index works

Each month, we ask cardholders the following:

  • On a scale of 1 (not at all confident) to 5 (very confident), how confident are you that you can pay the monthly statement balance on all of your credit cards in full this month?
  • How many times have you paid all of your monthly statement balances in full in the past six months?
  • How often do you expect to do it in the next six months?

Those who rate their confidence a 1 or 2 are deemed not confident, while those who say 4 or 5 are deemed confident. We also ask those who say they’re not confident exactly why they feel that way. We then present our findings, along with my analysis on trends I’ve seen in the numbers and how they fit in the general context of the economy as a whole, each month in the Credit Card Confidence Index.

Additional Reading: Should You Repay Your Credit Card Each Month?

The latest: Cardholder confidence stays strong in September

Credit cardholders’ confidence in paying this month’s credit card statement balance stayed strong in September, according to the Credit Card Confidence Index.

Nearly two-thirds of cardholders say they’re confident that they’ll be able to pay their credit cards’ monthly statement balance in full this month. However, when taking a longer-term view, that confidence looks a bit shakier.

Key findings

  • Short-term confidence was unchanged in September. 65% of cardholders say they’re confident in paying this month’s balances in full, while 21% say they’re not.
  • The gender gap continued to expand, though. 73% of men were confident, versus 57% of women. That’s the largest gap since February and the fourth time it has grown in the past five months.
  • Mixed signals in long-term confidence. More cardholders say they expect to pay their statement balances in full in all of the next six months. However, more also say they expect to pay in full in none of the next six months.

Short-term confidence unchanged

Cardholders’ confidence has been remarkably stable lately. For the third time in four months, 65% of cardholders expressed confidence in paying this month’s bills. (In July, it ticked up to 66% before dipping back to 65% in August.)

This period follows a volatile stretch from October 2020 to June 2021, in which confidence peaked at 74% and went as low as 63%.

While the percentage of cardholders expressing confidence has been stable, the percentage of those saying they’re not confident has been less so.

This month, 21% of cardholders say that they were not confident, which is unchanged from August. The percentage spiked to 23% in June — the highest level seen in nearly a year — then dipped back down to 16% in July before rising to its current level in August.

Gender gap expands, though

While overall confidence levels have stayed unchanged, a deeper look shows some major shifts in terms of gender.

Nearly three-fourths of male cardholders (73%) say they were confident in September, while just 57% of women say the same.

That’s the highest percentage since May for men and the lowest since February for women. Add it all up and it gives you a 16-percentage-point gap, the highest level since February.

Mixed signals in long-term confidence

When consumers look out over the next six months, things get murkier.

For example, 43% of cardholders say they expect to pay their cards’ monthly statement balance in full in all six of the next six months — that’s the highest since May.

However, 15% say they expect to pay in full in zero of the next six months, equalling the highest percentage since November.

As you move in from the extremes, though, more negatives emerge.

For example, the percentage of cardholders who expect to pay in full in more than half of the next six months (meaning at least four times) is 59%, which equals the lowest since November 2020.

The good news, however, is that 59% is still above the average percentage (57%) since we began tracking this number in March 2019.

The bottom line

I don’t expect this stability to last much longer.

In two of the past three years, we’ve seen short-term cardholder confidence rise between September and the end of the year. (The only exception: 2020, which proved more volatile than usual, thanks in large part to the presidential election.)

My gut tells me that confidence will likely dip between now and the end of the year, though. Yes, rising COVID-19 cases have slowed spending and forced people to dial back travel plans and other activities, allowing them perhaps to save a bit more like they did earlier in the pandemic. However, I think that the costs of the holiday season, combined with inflation and some other factors, will eat into cardholder confidence and help it inch lower.

There’s no reason to think that confidence will fall in a big way, though, and it is certainly possible that things end up moving in a positive direction instead. That’s especially true if we begin to see a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases around the country. Then, all bets are off.

Still, I feel a slight dip in confidence is most likely occurring over the next few months.

Prior months

Methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,519 credit cardholders from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21, 2021. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

For media inquiries about the Credit Card Confidence Index

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