Credit Cards

Credit Card Confidence Index

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners. This site may be compensated through a credit card partnership.

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: 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.

Prior months

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.

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]. You can also reach out via Twitter at @matthewschulz or Instagram at @matt.schulz.