Nov 10, 2021 - Economy

Number of credit cards in U.S. hits all-time high

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Will Chase/Axios
Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The number of credit cards in America hit an all-time high of 520 million in the third quarter of this year, per the New York Fed's household debt and credit report, released Tuesday.

Why it matters: There was a precipitous plunge of more than 100 million credit cards between 2008 and 2010, but we’ve now more than made up for that decline.

  • Buy now, pay later companies like Affirm aren't included in this tally — they're still too small to merit their own line in the report.
  • Household debt now totals more than $15 trillion, of which $800 billion is in credit cards, and another $1.4 trillion is in auto loans.

What they're saying: "Issuance to borrowers of all scores returned to, or even surpassed, pre-pandemic levels," wrote Fed researchers on the Liberty Street Economics blog.

  • "These issuances have real consequences for borrowers and borrowing. Borrowers with newly opened credit card accounts have typically seen an average balance increase of $645 in that month."

The bottom line: If you thought the pandemic was going to trigger a big reduction in Americans’ debts, turns out you were wrong. We seem to be gearing up for more consumer borrowing than ever.

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