Prepaid card and gift card statistics

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Prepaid debit cards are widespread in the U.S. and they continue to grow in popularity. Prepaid cards include gift cards issued by retailers or payment networks, as well as general purpose reloadable (GPR) cards such as the American Express Bluebird card, and payment cards disbursed by federal, state and local governments for assistance programs.

A 2014 survey by Mercator Advisory Group found that 56 percent of U.S. adults had bought some kind of prepaid card in the previous year, up from 53 percent in 2013 and 47 percent in 2012.1

The number of payments made with prepaid cards rose 18.5 percent per year between 2006 and 2012 -- the fastest growth rate of all types of payments in that timeframe.2 

Gift cards still popular with givers and receivers

Gift cards have become a mainstream financial instrument, and are among the top gift choices for both givers and receivers. When asked in April 2015, nearly half of all consumers said they had used a gift card in the previous year.3 

Some 87 percent of consumers say merchant-specific gift cards are easy to use.3 That's probably among the reasons gift cards were the most requested holiday gift item in 2015 for the ninth year in a row, according to the National Retail Federation's Holiday Consumer Spending Survey. Approximately 58.8 percent of consumers said they would like to receive a gift card during the holiday season.4




Sixty-five percent of gift card recipients spend an average of 38 percent more than the face value of their cards.10 


Many of those wanting gift cards are likely to get their wish. Approximately 73.4 percent of American adults planned to buy at least one gift card during the 2015 holiday shopping season, according to the NRF's survey, which was conducted in October 2015. Women were more likely to buy them than men, with 76.2 percent of women planning to buy gift cards during the 2015 holiday season, compared to 70.4 percent of men.5

When respondents who planned to buy gift cards were asked how many cards they would buy, the most popular number was two.5  



Total spending on gift cards during the 2015 holiday shopping season is expected to be $25.9 billion. But average spending is expected to dip to $153.08, down from $172.74 in 2014.4


Gift Card Purchasers: Approximately how much money in total will you spend on gift cards this holiday season?
$20 or less 4.8%
$21 to $50 21.4%
$51 to $75 10.9%
$76 to $100 17.2%
$101 to $150 13.4%
$151 to $200 11.2%
$201 to $300 9.1%
$301 to $400 4.2%
$401 to $500 3.1%
$500 or more 4.7%
Total 100%
Source: National Retail Federation gift card data 2015


Men are predicted to be the more generous gender, spending on average $162.01, compared to women, who predict they'll spend an average of $144.62 on gift cards. Adults over 65 may be the biggest gift card spenders of all age groups, averaging $186.44.4

Breaking that down by card, shoppers are expected to spend an average of $44.83 per card during the 2015 holiday shopping period, down from $47.87 in 2014.5

Gift cards fall into two major categories. Open loop cards are those issued by Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover, which can be used at any merchant that accepts credit cards that are part of those networks. Closed loop cards are those issued by a particular retailer and can only be used by the issuing merchant.

When gift card buyers were asked what type of gift cards they intended to buy during the 2015 holiday shopping season, the most popular choices were closed loop cards from restaurants (34.8 percent) and department stores (34.4 percent), followed by open loop cards (22.7 percent) and coffee shop cards (20.1 percent). 5

Why do Americans buy gift cards during the holiday season? Approximately 50.4 percent said gift cards allow recipients to select their own gifts. That was followed by 24.7 percent who said gift cards were easier and faster to buy than traditional gifts. Only 5.2 percent said buying gift cards helped them stick to their holiday budget.5   


Reasons people buy gift cards
 Which of the following is the most likely to influence you to buy a gift card this holiday?
Allow recipient to select own gift 50.4%
Easier/faster to buy than other gifts 24.7%
Recipient doesn't have to worry about returning merchandise 5.6%
Easier to mail/ship than other gifts 5.6%
Helps me stick to budget 5.2%
Rewards or marketing incentives 4.4%
None of the above
Total 100%
National Retail Federation gift card data 2015


Digital expected to lead way in slowing market

The overall market for gift cards continues to grow, but as the industry matures, its rate of growth is slowing from double-digit rates in earlier years.

