Americans haven’t shied away from using their credit cards even as personal debt levels continue to soar—good news for retailers ahead of the holidays, but probably a bad omen for the economy heading into 2024.

According to Goldman Sachs, the big five card lenders saw credit card loans jump 1.6% between September and October, far outpacing the average growth rate of 0.7%.

In terms of transaction volume, the top five credit card issuers in the U.S. are Chase, American Express, Citi, Capital One, and Bank of America.

The problem isn’t credit card usage per se—it’s the percentage of users falling behind on their payments.

Per Goldman Sachs, the average delinquency rate rose 0.16 percentage point in October, meaning more Americans are 30 days or more behind on their card payments.

The other problem? Net charge-offs, or the amount of debt credit card issuers believe they’ll never collect because of delinquency or default, increased 0.77 point on average. That’s much higher than the average 0.18 increase.

Delinquency rates are rising as more American households approach their credit card limits. A recent report from the Boston Fed found that lower-income households were using 80-90% of their available credit.

“Rising financial stress suggests a weakening in consumption as utilization rates, revolving amounts, and delinquencies continue to rise,” report author Joanna Stavins wrote.

Using credit for everyday living expenses

While it would be easy to conclude that Americans are maxing out their credit cards on lavish spending, the actual data tells a different story.

A recent survey by Clever Real Estate found that nearly one in two Americans relies on credit cards to cover living expenses such as food, rent, and utilities. Overall, 61% of Americans have credit card debt, owing an average of just under $5,900.

Experts say part of the problem is rising interest rates are keeping consumers from paying down their balances.

“You can't get out of debt if you don't understand what's keeping you there,”'s chairman Howard Dvorkin told Fox Business.

In other words, carrying a high balance is extremely costly when average credit card interest rates are hovering above 21%, per Fed data.

Data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that in 2022, nearly 10% of general-purpose credit card accounts were in “persistent debt,” meaning that more money went toward interest and fees than paying down the principal balance.

“The fees and interest keep people trapped there,” a CFPB spokesperson said.

Holiday hangover

Many consumers entered this year’s holiday season with credit card debt from 2022, underscoring just how overstretched household budgets have become.

According to a recent survey by WalletHub, roughly 25% of Americans are still paying off last year’s holiday debt. While this is expected to contribute to lower holiday spending this year, nearly 20% said they’d apply for new credit to help with holiday shopping.

This is consistent with a recent survey by credit bureau Experian, which found that 46% of consumers plan to use their credit cards on holiday purchases.