Credit cards hardly ever offer unlimited access to credit; most consumers are allocated a credit card limit upon receiving their card. Limits don't reflect an arbitrary decision from credit card companies. Instead, limits may be set depending on factors evaluated by the lender upon receiving your application. Understanding how credit card limits affect your credit score may help you make more informed financial decisions. Know average credit card limits to see how well your credit limits compare with other consumers.
In 2011, the average consumer has an average total credit card limit of about $19,000 spread across an average of nine credit cards, according to myFICO.com. This translates to an average credit card limit of about $2,111 per card, although some major credit cards may have much larger credit limits than department store charge cards. More than half of credit card consumers use less than 30 percent of total credit availability in 2011, while around 14 percent of consumers (about 1 in 7 people) are using more than 80 percent of their available credit limit.
Determination and Use
Credit card companies set credit card limits for a number of reasons. For example, setting credit card limits for individual consumers allows companies to extend credit to other consumers. It also serves as an account monitoring tool, so that both credit card companies and credit scoring agencies can track how well you manage credit. Routinely approaching your credit card limit may mean that you're struggling to get by financially, making you a potentially riskier candidate for credit. On the other hand, steering clear of credit card limits and keeping balances low indicates that you're able to live within your means and manage credit responsibly.
Penalties and Considerations
You incur penalties for exceeding your credit card limit, so it pays to stay within allocated limits to avoid fees. While it may seem like a boon when your credit card company raises your credit card limit, keep in mind that this can be an invitation to spend more. If you're worried about spending more knowing that your credit limit has been raised, call your card issuer and request that your available balance be lowered back to its original limit. Financial advisers believe that your credit card limit shouldn't exceed 20 percent of your gross income no matter what the national average credit card limit may be, according to Bankrate.com.
You can compare your credit card situation not only by viewing the average credit card limit, but other statistics, too. In 2011, myFICO.com reported that consumers hold an average of 13 credit obligations on their credit history, including credit cards, gas cards, department store cards and loans such as student loans or home mortgages. About 40 percent of cardholders carry a balance of less than $1,000, while about 15 percent carry balances exceeding $10,000.