As of December 2014, gift card sales for 2014 were predicted to reach $124 billion, five percent higher than in 2013. The market is expected to continue growing 5-6 percent per year through 2017.6 

Open loop cards are growing slightly faster than closed loop. Sales of open loop cards rose from $43 billion in 2013 to $45 billion in 2014 (4.7 percent). Sales of closed loop cards grew from $70 billion in 2013 to $73 billion in 2014 (4.3 percent).6 

E-gifting, or the sending of digital gift cards, is picking up momentup as plastic card growth levels off. E-gifting grew 20 percent, from $5 billion in 2013 to $6 billion in 2014. In fact, e-gifting is expected to hit $14 billion by 2017, comprising nearly 10 percent of the gift card market.6 

When consumers are shopping online, they increasingly choose to buy digital gift cards rather than physical gift cards. In December 2014, digital gift cards accounted for 67 percent of etailers' gift card sales while physical gift cards accounted for 33 percent.7 

Some 72 percent of consumers said they had purchased a gift card online or via the mobile channel. Fifty percent said they would prefer to have a digital gift card scanned from their phone than carry an email printout. Also, 53 percent said they would be interested in storing gift cards on their phones.7 

Spillage down

Spillage is the amount of money left unspent as a result of unused or expired cards. In 2014, spillage was projected to fall under $1 billion, accounting for less than 1 percent of total gift card volume. That's down from 2006 when spillage accounted for nearly 10 percent of gift card volume, thanks in part to provisions of the CARD Act of 2009, which forbids gift cards from expiring for five years.6

There are a number of ways that you can avoid spillage. In 11 states, shoppers who have closed loop gift cards can request that the card balance be given to them in cash back once they've spent down to a certain threshold.


Eleven states allow consumers to cash out remnant balances on closed loop cards. The minimum balances required before such a request can be made are noted.
California less than $10
Colorado $5 or less
Massachusetts 10 percent of face value
Maine less than $5
Oregon less than $5
New Jersey less than $5 (if the original value was more than $5)
Montana less than $5 (if the original value was more than $5)
Rhode Island less than $1
Texas $2.50 (if the original value was more than $5)
Vermont less than $1
Washington less than $5
Some of these rules may also apply to some open loop cards, so check your local laws. Source: The Retail Gift Card Association, September 2015


General-purpose reloadable prepaid cards: the checking account alternative

General-purpose reloadable prepaid cards fill a different market need from gift cards. They are typically used to pay bills, access cash and make purchases, and can be used in place of a credit or debit card, or even a traditional bank account.

More and more Americans are using them. In August 2013, 25 percent of Americans owned a GPR prepaid card, up from 21 percent the year before.8 

Some $65 billion was loaded onto general-purpose reloadable prepaid cards in 2012 -- more than twice the amount loaded in 2009. 9 That, despite the fact that many prepaid card transactions are for small-dollar purchases.

In 2012, 20 percent of general purpose prepaid card transactions were for less than $5.2



Changing demographics

According to 2012 data from The Pew Charitable Trusts, prepaid card users are more likely than the general population to:

  • be renters
  • be married
  • earn less than $25,000
  • be African-American
  • be under 50.9
Demographics of prepaid card users, 2012
  Prepaid card users U.S. population
Renters 48% 35%
Homeowners 49% 65%
Single 45% 31%
Married 35% 50%
Seperated/divorced 15% 13%
Widowed 3% 6%
Income less than $15,000 22% 13%
$15,000 to under $25,000 16% 11%
$25,000 to under $30,000 9% 25%
$30,000 to under $40,000 8%  
$40,000 to under $50,000 7%  
$50,000 to under $75,000 11% 19%
$75,000 to under $100,000 6% 12%
$100,000+ 8% 21
Don’t know/refused to answer 13% N/A
White (non-Hispanic) 52% 64%
African-American (non-Hispanic) 24% 12%
Hispanic 12% 16%
Other race/ethnicity 9% 8%
Ages 18-29 27% 22%
Ages 30-49 46% 37%
Ages 50-64 21% 25%
Ages 65+ 5% 17%
Male 48% 49%
Female 52% 51%
Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts, "Why Americans Use Prepaid Cards," released 2014


Forty-two percent of prepaid card users in 2012 had no emergency savings, compared to 28 percent of the general population.9


GPR cards were at one time largely targeted at low-income and underbanked consumers. In fact, 48 percent of the underbanked community reported owning a GPR card in 2013.8

