COVID-19 / Industry / Retail

More Consumers Willing To Rack Up Debt After COVID-19


YOLO. The ubiquitous social media acronym that abbreviates the phrase “you only live once” (so live it up!) seems to be the attitude du jour for many American consumers reemerging from their home bubbles—and into shopping malls, plazas, and main streets—as the pandemic recedes. 

A new survey of 2,663 U.S. adults from conducted mid-May found that 44% said they’re willing to take on debt to “treat themselves.” And 66% of respondents planned to “treat themselves with purchases to celebrate the pandemic winding down,” even if they didn’t have a plan to pay off those purchases. 

This is a turnaround from the money management style millions of Americans adopted during the pandemic: Consumers repaid roughly $82 billion in credit card debt during 2020, according to, and credit card debt decreased by $56.5 billion during the first quarter of 2021.

Economists anticipated a rebound in spending after the national lockdowns, but it’s perhaps surprising that consumers are willing to erase their hard-won credit gains to carpe diem.

Those polled said the top categories they’d be willing to go into debt for were automotive (15%), home renovations (14%), and travel (12%)—a trio that neatly represents fine jewelry’s biggest competitors in 2021!

And the younger the consumer, the more likely they were to accept the prospect of new debt. Of the 44% who said they’re willing to max out their credit cards in the name of fun in the second half of 2021, 59% were millennials, 56% were Gen Zers, 40% were Gen Xers, and 32% were baby boomers.

A whopping 63% of parents of children under the age of 18 said they’d go into debt for discretionary purchases, compared to 40% of people with no children, and 35% of parents of adult children. My take on this: Parents who’ve been stuck at home with small children have suffered the most (among healthy people) during the pandemic. They’re exhausted, overworked, and in desperate need of some fun and frivolity.

Men, especially, are prepared to cast their financial fate to the winds for that cool new canoe or trip to Cabo. The poll showed that guys were more willing to go into debt for nonessentials (47%) than women (41%).

“After putting up with COVID for more than a year, I think everyone is entitled to treat themselves,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst for, in the study. “However, I’m concerned that so many people are willing to go into debt as a result. Credit card rates have been creeping up, and they generally range from about 16% to 24%. That’s really expensive debt.”

(Photo: Sean MacEntee)

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By: Emili Vesilind

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