Americans’ credit card debt increased to a 22-year high in the fourth quarter of 2021 with more than $860 billion now owed, according to new research published by the New York Federal Reserve on Thursday. This data arrives only weeks before an expected interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, credit card spending declined as more consumers pulled back on their purchases and put more effort into balancing their credit cards. As the economy gradually reopened and consumers began to return to their former habits, spending saw an uptick. Overall, credit card debt increased by $52 billion in Q4 2021.

According to a report, this large amount of debt is still not yet at the peak levels seen in 2019. Just before the pandemic struck, it was estimated that credit card debts stood at $927 billion in 2019. 

“We’re beginning to see the reversal of some of the credit card balance trends seen during the pandemic, namely reduced consumption and the paying down of balances,” says Donghoon Lee, a research officer at the New York Fed told CNBC

“At the same time, as pandemic restrictions are lifted and consumption normalizes, credit card usage and balances are resuming their pre-pandemic trends.”

An increase in credit card debt in the fourth quarter of 2021 was expected because of the holiday season leading to an uptick in spending. But none of this has been helped by the rise of inflation across last year which has reached levels not seen in decades.

In the most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) data provided by the U.S Labor Department on Thursday, inflation accelerated to a 7.5% annual rate in January to reach a new four-decade high.

The latest inflation data is bound to put more pressure on the Federal Reserve to begin raising interest rates at their next meeting in March. Typically, when the Fed raises its benchmark rates, changes to credit card interest rates follow which could make repayments more difficult for a number of Americans.