However, the greatest growth in card ownership has been among higher income Americans. Between August 2012 and August 2013, ownership of a GPR card in households that made more than $100,000 per year increased by 9 percent, while ownership of a GPR card in households earning between $25,000 and $49,900 dropped 1 percent.8 

Incidence of GPR prepaid card ownership within income groups
% Own (August 2012) % Own (August 2013) Significant Difference @ the 95% Confidence Level
21% 25% Yes
< $ 25k per year 26% 28% No
$ 25k-$49.9k per year
22% 21% No
$ 50k-$99.9k per year
26% Yes
$ 100k + per year
27% Yes
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Sept. 2014


In 2013, the average income of Americans with GPR prepaid cards was $63,217, up from $55,347 in 2012.  Americans with higher incomes spent the most money on their reloadable prepaid cards. Households with GPR prepaid cards and incomes of $100,000 or higher had an average reload value of $98, compared to $85, $78, and $60 reload values for households making $50,000 to $99,900 per year, $25,000 to $49,9000 per year and less than $25,000 per year respectively.8 

While GPR use has risen among all age groups, younger groups have seen the most growth. There was an 11 percent increase in ownership of GPR cards among millennials between August 2012 and August 2013. Among Generation Xers GPR card ownership increased by 8 percent. Ownership by baby boomers increased by 2 percent and consumers 68 and over saw their GPR card ownership stay the same at 4 percent.8 

Incidence of GPR prepaid card ownership within age group
% Own (August 2012) % Own (August 2013) Significant Difference @ the 95% Confidence Level
Total consumers 21% 25% Yes
Millennials (18–32) 34% 45% Yes
Generation X (33–48) 27% 35% Yes
Baby Boomers (49–67) 16% 18% No
Greatest Generation (68+) 4%
4% No
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Sept. 2014


The appeal of prepaids

The most common reasons people cited in 2012 for using prepaid cards were to make purchases in places that don't accept cash, to avoid credit card debt, to control spending and to avoid overdraft fees.9

Consumers' reasons for using prepaid cards
Major reason Total reason
Control spending    
Avoiding credit card debt 52% 67%
Helping you not spend more money than you actually have 51% 66%
Dividing your spending into budget categories 30% 54%
Control fees    
Avoiding overdraft fees 46% 63%
Avoiding check-cashing fees 38% 57%
Make purchases    
Making purchases online and other places that don't accept cash 52% 72%
Allowing you to conduct transactions more anonymously 35% 56%
You would not be approved for a checking account 26% 44%
Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts, "Why Americans Use Prepaid Cards," released 2014


Although 33 percent of prepaid card users in 2012 said they incurred fewer overdraft fees,9 there are also fees associated with prepaid cards. In 2013, 68 percent of GPR prepaid card users paid some type of fee, with the average monthly fee total at $5.80.8

Twelve million adults -- 5 percent -- used a GPR prepaid card at least once per month in 2012.9 One in five prepaid card holders used two or more prepaid cards per month; among the reasons: a desire to control spending on different items or give different people in a household access to money.9

Higher-earning millennials are most likely to be prepaid card "power users." Millennial GPR prepaid card users earning $50,000 to $99,900 per year averaged 10.1 uses per month, compared to an average of 6.2 uses among all GPR prepaid card owners who had used a card that month. 8

  1. Mercator Advisory Group, "Consumers and Prepaid: Rising Use, Especially by Mobile"
  2. 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study, Detailed Report, released July 2014
  3. Blackhawk Network, "How America Pays in 2015: Traditional, Digital and Mobile Convergence in Payments"
  4. National Retail Federation, "2015 Holiday Consumer Spending Survey"
  5. National Retail Federation 2015 gift card data
  6. CEB press release, Dec. 10, 2014
  7. InComm press release, March 17, 2015
  8. Federal Reserve of Philadelphia report, "Millennials and Money: A New Look at Who Uses GPR Prepaid Cards," released Sepember 2014
  9. The Pew Charitable Trusts. "Why Americans Use Prepaid Cards," released 2014
  10. CEB, "Gift Cards State of the Union 2014"

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See related: Credit card statistics, Debit card statistics, Credit card market share statistics

Published: December 1, 2015

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