Las Vegas sign

Why debt lag is a big problem after your vacation

Combined interest on vacation credit card spending in the US is almost $2.7 billion. Here’s how much we’re wasting, across states, regions and sexes.

Using your credit card while on vacation seems flexible and convenient, but if you don’t pay it off promptly, you’re likely to suffer from a bad case of “debt lag”. Almost two-thirds (66%) of us use a credit card while on vacation, and a typical American runs up a debt of $1,518 on their card during the trip.

Which regions are the worst offenders?

That figure varies depending on where you live. Here’s the average debt based on region:

US RegionTotal
East North Central$1,538
Middle Atlantic$1,516
South Atlantic$1,505
West South Central$1,448
New England$1,366
West North Central$1,361
East South Central$1,284

Which states have the most debt lag?

The interactive map below shows the average debt per state. (We haven’t included data for states where the number of respondents was too low to calculate a number.)

How do we plan to deal with that debt?

Americans favour a variety of tactics to deal with credit card debt accumulated on their vacation.

Reduce spending on shopping/going out25%
I will pay it off after my next pay19%
Work overtime, take extra shifts or get a second job10%
I will just pay off the minimum each month7%
Agree to do paid clinical  trials2%
Do a balance transfer to a new credit card2%
Take out a loan2%
None of these/Other34%

Age and sex

Debt lag is a bigger problem for men than women, with an average figure of $1,616 for males and $1,431 for females.

Debt levels also rise as we get older, possibly reflecting increasing incomes. 18-29 year olds accumulated $1,130 on average. Those aged 30-44 averaged $1,564, 45-59 year olds averaged $1,585 and those aged over 60 averaged $1,602.

Those over 60 were the most likely to pay off their debt immediately, with 73% doing that. The worst figures were for 30-44 year olds, at 49%. The figure was 57% for 45-59 year olds and 67% for 18-29 year olds.

Tips for avoiding debt lag

So how can you avoid debt lag? Follow these simple tips:

  • Set a travel budget before you go Know how much you plan to spend before you travel. While this might seem like obvious advice, 20% of Americans don’t set a vacation budget.
  • Stick to that budget Having a budget doesn’t help if you ignore it at the first opportunity. A quarter of our survey respondents blew out their budget by up to 20%.
  • Pay off your debt promptly Almost 40% of us don’t pay off our credit cards as soon as we return from holiday, and that’s when the interest payments really start to hurt. Worryingly, 6% of us still haven’t paid off vacation debt a year after incurring it.
  • Examine balance transfers If you do have debt lag after your vacation, a balance transfer to a lower-rate card can help you pay off that debt faster.


How we worked this out: Responses from 3,031 Americans to our debtlag survey were used to calculate compound interest paid based on respondents’ stated credit card debt and the time taken to pay the debt off. We used a vacationing population size of 120 million based on 44% of adult American citizens who go on vacation annually, based on data from the US Census Bureau and results of a survey conducted by Allianz Global Assistance.

Picture: Brent Nashville, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (image cropped)

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Ask a Question

You are about to post a question on

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Disclaimer: At we provide factual information and general advice. Before you make any decision about a product read the Product Disclosure Statement and consider your own circumstances to decide whether it is appropriate for you.
Rates and fees mentioned in comments are correct at the time of publication.
By submitting this question you agree to the privacy policy.

US Credit Card Offers

Learn about our information service
Luxury Card MasterCard® Gold Card™
Luxury Card MasterCard® Gold Card™



Annual fee

0 For the first year
More info
First Access Visa Card
First Access Visa Card


29.99 variable

Annual fee

$75.00 For the first year
More info
Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®
Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®


23.9 variable

Annual fee

$75 For the first year
More info
Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®
Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®


13.74 Variable

Annual fee

0 For the first year
More info