Credit Cards

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: 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: Expect a (short-term) rebound

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.

Prior months

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.

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.